Panel: Cell phones have much potential in classrooms

Teachers should embrace the technology that students use outside of classroom while creating compelling lessons.
Teachers should embrace the technology that students use outside of school while creating compelling lessons, panelists said.

Teachers are finding interesting and creative ways to include mobile phones in classroom instruction in an effort to bridge the divide between the technologies children use at home and what they use in school, education technology experts say.

Common Sense Media hosted a series of panel discussions April 21 that examined how mobile technology can both help and hinder children’s development and education.

Kipp Rogers, principal of Passage Middle School in Newport News, Va., said students at his school have used cell phones in class for the past three years. The practice began when he was teaching a math class and did not have enough calculators for every student during a test, until he realized he had a calculator on his PDA.

He said he asked the students to get their cell phones from their lockers; Passage’s policy had been that students can have phones on campus, but they must be turned off and kept in lockers. Rogers said that after letting students use their cell phones on the test, he started letting them use their phones every Friday.

“And the students began to come to me with ideas for new ways they could use their phones, like, ‘We can take pictures of the homework and send it to the students [who] were absent,’” he said.

Karen Cator, director of education technology for the U.S. Department of Education (ED), said the partnership between the students and teachers at Passage is important.

“It’s great that students suggested ways [to use the technology] to the teachers. So the teachers can roll up their sleeves and become collaborative learners,” she said. “Teachers just need to focus on how to create compelling lessons.”

Since then, a number of Passage teachers have embraced the opportunity for students to use their cell phones on assignments, both in school and at home.

However, many educators are still resistant to bringing the technology into the classroom for different reasons, said Liz Keren-Kolb, author of Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education, even though many new teachers use the same technology in their personal lives.

“They say they just can’t see themselves using [mobile technology] when teaching, because they weren’t taught that way,” she said.

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