Sunday, September 16, 2012

Smartphones Everywhere....

With the announcement of the iPhone 5 last week, I am fairly certain we can proclaim this time period the age of the smartphone!  Who would have ever thought 20 years ago, that people would be walking around with a phone that could access Internet data, make calls, receive email, and could be used as a GPS, texting/messaging service, can hold a library of books, music, artwork, recipes, and provide a quasi-human assistance in seeking information for whatever query one would need?
Well, maybe Gene Roddenberry[1] thought about it!

But, here we are in the year 2012, with virtual micro processing-like phones capable of all that and more, clipped to our belts, or in our pockets. And, you can assume students are carrying all of this technological know-how around, as well. So, why are some educators hesitant to find a way to use this knowledge power and incorporate it into their instructional experiences?

Simply, some teachers teach as they were taught, and do not venture into that realm called “best practice” or “instructional experimentation”. The rationale you may hear from these people is that they are fearful of demonstrating what they do not know in front of the students, maintaining that aura of “the teacher as all-knowing omnipresent know-it-all”, instead of a mentor for self-directed learning.

This needs to change, sooner, rather than later, for 21st Century children. We owe it to their futures to prepare them for a different kind of world that none of us can even imagine. If we are continuing to teach using 19th century learning models, than we have virtually doomed their future access to all that they are capable of achieving, or better yet, forced them to regard school as a waste of their time, and go off on their own to discover the world.

So, how can teachers learn to harness this capability that lies in their students’ hands?
There are a number of organizations offering opportunities for professional development, such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Many states have their own professional organizations that can offer regional opportunities as well. But, the best way to adapt this model is to be creative and design something that works.
1)      Paul Wallace, assistant professor of instructional technology atAppalachian State University(NC), taught his students to use the Scvngr application as a way to apply their classroom knowledge to benefit the local community. Students partnered with Watauga River Conservation Partners, a local community organization, to create mobile scavenger hunts to help the community learn about wetlands and conservation. Not only did students learn to use mobile technology, they were also able apply their classroom knowledge in the field.
2)      Another demonstration of smartphone-enabled learning is Project Noah, which is based on the premise that students can create and share knowledge using their mobile devices. Students use the app (iPhone or Android) to document and take photos of sighted insects, birds, and bushes, and then share their findings with an online community.[2]
3)      How about using iPhones to replace the graphing calculator? Yes, the governing board of regional education trustees will have a conniption fit, but the reality is that forcing students or having school purchase these dinosaurs of ancient technology for use in one or two classes is an extraordinary waste of resources. A smartphone can become a graphing calculator and become more practical a tool. This can be seen in the Onslow County School District in North Carolina, which has been using smartphones for the past few years as classroom calculators.[3]
4)    Description: in the fifth grade are Cimarron Elementary School are getting the chance to work with smartphones in their classrooms. Phones are issued to the students with the messaging and calling capabilities disabled, but students can still connect to the internet, schedule assignments, and send emails to their teachers through the phones. Students use the phones to do their homework, often on-the-go, and to keep in touch with teachers. The students also use the mobile devices to do web quests, scan QR codes linked to vocab and reading websites, make excel spreadsheets, create quizzes, and even graph their science lab results. The pilot program seems to be doing well, with an increase in students' math and science scores from the previous year.
5)      Description: Glen School District is taking part in program this fall called Learning on the Go, that puts netbooks, smartphones, and mini-netbooks into the hands of students. The program has been used at the school for two years now, but has only now just expanded to include the use of netbooks and all grade levels at the school. With 40% of the student body not having internet access at home, educators hope that the mobile devices will help to better prepare students for the challenges of an increasingly globalized and digital world, allowing students to gain familiarity with using the web for a wide range of educational tasks.

6)      Description: Mary's School in Ohio is one of the schools leading the way in using smartphones in the classroom. In 2009, the school began providing more than 2,300 third, fourth, and fifth graders with their own PDAs for use in the classroom and at home. Loaded onto the devices are educational programs that allow students to do everything from write an essay to study math through flash cards. Teachers at the school want to embrace mobile technology and help students to understand that mobile devices can be a valuable tool in education, when used right, of course. Students at the school have enthusiastically embraced the program, and many report great excitement at the thought of being assigned their own mobile device.

7)      Description: many schools on this list are providing students with their own phones and mobile devices, Edmonton school is taking a different approach to bringing smart phones into the classroom. The school isn't providing phones or other devices but encourages students to bring their own, allowing everything from smartphones to iPads to be used during class time. Students are allowed to employ their phones and tablets as calculators, dictionaries, planners, and even sketchbooks depending on the lesson. The school employs a technology coach as well, who works with teachers to help them better integrate these and other technologies into their curricula. As for students, they love the new rules and many feel lucky to be able to bring their favorite tech devices into the classroom.

8)      Description: teachers don't allow cell phones to be used in the classroom, but high school science teacher Bob Kuschel isn't most teachers. Kuschel permits students to use their smartphones in his class, and says he finds them to be an effective learning tool for students. For the past three years, he has allowed phone usage while students are working on labs or class assignments, though the phones must be put away during lectures. Kuschel believes that it's important for students to be able to access information easily and reports that allowing students to use them has not only improved grades but also student interest in their coursework.

9)      Description: North Carolina high school is also taking part in Project K-Nect, a pilot program that's working to bring smartphones into the classroom with the hope that it will improve test scores and help students at some of the states most under-funded schools. Sponsored by Qualcomm, the project is providing smartphones for a few trial courses, though it could be expanded in coming years. Administrators at the school hope that the phones will not only improve scores, but help to better prepare students for using new technologies, as many in the district don't have access to the internet or a computer at home. So far, the program seems to be working. A study found that students with the phones performed 25% better than their classmates on an end-of-year algebra exam. Yet teachers report that the phones have a downside, too, as teachers must spend a good deal of time monitoring how the students are using them in their hours away from school.

10)  Description: at this Twin Cities school got a chance to bring some of their favorite technologies into the classroom this fall. The school is allowing students to use personal electronic devices in the classroom, including smartphones, PDAs, and tablet computers. While the school acknowledges the potential drawbacks of allowing tech in the classroom, they think the educational opportunities outweigh the risks. They may be setting a model for schools in the region, as the Minneapolis School District just approved a similar measure for bringing tech into the classroom.

11)  Description: sixth grade classrooms are taking on a trial program at this middle school, allowing mobile devices into the classroom. Given phones through a donation by Sprint, educators are now using them in sixth grade science courses. Students use them to graph, track the results of their experiments, write essays, and even look up information on the web. The phones don't offer students free will, as the texting and calling features are disabled, and internet access is limited and closely monitored, but that's OK with students. A study of the phone usage at school showed that they increased the level of student engagement and motivated more students to complete assignments. While the district doesn't have the budget to purchase more phones at the moment, teachers say they'd love to see the program expand.

12)  Description: at this high school no longer have to hide their phones to use them in class. The school is now allowing phones, laptops, MP3 players, and iPads in the classroom, provided students have the OK of their teachers to use them. Over the five months the program has been in place, the school hasn't seen in increase in students cheating or misusing the technology, perhaps because students are afraid of losing their right to use the tech in the classroom. As of this fall, the program expanded to include the entire school, a change which the school hopes will help not only students but their bottom line as well. Students who are able to bring their own technology to school can help reduce the costs of maintaining a computer lab on campus, and making it easier for students to take notes and look up information is a great added benefit.

So, you see, it can be done.

[1] Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek where in 1965 had the characters exploring new worlds with something called “a tricorder”, about the size of a smartphone.
[2] Frydenberg, M., W. Cecucci, and P. Sendall. (2012, January 31).Smartphones: Teaching Tool or Brain Candy? [Web log message]. Retrieved from
[3] 10 Innovative Schools Allowing Smartphones in the Classroom. [Web log message]. (2012). Retrieved from

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