Get Smart About Phones - Tech Learning

Get Smart About Phones

Although most schools ban smartphones, a handful of innovators have realized that these pocketsized tools are a powerful addition to the classroom.
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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 SCHOOLS ST. MARYS, OH

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HOW DID YOU BEGIN THE PROCESS?

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.

HOW ARE YOU PAYING FOR THEM?

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.

HAS SCHOOL POLICY CHANGED?

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.”

HOW ARE THE PHONES BEING USED?

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.

PROS & CONS

“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.

TAKE-AWAY THOUGHTS?

“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.”

GREY CULBRETH MIDDLE SCHOOL CHAPEL HILL, NC

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HOW DID YOU BEGIN THE PROCESS?

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.”

HOW ARE YOU PAYING FOR THEM?

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.

HAS SCHOOL POLICY CHANGED?

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.

HOW ARE THE PHONES BEING USED?

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 assessment.

PROS & CONS

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.

TAKE-AWAY THOUGHTS?

“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.”

THE GLOBAL LEARNING COLLABORATIVE NEW YORK, NY

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HOW DID YOU BEGIN THE PROCESS?

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 support.

HOW ARE YOU PAYING FOR THEM?

The phones were given to the school.

HAS SCHOOL POLICY CHANGED?

This question does not apply, since this was only a four-week pilot.

HOW ARE THE PHONES BEING USED?

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 Flickr (www.flickr.com).

PROS & CONS

“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.”

TAKE-AWAY THOUGHTS?

LaMontagne believes that smartphones are affordable, accessible, and “wholly underutilized.” She says the project made a strong case for using them in school.

LINCOLN CONSOLIDATED SCHOOLS YPSILANTI, MI

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HOW DID YOU BEGIN THE PROCESS?

“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.

HOW ARE YOU PAYING FOR THEM?

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.

HAS SCHOOL POLICY CHANGED?

“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.”

HOW ARE THE PHONES BEING USED?

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.

PROS & CONS

“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.

TAKE-AWAY THOUGHTS?

“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.”

DELTA OPPORTUNITY SCHOOL DELTA, CO

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HOW DID YOU BEGIN THE PROCESS?

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.

HOW ARE YOU PAYING FOR THEM?

Students who have phones use them in Webb’s classes; otherwise, they share.

HAS SCHOOL POLICY CHANGED?

“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.”

HOW ARE THE PHONES BEING USED?

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]. ”

PROS & CONS

“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.”

TAKE-AWAY THOUGHTS?

“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.”

SOUTHWEST HIGH SCHOOL JACKSONVILLE, NC

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HOW DID YOU BEGIN THE PROCESS?

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.

HOW ARE YOU PAYING FOR THEM?

The phones are free, because Qualcomm provides them through Project K-Nect.

HAS SCHOOL POLICY CHANGED?

“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.”

HOW ARE THE PHONES BEING USED?

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.

PROS & CONS

“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.”

TAKE-AWAY THOUGHTS?

“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.”

Smartphones

¦ APPLE IPHONE
www.apple.com/iphone
¦ APPLE IPOD TOUCH
www.apple.com/ipodtouch
¦ DROID BY MOTOROLA
www.motorola.com
¦ PALM
www.palm.com/us/
¦ VERIZON XV6800
www.verizonxv6800.net
¦ HTC TOUCH PRO, HTP TOUCH PRO2
www.htc.com

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.

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