Using Cell Phones in Classrooms: Is Having Technology At Students’ Fingertips Beneficial?

Michael Soskil’s “5 Reasons to Allow Students to Use Cellphones in Class” is a very thought-provoking post and I can see how it is part of a much larger debate.  Mr. Soskil makes some excellent points as to why schools should allow students access to their personal cell phones during class.  In a nutshell:

1.  Allowing cell phones in class is preparation for life after school.

2.  With tightened budgets in schools, it’s only logical to allow readily available technology in the classroom.

3.  Using cellphones in class teaches 21st Century skills.

4.  Administrators come to class using iPhones and iPads to make observations on teachers…how does that look to a students who are not allowed to their mobile devices?

5.  It is the school’s responsibility to teach the responsible and safe way to use technology.

I can’t really find fault with Mr. Soskil points.  During the Mooresville, North Carolina podcast I recently posted (Mooresville, NC – Taking It Up A Notch), one of the teachers accurately stated that students often feel they are stepping back in time when they step into the classroom.  Schools cannot ignore the reality that the world is a changing one and that effective teaching needs to embrace and embody the new technologies.  Schools need to do this in partnership with students because if they don’t, they will alienate their students and lose them altogether.

One suggestion I would make to Mr. Soskil is to change his title to “5 Reasons to Allow Students to Use Smartphones in Class.”  I recommend this because smartphones have access to the World Wide Web with an abundance of information and additional tools.  When I think of cellphones, I imagine the epic flip phones and their resounding ability to annoy others with the tap tap tapping from texting.  I assume Mr. Soskil is not referring to the latter.

Does this….

…look like this?

Lastly, one argument I would pose to Mr. Soskil reflects his first point: using cell phones in class prepares students for life after school.  He continues by questioning how using mobile devices could be anything but beneficial to jobs?  Coming from the corporate world, I can’t tell you how many times I was so frustrated and embarrassed when coworkers would have their faces down and fingers typing away under the table (when will people learn it is sooooo obvious that they are on their phones?!  Yes, we can see you!!) rather than giving undivided attention to the presenter.  There is still significance in eye contact, which many people seem to be losing sight of these days.

What Does TED Know About Math??

Dan Meyer

Well, TED certainly knows how to bring folks together who know a few things or two about math, which is more than I can say.  Dan Meyer, a high school math teacher, shared a really interesting perspective during his “Math Class Needs a Makeover” presentation provided by TED.  In fact, I chose to watch his presentation simply because of the title – math does need a makeover, and I know that because I might be into it more if it was presented differently.

Growing up, I definitely understood the importance of math but would get bogged down by the textbooks and the problems.  And, as Mr. Meyer noted, I lacked the patience needed to answer some of those problems.  But part me of wonders if it was lack of patience, or lack of confidence…if I was taking that long to answer a math question, maybe I just didn’t have the brains to figure it out.  It was comforting to learn from Mr. Meyer that it was likely not the latter.  He concluded his presentation by reinforcing the need for more patient problem solvers.  Guess I need to work on that!

Math has been in my life more recently because of the prerequisites required for Virginia license in teaching.  I’m about to prepare for a CLEP College Algebra test and am dreading it.  And, I fear that this feeling I have towards math will follow me into the classroom.  However, with Mr. Meyer’s advice on how to teach math in a more invigorating way, it actually sounds like it could have the potential to be fun and not so tedious: use multimedia, ask the shortest question (never mind all of the detailed questions that lead up to the final question – start with the final one and make students discover the questions on their own), and be less helpful (if he says so!).  Mr. Meyer reiterated many times that this is a cool time to be a math teacher because we have so many tools available to create high quality curriculum.  Instead of assigning students homework via the textbook, such as a problem computing how long it takes to fill a tank of water, ask them using pictures from the iPhone…or even show a video of someone filling a tank of water.  Then, as Mr. Meyer pointed out, students will automatically ask themselves, “Ugh, how long is it going to take to fill this tank”…and there you go, they are engaged.

Mr. Meyer’s Water Tank

Mooresville, NC – Taking It Up a Notch

I came across a podcast on EdReach that jumped out at me because of the location mentioned in the title “Digging Deeper into Mooresville: Preparing for a ConnectED Future.”  Mooresville, North Carolina is a small”ish” town next to the even smaller town of Claremont, the place my husband calls home.  I must admit I was intrigued by the title of the podcast because I was quite certain that it would not have anything to do with the district using advanced technologies…not in this rural part of the U.S.  I was way off.

The Mooresville district has gone completely digital, and they are one of the only school districts in the U.S. to have done so.  3 years ago, every student and teacher in high school down to 4th grade received a laptop, totaling around 5,000.  They did this because they realized that there was a huge disconnect between the real world and the classroom.  As one teacher put it, students were “going back in time” the moment they stepped into the classroom.   Another teacher pointed out that we often talk about finding the right “hook” in the first few minutes of class to try and grab the attention of students, however in Mooresville, the computers allow the hook to stick around the entire class period.  The digital classrooms encourage the students to do and to create, not just take in lots of information to memorize.  And, the students are loving it – they are actually having fun learning.

The district is a model for other schools in the country, not just as an example of going digital, but also for implementing money-saving strategies.  Costs for books and printing are declining, and inversely, graduation rates are going up.  There must be something to this!

Mooresville believes that schools have the responsibility to stay up to date.  There’s no point in “teaching kids how to drive if you then tell them to get on the horse.”  Looks like the rest of the country needs to keep its eye on North Carolina!

In regards to podcasts, I would certainly consider using them in the future. They seem to be another great option for relaying information to students in addition to other tools.  One thing I’ve learned recently is the importance of  mixing things up to keep content exciting and to avoid boredom.  Podcasts would be good for both me as a teacher, and also for students to use as they deliver assignments in ways that are more meaningful to them.

I’m Flipping Out Right Now!

But in a good way!  Today is the first time I am learning about the “flipped classroom,” and I’m totally psyched.  I had heard the term floating around before and just thought it had something to do with the physical design of the classroom.  Guess I was (really) wrong.  Now I am fully aware of this teaching method and I think it is brilliant.

Edudemic’s “To Flip or Not to Flip” made some excellent points in support of flipping classrooms.  I could immediately relate to one common issue classrooms run into…running out of time.  Lessons and class time rarely go exactly as planned, and teachers are often cramming new information before the bell rings…information that students are supposed to use in their homework assignments.  As the a blog points out, the flipped classroom allows for more classroom time…more time for discussion, more time for questions, more time for interaction.  And, I would venture to guess that teachers would have more control in this type of setting since they are no longer responsible for introducing new material, making sure students comprehend the material, and that they can apply it independently all in a 45 minute window.

I can absolutely see how flipping has the potential to “bring life back into the classroom.”  It is a new take on education, and one that encourages more conversations, debates, and time for inquiry.  It also doesn’t hurt that this environment promotes person-to-person interaction, which enhances students’ social and communication skills.  I would even hypothesize that it goes beyond social skills by touching upon ethics in education.  This would of course require more research, however it seems to me that flipped classrooms would: enhance honesty since students are accountable for learning the material at home; create an atmosphere of respect and dignity for others since more time for discussion and listening to various views is allotted; and, develop a sense of “family” and care within the classroom since students have the opportunity to discuss and get to know one another more.  Just a guess, but may be something worth looking into?

Learning A Lot from Learnist

As a new Twitter user, I’m following folks that have something to say about education.  It was while I was going through some Tweets from those I follow when I stumbled upon something called Learnist.  It’s so cool!  Ed554 is introducing me to some really cool tools to incorporate social media and technology into the classroom…and from those tools, I’m learning about even more tools!

While I’ve been focusing on technology integrated into to education, Learnist falls under this category but also provides a little fun in my personal hobbies and interests as well.  Like Pinterest, I am able to follow people who have created a variety of “Boards” on a range of topics.  They might include topics about education (of course!), but also home decor, cuisine, current news, business, and wayyyyyy more.  It’s a good tool for education, and also a good distraction from homework and studies.  🙂

In regards to education, I’ve picked up on the fact some use Learnist as a resource collector to share with their students.  Check out Kim Volden, for example, who teaches high school literature and has created Boards on cool things she has come across that she can bring to the classroom discussions.  Or Christine McCabe Waverla, who has a plethora of Boards on educational tips such as creative classroom ideas.

All I know is, this is a really great site for educational tips (receiving and sharing), and is also a nice “getaway” to look at things of personal interest.  Or, how about a combination of both?  Like math and eating?  Check out the “Math Food” by Center for Math.  Watch out, you may end up being twice as hungry!  …Get it? Twice (math) as hungry (food/eating?)… ok at least I gave it a try.

PS  For those like me who need tutorials in how to do things that may be obvious to others…check out the PE Guru’s YouTube video on how to use Learnist.

The Nuts & Bolts of 21st Century Learning


I was really impressed by the bold and unique method of teaching Ms. Wright chose to use in educating her students about the Holocaust.  Or rather, I guess I should say, how they educated themselves.  It was a rather risky decision to take this leap, because as Ms. Wright said, she had never done this before.  She also didn’t have the plan completely mapped out because she wanted to give ownership to her students.

Taking the role as a collaborator and facilitator, I can imagine, would be very difficult for many teachers because this strays away from the traditional role.  However, I think this strategy, even if it’s the only alternative method for teaching used during the semester, makes the teacher even better and gives the students complete control over their learning.  I really liked how Ms. Wright was learning side by side with them, or “co-learning” as she called it – and as a reader, I felt like I was involved, too.  Her honesty about when they (and not the students, but she and the students together) got stuck and had to revisit the left me feeling 1) happy to hear that even teachers who have been practicing for a long time run into hiccups periodically, and 2) curious about how the project would unfold.  Her students made excellent suggestions such as by recommending that all of the groups share what they had researched.  I think this is a common practice in today’s world – the working world – and something that professionals need to apply more often.  It always surprises me, from my own personal experiences working in corporate America and for the U.S. Government, how teams don’t connect and collaborate, but instead work in silos.  They could learn a thing or two from these students!

It was also cool to see how Ms. Wright applies technology within her lessons, such as Google Docs and Delicious (I have to look that one up!).  As this course has taught me, not utilizing the tools available in the 21st century does a disservice to students living in today’s world.

Check out my interpretation using Wordle!

I’ve Just Caved…Twitter, You Win.

So I’ve been avoiding it for years, even with all of the rave, but now Twitter is officially part of my life.  I caved.  Can I blame it on this course?

Actually, I’d always been interested in Twitter, but thought of it to be a “distraction” so I avoided it at all costs.  I was one of those that never understood what hashtags meant, or  what happened when someone would “Tweet” something.  So instead of blame, I guess I should reword and state that this course has rather encouraged me to become a Twitter user.  And that’s exactly what I’ll do to begin with…use it.

Twitter provides so much shared knowledge and suggestions on what works and what doesn’t work in the field of elementary education, that I completely understand how this is going to be a valuable resource for me during my teaching career.  And, knowing that it is a great way to communicate with parents and keep them engaged in their child’s education is an added plus.  I’m not completely there yet…there’s still lots to learn and lots of questions to ask (sorry, Steve!), but I’m looking forward to becoming a user, and possibly one day soon, a contributor.

Check and see how I’m doing on Twitter!  @JWalkBck2School.

I’m Totally Convinced!

The Digital Media New Learners of the 21st Century videos were completely eye-opening; until a few minutes ago, I had no idea of some of the teaching methods that present day teachers/students use, such as gaming, podcasts, mobile scavenger hunts, etc.  I now I completely understand why these methods are used.  The videos made the point that teachers have to connect with the students, and understand the world that children live in today (and even tomorrow).  To do that, they have to teach in a way that children of the 21st century can relate.

While all of the cases were quite incredible, the case of the Digital Youth Network stands out.  These students have been able to create and produce, not just memorize.  DYN mentors understand the importance of putting opportunities in front of children and then in turn see how the children can turn those opportunities into something of their own.  They applied skills that they learned from using technology, which is relative to today’s world. 

An argument that surfaced during this case, which I found to be enlightening, was the debate that the digital world brings about competition and addiction.  This is a concern for some parents and educators, and is a perception that I must admit I used to have as well.  However, one educator made a great argument that has completely altered my opinion: in today’s world, we see a double standard because children who read late into the night are looked at as dedicated, children who rehearse lines hours and hours for months prior to a performance are perceived as hard working, yet the children that spend hours video gaming or spending time in front of a computer are considered to be/have a problem.  It is now clear to me that this is a misconception; technology can actually drive kids to do better, keep kids engaged in activities that are advantageous to them (as Marcus said, it keeps him out of trouble), and prepare them for the real world.

One question that I do have after watching the video is: are teachers able to use some of these methods with elementary school students, and if so, how?