Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hold The Phone: Is This Math Class?

As educators, we have the responsibility of constantly adapting our teaching styles to best meet the needs of our ever-changing groups of students. As technology evolves, we need to modify the technology we bring into the classroom. If we are still only using pencils and paper in our classrooms, we are missing some very important tools that are available to our students. John Dewey said, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

In an answer to Joann’s call for more resources, I have done some research on the topic of using cell phones as mathematics instructional tools. Using cell phones in class is kind of a sticky subject, since many schools discourage the use of cell phones altogether. A lot of students own them, though, and an increasing number of educators are realizing the value of embracing this technology rather than banning it completely from the school environment. I am still undecided about how I feel about using cell phones in my own classroom, but I thought these articles were great discussion-starters on the topic. Please leave a comment about how you feel about this technology.

The following article paints a picture of how cell phones can be beneficial tools for a variety of subjects. Click here to read “Teachers Begin Using Cell Phones for Class Lessons,” an Associated Press article from November 2009. (  Many teens from all different socioeconomic backgrounds own cell phones. For those who don’t, there are probably enough kids in the class who have phones to be able to use them in group activities. In this article, they discuss using cell phones in scavenger hunts, and using them to text answers to a polling website. Technology-savvy teachers can get the quick feedback we used to get by using slates, and the kids get to (gasp!) text during class.

Math4Mobile, a project of The University of Haifa, created some free graphing applications for cell phones that might be a really nice addition for teaching math concepts that are sometimes hard for students to visualize. Information about the project can be found here: We are in the process of adding this resource to The Gateway, so you will be able to access it that way as well.

Project K’Nect, an initiative funded by Qualcomm, provided smart phones to students in low-income schools. They developed math curricula around the use of mobile phones. You can read about the project here.  This project was successful at using the phones as tools in well-planned activities and units.

Throughout all of these articles, a common theme of using cell phones as learning tools built on the fact that the students actually use the communication capabilities of the phones to aid their learning. They are not just using them as calculators. They can collaborate through text messages, even combining data to form graphs together. When one student is stuck, another could guide them through the problems through texting, talking, or even creating short instructional videos. It’s what many of them do after school. It’s fun for them to text with friends and create YouTube videos. What if our students can use these skills to teach each other?

This topic might be controversial in many districts, especially those with cell phone bans in place. As one of the most widespread forms of technology used by our students today, using cell phones to aid in instruction may be helpful for creating lessons that “stick.” On the other hand, it might not work in your school. What do you think? Have you tried using cell phones as a tool in your classroom? Have you tried another tool for math instruction that really engaged your students? We would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences.

~Peggy's Corner~

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