Utilizing the Tool of Distraction: Teaching High School Students through Smartphones
August 29, 2012|
By Chris Nye
As a high school math teacher, I understand the amount of focus that is required in order to be successful at solving math problems. I firmly believe that math is best learned when the classroom environment is void of distractions. Over the years, I have observed as too many of my students have failed to achieve their potential in my classroom because they have tended to only focus on one thing: their cell phone. The capabilities of the modern cell phone are hard to compete against in order to gain my students’ attention. Texting has occupied a significant amount of their focus and I have observed that cell phone use contributes to a lack of appropriate academic progress for my students. Basically, my students are presented with a choice between engaging in their high school math course and socializing via their cell phone. Naturally, socializing is going to be the preferred choice.
As the teacher, my school district charges me with the responsibility of monitoring my students’ use of cell phones. It is difficult to prove cell phone usage because the practice at my school is to only confiscate a cell phone if it is visible. Thus, students are usually able to hide the phones whenever I happen to be looking their way. Additionally, when I collect cell phones and submit them to my administration, the phones are not detained from students for more than a couple of days at a time.
Therefore, the cell phones that I have collected on one school day will appear in my classroom again as early as the next school day. This is because parents are allowed to collect the cell phone upon every student infraction. Furthermore, even if I could collect every cell phone and keep it for the entire school year, my main focus in the classroom is not on monitoring cell phone usage. I have to focus on conducting my lesson plan. Spending too much time on monitoring cell phone usage leads to a lower quality presentation and incomplete lessons.
In the last two years, my school district has made substantial upgrades to classroom technology. These upgrades provided me with the technology tools that I needed to help my students focus on my lessons. My classroom was equipped with an interactive whiteboard and a video projector. I had a laptop computer and the necessary software to facilitate presentations on the interactive whiteboard.
Additionally, I had a wireless slate that allowed me to gain control of my laptop computer and become mobile in my classroom. As a math teacher, I had a classroom set of calculators that were equipped with wireless communication devices so that I could network with students.
The calculator system allowed me to prompt students for texted responses. I could send computer files to my students and they could interact on their calculator with the lesson content. I could view individual calculator screens and exclusively monitor student productivity on my computer screen. From my standpoint, monitoring student learning was simplified and expedited. If I needed to know how many students understood the lesson at any point, I could quickly assess them by wirelessly sending them questions/prompts to their calculators. When the students had completed my assessment, I could collect and analyze the results with a few mouse clicks on my computer. Student work could be displayed in real time on the interactive whiteboard and they didn’t have to leave their seat because of the wireless capability of the calculator.
In my opinion, the calculators should have been enough technology to capture the interest of my students and engage them in my lessons. However, I continued to have some students engage in cell phone use and a few of my students were extremely disruptive during my lectures. Thus, I began pre-recording my lessons in video format so that I could devote more attention to off-task students during class time.
The software program that facilitated presentations on the interactive whiteboard equipped me with the capability of on-screen video recording with audio. Using the software program, the wireless slate and a computer microphone, I recorded my lessons prior to meeting with my class. Later, when the lessons were played and projected onto the whiteboard, my students could see the pen strokes and any cursor movements that I had made with the mouse. Additionally, they could clearly and loudly hear my voice via the speakers I had connected to my laptop computer.
I designed the lessons to have natural pauses so students could ask questions and complete additional activities, but I had complete control to pause the recording at any time if needed. If I needed to handle a disruption in class or remind a student to remain on task, other students did not have to experience a pause in my lesson because the video continued to play. The recorded video was saved as a computer file that was formatted to play on any computer without the need for special software. Thus, students were encouraged to use the recorded lessons at home and they could acquire the computer file by connecting a flash drive to my computer. My substitute teachers could play the videos and math instruction could continue even without my presence. I also posted a few tutorial lessons on the Internet and monitored how often they were viewed.
A few students and leaders at my school combated my efforts to incorporate my ideas for the use of technology in my classroom. However, I knew from my experience and education that I was making a good decision, and I proceeded with the use of the technology as I have described. The increased quality of my lessons and the heightened capability for me to manage my classroom were substantial reasons I continued to incorporate my technology ideas into my classroom on a daily basis.
In the end, the test results for my students justified my classroom practices. For the subject that I teach, students had to complete a standardized test that was administered by the Department of Education. For the past two school years, my students made gains at the highest level in the State of Tennessee.
About the Author
Dr. Chris Nye is a high school mathematics teacher in Jackson, TN. Nye holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, a master’s degree in education, an educational specialist degree and a doctorate in education with an emphasis in educational leadership. He is licensed by the State of Tennessee to teach secondary mathematics and to be a principal. Nye, who has been teaching math at the secondary level for 10 years, lives with his wife and three children in Jackson. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.