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"Everybody, Please Take Out Your Cell Phones"

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By Brent Warner

While most instructors lament the change of tides where every student has a cell phone seeming more interested in a four inch screen than the lesson at hand, I often wonder how quickly the instructor would change their tune if they knew, for example, that their students were tweeting something profound that they heard while listening to their favorite teacher.

I know, I know. This may be an idealistic approach, and yes, I know that they’re more than likely checking how many people liked their Instagram selfie. Still, what if instead of passing around a cell phone basket, we chose to meet them where they are? What if instead of fighting the waves coming at us, we learned to surf them?

I’m not implying that we should consider cell phones to be an integral part of all of our lessons, but what if we stopped viewing them as a “necessary evil” and began to view them as a supplemental tie-in? If we can change the way we view the technology students bring into classes from a point of distraction to an opportunity for education, everybody will benefit.

So here’s a challenge. Before reading on, please take action. I’d like you to set aside the next three minutes to come up with three ideas on how your students can use cell phones in class, in a way that facilitates their learning and write your answers in the comments below.


I’m serious. This is an active call to active teachers who want to make an active difference in their students’ activities. Your ideas don’t have to be profound, just actionable. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the world of ed tech, it’s that simple ideas often create the biggest impression.

I’ll start you out, please cut and paste below, and add your ideas. Keep them short if that’s what works for you:

1) You could…
2) You might also try…
3) It may be interesting to…

Cut, paste, and add your ideas below.

C’mon you guys, I want you to do it now. (Sound familiar?) 🙂

OK, I’m going to assume you’ve done it and THANK YOU for it! Now you know I’d never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself, so I’m going to give you three ideas to try out. Assuming they’re different than yours, you’ll have left this article with six actionable ideas to try out with your students this week. Not bad for a few minutes of reading and thinking.

1) You could create a Google Voice phone number, set the message as a problem to be answered, and have your students call it and do their best to answer on the fly. Google voice also transcribes students’ voices with certainty levels so your ELLs can later see how ‘accurate’ their pronunciation was.

2) You might also try Snapchat. While most adults “don’t get it,” you can flaunt it. Think of sending snapchats of an interesting photo and ask your students to come back to school the next day and tell you what they thought it was or to create a story based on it. You can also snap a question you physically write out and give the students a limited time to read and respond to the question.

3) It may be interesting to create Exit Slips using Socrative. Want to check on students understanding of a lesson before letting them out for the day? Create a quick digital exit slip which they can use to answer a short question or two. You’ll know what they did or didn’t understand about the day’s lesson, and they’ll get the chance to lock it in.

Tutorials for all of the above are on their way to EdTech.tv, so keep an eye out!

Brent Warner is an education and technology authority who believes that technology is great, but only if it’s used in an effective manner. Brent received his Master’s in Teaching TESOL from USC and is passionate about helping teachers develop professionally by exploring ways that they can create better connections with their students. He can be found at http://www.edtech.tv

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