Get Smart About Phones
By Ellen Ullman
Although most schools ban smartphones, a handful of innovators have realized that these pocketsized
tools are a powerful addition to the classroom. “Think of these devices as tiny laptops,” says
Bard Williams, author of Handheld Computers and Smartphones in Secondary Schools: A Hands-On
Guide. “If you do a find-and-replace with ‘laptop’ and ‘smartphone’ in your acceptable-use policy,
you’ll see what I mean.” The top three uses of smartphones, Williams says, are for online research
and Web browsing; for consulting non-Internet references, like dictionaries; and for communications
and social networking, such as taking notes and sending homework to the teacher. The schools in
this chart are finding more uses all the time.
ST. MARYS CITY
ST. MARYS, OH
With only four computers in most rooms, the
district’s resources were not cutting it, says
Kyle Menchhofer, technology supervisor. In
April 2009, Verizon asked St. Marys if it wanted
to use smartphones. Verizon would provide the
content filter, and calling and texting features
would be disabled.
Menchhofer received Verizon XV6800
smartphones free. He pays for broadband; but
thanks to e-rate, he gets a significant discount,
paying only $12.50 a month for each device.
Before signing on, the district asked parents to
sign permission slips. “We tell kids that if they
misuse the device, we’ll take it away and they’ll
have to use pencil and paper. They’d rather
clean toilets than use pencil and paper.”
Fourth-grade math students take pictures of
geometric shapes and beam the photos to each
other. They work in groups to write tutorials
that they can beam to anyone who is struggling.
All students submit lessons electronically and
receive feedback from the teacher instantly.
“We’re teaching good tech etiquette and
proper usage. I’ve seen a tremendous change
in the kids using these devices. Teachers are
excited too.” However, because of e-rate, the
devices can’t be taken off-site.
“Kids have DSs and Playstations at home, and
then they come into school and step back. We
need to keep them excited about what they’re
doing. We started two years ago, with six
classroom and two special-ed teachers. This
year we’ll have 39 staff using 900 smartphones.”
CHAPEL HILL, NC
Grey Culbreth, which is beginning its third year
of a one-to-one iPod touch program, chose the
iPod touch because it wanted a mobile device
that did not have a phone or a camera, principal
Susan Wells says. “The kids had a lot of input in
the decision-making, since they use them 24/7.”
Students can bring their iPod touches in as long
as they have signed the acceptable-use policy.
A student can borrow one of the school’s
devices but can use it only on campus.
Student-owned iPods are pass-coded for the
district network so that they can access the
protected Internet. “All the units we buy come
from Apple with filtering in place,” Wells says.
Students use graphing calculators, Google
Docs, Google Forms, and a great many contentspecific
apps. They use them to take notes
and send email to themselves at home. Many
teachers give daily quizzes for formative
Wells rolled out the initiative by giving the
units to 20 teachers, who played with them
during the summer and created lessons. Those
teachers led staff-development sessions.
However, sometimes desktop and laptop
computers are better for doing certain tasks.
“We believe that iPods offer unique advantages,
especially for middle-level students. The in-yourpocket
mobility is what they’re accustomed to.
The touchscreen keyboard and their ability to
take notes in much the same way that they text
are compelling for students.”
NEW YORK, NY
Juliette LaMontagne, who teaches Spanish at
this New York City high school, received Nokia
smartphones through a partnership with the
Pearson Foundation’s Mobile Learning Institute.
The foundation donated the phones and tech
The phones were given to the school.
This question does not apply, since this was
only a four-week pilot.
LaMontagne’s students visited a museum
and used the phones to take notes and send
texts about the permanent collection. They
interviewed curators to learn about museum
jobs, uploaded photos to their photo blog on
WordPress.com, and created a photo gallery on
“Students learned that texting can be about
more than just social content,” LaMontagne
says. “Our project incorporated language skills,
collaboration, and higher-level thinking.” The
downside was that each smartphone had three
components, so checking the phones in and
loaning them out was a “logistical nightmare.”
LaMontagne believes that smartphones
are affordable, accessible, and “wholly
underutilized.” She says the project made a
strong case for using them in school.
“We were upgrading cell phones for our
administrators when the superintendent
suggested it to me,” says Richard Schaffner,
executive director of curriculum and
instruction. Sprint gave Schaffner 60 HTC
Touch Pro2s to pilot with sixth-grade classes.
Sprint agreed to provide up to 350 phones as long
as the school paid for data service. Since data
service falls under e-rate, it costs eight or nine
dollars a phone (rather than $15 to $20). Thanks
to a Title II D grant, Sprint provided data service.
In addition, a Title II A grant of $200,000 went to
staff development. Schaffner paid for a license for
GoKnow software to use on the phones.
“Because the phones have filtered content
and no texting or phone service, parents are
pleased,” Schaffner says. “We gave them an
opt-out, but no one did.”
For an earth science unit, small groups of
students used GoKnow to complete individual
pieces. They connected the pieces to form a
presentation that their teacher displayed on an
interactive whiteboard. When a student finishes
a project at home, he or she can send it to the
teacher for immediate feedback.
“At first it was a novelty, but once the kids
started doing real things, they quickly became
more creative,” Schaffner says. “The GoKnow
training showed our teachers how to mobilize
the curriculum and add stuff to it.” Of course,
some of the teachers aren’t as strong as others,
but Schaffner believes that they’ll improve.
“The parent reaction was quite interesting. I
thought we’d have more concern, but we’re all
committed to making cell phones constructive.
This is their world.”
Although phones were against the rules, Willyn
Webb, a teacher and counselor, had to time her
students’ speeches. A student used his phone,
which led to Webb’s becoming more openminded
to using phones.
Students who have phones use them in Webb’s
classes; otherwise, they share.
“The kids and I brainstormed about acceptable
and fair use. If they’re hiding phones and texting
under the table, it’s a discipline issue. Instead
I say, ‘Let’s use them.’ We can do great stuff
together; it removes the discipline problem.”
Webb uses phones for group texting, to send
out assignments and reminders, and to survey
her students. “I can send a question an hour
or two before class and give them a code, and
they text their answers to a free source, like
Poll Everywhere [www.polleverywhere.com] or
Wiffiti [wiffiti.com]. ”
“I can put them in groups to collaborate on
homework assignments. The phones help me
use class time differently. I’m helping them
develop skills they’ll need for life. I can’t think
of any cons.”
“I use whatever tools I can to make my learning
goals: music, drama, field trips, technology.
Even the homeless kids have phones with text
capabilities. Some of their homes don’t have
land lines, but the kids have cell phones.”
In January 2008, Southwest High School began
Project K-Nect to study how technology could
motivate students to get into STEM fields.
Average-level students were given HTC Touch
Pro2 smartphones to use in their math classes.
The phones are free, because Qualcomm
provides them through Project K-Nect.
“One thing that’s crucial is MobiControl, a
monitoring system that lets me see everything
they do on the phones,” math teacher Suzette
Kliewer says. “They know our expectations.”
Drexel University developed problem sets for
Algebra I. They all start with a multimedia
component that, Kliewer says, is immediately
engaging. Kids work in groups to create videos
explaining math concepts that they post on
the school’s blog. They can IM with any other
Project K-Nect student.
“Since I can answer an IM when a student is doing
homework, it reduces the time I spend going
over homework the next day,” Kliewer says. She
notes that some teachers are timid because the
kids know more about the phones than they do.
“Our tech person handles problems, but a couple
of the kids helped even more.”
“I’m in my twenty-first year of teaching, and
this has drastically changed the way I teach,”
Kliewer says. “The relationship that you develop
with these students keeps them working. They
know I’ll go the extra mile and that I have high
expectations. It brings them up.”
¦ APPLE IPHONE
¦ APPLE IPOD TOUCH
¦ DROID BY MOTOROLA
¦ VERIZON XV6800
¦ HTC TOUCH PRO, HTP TOUCH PRO2
What Is Project K-Nect?
Project K-Nect began when a group
including Tim Magner, former director
of the Office of Educational
Technology, asked students how technology
might get them more interested
in math and science. “They told
us they didn’t have Internet access
or enough bandwidth at home,” says
Shawn Gross, Project K-Nect program
director. “They wanted something they
could use on the fly.”
Qualcomm, looking to fund a STEM
study, partnered with the North Carolina
Department of Public Instruction, and
Gross worked with various universities
to create an algebra curriculum that
used smartphones. Students in some
of North Carolina’s poorest schools
received HTC Touch Pro2 devices and
the K-Nect curriculum.
The initial group, which started in
2007 with ninth-grade algebra, is taking
AP statistics this year. Normally
these students would have stopped
at geometry or Algebra II. Even better,
more than 50 percent say they’re
considering careers in a math field.
For more information, visit www.projectknect.org.