Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cell Phone Use in the Classroom

                In today’s digital world you are never out of reach of someone who is looking to get a hold of you.  Now your opinion on if this is a good change in our society or not, the fact is that to our students being connected 24 hours a day is now a way of life.  With the proliferation of cell phones in today’s society the question of whether or not to use these revolutionary pieces of technology in the classroom is one that all districts and teachers need to address.  While a problem for all teachers, this issue is more tailored towards the secondary teachers and the unique characteristics of teaching students who are driving and often times have jobs outside of school.  For most of these students having a cell phone is as important as their friends and cars.  With that in mind, I interviewed a fellow teacher who uses cell phones fairly regularly inside her classroom.  During this conversation we discussed some of the problems and benefits she has faced allowing her students to use cell phones.
                Christine, who asked that I not use her last name,  is a high school history teacher in the Lake Washington School District.  For over a year now she has been using cell phones in her classroom as a formative assessment tool.  This is done using a free website called Kahoot.  This website allows anyone to create a series of multiple choice questions.  On the first page of the quiz is a code that you text into a specific number that then registers you for the quiz.  Using your cell phone you then can answer the question you see on screen which scores you based on accuracy and time.  The top five people are displayed for the class to see, adding to the tension and competition of the assessment.   Christine reported that the one downside is the competitive nature of the activity as the students get really excited to see their names on the leaderboard, basically she said, “It is not a quiet activity.” 
                The district we both teach in has a policy regarding cell phones that if they are not be explicitly used for educational purposes they must be put away and out of reach of the student.  Luckily our policy does allow for the educational use of cell phones in the class so that was something did not have to be addressed prior to the use of this activity.  Christine mentioned that the feedback she had received from the use of this program in her class has been entirely positive.  She also pointed out that this site can be used by those students who do not have cell phones by having them log onto the website and completing the quizzes with the rest of the class through that medium.  Her principal even requested to observe a lesson in which she used this because she had heard such great things from the students.  It is actually from her administrator, who shared it with mine, that I became aware of her use of this technology.
                As for challenges that she has faced, Christine reported that it was really just being able to create quality questions.  At first it was hard to come up with questions that accurately judged the students’ knowledge of the topic and not specific random facts about it.  The cell phones allowed for greater participation, but not necessarily better results on the tests because the questions she was asking were not appropriate to the goal that she was trying to achieve.  After practice with her questioning however, she has seen an increase in test scores and higher work completion in other areas of her class. 
                The use of cellphones in the classroom is something that districts will need to start addressing.  As more apps and websites become available that use this technology, the talk might shift from why are you using cellphones to why aren’t you using them.  I know I use a service called remind to text information out to parents and students.  The idea of not using a resource available that can positively impact students is something that I can understand.  As Christine pointed out, “Technology is a tool, it is how you use it that determines its worth.”

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