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.

Then there are teachers who want to use mobile technology in the classroom but don’t know how to incorporate it into their curriculum, Keren-Kolb said.

Rogers acknowledged that allowing students to use cell phones in class could enable students to cheat, but he said teachers could focus on promoting digital literacy and have the students sign social contracts before they are allowed to use the phones.

“If a kid’s caught cheating, we don’t take the cell phone, we punish the student,” he said. “If a student is caught cheating using pen and paper, you don’t take the pen and paper.”

Common Sense Media also announced the release of a white paper, “Do Smart Phones = Smart Kids?,” which examines the positive and negative effects of mobile technology on kids, families, and schools.

Key findings include:

  • In 2009, 75 percent of teens had a cell phone, and mobile phone use is growing even faster among younger kids. These handheld devices are rapidly becoming mini-computers, enabling users to text, download apps, and access resources anywhere, anytime—and many kids are taking advantage of the opportunity.
  • U.S. teens send or receive more than 3,000 texts per month, on average.
  • While computers are still the main way to go online, about one in four teens gets online with the help of other devices, including cell phones, game consoles, or portable gaming.

The white paper recommends that parents think carefully about when kids need mobile phones and encourages them to set rules and limits on how and when to use them.

The paper also encourages educators to teach digital literacy and citizenship in K-12 schools, so all students learn how to use digital and mobile media in safe, smart, and responsible ways.


Common Sense Media

Passage Middle School

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Enterprising Instruction resource center. Using data to inform instruction is one of the Obama administration’s keys to effective school reform, and technology is helping a growing number of educators accurately identify their students’ needs and deliver targeted—and timely—interventions when appropriate. To benefit fully from such a data-driven instructional model, schools need a system for tying their instructional and administrative processes together—in effect, bringing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) approach to the classroom. Go to:

Enterprising Instruction

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