Preparing for my Conference Talk – Cell Phones, From Enemy to Asset in the Classroom

On January 3, I will be presenting a talk/workshop for the Independent Curriculum Group at St. Stephens Episcopal School in Austin. I’ve got 75 whole minutes to fill up and am a bit nervous about that – I mean, I love hearing my own voice but that is a lot of time to fill. I anticipate having a lot of hands-on activities, but most people won’t have the software or apps in advance.

So, here’s a summary of my talk:

From Enemy to Asset: Cell Phones in the Classroom
Cell phones have replaced note-passing as the biggest distraction in the classroom. Schools have tried to attack the problem with blanket bans or restrictive policies. But what if instead of viewing cell phones as the enemy, we use them as teaching tools? Most students have more computing power in their pocket than was used by NASA to send men to the moon. This session will explore innovative classroom uses for cell phones.

So, here are a few of the points I want to highlight:

Existing Policies on Cell Phones & Administrative Concerns

  • Most schools have prohibitive policies on cell phones – from outright campus bans to limited use policies
  • Most schools are concerned about the rise of Cyber-bullying and the role that cell phones play in this
  • Cell phones can be a huge distraction – I’m trying to lecture and my student is updating their Facebook status

How Can they be Productive?

  • Directed Use Policies – technology can be used for a specific purpose, otherwise, it’s put away
  • Social Media/Technology Behavior policies – just like punching a kid in the locker room isn’t okay, neither is posting nasty things on the internet. Behavioral education, education, education… both for teachers and students.
  • Like a calculator or even a pencil, it can be a tool or a distraction.
  • One of my favorite quotes: “You can use a hammer to bash someone’s head in… but it’s also really great for hammering in nails.” Tools are all about how you use them.

So…. what’s my plan?

How am I going to use up this amount of time and stay dynamic? My plan is to incorporate a series of demonstrations and activities. One tool that I will definitely be using extensively is a program called Poll Everywhere. It’s a great program that I use in my class a lot – in fact, my students will constantly ask “Can we do the texting thing?” If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a couple of previous posts I did on Poll Everywhere – “First Day Using Poll-Everywhere” and “Using Poll-Everywhere Day #2.”

I think I will have a combination of directed questions and back channeling, for directed questions:

  • Who here has a school with some sort of restricted use on cell phones? (Maybe even more specific any school ban cell phones)?
  • Who here has confiscated a cell phone in class?
  • Who has directed students to use them in the classroom?

Then I may set up a back channel on a topic like:

  • What are your concerns about using cell phones in the classroom?
  • What advantages do you see?
  • How do we deal with classroom management? etc

Maybe after this, I’ll throw in a word cloud, just for fun.

Another activity I’m considering is ‘obscure fact look up’. I’ll break the group into teams and give them a list of obscure trivia and see who can finish the list first. Maybe I’ll direct it from a book – I’ll take all of the information out of one textbook and we’ll race to see who can find this information first and what is more accurate?

Another program I would love to demonstrate is MindMeister. Perhaps set up a Mind Map and let them go. Of course, the problem with this is that it requires a smart phone, a Mind Meister account, as well as a compatible Smart Phone.

Perhaps I’ll try to get a few people to download and participate in the process.

A few other ideas that I have that I’m considering:

Digital Storytelling – there are a few Digital Storytelling Apps (free ones) for the iPhone, I’ll need to play with them.

Movie Making – On my iPhone I can shoot, edit and create a brief video – even upload it to YouTube. Perhaps that could be a cool activity? It will need to be more directed of course.

As you can see, I’m still in the early stages. I would love contributions and ideas!

11 thoughts on “Preparing for my Conference Talk – Cell Phones, From Enemy to Asset in the Classroom

  1. Robert Connolly

    Check this volume out – Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy edited by Nancy Proctor – has a lot of good stuff.

    I think part of the negative reaction on classroom use is the sharing of authority. I am somewhat of an idealist on this, but I do believe that we need to be able to engage our students, not just because we are the teachers, but because what we can bring to the table is of value. I suspect that the same teachers who have trouble with cell phones as distractions would have had the same trouble with students passing notes as distractions 30 years ago. So how do we harness this new technology to bring value to our teaching?

    On this, a new book on sharing historical authority called “Letting Go” edited by Bill Adair from Left Coast Press.

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Great thanks! I’ll check it out!

      I passed notes in class. Not gonna lie. Kids will always figure out a way to pull that off. I find that often teachers are nervous about the extremes we all hear about on the news – online predators, misinformation, bullying, etc. Also, I think it can also make you a bit nervous to have kids more knowledgeable about something in your classroom. I could be wrong.

  2. Pingback: Group Link Post 12/22/2011 | KJsDiigoBookmarks

  3. Luke J.

    Hello, Sprockett! You can probably predict this, but it might be worth my typing it anyway. I always have the same question for anyone presenting about “technology in the classroom”: where does any given use of any given device fit into the question of the teaching of *skills* versus the teaching of bits of knowledge? You’ve heard me say this: we have a paradox on our hands, and it is a subtle one, easily overlooked. For the most part, our kids don’t need us to teach them HOW to use devices, since they live in a world in which figuring out how to use new devices is part of daily life…but, this can’t be allowed to mean that we use devices like cell phones or tablets or even laptops just for acquisition of information instead of for skill development, because *knowing* stuff is not nearly as important to one’s education as a critical thinker as is being able to *do* stuff (“stuff” in this arena being variations on thinking skills).

    So, to summarize: we need to be using any given device only if it allows us better to teach skills (as opposed to bits of knowledge), and yet the skill being taught can’t just be “this is how to use this device,” because the kids don’t really need us for that (and because the specifics of the device interface per se will be obsolete within a year or two, so the thing itself is really a moot point).

    I’m betting that you can work into your talk a discussion of how vital skills–evaluating the relative relevance/usefulness of different bits of information; or processes of research that involve evaluating the trustworthiness of sources; or creating multiple approaches to the same thought problem; or whatever–can be taught through the use of a mobile phone.

    That’s what I would want to hear: a convincing argument that a mobile phone can be in the classroom what it is at its very best anywhere–a tool for doing what education is supposed to do. When the printing press was invented, when film came into its own, when televisions started, when word processing devices became common, when personal computers became affordable…the conversations were all the same: either this device is going to revolutionize education, or this device is going to make students lazy/skill-less/etc. Of course, both sides were often full of nonsense, as are both sides of most discussions of the use of mobile devices. A t.v. screen or a p.c. is only valuable in education insofar as it is used to teach the kids the skills they need to be adaptable, creative, problem-solving thinkers. Same goes for a mobile phone. Give your audience a handle on how to use it to those ends!

    Does that make sense? By the way, I only put this on the blog, rather than in an e-mail, because you said that you got so excited when people posted to the blog. I hope I get bonus points for this.

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Thanks Luke! I always get super excited about posts on the blogs!

      You’re absolutely right, I should focus on how these tools help to facilitate learning – that it’s not just teaching them to use a cell phone to access Wikipedia. I usually do that by focusing on things like multiple intelligences, different learning styles, incorporating multiple senses, exercising different skills, etc.

      Thanks for your input! This is really helpful and something I hadn’t even considered incorporating.

  4. mathymcmatherson

    Jen the JenMeister,

    So here’s my take: your talk is on using cell phones productively in the classroom. I suspect you’ll consider your talk a ‘success’ if some teachers/administrators begin to consider activities that incorporate cell phones in their classroom (which may have a secondary consequence of reconsidering schoolwide cell phone policies). I think this will be a tricky talk for you because you use so much technology in your classroom (to AMAZING results) that it will be hard to separate that and find just the ways that you use cell phones in your classroom.

    Poll Everywhere is incredible and you use it to great effect – I think it’s wise to keep that as a considerable focus in the presentation. It’s like one of those expensive clicker systems, but free and with more features – that’s a great sell right there from a financial standpoint (for administrators) and student engagement/formative feedback (for teachers).

    Personally, I think the greatest benefit to having a cell phone is the instant access to a series of tools (calculator, internet, camera, etc) that can extend learning and provide instant gratification for curiosity. To share a personal anecdote, a student asked me a historical question one day during class that I didn’t know the answer to, so I told the class that whoever could tell me the answer the next day would get extra credit – five minutes later, a student raised his hand and told me the answer: he had googled the answer on his phone and I hadn’t noticed. And he was correct.

    I like your idea of an ‘obscure fact lookup’, or something that requires them to use the internet on their phone to find an answer. You sort of allude to this, but I also think it’s a good idea to spend some time focusing on all the great educational apps that are available on the iTunes and Android markets and how these can be used with other technology-based projects (MindMeister, Digital Storytelling, etc). If you wanted to make an ‘activity’ out of this, you could have participants group together and explore the apps available for their own phones in the iTunes or android marketplaces and make a list of potential ones to have their students download.

    I also think emphasizing cell phones as a camera is a good route to go too. I think your work with Google Goggles would be good to mention. I also know of some teachers who use the camera as a phone for certain projects (like this one: I also knew of a teacher in an English-As-a-Second-Language classroom who, for one project, had her students take pictures of certain objects and write a paragraph describing both the object and the composition of the shot (low-angle, close-up, lighting, etc) – there’s no reason this couldn’t be done with the camera on a cell phone. Essentially – anything you can do with a camera, you can do with a cell-phone too.

    I honestly think Poll Anywhere is a good enough reason to consider cell phones in a classroom and the other things are just added benefits. The tricky thing will be convincing the participants that training students to use cell phones effectively is worth the benefits and worth the time that they’ll initially spend teaching acceptable behavior. Maybe having the session come up with a list of what ‘appropriate behavior’ and ‘inappropriate behavior’ looks like would help with that battle, so each person can take that with them back to their classroom.

    I think that’s all I got. Hope this all made sense. Good luck!

  5. sharmans18

    Also maybe you could throw in a bit a bit about the TI nspire color calculator. It is an electronic calculator which allows you to have any apps on your calculator. Though this may be a disadvantage in class (games) teachers have the ability to see what all the kids are doing on their calculators at all times with this class room set. This is also good, because the students are able to send in the answers for the math question without anyone teasing them on their answer or anything. The teachers also will be able to see who send which answer in, and they will know if the person who put a goofy answer (if they did).

    At the conference you can also show a video for a little while, maybe of an example of classroom using technology in their classrooms. I bet you might be able to find one on youtube or google if that helps.

    Down below is the website for a picture of the TI nspire color calculator. Good Luck at your conference!

  6. corderg

    Looks really good, Jen. It is shaping up to be an engaging and productive session. I have a book from ISTE – Toys to Tools – Connecting Cell Phones to Education. It has a lot of good lesson plans and Web 2.0 tools that you might be able to use. It’s in my office and you’re welcome to go and get it.

  7. Melissa Burkhead

    I think you have a great talk plan. In the mathematics realm and connecting with cell phones in the classroom, science and mathematics teachers find great gems with wolfram alpha. Check this out:

    You can really get the kids using their cell phones and doing real mathematics instead of pages and pages of factoring polynomials and contrived proofs from a teacher who has been doing the same thing again and again.

    Grant R. and Corbin C. downloaded this app within 2 seconds of a class demo. You should see how this app has has made their GSP sketches stronger.

  8. Pingback: Update – Conference Talk: From Enemy to Asset, Cell Phones in the Classroom « Indiana Jen

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