Joseph Ferrantelli, Ph. D., Wagner College Author: Joseph Ferrantelli, Ph. D., Wagner College

I spent 26 years working in one of the largest school systems in the world. Near the latter part of that time, there was a push to use technology in the classroom. So, the school system spent millions on installing interactive boards in every classroom.

The Early Resistance

But, the teacher training was lacking. This four-thousand-dollar board was essentially used by many as a very expensive chalkboard. Millions more were spent on class sets of computers, but there weren’t enough to go around—and the computers we had often didn’t work.

The computers that did work couldn’t get through the school’s firewall. Many sites, like YouTube, were prohibited and couldn’t be accessed. It was fascinating how the school system invoked the “NO CELL PHONES ALLOWED IN SCHOOL” rule, which was ignored by all. OK, so, I can’t get a set of working computers for my class, but every student in my class has a smartphone in his or her pocket.

Breaking the Mobile Rules

Fortunately, for the students, I had to ignore the rule as well. Whenever we needed to look something up, I asked my students to take out their phones and Google it. I found this to enhance learning. We, as a class, had instant access to all the knowledge in the world. When students searched the web, they returned with a plethora of information on the topic. When a student asked a great question, I would first ask if anyone knew the answer and, if no one did, I’d ask them to Google it!

To motivate my students I’d offer “Math Bucks” to the person who found the answer first. This elevated learning to another realm. As a math teacher, I enjoyed having students look up definitions, view an explanation of content on Khan Academy or even view a video of students singing the quadratic formula to remember it.

When students worked in groups, any question could be quickly researched and answered. I could use my cell phone to gather formative assessment data via the digital learning tool Plickers. We’d also use our phones with the app Kahoot, and work within an along interactive whiteboard to answer questions and get instant assessment feedback.

I could also place a file on a Learning Management System such as Moodle or Blackboard, and the LMS was accessible from any mobile device.

Differentiating Learning Tools

If I didn’t want to make copies or forgot to make copies of the day’s worksheet, I could email the worksheet to each of my students via my phone. They receive it and open it on their phone. This allows me to differentiate the worksheet I sent. I could send the struggling student lower-level questions, and worksheets with higher-level questions to students who need enrichment.

I’ve found that when mobile devices are utilized correctly in class, student learning becomes energized. More students get involved. The noise you heard becomes good noise—the noise of engaged students.

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