Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mobile Devices in our Classrooms

I recently posted a photo on Twitter showing 4 mobile devices on desks in my classroom during lunch hour recess.

Here is the Tweet:

There were some tweets that went back and forth about this photo but one of them really got me thinking. One of my colleagues, +Marybeth Backewich, asked what I use to create such a culture in my classroom. Here is a snapshot of our interaction:


Thanks to Mary Beth (and the power of having a professional learning network on Twitter) I have spent time reflecting on her question. So, let me tell you what has happened in our classroom community to have led to me tweeting that photo. 

The sight of the mobile devices on the desks while the kids were outside playing caught my eye as I was leaving the classroom to go and do about a hundred other things before the students came back in. Before I explain why this caught my attention, let me provide some context. There has been some talk lately about schools banning mobile devices and there has been an ongoing discussion about allowing them into classrooms. Distinctions have even been made about the use of mobile devices in elementary vs secondary school. I teach grade 4/5 so my perspective is an elementary school one and this is important to note because I am not familiar with the dynamics that might be involved at the secondary level. 

Back to the photo. When I saw the phones on the desks, a few things struck me. First, I realized that the devices were left out in the open and not locked up in my file cabinet. In our class, the norm is that they get locked up when there is no one in the room. It is my way of doing my best to protect the technology when I (we) are not in the classroom to supervise. Since all the students were out for recess and I was leaving the room, this caught my attention. No one had asked me to open the file cabinet to store their device.

Second, the sight of these devices laying out on the desks with the pencil cases, papers, and other items we use daily reminded me that these devices are now as common as the other tools we use for our learning and demonstration of learning. Theses devices (that happen to be iPhones and an iPod Touch - but there are also iPads and other devices) are tools that the students will use from time to time to find information, make connections, apply skills/knowledge, and or use for leisure. 

Third, the culture in our class has allowed this. It is the norm to have the devices at school, laying around all over the classroom. It is no longer an 'event' to have them here, it is part of our 'routine'. The students have agreed to a set of expectations that were co-created by them. In collaboration with me, we have created a culture where electronics, such as mobile devices, are permitted in our class community. 

Fourth, I was reminded that my students aren't 'sneaking' the devices around (e.g. outside) to text their friends and check their social media apps because they know what to do with the devices at school and are focused on other things - like having fun outside! One of my sayings is that there is a time and place for everything. My students get that outdoor recess is not the time or the place to be using their mobile devices. There are times when the students ask if they can text/message their parents with quick questions and/or confirmations about things that will be happening outside of school. I think this is great! I appreciate that they check in with me and think before they act. Because of the culture that has been established in our classroom, this is another example of how the devices are part of our learning and communication tools when they are at school. 

There are times when I ask students to text/message other students who are away (e.g. sick at home) to see if they are available/able to learn with us, in real time. It shows them that I trust them, that I truly want to engage all of the students, and that there are lots of ways to enter into a learning situation. We have the technology to do things in new and improved ways, so why are we holding back? Why aren't we taking the time to go through the 'rough patches' that lead us to situations like the photo I have posted above? We need to start looking at all of this and begin to discuss the barriers that are in the way and how we can move forward in ways that will benefit the students by teaching them what they need to know to be responsible life long learners who will be good role models for the people that follow them. 

My mobile device is always around. I use it to capture photos, videos, and audio. I use it to access twitter to share our learning. I use it to access my Google Drive where I have things I want to share with my students, or where they have shared something with me. I model the use of my device with respect to the the context I am in - I am at work so I use it in a way that is appropriate for work. I talk to my students about this. I tell them that I too have access to text messages, email, and other social media platforms that I use for pleasure but that it is neither the time nor the place to be accessing those things. That is stuff that I do when it is appropriate to do so.

Last but not least, I want to note that this photo doesn't show the heartache and learning that we have had to endure to get to this level. It was rough when I first started allowing the devices into the classroom. It felt like the Wild West! We still have bad days (improper use of the technology within the 'school' context) but they are few and far in between. There has been a lot of modelling, class meetings, individual discussions, and discipline. Please don't think that the current culture in our classroom simply appeared. There were (and sometimes still are) days where I think that this inclusion will never work but there are days I feel this way about a lot of things, not just the inclusion of mobile devices in the classroom. The image below is something that I discovered serendipitously as I have been contemplating this blog post. 

Image result for great image of inclusion and integration using dots
Visual from
It is not to say that I (we) never exclude, segregate, and/or integrate our mobile devices. There is a time and place for everything, but generally speaking we are running with inclusion when it comes to our devices. 

What do you think? Please feel free to comment below. 

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