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Smartphones in Education: Redirecting Distraction

As the power of the average smartphone grows stronger and more capable so does the potential for distraction in the classroom. With so many powerful apps and games, it is easy to see how students would have a hard time putting their phones away. While confiscating or removing phones from the classroom is one approach, it might not always be the most effective. That is why more and more teachers are experimenting with ways to use cellphones and the powerful apps that they hold within their lesson plans. Continue reading to discover and learn just how some teachers are succeeding.

Here’s a list of creative ways you can transform a distracting smartphone into a learning tool. While if your interested in how technology will affect classrooms in the future check out our article Virtual Classroom: The Future of Distance Learning.


Smartphones in Education: Redirecting Distraction

While the benefits of technology in the classroom have been well established, smartphones are another issue. Smartphones are more associated with leisure and entertainment than education and teachers are inclined towards blanket bans in the classroom. Blanket bans ignore the power and benefits that smartphones bring to the classroom, however. These powerful handheld computers not only enable access to the Internet and a universe of educational apps, but their fast speeds and vast processing power make them essential tools particularly for engineering and science students. Furthermore, while not every student has access to a notebook or tablet computer, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 95% of American teens own a smartphone. In fact, this poll indicates that nearly half of American teens are online “almost constantly,” even during school hours. While most of the time this means surfing YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat (the top three apps, according to Pew), this also means these devices are readily available for use in the classroom.

So, rather than trying to ban something that at this point has become as necessary to young people as oxygen, innovative teachers and technology startups are figuring out how to turn these potential sources of distraction into potent educational devices.

Stay Organized and Asses Learning

Ken Halla, a 22-year veteran high school history teacher, is at the forefront of incorporating mobile technologies into the classroom. To help students stay better organized, Halla recommends using Remind101 to remind students of upcoming assignments. “I was stunned by how many kids started doing the homework,” he said in a recent article by the National Education Association. Remind also allows teachers and students to share photos, handouts and flyers and enables instant messaging, so teachers can handle issues as they arise. Halla also uses to assess learning. Students receive texts through the app with multiple choice questions, and Halla says their performance on these questions shows him where students are doing well, and what needs more review. Google Classroom is another resource that streamlines the educational experience, enabling teachers to seamlessly send announcements, begin discussions, share resources, and submit and grade assignments. Students only need to enter a shared code, and the learning process begins.

Smartphones in Education: Redirecting Distraction

Using Educational Apps in the Classroom

Sure, smartphones are sources of socializing and entertainment for most students, but they also enable access to a vast array of educational apps as well. Educational apps are shown to enhance classroom performance by offering interactive and engaging learning experiences. These apps can provide virtually unlimited access to educational content and by innovating new learning techniques, promote collaboration among students, teachers, and parents. Quiz generator Quizlet,for example, enables teachers to create flashcards, games, and quizzes that are always available on their phones. Students can collaborate and challenge each other, allowing them to learn while being social and having fun. Furthermore, while mathematics are tough for many students, educational app Photomath makes math clear, understandable, and even fun. The Photomath app uses the smartphone’s camera to read and solve students’ mathematical problems instantly, checking their work for any printed or handwritten problems. This app teaches students how to approach math problems through clear steps and detailed instructions, and even offers multiple methods for solving problems. Teachers and students alike say this app is highly effective.

Smartphones in Education: Redirecting Distraction


Educational Apps Outside of the Classroom

Students have an array of learning styles that works best for them. Luckily now there is an array of educational apps that can reach students no matter what their learning style. For students that learn better on their own rather than in a social setting, or need extra support outside of the classroom, there are numerous apps available. EdX, for example, brings over 2,000 classes from the world’s top universities to students’ smartphones. Featuring video tutorials, study material handouts, and interactive quizzes, EdX enables advanced supplementary learning an individual’s own pace. Khan Academy is another highly popular learning app that features video tutorials to drive home classroom studies. Khan Academy videos feature teachers describing their lessons in drawings on virtual blackboards, tapping into students’ and visual learning centers for maximum results. Udemy is likewise extremely popular learning resource, offering over 100,000 classes from top instructors, as well as interactive quizzes and tracking student progress. Computer programming is increasingly important in the modern world, and SoloLearn enables students to learn the world’s most in-demand programming languages, including Python, HTML, and Java, on their smartphones and at their own pace.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

Innovative teacher Ken Halla allows what is perhaps the most revolutionary use of smartphones in the classroom – listening to music while doing solo work. Halla only requires them to use headphones of course and to not listen too loudly to ensure that they don’t distract others. Also, he asks them to listen on an app that only streams music so they won’t become disengaged by picking a new song every few minutes. He says that the noise level in the classroom goes down and productivity increases.

Smartphones in the classroom will continue to be a challenge for teachers and ensuring that their role remains primarily focused on education requires vigilance. The traditional role of the teacher at the head of the classroom lecturing from the blackboard is increasingly old fashioned, and the proliferation of smartphones requires that teachers continuously motivate their students, encouraging and guiding individuals and small groups.

If your a teacher interested in finding out more about digital classrooms check out Teach from Home: A Digital Teaching Toolkit or if you need to find out how some of your students learn best try reading The 8 Learning Styles, to learn how you can teach to different types of learners.