Wednesday, March 24, 2010

School-Issued Smartphones

Although many schools ban the use of cell phones, this policy is beginning to be revisited. Here is one article that speaks to the merits, Solving Algebra Problems on Smarthpones. In fact, in the North Carolina school featured in the story, students are issued smartphones by the school. They are used by students to assist them in solving algebra problems both in the classroom and at home, while doing homework. In addition to several applications for which the phones are used, the students have access to a class blog, where they can pose questions when they need assistance with solving problems at home. The teacher or peers can respond. To learn more about this use of smartphones to assist students with their algebra skills, refer to the Education Week article, Solving Algebra Problems on Smarthpones. Do you think it is about time that more schools lifted bans on smartphone use during school hours? What about the idea of the schools being the ones to issue the phones? The article documents several advantages of issuing school-sponsored smartphones and using them both in and out the school. Let us know what you think after you read the article.

In addition, the article contains this video, which you might want to watch for additional information and for student and teacher testimonials of the value of the K-Nect Project, the program that brought the phones to the schools.

Photo is from the article at and is captioned as such: "Using her school-issued smartphone, Katie Denton, a junior at Dixon High School in Holly Ridge, N.C., reads the biographic profile of a student from another school that is also participating in a Project K-Nect math class.—Sara D. Davis for Education Week" (URL:


Christina said...

At first I was not crazy about the idea of students having and using smartphones in the classroom. I thought it would create tension between students and would lead to even more distractions in the classroom that the teacher would have to deal with while they were trying to teach. After reading this article my views started to change a little.

It was pretty cool how students seemed to be getting more excited about math topics. The article talked about students even creating movies with a CSI theme and using/needing math to solve the problem. This is a great way to use multiple intelligences and attract students to math that normally would not be interested in the subject.

The only issue that I see in this is the amount of training that is needed on both the student and the teachers side, in order to be productive in using the smartphone for educational purposes. It also said that teachers must be ready to be on call after classroom hours. Teachers already have little time to themselves, im not sure how the majority of them would feel about being on call 24/7!

Lori said...

I don't think it is a matter of being on call 24/7 as Christina believes but rather that you would have to check in once or twice a night. In my present job, I already have to do this. My students have study hall from 8 - 10 pm and I need to check our class conference to see if anyone has posted anything at night. It is also not just the teacher's responsibility to provide help. Help can be provided by a peer which is why I do not believe it is a 24/7 proposition for teachers.

I like the fact that this program involves students beyond one classroom or school. This way if no one in your school has the answer, maybe someone in another school district does.

Anything that gets kids talking about math is great. I find kids can do math but not explain it. The article states a benefit of this program is "that students’ confidence levels and ability to truly understand and explain the math they’re doing have risen." Anything that does that is great in my book.

I like the ability to earn points for more involvement in the program, the fact that certain phone features can be turned off and that the teacher has the ability to track students and they know it!

I also disagree with Christina that 9 hours of training is a long time. I would gladly give up 9 hours to learn how to use this in my classroom. I spend a lot longer than this some weekends coming up with lesson plans so this does not really seem like a lot of time to me. It seems to be worth the investment.

What I am not sure about is if there are shared lessons on what to do with the Smartphone? Did these teachers have to come up with ideas on their own or did K-Nect provide them with ideas? That is the time consuming part.

Kate said...

I agree with Christina that it is wonderful to hear students become motivated and excited to solve math problems. One student created a rap song based on his understanding of polynomials. What a great way for students to become creative with math. I think this idea of allowing students to use Smartphones in the classroom is a novel idea. Students are able to blog about math and receive online assistance outside of school to help with understanding mathematical concepts. I think this is wonderful. Teachers have shared how students' ability in math have increased and how their confidence level has risen in math. They directly attribute this to the use of the Smartphones.

I am glad that students are only allowed to discuss math with one another. One my first concerns was that students would be texting about issues unrelated to math, which could be a problem. One student did do this and his conversation was printed and placed on his desk the following morning. What a powerful message to send to a student so that this would not happen again.

Teachers need to receive six hours of training on learning how to integrate Smartphones, which is a downside. However, districts could use the professional development days slated in the summer prior to the start of the school year to train teachers. Also, some technological glitches need to be worked out in that if students are all pulling up the same math problems on their Smartphones, the network needs to be able to handle the cyber traffic. I also think that asking teachers to be available after hours is asking a bit much. There should be a window of time after school for a few hours where teachers can answer student questions. However, once the time frame ends, the teacher would then be unavailable and students would have to rely on each other for help.

Upon finishing the article I did have a question. Have using these Smartphones improved students' standardized test scores. I think that if the article included statistics showing improvements in mathematics, these phones would be making their way into more school districts.

Amy R. said...

Once again I am feeling a bit skeptical about promoting the use of smart phones in the classroom. Don't our students spend enough time connected to their small electronic gadgets? However, as long as this is a technique that is used in conjunction with classroom discussion and traditional paper and pencil problem solving, then I think it could be a way to encourage learning and embrace technology.
As a former high school English teacher I favor instruction that promotes dialogue, higher level thinking, and reading based learning. I cringe at the thought of kids scrambling to find their personal electronic gadget to answer any question that comes their way. I feel overly surrounded by technology in the real world, it would be nice to keep schools free from digital overload!
Despite my negativity, there must be a place for technology in the classroom. But, please don't throw out the books and paper quite yet.

Bryan M said...

At first, much like most of you, I was skeptical of the idea of using smart phones in school. The idea of providing students with built in distractions seemed to be the antithesis of what students need in the classroom. However, after reading the article I am slightly more inclined to their use.

The article stated that there was an increase in student performance when the uses of the use of smart phones were allowed, but what the article did not mention was how relevant the gains were. One person commented that if the percentage was minimal then the question must be asked is it worth the millions of dollars needed to implement such measures. If research shows that the use of smart phone devices has a significant chance of improving the majority of the student population then I believe it is worth trying. However, if it shows that only a small percentage of students are benefiting from these devices then I believe the money needed to upgrade service areas and the money needed to buy the devices could be spent elsewhere.

I like the idea of students having instant access to teachers and to other peers, especially if it is their only source of internet connection. As a teacher I constantly feel on call developing lessons, grading tests, etc... If the technology allows why would I not afford my students the opportunities to ask questions outside of school? The ability to track and record student involvement makes it so that teachers can make sure students are on task and are using the devices as they were intended. I was glad to hear that the basic communications were disabled on these phones as I could see a major problem in schools had they not been.

Providing students with access to not just their peers in school but in other schools is another great way to get students involved. Students should be encouraged to post questions and answers to blogs, all of which can be monitored by the teacher, in order to help on another. Questions asked by students can be answered by the teacher in a public forum so if another student has the same question they have access to that answer.

There are many positives when students are encouraged to interact with their teachers, their peers in school, and peers in other schools. However, much like all technology there runs the inherent risk of abuse. As educators we need to measure the benefits and the risks and whether the ends justify the means. If it works but only for a relatively small number of students then creating a district wide mandate may not be the most effective and efficient use of federal and state tax dollars. However, if studies show that the use of this technology significantly improves performance for the majority of the student population then it is something worth the time, effort, and money it costs to implement.

Sarah B said...

I'm still not completely sold on the idea of using smart phones in the classroom. I do think it would be neat to be able to do instant class polls and for the students to have instant feedback from the teacher. However, I still think they would be a distraction. Plus I fear that the phones are sort of replacing the teacher. They are a great resource if the student doesn't have internet access at home but in school the students have something better than reading a blog or posting a question on a message board, they have the TEACHER! I think that learning from your friends and incorporating technology are both great but I also think that it is a skill to be able to learn from someone in person. I'm not old fashion and I definitely love technology (especially SmartBoards) but I think that using smart phones is crossing the line. Until I see hard evidence that the use of this technology raises scores by a huge percentage, they will not be allowed in my classroom.

Makia said...

Using the smartphone in the classroom can either have a positve or negetive effect on the cognitive development for each student. Some positive effects are gaing insight from the teacher and peers on math problems one may be having trouble solving, learning how to navigate through the smartphone applications. The students can become trechnical with today's new technology. But some of the downfalls are becoming reliant on the smartphone to solve homework problems, which can be an hindrance to them during standardized tests and examinations.

Corinne K said...

We are going to see more and more of these sort of stories as technology in the classroom is spreading quickly and I think that it is a very positive addition. I liked how the use of the smartphones is being monitored and how the students find ways to be creative and having fun in the subject of mathematics that can be
frustrating for some learners.
I am just wondering if this is not going to create another kind of inequality in a system that already does not appear just: rich communities or communities with grants will have access to the new technology while other schools barely can buy the necessary books and computers.

Brian said...

The mother‘s reaction in the video of the child who was being homeschooled and using the smart phone to connect to classmates and peers was not an anomaly. The mother rolled her eyes and seemed shocked as her student explained how he was having an issue with understanding linear equations. He took the initiative to research the topic on his phone and found an informative video to facilitate his understanding. As teachers, our obligation is to create lifelong learners. His options were to ask his mother, who clearly did not have an understanding of the material, or rely on his smart phone in his pursuit of his understanding of linear equations. I think the phone can create a learning environment in which the embarrassment of not knowing can be minimized and the quest for knowledge can be enhanced through the use of technology found in the palm of a hand. The obvious dilemma is the incredible task of policing the use of the phone. They have the potential to be infinitely distracting. What is the price?

Kam said...

I came across this video randomly and I know it's a bit late but just wanted to address Brian's issue on the "rolled eyes" in the video, which wasn't rolling eyes at all. Perhaps it was a look of shock/surprise of hearing your kid willingly research linear equations? Honestly only they know what that look means, and I'm not sure where you get the idea that his mother is not qualified to teach the material. Where did you get that? Do you happen to know her? Regardless, I'm happy that students are using this tool to further their knowledge. I deal with college students and they only seem to use their phones to text non-stop.

Mary Beth Cadieux said...

I believe that students should be able to use smart phone technology as a supplement to classroom learning. I am not yet convinced technology should be viewed from an "all or nothing" perspective. I do, however, agree with several other posts that state that anything they initiates interest and enthusiasm for learning is a positive, and therefore should be explored. I would worry about a student's self control to use their phone appropriately and stay on task. Also, in most school systems where phones are not provided, we need to be aware that all students do not have equal access to technology. I would imagine using smart phones in your class would be made increasingly difficult if not every student had one. And as technology has grown in the last couple of years since this article was published, I would imagine more schools would be looking into providing students with tablets.

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