Using cell phones in the classroom when computers are not available (by Fabiana Casella)
Everybody is talking about 21st Century skills and preparing students for a whole different world. The truth is that our students have become digital and there are a whole lot of educators around the world who are still “analog”. That is why I would like to share my work with my two secondary school groups with as many teachers as possible. Internet and Technology in the Classroom have made a huge change in my daily teaching experience.
My story starts right after my first online presentation for The Future of Education Reform Symposium 2013, (RSCON4) where I was kindly invited to participate by Shelly Sanchez Terrell. Some hours later, I got a message from Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, who asked me if I would like to write for this High Tech Ideas in the Low Tech Classroom section in Teaching Village. I was flattered, and accepted immediately, but it really took me quite a long time to put ideas together and I thank my dear friend, Rose Bard, for giving me some support.
We do not have computers or tablets in the classroom, only computer labs which are used for computing classes mainly. So when I wanted to integrate technology in my classes, I decided to ask my lovely students and parents as well as administrators, if they would agree with the use of cell phones or Smartphones during the English classes. The answer was an enthusiastic “YES!! Why not? Absolutely!” They were all very supportive.
My first step was to open an account in Edmodo, the educational platform for teachers, in order to protect my students’ online identity. In this way, I was able to have my students download the Edmodo application, or simply go to the webpage, sign in and join the group I had created for them. It was a fantastic experience for the children and for me. Just seeing them setting their phones in English, then creating a username and password to become members of the group, and finally reading my welcome post filled my heart with pride and joy. There were some students who obviously could not log in so easily, and that turned into one of the best moments. Students started to help each other, giving instructions in English and using the target language beyond the classroom context! From here, we were able to use many online tools and applications as part of our lessons.
Last year, the fact that 100% of my students had a Smartphone (except for me as I just bought one) was a double advantage. I was able to blend my classes, post follow up activities and also some articles to be discussed in class. They could also show me their work in class or even log in and ask me questions about my posts. It certainly required a much bigger effort for me, because I had to think what to teach face-to-face and to check my students’ online assignments and the ones written on paper, the traditional way!
Anyway, I am proud to say that these children responded wonderfully! Almost all of them worked hard all year and completed all of the projects. Those who did not manage to complete all the work were unable to do so because of problems with their Internet connection or power outages at home, the two principal and very common obstacles around this area.
No matter how much you trust your students, as a teacher you need to keep a close watch, and rethink or polish your classroom management skills to suit new situations. My students are teenagers and can start chatting on Whattsap in less than a second! When I caught one of my students on Twitter (without my permission), I asked him to “tweet” in English. That turned into an incredible experience, because his “friends” replied in English, too, while we were in class. Later, students spontaneously volunteered to retell the updated news in every class. It was completely their idea! So we had Twitter readers from The New York Times, Reuters, CNN and other news broadcasters. Having a speaker every class was a real delight! These reports led to discussions on current topics, all in English.
Since we began using cell phones in class, my students and I have worked on many exciting and educational projects together, and with other teachers and students around the world. You can learn more about our projects in this recording from my RSCON presentation (the the slides are on slideshare) or an interview I did with Vicky Loras.
How did I learn how to integrate cell phones in my teaching? I am not a an expert techy teacher! I am just a teacher! (I know Cecilia Lemos would not like to hear me say that!) Honestly, I am just a teacher who believes in motivation, creativity and happiness in the classroom. Integrating some technology, as I stated above, made a big difference in my classes. First of all, I promised my students we were going to go GREEN and we did! Later, I said they were going to be able to express themselves in different learning contexts and they did! I think that practicing their foreign language both in the classroom and beyond the limits of the school has been key to student progress. How did I learn to integrate tech tools? I started to read articles, browse Internet websites on technology in education, and listen to the experts by attending as many free online webinars as I could, because conferences and lectures here are too pricey.
During 2012, I had the chance to take a course taught by marvelous Jennifer Verschoor on Tech Tools for the English class, certified by the National Technological University of Argentina. That was the starting point. Since then, I have read and listened to Shelly Sanchez Terrell, Nicky Hockly, Gavin Dudeney, Nik Peachy, Pete Sharma, Vicki Hollet, Rita Zeinstejer (Argentina) and many more. In March 2013, I decided to start studying a Specialization in Education and ICT delivered by the Ministry of Education, so now I have a much more “formal” tuition. “If there is a will, there is a way” is one of my favorite English proverbs, and I believe that this is especially true in teaching. Even if you have a low tech classroom, you can find a way to integrate technology into your teaching!
Note: This article by Fabiana Casella originally appeared as a guest post on Teaching Village and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.