The Benefits of Handheld Tech in the Classroom

I must admit something: one year ago, I was not an advocate of cell phones or tablets in the classroom. I naively felt that they were cause of distractions and were the source of evil that would prevent me from accomplishing my mission: teaching. However, since then, I have been awakened, my eyes have been opened, to a new world in which we live. I have learned, via my PLN on @Twitter and other social media sites, that handheld technology is not evil. It is my accomplice!

What sparks this thought? This Tweet that I recently read (and retweeted):

When you imagine a student sitting in a classroom all day long without access to an ounce of technology, you probably feel the same sense of suffocation that I do. Students in today’s tech-driven society can not be expected to “sit & get” all day long without an escape. Handheld technology allows for that escape – a brain break – and a way to access even more information than their teacher is feeding them.

There are many articles out there regarding the research of the benefits of technology in the workplace and the classroom. One article, written by Zoe Fox in April, 2012, Why CEOs Should Allow Facebook in the Workplace (Mashable.Com), gives CEOs takes on allowing social media (Facebook, in particular) in the workplace and a study conducted to reveal the benefits of surfing the web. “The study concludes that taking a break, particularly one spent browsing the Internet, should be encouraged by employers hoping to increase productivity.” Well, if adults need the break, shouldn’t the same be true for students?

I’m not suggesting a free-for-all when it comes to allowing students to use technology in the classroom. Quite the contrary because, like anything else that works in education, it must be structured. Many middle school and high school students, who come to school with phones and iPads, are already tapped in to some format of social media in our classes, anyway. If we give organized breaks that allow students that necessary thinking-escape, it could benefit us all. Students will be more productive, they won’t miss important instruction while trying to conceal their Internet-surfing under their desks, and they’ll respect the teacher who gives them those 5 minutes to check the latest e-mail, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. (Important Note: If you are going to allow tech brain breaks, just remember to create a student-teacher contract that clearly states the Do’s and Dont’s of these breaks. If a student violates the contract, you have the justified right to take that privilege away!)

Cell phones, tablets, and notepads (or laptops) can also be a huge help in accessing information. If the teacher is working with a student (or a small group) and other classmates need additional information on a topic of study, they have access to a plethora of new information right at their finger tips without having to interrupt the teacher. (Tip: Consider creating a class website, if you haven’t already, and posting links to helpful websites or videos that students should utilize while studying a particular unit.)

Afraid students will be tempted to reach into their pockets during class, even with the 5-minute break? Create a cell phone parking lot on student tables. Use masking tape or duct tape to create the “parking spots” where phones must be parked during class. Students can leave their phones – face down – in the parking spot until given permission to use them. Make this part of your classroom tech contract…if a student doesn’t use the spot appropriately, they lose their tech privileges!

At the end of the day, our goal is to reach each student and inspire them, educate them, and teach them how to balance responsibility and accountability. If we deny our students any technology in the classroom, yes, we make our lives easier; meanwhile, we are only hurting them by neglecting to teach one of life’s important lessons.

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