5 Tips for Classroom Management with Mobile Devices

This is reblogged from the original post at Edudemic and is the premise of presentation I will be leading in November at Miami Device.

When adopting technology in the classroom, one of the key concerns for teachers and administrators is classroom management. I am often asked if there is a way to “lock down an iPad screen” or “ensure students cannot go to inappropriate websites” (e.g. Social Media). In other words, how do we keep students on task and ensure that they are not distracted by the novelty of gadgets or communicating with friends via texting or social media? Often, teachers will take up devices (such as mobile phones) to avoid the issue of students texting or checking Facebook on their phones (eliminating access to a powerful, pocket computer in the process).

Classroom management is a challenging skill which I consistently strive to improve on a regular basis. Often, people believe that managing a classroom that has employed technology requires a whole new approach and skill set. However, I have found that many traditional methods of classroom management readily translate to the technological rich schoolroom – with some slight modification.


Establish Ground Expectations

Just as I start out the school year with “Class Rules” that we make and agree to as a group, we also establish expectations for when we use technology. The general topics are: civility, staying on task, and adhering to the honor code. In reality, this is no different than I would expect in a non-technology classroom. The one additional rule that I add, as it pertains to smart phones, is that when not in use they are to sit, face-down on the desk in front of them. I have found that having students “put them away” can create temptation and they are more likely to “sneak a peek” at them from a pocket or a sleeve. However, if the phone is always face-down on the desk in front of them, they are less prone to “sneak a peek” at a text from a friend or check their Facebook status and are more likely to stay on task when employing it during my lessons.

In addition to establishing expectations, you may also want to ensure that you lay out consequences for violating your established policies – this can be loss of technology privilege, a note home, confiscation of the device, meeting with the Dean, or whatever else you decide is necessary in order to ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them and the natural consequences of violating them.

Let them “Get the Giggles Out”

If I’m introducing a new tool, app, piece of software, or device, I often give students some time to “get the giggles out.” For example, if we are using Today’s Meet to do a Backchannel, they have 2 minutes to say hello to all of their friends. If we are using iMovie on iPad, I will encourage them to make one silly video before they delve into the assignment. Some of the problems of using new technology arise from the novelty of the device. Let students get past the initial excitement so that they can be more focused when they delve into their work.

Engagement is Key

I will be the first to argue that as educators we are not entertainers. Lessons should be engaging and require students to stay on task at a solid pace in order to complete them. Ensure that the assignment requires students to stay engaged; this can include playing to their passions, setting firm due dates for assessment, and scaling the assignment for students who finish faster. Students become bored when they are not challenged or find their assignments meaningful and engaging.

One of my favorite uses of cell phones during the class, for example, is to engage in bell-ringer exercises (activities students must complete at the start of class) or exit-tickets (something they must complete before leaving). Using an app like Socrative, students can use their mobile phone to complete a brief activity that is then assessed. Not only does it keep them focused on a task, but it provides meaningful assessment for the teachers to gauge student progress.

Get the two Eyes, two Feet App

Carl Hooker, an educational technology innovator on the cutting edge, coined the phrase “the two eyes, two feet app” in response to faculty and administration concerned about inappropriate use on cell phones, tablets, and/or laptops. The biggest shift for educators when technology enters the classroom is that you cannot be static or stable. The best way to ensure that students stay on task is to walk around the room, look at the work they are doing, discuss and engage with them about their progress. The more active and mobile you are in the classroom, the easier it is to ensure that your students are on working on what they should be. If you notice that children are quickly closing browsers windows when you come near or “double tapping” the home button on their iPad (a sign that they’re switching apps) then take the time to investigate what the student is doing and have a discussion with them if necessary.

Know When to put the Technology Away

Even though I am the Director of Educational Technology, my classes are never “all tech all the time.” Sometimes, it is not appropriate to use technology for an assignment or activity in class. In those cases, the technology goes away – in fact, I’ve been known to collect cell phones during certain activities (like mid-term exams or quizzes). Use the appropriate tool for the appropriate context – and sometimes that is a pencil and paper. Beth Holland and Shawn McCusker wrote a great article on this topic entitled “When to Put the Tech Away in a 1:1 Classroom.” As Shawn argues, when technologies interfere with class culture, it’s time to put the tech away!

Overall, classroom management is an organic and individual process. You must find what works for you and with what students. I will admit that I have classes that are easier to keep on task than others, students that are more readily distracted than their peers, and activities that just do not succeed as I hoped. At the end of your activity, pause, assess, and adjust as needed!

Jennifer Carey will be presenting a workshop on “Mobile Devices and Classroom Management” this November at Miami Device. Space is limited and filling up fast! 

32 thoughts on “5 Tips for Classroom Management with Mobile Devices

  1. pjimison

    Reblogged this on WJU EdTech and commented:
    I am reblogging some tips written by Jennifer Carey for technology and classroom management. She makes some very good points that I think would help our faculty such as give clear expectations and the use of the “Two Eyes Two Feet App”. Read on to learn more!

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  4. Brittany Rea

    I just completed my second practicum part of Brock University’s Teacher’s Education Program, teaching two Grade 9 applied classes. I found this blog insightful in terms of my own teaching experience.

    Your question on “how do we keep students on task and ensure that they are not distracted by… communicating with friends via text messaging or social media” is one I grappled with throughout my first teaching block. I came to my senses while going out on my second teaching block that social media is at the centre of youth culture, and if anything, will help them stay on task if used appropriately. Hence I did exactly the opposite of ensuring my Grade 9s could not go on inappropriate websites by getting them to use social media to achieve curriculum expectations. How? My Grade 9s completed a unit on Gender Roles and Stereotypes in Fairy Tales which required them to create a Facebook character profile for their summative assignment. The objective was to make inferences on one of the fairy tale characters from one of the four books studied in class using the Facebook template. Inferencing and creating media are both expectations set out in the Ontario English Curriculum for Grade 9 Applied. Although the Grade 9s really struggled with making inferences about their fairy tale character, they were enthusiastic about using Facebook which motivated them to practice refining this skill. One benefit teaching in the English classroom I was assigned was that it house approximately 20 laptops that I utilized to great extent during my second teaching block, especially for the Grade 9s summative assignment. Students fell back on their personal devices when there was a shortage of these lap tops in the classroom.

    In terms of managing technology in the classroom, I have learned that a one size fits all policy for personal devices in the classroom isn’t always compatible with individual students’ learning needs. For example, one of my students that I taught has autism spectrum disorder. Another one of the students I taught has a language communication disorder. My autism student has great difficulty writing neatly. As part of their IEP, it is suggested that they complete their written work first, then type it on word document to hand in. This was an easy accommodation with the lap tops housed in the classroom. My student with a language communication disorder could write just fine but was reluctant to do so. This student asked me if they could type their work instead of write it. When I gave them the “okay”, it worked wonders to see that they were actually completing their seat work.
    Now technology management for these two students was something different. For my autism student, the EA warned me that this student would use social media sites inappropriately and was known to download viruses onto computers. This meant setting the ground rules for this student before they got started on the computer as set out in their IEP. I would say every time before this student opened up the lap top, “no games, no social media, no surfing,” which was followed closely by monitoring this student’s behaviour. I asked this student once to shut down a game, and another time to close a YouTube video, and redirected them to the task they were to complete. Although this student struggles with listening as part of their autism, I never had a major issue with them using the lap top in class.

    Technology management was a little different for my student with a language communication disorder. Although I saw this student playing a web game on the lap top, and playing Tetris on their cellphone, I never made huge deal about it. For this student, 75 minutes of class was way too long for their short attention span. There were times when this student would come sit up at the teacher’s desk and play with the paperclips because they could not stay focused for very long. Hence when I say them playing games on these devices, I would monitor their activity for 15 minutes, and then redirect them to the task they were asked to complete.

    Now for the rest of my students, the notion of “traditional methods of classroom management” translated to the use of their personal devices in the classroom. At the beginning of the semester, my Grade 9s were told that they were not to be on their personal devices while I or my associate were giving instruction. Students were permitted to use their cellphones for academic purposes and were allowed to listen to music on their phones while doing independent seat work. Overall this worked well. This is not to say I didn’t have some students who did text and use social media during their independent seat work. If saw that students were able to multitask using text/social media and getting their seat work done, I didn’t say anything. For those one or two students whose texting/social media consumed the majority of their class time and no work was being completed, I pointed this out and gave them a warning. I told them that if I saw it again, I would remind them to put their phone away, and if I saw it a third time, I would have to take the device away. This was followed by walking around the classroom, looking at students’ work, and discussing their progress. I never took a cellphone away in the four weeks I was on block. Students understood the expectations and were treated fairly by being given a choice.

    One thing I found interesting is the comment that students are more likely to look at their mobile devices when they are asked to put the away as oppose to putting them face down on their desk. Why is this more tempting for students?

    1. Jennifer Carey Post author

      Wow Brittney! Thanks for your well thought out response. I’m so glad that you found this useful in your own studies and practice. And you are right, different students have different needs – and sometimes a few minutes of distraction is actually helpufl for them overall.
      In the sense of your last question, what I found is that with the phone visible in front of us all it was quite obvious if a student was going to “peak” at it. They have to physically pick it up and do it in front of the class. If the phone is “away” then they have the opportunity to do it more sneakily.

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  6. Brittany Rea

    You would think if the phone is out of site it would be out of mind. But you are right, they are sneaky about it. At least with the phone face down in front of them, the chances of everyone seeing eases the temptation. It’s a very good strategy.

    Just to clarify, what is your school’s policy around technology use in the classroom? Also, what is your role as Director of Educational Technology? Do you teach in a classroom?

    1. Jennifer Carey Post author

      Our school’s technology policy varies based on division – we allow more access for our Upper School as opposed to the Middle School. Currently, we only allow technology use under direct supervision of the teacher.
      As Director of Ed Tech I still teach 2 classes. My position is new, so we are still ironing out the role and objectives of the position. Primarily my objectives are to direct and facilitate the integration of technology into our curriculum, provide training for teachers, and help to guide and draft policy and direction.

  7. Brittany Rea

    So when you say Upper School and Middle School, is there a board involved? Like here in Ontario, I am teaching for the Hamilton-Wentworth School Board, and I am teaching at the high school level (9-12).

    Congratulations on the new position! It sounds like a heavy work load. What do find has been the biggest challenge taking on this position?

    1. Jennifer Carey Post author

      We’re an independent school grades 6-12, so we do not have a school board o answer to a district, state, or national curriculum. Middle School is grades 6-8 (approx 11-13 year olds), Upper School is 9-12 (14-18).

      Biggest challenge of the new job? Workload!

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  17. placlair

    This is a great overview! I found that one of my problems in a 1-to-1 iPad classroom was that I was very tolerant of students using whatever medium they wanted to use. With one task, I would have some students on the iPads, some using their books, and many switching in between. About halfway through the year, I realized that it was a management mess, and instituted a “stop-light” policy. Using a sign on the wall, each task is designated as “Green” (students must use their devices), “Yellow” (devices optional), or “Red” (no devices). It helped the students, but mainly it was a good reminder for me what I was laying out as expectations.

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