Friday, September 26, 2014

Making Mobile Devices Learning Tools in Middle School Science

You might think that allowing middle school students to use phones during class would lead to chaos. Actually, with guidance from an innovative teacher they lead to learning. Stacy Lovdahl has found that phones are a great learning tool for her 7th and 8th grade science classes. Her students have been using phones in the classroom for over five years and when her school implemented a bring your own device (BYOD) policy she had already been using them regularly in class.

When BYOD was introduced the hope was that students would bring their laptops to class for instructional use. Over time and with inconsistent use, the heavy laptops stayed home, but phones continued to be carried to school. At first, phones were a distraction in class. The school policy allows for instructional use of devices only. Students are not allowed to use them in the hall or between classes for personal or entertainment purposes. This consistency within the school and daily use in class help maintain the expectation that the devices are for class work only.

Stacy found that with daily purpose and advanced planning the phones were becoming a regular part of class and less of a distraction. She uses phone applications such as Socrative and Kahoot to check student learning in ways that are engaging and give fast, easy to interpret results. An advantage that phones have over computers is there is no waiting for powering up, booting up and logging in so students can quickly get to work. Students use their phones for projects and research. Stacy’s favorites are the research projects that end with student created videos. Students research topics such as physical versus chemical , biomes or cells and share what they have learned with the class. Even the most shy student can be successfully included in creating the videos. Instead Stacy lecturing about the entire topic, students are becoming experts and sharing their knowledge in their words and voices.

From start-up to daily implementation, there were some challenges and some surprises. In a community with low education levels and high unemployment, one might expect young students would not have access to smart phones. Surprisingly, almost all students have regular access to a smartphone with a data plan. For those students there are class computers available. Another challenge is teaching students when and how to use the phone during class. Setting a routine helps students understand how to use the phones in a classroom as well as set the expectation that they are needed for learning every day. By keeping parents informed of the purpose and expectations of the phone use parents understood their importance and made sure that data plans could accommodate the lessons. For a teacher, the variety of devices in each class can be overwhelming. It is unreasonable to expect the teacher to know how each device works. Meeting this challenge in a creative way, Stacy appoints Chief Technical Officers (CTO) to be the designated expert in one particular device. The CTOs are the leaders charged with instructing and sharing students with like devices. This allows Stacy to focus on the learning instead of becoming an expert in every device. Communication, planning and creativity are key to successfully including devices in lessons.

Stacy is an innovative teacher who uses flipped learning and technology to engage her students and colleagues. She has taught middle school science for 14 years in Catawba County, North Carolina. She is currently the Instructional Technology Facilitator for her district. She is a lifelong learner and educator and shares her ideas and expertise with colleagues and her professional learning networks on Google+ and #flipclass on Twitter. Her Twitter handle is @bravenutrino and her blog can be found at sciencetoybox.

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