Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Instructional tool: student cell phones

Tomorrow, I'll embark on the crusade of letting my students use their cell phones in class as an instructional tool. I will both email and send home the following letter/policy with students for parent approval. Understandably, my school has many hoops regarding things of the sort. Currently, cell phones are not allowed to be used during school hours anywhere on campus. Students may only use their phones before and after school. This is a K-8 school. I teach 8th grade. Over 95% of my students own phones and it kills me to see them carry around these expensive devices all day and not be allowed to use them as an instructional tool. You can see from the letter that the primary use of the phone will be for capturing student work. Tomorrow, I'll be laying down the law.

In case you missed it, here's the letter/policy again. Hopefully, what I call Phase 1, will be one of many phases for cell phone use in my class. Phase 1 has two objectives.

Objective 1: Capture student whiteboard work
My students do a crazy amount of work each day on their giant whiteboards. How lame is it that we have to erase it and never see it again. Even a black hole will never have the opportunity to consume it. It's gone. I've learned not to waste time having students transfer their work to their notebooks. BIG waste of time. We could use that time for learning, discussions, group work, etc. That said, I need students to capture what they're doing, because some of it is absolutely amazing. Even mistakes can be useful. For example, check out the student work done on these 3 Act lessons:

and Dan Meyer's Taco cart.
Seriously, I was lucky enough to capture it. So there you have it, I intend to support my students in capturing their work while at the same time assist them in using their devices responsibly. It's definitely going to be a change of thought for students to think of their phone as an instructional tool. That's why I'm easing into it with this simple task. We frequently do "gallery walks" in my class where students circulate the room and check out other student work. This will present another opportunity for students to capture whiteboard work. I'm thinking of some class 'lingo' and/or routines that will set everyone up for success. Make your math look good, now say, "CHEESE!" If you have any routines or tips to share, please let me know. When I assess this after a week or two, I'll let you all know what has been working and what has failed.

Objective 2: Send students and parents notifications
There is a great FREE service that my good buddy @mrkubasek sent me in this article. I will be using Remind101.com to send both students and parents notifications about class activities: Home Jams (my homework), quizzes, due dates, links, etc. I can send them notifications from a phone, computer, or tablet and they won't see my phone number. Likewise, I don't see their information. Furthermore, they can't send me anything back... mwoohahaha. I mean, how fantastic is that? They can email me if they have a question. I love the idea, because I won't be strapped to my phone answering questions related to the notification I just sent out. More importantly, my forgetful 8th graders will receive the ever-so-loving nudge or reminder about something vital to their success in math.

It doesn't stop here. Realistically, I can't pull off numerous uses for their cell phones a third of the way into the school year. Therefore, I will chip away at this. First and foremost, I plan to nurture responsible and mature digital citizens in my classroom. I hope that this works and I don't ruin it for other teachers at my school to test out. Speaking of which, I have to email them and keep them in the loop here. I hope I can work out any bugs and prevent any huge mishaps. I've seen and heard some of our student population abuse technology and that saddens me. Literally, less than a mile down the road are a couple of schools where students lack technology and/or personal devices. I'm fortunate to be in a place where this is possible and hope to learn with my students. Here are a few things to leave you with.

Bryan Meyer is on to something because I eventually want to have students create some type of digital folder, file, journal, blog, etc. I'd love for them to keep track of their work and either post it or submit it to me.

Dan Bowdin is doing some really amazing and inspring things in his class. Bounce around his website  for about ten minutes and you'll run into some fresh and inspiring ideas. I'd love to pursue the use of QR codes in class one day.



  1. This seems very sane and manageable.

    Some thoughts - 1. the "student won't be allowed to return to math class until a meeting can transpire" seems unrealistic. Is there something in your existing student code of conduct (or whatever you call it at your school) that already determines consequences for that sort of behavior? I'd just refer to that.

    2. Once they take the photo, then what? You have probably considered it already, but it would be useful for them to organize the photos, using Evernote or Dropbox or something. Or maybe since they don't all have smartphones, that's not possible. I dunno. But if the phone can email the photo, maybe. It just seems like they are just going to end up with a ton of similar-looking thumbnails on their camera roll, and I'm not sure how useful that will be.

  2. I'm with Kate on item 1. In my tweet to you regarding this, I mentioned deferring to school's existing cell phone policy (for consequences). At my school, the consequence is simply to take the phone away from student. If first offense (only 2 kids so far), I just stick it in my desk drawer and give it back to the kid at end of day. If 2nd offense (hasn't happened yet for any kid), I'll give it to our principal to deal with.

    I've set out a quick 2-minute (although 1 minute is plenty) of pulling-out-your-cell-phone-and-capturing-what-you-need-to-or-help-me-god-if-you-do-not-follow-my-instructions. Because it's group work with the whiteboard, really only one picture is needed and then it can be emailed to rest of group members. I even hand over my own cell phone for anyone who needs it. Then they must email it to themselves. This restricted time frame of less than 2 minutes has been very doable; any longer than that and I feel like I'm inviting trouble.

    I might check into Remind101.com. I've been using Facebook for 3 years now. Earlier this year I attempted to switch to Edmodo, but then realized Facebook is just easy and serves its purpose.