Mobile devices in high school doesn’t always mean txting peeps

Date March 19, 2010

At the beginning of the school year I took the section on mobile devices in my classroom and made a significant change. Originally it began with the change from “Cell phones, mp3 players, and other electronic devices are not allowed in the classroom to removing the word “not”. I told them to take out these devices on day one and had these looks of worried shock that I would be confiscating these things (and with full disclosure, until last year, I did just that). Once they were all out, I told the kids to use them. They look around the room confused. I then explained how we would use iTouches, mobile phones, smart phones (e.g. BlackBerries), etc… in the classroom daily.

This began rockily as they didn’t think to use them for research, but we began using phrases like “Use your technology to…” or by modeling on my own mobile phone use. I would say safer several weeks the students began replying to problems that emerge in classes in new ways, and I suddenly realized these questions were coming from further online research by the students at their desks. I’d be discussing something and wouldn’t be able to answer a question, but then suddenly one of their peers would raise his or her hand and explain to the peer what they hoped to know. By doing so, he or she is now teaching others (which has a 90% retention of information rate).

I continued this exciting usage in class through out the fall semester. At the beginning of the spring semester I asked the students to procure a copy of Twelfth Night and mentioned the full text could be found online, and then I told them when the text was due. The next week when books were due, several people were sitting at their desks with just BlackBerries, iTouches or iPhones. I was disappointed that they did not bring their materials to class and began to call role and ask for their plays. When I hit the first students without a paper book in front of them and asked where his play was, he held up his mobile device: “right here, Mr. Adams”. He flashed his screen at me, and I quickly went over to his desk and there was Twelfth Night open on an ereader app on his device. Oooops. My fault.

This kids took what I’d been teaching them and flipped it to a need from their own, but I didn’t realize it because I hadn’t thought that way yet. As I went around they all had their play, and I would say more than 30% of them did not have any paper copy at all. Two students had laptops, one had a netbook, and the others had mobile devices. And not every device was expensive. Some people had basic phones where they could save “notes”. Here they had note #1 which was Act I. Note #2 was Act II. And so forth. (My question still revolves around annotating these files!)

Last week my students were finishing up this Twelfth Night unit and building a poster (yes, yes, paper and markers). Many students had out their mobile devices and frankly there were probably a few people responding to questions of when work will be over or when the peer groups for Mr. X’s class will be meeting. Looking over one girl’s shoulder, she was looking up the use of the literary device “place” in the play so she could use that on her poster.

While this activity was occurring, I was observed by a district evaluator. In part, the comments on the informal write up were “why are so many students texting during your class when they should be learning”?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by The Pylon

I felt the need to explain my pedagogical processes (especially since these evaluations are worth $6k+), so I wrote a response that I sent over to district. Hours later I was called to my administrator’s office. She had the email I’d sent to district in front of her and wanted to know what I was doing in my classes.

I explained about the pedagogical approach to mobile technologies in my classes, how the students synthesize the materials, teach each other supplementary information learned online, and present that information to the class and students. I discussed how there will always been people who abuse the situation and when it’s reflected in grades, that discussion is between me and the student separate from the classroom. She seemed relatively interested but hesitant; I then mentioned briefly that it was in my management planned approved last July. She relaxed a bit, turned, picked up my plan, and asked me to locate that section. I showed her the paragraph disclaimer that delineated my classroom objectives for mobile pedagogy. She smiled widely and, I think, was relieved it was there.

She said she was eager to hear what I find but even being called in and even getting the evaluation in the first place, really shows how far we need to go and change the philosophies of schools’ administrations.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by jk5854