10 Reasons to Allow Cellphones in Classrooms

Cell phones are not going away. In fact, they are changing how the most competitive people are working and learning. This has left many people wondering if they should be allowed in schools.

The question is not whether or not they should be allowed in schools. It's whether schools are supporting teachers through training they can use to adapt the their lessons to new technology.

I’ve found it helpful to use cell phones in a variety of ways to establish a routine of learning with phones instead being distracted by them.
Here's my list, which also works with iPod Touch, iPads, Android tablets, etc.

See also, "10 Ways to Manage Cell Phones in the Classroom"

1. Communication

Texting is the most popular choice for communication. Why not use it for learning and classroom management?

Remind has chat feature that allows students, teachers, and parents chat safely – without revealing phone numbers and by providing a third-party transcript.

2. Images

Skip the PowerPoint! With the Google Drive app, students can find images on the web and drop them in a shared folder. Project the folder on a screen, and click on a photo to start a slide show of images that interest your students.

I know what you're thinking. Not all of my students have smartphones. Write a grant or try Donors Choose, but enough with the excuses.  

3. Students as Contributors

Don't stop at images, use Today's Meet, Remind, or Poll Everywhere to collect summaries, links, and questions from your students.

Most of my students use the Remind app because they can all share all of the above with one tool that they already need for communication.

It used to be that the lesson content was bound by what the teacher provided. But the unanswered questions don't have to float in curiosity too long if a classroom routine includes using cell phones to look up facts.

I label the desks with a number, shape, and letter to quickly assign learning roles when an unplanned learning opportunity arises. For example, odd numbers search the news for a fact while even numbers search educational institutions (using sites:.edu keywords)

5. Assessment

Poll Everywhere is the most versitle digital assessment platform because it provides users with several ways to respond, including short message via non-smartphone.

Try using Poll Everywhere to collect vocabulary terms to generate a list of concern words. Project the responses using the word cloud option to instantly see which words share more concern.

See also 10 Digital Tools for Formative Assessment.

6. Responsible Use

How can we teach our kids how to make good choices with mobile technology if they only use it to gossip and send selfies?

Students need to associate using their phones with more than chatting with their friends. Even though they might look up answers to everyday questions, it's the job of a teacher to ensure that our kids can evaluate and compare sources to establish credibility.

For more on responsible use, see Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship.

7. Reading

How harmful glowing screens are to health is still up for debate. The most compelling evidence has suggested that screens versus paper has a lot to do with the angle of view – whether our eyes are facing down or forward.

One of the benefits of reading on a smartphone is the reduced amount of text on the screen and the narrow rows. These restrictions can help readers whose eyes wander around the page stay focused. This problem can be intensified by learning differences such as dyslexia and ADHD, for example.

8. Content Apps

Math. Reading. Science. Art. History. You can find free (or inexpensive) apps for all of these subjects, and more. A recent Boston Globe article by Linda Matchan shares a couple of examples.
At Melrose High School, for example, science students use a physics app to collect acceleration data and measure sound intensity, and English students discuss literature on their smartphones. In Burlington, high school Spanish students practice language skills on their iPads by recording their speech and playing it back. ("Schools Seek Balance for Cellphones in Class" 
How much would these tools cost a school 10 (or even five) years ago? Now, look at the possibilities.

9. Journal

Simple note-taking apps that come installed in phones should not be overlooked. They can be just as powerful for reflecting and making notes of observations as the more sophisticated apps like OneNote or Evernote.

Personally, I do most of my writing on the Google Docs app and the iPhone notes app. For example, the copy for this post was written using the Google Docs app on my iPhone while flying to Salt Lake (sans WiFI).  

10. Social Media

Writing good social media posts takes knowledge and skill. Most teenagers have social media accounts and most of them don't want to use their account for school. That's why I made a Twitter handle for my class.

I got the idea to use Twitter for my history class from a history teacher in California. The idea to make a profile for my class came from elementary and middle school teachers who made profiles for their classes. 

It's a great to connect with other classrooms around the World or even down the hall. With social media, we can get back to the schoolhouse model in which students of all ages are working together.

Call to Action

Although the "sage on the stage" is losing relevance, we can't "throw the baby out with the bath water." Teachers need support. They need a place to start and a learning community with which to grow. 

Our kids don't deserve to lose their technology of choice and the good teachers our communities rely on to nurture our future.