For much of my teaching career to date, cell phones have been the bane of my professional existence. As a high school ELA teacher, I spent quite a bit of time trying to persuade students that what was happening in class was at least just as interesting as what was happening on their phones. Two years ago, I created an entire text set about this topic with the purpose of convincing teens to put down their phones to engage in class activities. I purchased a calculator caddy for phone time-outs and was a woman on a mission to rid my classroom of this annoyance.
A year later my school went one-to-one with Chromebooks, and my cell phone woes essentially disappeared. I am not exaggerating–we were all so busy using and learning with the new technology that cell phones were never on my radar. As I reflect on why this would be, I wonder:
Did my students suddenly grow up?
Did they find secretive ways to use Snapchat on the Chromebooks so their phones were redundant?
Did the new technology fulfill a screen need they have in this day and age?
I don’t know the answers to these questions or even if they are the right questions to ask, but I do know that with thoughtful and deliberate integration of technology, my students’ engagement increased. From one year to the next, their assignment completion rates improved and overall grades were higher.
Now as a part-time technology coach in a new district that is not one-to-one, I hear the same gripes:
Kids these days are always on their phones.
I can’t get them to put their phones down to ___.
Cell phones are making us all stupid.
Okay, that last one is an exaggeration, but the implication is there. And as I have shared, not too long ago many of these same thoughts ruled my mind as well. My one-to-one technology experiences of last year have me now wondering, however, if there isn’t a way for us to capitalize on our students’ fascination with this technology that they (literally) nearly all have in their pockets.
I almost feel like a traitor even writing this post, but I am finding there are many ways our cell phones could make all of us smarter or more efficient. After some serious soul-searching, I would go so far as to say that those who are like the me-of-the-past should consider relaxing their policies around these devices. They make quick research, calculations, conversions, and definitions possible. Their photo and video-taking capabilities often outperform other options available and are great tools in and of themselves. Numerous apps provide practice problems or coding games. Beyond all that, cell phones are a fantastic tool for formatively assessing our students in a way we will all find engaging. Since most of those tools are content neutral, that is where I will elaborate.
Here are some of my favorite cell phone or web-based (and thus smart phone accessible) tools for quickly assessing what my students have learned during my class:
I think many people already know about this free, colorful quiz game that can be used with large groups to review or even preview content. Teachers can create or choose from a bank of already-created multiple choice or put-in-order games, and students can download and play from the Kahoot! App or any web browser. Kahoots can be assigned as homework to reinforce concepts, and teachers can take it to the next level by encouraging students to create and share their own games.
2. Quizlet Live
Quizlet is a well-known online flashcard tool that again allows teachers and students self-create or search a database of pre-made options. Quizlet Live is available for teachers only and is a team-based learning game that has randomly grouped students race to correctly match terms and definitions. Each person on a team needs to have a device for this game, and collaboration is key, as incorrect answers reset the team’s progress to zero.
This audience response tool allows teachers to include interactive poll activities within their presentations. A wide range of question types, response formats, and result views make it a versatile option for quick formative assessment. I particularly like that students can text their responses if they don’t have the ability to answer through the web.
I love this free virtual bulletin board. Once students download the app or gain access through a browser, they can post messages, responses, notes, images, links, videos and more to a shared space. One of my favorite uses of this tool is as a virtual thank-you card–students write their messages and peer review another. I then send the link to the person or organization deserving of accolades.
I haven’t used Twitter with a group of students before, but I really like the idea of doing so and would like to know about others’ experiences. I am imagining a class profile that students can Tweet responses or summaries at, hashtags and all. Keeping those at 140 characters is no easy feat!
Tara M. Martin’s #BookSnaps have my teacher friends and me imagining other applications. Here is one of my favorites from @juliegc22, a Spanish teacher. Her students are working on clothing vocabulary and description. A recent assignment was to take a picture of a (willing) friend and caption it with a detailed description. Emojis and bitmojis could be added as desired. She as her students download the finished product to their phone and turn in in Google Classroom or Flipgrid (see next).
I am fairly new to Flipgrid in that so far I have only used it as a participant. My ESL teacher friend recently asked me to act as a virtual mentor to some of her bloggers. To get to know one another, we recorded and posted short introductory videos in a private Grid. We were then able to view others’ videos. While the teacher had disabled the comments feature in this example, it is possible to have that be part of the process as well. So many possibilities here–what a great way to to gather immediate verbal feedback from students!
Google Classroom has some slick mobile features that I think are worth briefly mentioning here. Students and teachers can use the tools to write notes and annotations on documents or pdfs. This is super-helpful for getting or giving quick feedback, especially if Classroom is already part of a routine.
So, I really am interested in knowing what others think. In my 6 months out of the classroom have I lost touch with reality or is there a (even small) place for these tools in our classrooms? What other mobile tools do you use for formative assessment?
Cover Image: Pexels