Have you ever had days when cellphones are just a huge distraction and it seems impossible for your students to get any work done? Students are constantly hiding their cellphones, and it seems like every time you turn around someone is distracted. It’s hard to micromanage, to give warnings, and to confiscate cell phones when you have about 50 minutes to teach your lesson.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I have a few of those days and I also have 3 tips to make cell phones work for you in your classroom.

Tip #1: Have the Right Mindset

I once had a math teacher who told me, “You have to memorize this because one day you won’t have a calculator everywhere you go”. Well, in today’s society I actually have my smartphone, which doubles as a calculator and many other things, in my pocket everywhere I go. Our world is constantly changing, and we must learn to adapt to become better teachers. Therefore, having the right mindset is the key to changing your viewpoint on new technology. Since we are living in the information age, there will always be new gadgets and gizmos everywhere you turn.  Instead of fighting it, you should learn to embrace it. You should think of cellphones as a new resource that students are bringing with them to school and almost every child in your class will have one. For the students who don’t, I always have an extra device for them to use. With the right mindset, you will find endless reasons to use cellphones in your class.

There are so many apps out there that you can use to enhance your teaching. However, do not get overwhelmed with these apps. Only use the ones that you feel comfortable with otherwise these apps become more of a distraction than a help. It is nearly impossible to keep up with all the new apps and that is why you should stick with what you know how to use and learn what you want to.  There are some apps that I use, and I will talk more about them in tip #3 below. By making cellphones your ally and not your enemy, they will start working for you and help you to become better teachers.

Tip #2: Have a place for ALL the Cell phones

I have two systems in place for all the cellphones. The first system is a charging station where I purchased a wall door hanging cell phone holder for 35 phones, a USB fast port charger for 20 chargers, and an extension cord for students to plug their phones in.  The charging station is on a first-come, first-serve basis and they have the beginning of class to plug in their phones. They can only take their phones out at the end of class. Two ways how this is helpful is firstly, their phones are away and are no longer a distraction when you are teaching. And secondly, their phones will be charged for when it’s time to use it for your class.

The second system I have is simply a basket in which all their cell phones go on testing days and days where I do not want them to use their phones at all. When they see the basket, they must put their phones in there and they cannot charge it.

Tip #3: Turn your classroom into a Project-Based learning environment

This is my first year teaching Statistics and I have had the joy of creating lessons for this new program at my school.  As I was creating my lessons, I wanted them to be engaging and relatable to my student’s lives. Luckily, statistics is a more applicable math course and I had such a great time planning for this course. Students in my math classes often ask me the question, “When will I use this?” and in my statistics class I usually respond, “Every day”.

What is project-based learning?

Project-based learning is the idea that you give students the opportunity to deepen their base knowledge through the active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.  This does not mean that the students are learning the foundations by themselves, you are still responsible for teaching the basic foundations of the topic that the project is based on. By using a project, the students will become experts on that topic and they will internalize their learning to be able to apply their knowledge cross-curriculum.

How did I start project-based learning?

I started all my project-based learning by asking myself this question, “How can my students use their cellphones to deepen their understanding of what I just taught them”? For example, for the first unit on characterizing variables, I had my students listen to a local podcast “Second Date Update” and determine whether the success rate was based on categorical or quantitative variables. For my second unit on analyzing statistics using different methods, my students researched two famous or infamous people and compared their stats to determine the better person based on their own criteria. For my unit on Normal Distribution, I told my students to go online-shopping at their favorite store and to analyze the prices at their store to determine what is normal and what is not. I also used my favorite app, Zillow, to have students look at real estate and analyze the area that they wanted to live in and create a normal distribution curve. I am only using apps that I use on a regular basis, and by doing so I’m sharing my knowledge with my students.

Is project-based planning easy to do?

Planning for project-based learning is a lot of work and it requires a lot of planning ahead of time. However, if you have the right mindset from the start, it will work for you. With every project that I give my students, I have a daily benchmark, so my students know what is expected of them. I let my students be in charge of their own learning, but I also provide students with guidance when they need it. When my students are researching on their cellphones and working hard, I can see that they are engaged and learning. I don’t have to worry about policing cell phone usage because they are researching information that they are excited about. The best part about project-based learning is being able to talk to your students and getting to know what they are interested in and what they are excited to learn. I also found out that when students are held to high expectations, they will meet it because they know that you care.

In summary, I hope these three tips help make cell phones work for you. I truly believe when your students oversee their own learning, they take pride in their work. They are excited to share what they have learned with you and with their peers. They internalize what they have learned, and they are able to teach others. My students always reference a topic that they have learned through the project that they had to produce. It brightens my day when my students tell me, “I finally understood the topic because we did this project” or “I had so much fun listening to that podcast”. I am proud to say that cellphones are a great resource in my classroom and I wouldn’t have it any other way.