Audio/Video, Hardware

Cell phones OK in little red schoolhouse


Instead of banning cell phones from the classroom, teachers are incorporating them into lesson plans. Guess the adage, "If you can?t beat ?em, join ?em," is paying off in education.

Some avant garde instructors are taking a page from Liz Kolb?s teaching manual From Toy to Tool: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education.

Technology of varying sophistication has crept into the school system over the years, often against the wishes of administration. Math class assignments seemed to have driven the desire for an easier way than counting on one?s fingers and toes. First, a 1600?s invention, the slide rule, appeared in school, followed by calculators which made trigonometry, exponentiation, and logarithms much easier to handle. Personal computers eliminated 3×5 cards and typewriters for completing term papers. Today, gradually, cell phones are being allowed into classrooms as a teaching tool.

Fear of math professors worldwide: venerable HP-35 calculatorEach advancing piece of technology has been avoided, then embraced by educators. Mathematics teachers feared that the HP-35, the first hand-held scientific calculator, would make students lazy and dependent, and not use their brains for calculations. That fear has come to fruition. Have you ever bought a $5.56 fast food combo, and given the clerk a $10 bill? They punch in the amount of cash received and the register tells them how much change they owe you. Just then, you hand them six cents. The befuddled look that comes over their faces is fodder for candid camera.

Computers in schools began as library extras that you could use by signing up on a schedule. Market Data Retrieval, a marketing research firm, in 1984 estimated that there was one computer for every 125 students enrolled in public schools. At that time, Apple was estimated to account for half of those microcomputers. Radio Shack had 21 percent, and Commodore had 15 percent. Commodore shone in affluent, suburban schools; Radio Shack was more common in poorer, rural areas.

Education Week recently stated that public schools seem to have reached a plateau of one instructional computer per four students, a significant improvement in the last 15 years. In the last 10 years, internet connections in the classroom have become standard fare across the US.

Computers at home soon became a student?s best friend. In 2000, one teacher wrote that: "The dog ate my homework" has been replaced by "The printer wasn’t working!"

Now, similar to laptops carried about by businessmen, netbooks are being carried by students. At CES 2009, Intel?s Classmate PC was predicted to become an important tool for the elementary and middle school student, particularly in developing countries.

Students textingThe next piece of technology to encroach on the teaching establishment is cell phones. Lately, texting on their smartphones, for better or worse, seems to be a way of life for the school-attending generation. Use of cell phones has earned a bad reputation, from bullying, to "sexting" to cheating. A poll found that 35 percent of teens admit to using their cell phone to cheat in school. The distraction of texting during class has been the bane of the classroom teacher. However, all this is not new. "Kids cheat with pen and paper. They pass notes," says Kipp Rogers, a principal in Virginia.

Some technology-wise instructors are putting the students? latest technological affinities to good use. Teachers who match the criteria unearthed by the Economic and Social Research Council are making inroads into getting and keeping their students? attention. The research shows that knowledgeable, innovative, fun-loving, supportive, pupil centered teachers are the most effective.

Professor Christopher Day says: "More effective teachers create a positive climate for learning by challenging pupils? ideas, inspiring them, being more innovative in their practice ? [their] pupils have more control over and engagement in their learning and more opportunities for success."

One such Spanish teacher, Ariana Leonard, in a Florida high school texts scavenger hunt instructions to her students in Spanish. "Encontrar algo verde." [Find something green.] "Tome una foto de la secretaria de la escuela." [Take a picture of the school secretary.] As they scurry about the campus with phones in hand, if they didn?t study last night?s vocabulary lesson, they have no chance of completing the scavenger hunt to get a good grade for the day.

Of course, each student must have their own cell phone, or be able to share one with a fellow student for this idea to work. A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 71 percent of teenagers had a cell phone in 2008. Surprisingly, that statistic held regardless of race, income or other demographic factors.

Rogers says that in his school, twelve classes, including math, science and English, use cell phones. Internet research and photos for stories are just a few of the tasks the phones facilitate.

Opps! Gotta run, the school bell is ringing.