Integrating the Smartphone

[Disclaimer – This post may be specific to teachers teaching upper-elementary to high school students]

Most schools have policies that are against students smartphone use in the classroom. Some schools have policies against smartphone use during the entire school day. However, smartphone use is not just to call or text someone. A smartphone is a multifaceted and multi-versatile tool; multiple devices in one. We can take pictures, we can make videos, we can do calculations, we can go online, we can play video games, and we can receive directions to our destinations. I remember a family trip to Tallahassee, Florida when I was 10 years old. My father had a map, a Polaroid camera, quarters for a payphone, a brand new video camera and thick adapters to charge the camera and video camera. Last summer, we took a trip back to Tallahassee. We had smartphones… My parents, my wife, cousins and I… we all had them. No need for multiple devices when you have all of them in one. Your cellular device is a machine that can do amazing things thanks to technology. Adults are fascinated and even reliant on the power of the smartphone, so why do we (educators) act as though kids aren’t going to be reliant on their smartphones?
I remember being observed by a vice principal and he was on his smartphone throughout the entire classroom observation. I thought he was probably on his social media, not really paying attention to what I was doing. But later, he told me that he was actually taking notes of what I was doing on his smartphone and that he would be emailing himself the notes so that he compose and send me my feedback. What frustrated me was that I was being held to a standard; a standard that said children can’t use smartphones in class. Yet a professional educator used a smartphone to do his work. What kind of mixed message do we send our students when we say “do as I say and not as I do?” Archaic policies that say students cannot use their smartphones are flat out stupid. I don’t mean to say that I am against regulating their use, but how do we expect for student to learn how to conduct themselves in a professional setting if we do not prepare them while in an academic setting? Adults use their smartphones all the time and it is not always for work related activities. Adults check personal email, their social media, they text their friends and family, and they may be shopping or paying a bill. Adults can identify the right time versus the wrong time to use a cell phone; they learned how. We (educators) teach students all kinds of information that may be antiquated and outdated; we should teach those things that are current, specifically smartphone usage and etiquette in various setting. Smartphones are an incredible tool for learning; they are an incredible tool for self-teaching and for research. If utilized properly, learning can take place in the classroom. If utilized properly, students will begin to understand their smartphones do more than just entertain. As a teacher it is your responsibility to introduce the smartphone in a way that shows students that not only is it a tool for entertainment but it’s a weapon that will equip them with the knowledge necessary to be more informed.

Now if your School has a rule against smartphone use in the classroom, don’t have your students with their smartphones out to be used without having the approval to do so. The last thing you need is to look like you’re openly defying the rules of the school. However, there are some simple steps that you can take to help gain administrative approval for smartphone use in your classroom. Here are some steps that you must do:


  1. Create a standards based lesson plan incorporating the use of a smartphones that achieves the object of tying smartphone use and your approved unit/learning module. Make sure that when you make this plan, that it’s a perfect marriage of the content and the use of a smartphone; make sure that the content and concepts are best internalized with a smartphone activity. You should make sure that you planned this lesson well in advance of doing it because you need to submit your plan in order to get the approval to actually do it.
  2. Find the research, whether in education magazines or scholarly journals, that say or speak to the importance of or positive impacts of using smartphones in teaching and in the classroom. When you find the research that says this, include it into your lesson plan as evidence to support your basis for using a smartphone in class and put it in your proposal when requesting use.
  3. Request permission from your direct report; whether it is your vice principal or principal, to do the lesson that you planned with the smartphone. Make sure that when you ask for approval, that you make mention your awareness of the smartphone policy for both students and teachers. Also, show them the research that speaks of the positive effects or impacts of using smartphones in the classroom.
  4. Invite your direct report whether it is the vice principal or principal, to your class to observe your lesson. There is no greater neutralizer against uncertainty than asking an administrator to come to your classroom to watch you teach. Your invitation does a few things. First, you’re letting the administrator know that you’re not afraid of trying something different and you show them that you believe in what it is that you’re trying to do – so much so that you’re willing to invite feedback on your lesson.
  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4. The worst thing that can happen is that your administrator denies your request; however, if you have a good lesson, the research to back it up, and you’ve cared enough to ask for permission to run the lesson, an administrator is very likely to look kindly upon your request and your desire in the name of teaching children.

One other note, if you can link using a smartphone to test scores (I’m not sure if there’s any research about that, but in case there is) then you’re in very good shape to get your lesson approved. Remember, at the end of the day this is not about letting kids use their smartphones, it’s about using the technology that guides our daily interactions with people each and every day. Let’s encourage our peers as well as our superiors to not shy away from the technology that shapes how we live. Rather let us confront it and use it for the purposes of lifelong learning.

Let us continue to press toward the mark!


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