Many high school teachers — myself included — bristle at the idea of allowing smartphones such as Androids or iPhones in the classroom. After all, they've learned through experience that teens have a tendency to text friends rather than listen to what is, no doubt, a scintillating lecture. And at their worst, these so-called smartphones can facilitate something not very smart at all — cheating.
Some high school students, however, are putting their smartphones to clever use, enhancing the classroom experience and propelling education into the 21st century.
1. Say "cheese," whiteboard!
During a 10th-grade English class, Windward School student Lauren Yu whipped out her BlackBerry and aimed it at the note-filled whiteboard. The period was about to end, and she had yet to copy down everything written on the board. So she pulled out her phone and used it to snap an image — one that could later be hand copied, emailed, or sent to a printer.
"It's good because you can listen to the teacher, and you won't miss your notes," said Yu, who attends school at Windward in Los Angeles, where I teach journalism. And it's not just students who are taking advantage of new technology. Teachers are getting in on the act as well.
"Sometimes I'll snap (a photo of the whiteboard) on my phone and upload it to our class web page so students can download it later if they desire," said Kevin Flinn, a high school English teacher at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, N.C., in an email.
"It's good for visual learners to have the photo to which they can return if they need reinforcement," he added. "It's also beneficial if one of their classmates is absent."
You can also use apps such as Evernote (download Evernote for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad or Android) that automatically saves your snapshot — along with a short blurb you type in — on the cloud. With Evernote, you can easily access your snapshots on your computer or other mobile devices.
2. A slicker clicker
With technology such as ResponseWare (download ResponseWare for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad or Android), students can use smartphones as classroom "clickers" to participate in response-based activities.
Teachers can ask students multiple-choice questions, and students can then respond by "clicking" an image on their phones, with answers appearing on screen in real time.
3. Record lectures
While Yu mentioned that some students record lectures on their computers, others are using their smartphones for exactly the same purpose. With built-in programs such Voice Memo on iPhones and third-party hands-free note-taking apps, students can turn the mic on the teacher while also writing down their own notes.
4. Apps and QR codes
Whether it's a digital metronome for music students or an interactive periodic table for chemistry enthusiasts, yes, there's probably an app for that. And many apps are both cost-effective and add no extra weight to an already bulging backpack.
QR codes can lead students to websites with just one click. Colette Cassinelli, a high school teacher in Oregon, suggested on U.K.-based education technology blog EdTe.ch that students and teachers use these codes to promote school events, such as Teen Read Week. Mark Rollins, a lecturer in Wigan, England, also used EdTe.ch to suggest adding QR codes to Microsoft Word documents, allowing students to check answers on assignments.
In a time when preschoolers are mastering programs on their parents' iPads, using email in the classroom might be considered quaint. But don't discount its usefulness when it comes to instant access on smartphones.
"I think the biggest benefit is students (and teachers) having instant access to email," said North Carolina-based English teacher Flinn via, natch, email. "They don't need to have Web access (or even a computer) at home any more, and those kids who are shuttling back and forth between parents' houses can still check their school email regularly, if not constantly."
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