Students Rachael Mehrara, middle left, and Alexandra Chavez-Earls, 13, use an iPhone in class in Chandler, Ariz.(Photo: Michael Schennum, The Arizona Republic)
Pulling a cellphone out during class used to mean likely confiscation and perhaps detention for students bold enough to try.
a growing number of schools are turning to the smartphones students
bring with them to school as an instructional device that can augment
Teachers ask students to use their
smartphones to look up a vocabulary word, take a photo of an assignment
written on the board or text themselves a homework reminder. Teachers
use countless apps, many of them free, to better connect students with
coursework on a platform they're familiar with.
Eston Melton, an
assistant principal at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Va.,
says students can better internalize their lessons when they're doing
them on their own personal smartphones or tablets.
"My education becomes something I walk around with in my pocket," he says.
Washington, West Potomac draws from rich and poor neighborhoods. Melton
says not every student has an iPad or iPhone, so teachers have to be
mindful not to alienate students who don't have one.
One way is
to put students into small groups, in which only one is using the
phone while others are tasked with different responsibilities.
West Potomac lets students check out laptops from the library. Melton says, "Kids are incredibly responsible with it.
people are going to have a visceral response of, 'Oh my God, you let a
poor kid check out a laptop? You're never going to see it again!' But
we've never had that problem," he says.
Other schools are moving to incorporate private smartphones and tablets in the classroom.
Decatur High School in Berlin, Md., is one. Administrators say they
first have to figure out how to install a wireless network that will
accommodate about 400 students at once. And, they say, they've got to
make sure students will be responsible with the access.
we know they're not texting somebody when we think they're on a
calculator?" says John Gaddis, assistant superintendent for Worcester
County, Md., schools, which is home to Stephen Decatur High. "We're
trying to address those issues."
The goal at Decatur is to have
mobile device management software next year, so the school knows about
every device plugged into its network, and a digital cloud where all
content can be uploaded.
"In five years," Gaddis says, "I see all students with some sort of tablet in their hands."
Standard teen equipment
Teens already have cellphones, many of them smart versions, in their hands.
March study by the Pew Research Center found that 77% of young people
ages 12-17 have cellphones. One in four has a smartphone. The study
found no differences in smartphone ownership across racial, income, or
A November study from Teen Research Unlimited, done
for the Verizon Foundation, found that 39% of middle school students use
smartphones to do homework. Among them, just 6% said they were
permitted to use a smartphone in class.
The number is bound to grow as more schools experiment with using smart electronic devices and mobile apps as learning tools.
Verizon Foundation chose 12 schools this year and 24 next year to
receive up to $50,000 in grant funding to bring laptops, tablets and
mobile phones to class. The focus is on science, math and technology
One of the schools is Assabet Valley Vocational High
School in Marlborough, Mass. Teachers use a number of smartphone apps:
iCell for biology, Quizlet for digital flash cards and Poll Everywhere
for a quick group survey.
The apps offer an easy way to do
research, solve problems quickly and motivate students, says Assabet
science teacher Alexia Forhan.
"You really get away from a lot of
the photocopying and the pen and paper," she said. "This kind of
teaching definitely keeps (students) engaged."
The idea of allowing phones in class is being raised as a possible safety measure after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
Assabet, having phones in the class was "a natural fit," says Cindy
Zomar, a school spokeswoman. "There was absolutely nothing to do with
Zomar points out that the first-graders at
Sandy Hook Elementary would have been too young to carry cellphones.
"It wouldn't have made a difference in what happened," she says.
in Salisbury, Md., a private school is putting iPads in the hands of
kindergartners. It also encourages fifth-graders to use their own phones
to research ancient Egypt.
"Why ignore the fact that our students
forever will have a smartphone or an iPad somewhere in the vicinity
that they can access anything imaginable?" says Debbie Wessels, an
administrator at the Salisbury School. "Everybody needs to understand
that this is going to be a shift that is forever going to change the
face of education."