Students Turn Their Cellphones On for Classroom Lessons

In Planning, Tools on September 11, 2009 by TIPS Team Tagged: , , ,

A review of Andrew Trotter’s Education Week article by Terry Korte (TIPS Team – EPSB)

On many recent school visits I’ve asked teachers and administrators about their policy on cell-phone use by students.  Most admit that at the junior and senior high school level that a majority of kids have cell phones, but most also have no plans to use them in the classroom.  Some schools even have a “no cell phones” sign on their doors.  With cellphones having evolved into smart phones, many with photo, video, messaging, and even internet capability, are we keeping a valuable tool out of the classroom?  Trotter’s article provides some interesting uses for cell phones that are simple, engaging, and could augment curriculum that is otherwise technology free.

For example, if you’ve wanted to provide multiple ways for your students to represent what they know or have learned (a key element in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) or differentiation), how about having kids create podcasts using their cellphones?  Using G-Cast, students can use their cell-phones to call a toll-free number and record their reaction to a reading, present a speech for a second-language class, or record a 30-second advertisement.  Trotter describes:

Ms. Miller has helped teachers at Buhler High School learn how to use Gcast, a free Web-based service that allows anyone to create a page—as well as more specialized “channels” and playlists—to host podcasts. Students are given a phone number and a personal identification number; they call in using their cellphones and record an audio file that is posted directly on the Web page, Ms. Miller said. At Buhler High, a Spanish teacher who is “very low-tech,” according to Ms. Miller, created a channel for her Spanish 3 and 4 students to call from outside of school and record themselves speaking in Spanish. “She had them select an excellent Spanish poet; they got on their cellphones and said, ‘Me llamo’ and their name, and [in Spanish] ‘I’d like to present this poet, Pablo,’ and then they read the poem.” Similarly, a French teacher had students make podcasts about recipes for French dishes, such as crème brûlée, and an English teacher asked her students, for a unit on War in Literature, to use their cellphones to interview someone who has experienced war. “I guess this is replacing when you used to take a tape recorder and talk to your grandpa about the war,” Ms. Miller said.

Other uses described in the article include:

  • using that lets students vote on topics by text-messaging (like on Canadian Idol)
  • taking advantage of online organizer tools like the free Soshiku or Google Calendars which will text-message you when an assignment is due.  (Which item is more likely to be carried by students – their agenda or their cell phone…hello!!!)
  • How about the potential on field trips?  Let’s say you were at the Museum of Natural History and you asked students to document certain species for further research?  Well…wouldn’t it be great if several of them had their own camera? (At least 80% of new cell phone sold have a camera with video recording capabilities).  Students can easily create their own Flickr page to upload photos from their phone to their own library, or a shared library.
  • All of these activities mentioned above can be done with almost every “regular” cell phone on the market – what about Smart phones like web-enabled iPhones or similar?  Then you have a powerful computer in the hands of your students for accessing web sites, entering data, viewing online photos and videos – all things that students are doing outside of class, but would be thrilled to use in class as well – if allowed.
  • A big question is about equity as not all students can afford cell phones nor do we want parents to be on the hook for an enormous cell phone bill at the end of the month because a student has been uploading their classes field trip photos to a web album.  One of Trotters’ interviewee’s addresses this in the article with:

“…Educators must make sure that all students understand the price structure of their calling plans, including the number of text messages that they can send and receive at no additional charge. “Philosophically, we don’t want to ask the family to pay that sort of thing,” she said. When not all students have cellphones, she said, educators should encourage sharing. Similarly, educators need to exercise tact with regard to assignments using cellphones. “You don’t want middle school students coming home from school [and telling their parents] that they need a cellphone,” Ms. Kolb says.  Fortunately, many cellphone ideas can be implemented using regular telephones or home computers, too.”Like the trend towards encouraging students to bring in their own laptops, this requires a shift in how we think about access to technology. Just as we differentiate for students by providing a variety of leveled resources in different formats, technologies like cell phones, laptops (and increasingly, netbooks) allow teachers to provide students with additional ways to access information, work with others, and demonstrate what they know.

Have you got a story of how you’re using cell phone or other student-owned devices with your students?  Please share your comments below…


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