Cell phones and tablets, high-tech wearables, you name it, they have it. Your students probably have more mobile devices than you, and this is per person. Instead of making mobile device use in the classroom a forbidden fruit, since it tastes the sweetest, try turning the tables around and ask your students to take their cell phones out of their pockets the next time you enter your classroom.
From The Lord of the Rings to Star Trek, there is always that one fidget that makes life so much easier. Sauron’s All-Seeing Eye and Enterprise’s All-Knowing Computer are at the palm of our hands. For one reason or another, what has been a fantasy for centuries is now frowned upon as we ask our students to put away their cell phones while in class.
Truth be told, not many of us know what to do with cell phones. The teachers know all there is to know already and spend the majority of their time planning activities that simply do not seem to work: students are bored, and the few that do like to study would much rather watch a TED.com talk than read a 300-page book on the same topic. What we need are activities to encourage creative cell phone use and analytical thinking in students.
Use Mobile Devices for Problem-Solving
In coming up with ideas on how to use a cell phone in the classroom, ask yourself first: what do you want your students to learn and what skills do you think they should master. Suppose you spend hours planning complex questionnaires and then having students simply Google the answers. This is a classroom no-no.
Instead, teach the lesson first. Tell your students all they need to know to successfully finish all their activities later on. Check their comprehension and, if you think the time is right, present them with a problem that they should solve. Ideally, your students should be working in groups, or pairs, rather than as individuals. Maybe not all of them have problems. Maybe you prefer to teach them that teamwork is the best work in your classroom.
Presenting students with complex problems rather than with cloze questions will encourage them to think. Present them with situations that require them to display analytical powers. Once they understand what the problem consists of, they can use their mobile devices to find instructions and solve the problem. It’s like a jig-saw puzzle. But instead of making it too obvious, you’re making your students use their brains together with technology.
Use Mobile Devices in Classroom Collaboration Activities
Once you have this symbiosis created, be a good teacher and ask yourself a simple question. What can I do to teach my students how to productively use cell phones outside the classroom as well? Conceptualize your lessons so that your students have real-life situations to talk about and try to solve. Use a service that can write papers for money and have them write an extensive paper on a current issue: global warming, new elections, harsh winters, etc. Present the students with the issue, ask them to read the paper silently, and then try to come up with ideas on how to solve the issue. Every pair or group gets 10 minutes of online time to find additional support for their claims online, and every group gets to present. The best group wins. If you have extra time at the end of the class, have groups try to find flaws in each other’s presentations! This should also develop critical thinking.
Use Mobile Devices for Individual Learning
Once you have analytical abilities and critical abilities as well, it is time to focus on your student’s individual needs. In a classroom of 30 students, this can be a challenge, because how are you going to come up with 5 times 30 activities to accommodate each and every student’s individual needs? The best part of having technology in classrooms is that students can do it themselves.
Let’s assume you’re teaching about health in the USA. Present your students with key concepts and then divide them into groups. Each group has a different task to manage, and they have 15 minutes to come up with a coherent way that suits their interests and their needs to explain the problem you’ve presented them with to the entire class. Some students may present pictures, some videos, or infographics. Some students will present text and some will come up with a Q&A activity.
Using technology in classrooms used to be distracting. But with the increasing power of these handheld devices, our abilities to use them constructively grow as well. So, instead of forbidding mobile devices in the classroom, it’s better to manage them and use them as a tool that the students are very much used to.