Cell Phones in the Classroom


Teachers can tell when that kindergartener needs to be rushed into the bathroom, and we can also tell when that older student is texting under the table. There are some expressions you get to know.

But in many classrooms across the country, cell phones are no longer confiscated. Instead, they’re being used for instruction.

Just a few ways you can use cell phones for teaching:

  • Discreetly communicate with students by texting them when it’s their turn to come up for a writing conference or when their private conversations are getting out of hand.
  • Use texting any time to keep interruptions to a minimum. A quick text of “Help!” during quiet work time is a great way to get teacher attention without disturbing others.
  • Use Twitter on the Smart Board or with a projector to let all students in large classes get into class discussions. Shy students have an equal chance with bolder ones in this way, and even very lively discussions can be captured and examined calmly.
  • Encourage students with internet access via phone to look up data needed in the course of a class discussion or project. Today in class we got pictures of an old model of car mentioned in an essay we were reading. It enhanced comprehension in a practical, nondisruptive way — several students found the pictures and shared them with classmates.
  • I also like to be able to ask students to check facts — I want to encourage them in the habit of critical reading and listening, as well as increasing their research skills.
  • Use phones’ capabilities as cameras and audio and video recorders to make multimedia classroom projects more practical.
  • Allow students to use phones as recorders or note-taking devices.

Some teachers may find this worrying. They associate cell phones with cheating, they worry about losing kids’ attention, and they don’t want to open classrooms to multiple sources of information. Some of these attitudes are worth getting over. Making sure that our teaching is accurate and engaging enough to compete, practicing cell phone courtesy and skills, and getting comfortable with the new technology are strategies for making cell phones practical for education.

Other teachers worry that kids without cell phones will be at a disadvantage, or that costs will be an issue either for families or for schools. This is rapidly becoming less of an issue as phone services change, but certainly must be addressed. Meetings with parents to make sure that kids understand the limitations of the family data plan should be part of school orientation, and no lessons should require parents to spring for cell phones for their kids.

Phones are cheaper than computers, though, from the school’s point of view. Having a few extra cell phones on hand for general use may be practical.

Doug Fodeman’s book Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education goes into more detail on troubleshooting, training students in appropriate use, and creative ways use cell phones for learning. How Do Cell Phones Work? (Science in the Real World) delves into the science and technology behind the gadgets. Even if your cell phone lesson is all about why the students can’t use theirs in class, examining the technology can be a great way to up the learning quotient.

In my classroom, students are welcome to bring and use phones if they care to. We all turn our phones to silent before class, and we take advantage of being hooked up. I’m inclined to think that this makes sense in high school, and possibly in middle school with adequate preparation and limits. How does it work in your classroom?


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