This morning, the New York Times has a great piece on smartphones in the classroom.
One one side is the cellphone industry saying that using a smartphone improves math skills. The claim is based on a study conducted in four North Carolina schools. The schools were all located in low-income neighborhoods; and 9th and 10th-grade math students were given high-end cellphones. The phone were each preloaded with special algebra learning programs.
The students used the phones to study -- recording them solving problems and even posting videos of their work for other students to watch. Evidently the school had set up a private network just for these students. Now how cool is that!
But there's more. . . the students were allowed talk and texting minutes to use during their off time. And just to keep things safe, the messages were monitored by teachers to make sure that they were appropriate.
At the end of the year the students were given an algebra exam and the results showed that students with the phones performed 25 percent better than those without the devices.
Of course, there is the other side. This side includes the usual suspects, teacher unions such as the American Federation of Teachers, school administrators and some individual teachers who believe that cellphones are just a distraction from the real business of learning. Which explains why many states and school districts ban cellphones on school campuses.
I would be willing to bet that most of these detractors have never even used a smart phone. . .
After watching the teens around me, I have to say that giving them a cellphone sounds like a winner idea. They are smaller and cheaper than computers; they can be insured for very little money and the kids love them.
Most of the teens I know remind me Charleton Heston -- you will have to pry the cell phone out of their cold dead hands. It seems to me a winning strategy to use their passion for the devices and leverage it into an educational tool.
The cost of a smartphone, especially when bought in bulk, can't be much more expensive than the outrageous amount of money spent on textbooks and supplies.
From what I have seen in our local school system there is a lot of room for experimentation. When you have one third of the children in the district "left behind", the status quo is clearly NOT working.