As I stated in an earlier blog post, I an beginning a new series on using cell phones in learning to go along side my iPods in Education series. I hope through this series of blog posts to provide practical ways teachers and students can use cell phones to help kids learn as a way to challenge the standard bias that cell phones are a useless distraction in the classroom.
In beginning this discussion, I want to focus on using a cell phone in a way that’s possible despite what make or model of cell phone one is using. That is to use a cell phone for personal productivity. All cell phones made within the last decade or so have a built-in calendars with personal reminders, calculator, and the ability to write notes. While more recent smartphones bring productivity to a who new level, not everyone has, or can afford, the luxury of having a smartphone. Therefore, we’ll begin by focusing on tools that all of today’s cell phones have.
When I taught grades 7 and 8, we always encouraged students to keep a calendar and an agenda in order to keep a record of what is taking place in the class/school, what is due when and as a way to learn organization skills. We would provide students with paper agendas at a significant cost but kept running into the probelm of students not using their agendas. This may have been due to the fact that it is not always convenient or practical to walk around with ones school agenda everywhere one went and the agenda is really useless if one doesn’t constantly look at it. Paper agendas are static devices that don’t actively work with individuals to remember to get things done. Cell phones, however, are different. Kids keep their phones with them all the time and keeping an agenda within their phone’s calendar is not asking kids to change their habits too much as they already use their phones for many other things other than for voice communication. However, the most important benefit in my eyes is the ability to allow kids to set reminders when things are due. This common feature has the powerful ability communicate back to students in a way that is impossible with a paper agenda.
Then there are the calculators built into cell phones. Why do we encourage students, especially those in elementary, to spend money on purchasing a calculator when they already have them built in to their phones? Some phones, albeit expensive smartphones, even have scientific calculators built-in or the ability to easily and freely install one. I remember the days when I was in school and teachers would go around collecting those wrist watches that kids use to have with a calculator built in. While I understand the necessity of learning the times tables, when will we allow students to move beyond just learning and memorizing simple computation and begin encouraging students to use simple computation? If a student is using computation to accomplish a complex task, then why shouldn’t students be allowed to use the calculator on their phone? Do we walk up to adults in the grocery store who are using their cell phone calculators to calculate and compare costs of items and question their mental math abilities? Do scientists working at NASA work on their calculations using mental math and long division on paper? If adults in the workplace use devices for calculations and we are preparing students for life in the real world as an adult, why do we push older stdents to work without those tools that can help them succeed?
In addition, to be able to take notes on a cell phones is very powerful. While on any sort of excursion, students can record their observation right from a device that they carry with them and easily collect those digital notes and make them accessible on a computer. For adults who question the practicality of writing using a cell phone number/key pad, remember that students are constantly communicating with friends via SMS on those same keys. Just because the teacher may not be comfortable recording observations on a cell phone, that doesn’t mean students cannot do it comfortably. Many cell phones that kids are carrying around have bluetooth and cameras as well. Using these devices, students can take photographs of observations on a field trip or science experiment, and collaborate with other students by sharing their content (photographs and notes) by sending them to group partners via bluetooth.
These tools are very useful for all students and especially those who need their instruction differentiated due to issues with fine motor skills or other needs. Today’s phones contain productivity tools that help adults stay organized and more productive. We should be encouraging students to make full use of the devices they already carry for the same reason.