I don't police cell phones as strictly as most teachers because I really think the benefits of cell phones outweigh the harms. I know this is an unpopular opinion, and while I don't think students should have total freedom with their phones (everything in moderation, yes) I do think there is a place for smart phones in the classroom, especially a science class. The amazing thing is....when students are actually engaged, most of them can police their own use of cell phones without my help. If I can train students to self regulate with technology, that not only takes the stress off of me, but it makes the students feel less irritated from having an adult constantly berate them for being on their phones. Figuring out how to design a lesson that engages students productively with their smartphones is the hardest and most rewarding challenge of teaching for me this year.
Here are six ways to use smartphones in the classroom
1. Gimkit and Kahoot
While training students to be responsible with technology takes a lot of effort, I do think it's worth the effort to get students to self-regulate rather than banning phones all together. As a fellow Gen Zer/Millennial I actually agree with the students on a lot of their smartphone habits. I too take pictures instead of notes. I have my notes organized into photo albums on my phone. I look the periodic table up on the internet rather than carry a paper copy around with me all the time. Trusting the students to use their phones productively is a big leap of faith, but worth the effort in the long run.
Active listening - aka listening in a way that actually engages with the person you're talking to. One reason why I used to hate doing "class discussions" is because the students never actually listened to each other. What was supposed to be a conversation always ended up feeling like a back and forward between individual students and the teacher, rather than a dialogue between everybody in the room. I wanted to explore complicated and important issues with the students, but we couldn't do that if the students weren't benefiting from each other's ideas.
So what would happen if I could somehow break down the elements of a rich conversation into a set of concrete skills that I could teach the students? Turns out, such a structure already exists. It's called active listening and we can learn to be active listeners by practicing these four steps.
4 steps of Active Listening
Step #1: Repeat back what you heard
I used the following sentence starters to help students understand and practice each step of active listening.
First, I modeled for students how the sentence starters can be used in a conversation.
Here's the first conversation we had as a class.
Next, we had individual students take turns to be in the "hot seat" and propose a controversial opinion. Students came up with all sorts of interesting topics......from school lunches, to music, to whether porn was a good thing or not. After the "hot seat" student shared his/her controversial opinion, the audience used their active listening skills to probe the person in the "hot seat" and create a richer conversation. Students had fun with debating about things they care about. They were also excited to actually have an engaging conversation with each other for once!
Finally, we steered our conversations towards topics more relevant to the content we were studying in class. Students worked in small groups to practice the four steps of active listening using scenarios related to gene therapy and bioethics **disclosure these scenarios were not written entirely by me.
This week is the last week of the second quarter, and I'm still trying to figure out how to best use class time during this awkward transition week. It's the end of the quarter and everybody's tired. I don't want to assign any more work this week since I want to devote my time to grading final projects. I want to make class time meaningful while giving everybody a chance to breathe and reflect.
So I thought....why not let the students choose what they want to do? And what did they choose? They chose to play Just Dance, and I was all for it.
For those of you that questioned the yelling and singing from my classroom today (sorry about that!) here are four reasons why we devoted 15 minutes of class time today to the Just Dance Michael Jackson Experience (which by the way....is super good).
So.......why should I let my students dance in class?
1. Playing games in class builds classroom culture
Maybe I'm just jealous that I never got to play Just Dance in class when I was in school, or maybe this is just my Zumba background infiltrating my teaching. The way I see it, in the real world, workplaces encourage team building, group exercise, and activities that build a positive culture. A classroom is no different. There's no reason to feel like we have to work all the time, especially at the end of the quarter. I want to hear your thoughts too! How do you spend the end of the quarter with your classes?