A friend of mine recently forwarded me one of those emails. I’m sure you’re familiar with them: lots of cute photos, and when you scroll to the bottom, you typically see some kind of humorous statement. This particular email had several pictures, all of teenagers—at the park, in a restaurant or car, at a baseball game. And in every image, the teens were hunched over, totally engrossed in their cell phones. The very last photo is of Albert Einstein, and it’s accompanied by a quote from him: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
Technology isn’t supposed to turn us into idiots—it’s supposed to make us smarter. And yet, these days the phrase “technology addiction” is cropping up all over the place. A University of Maryland 2011 study found that the majority of the 1,000 students who were interviewed admitted that they were unable to abstain from using technology for an entire day. The students I work with seem to have developed nervous tics, constantly flipping out their cell phones to check on texts, messages, or the time.
Rather than bemoaning our fate as teachers battling this new disease, we need to embrace it. If you can’t keep your students from checking their cell phones 50 times each class period, make your students’ devices work to your purpose. A smorgasbord of tools are available to help you do just that. Use Poll Everywhere to quiz your students. You create the questions and your students text their responses using laptops, tablets, or mobile phones. Display the website with your Smartboard or projector and watch the responses roll in, changing the graph on the screen as each student responds. Students can also text comments and questions. This is a free application for up to 40 responders. PollDaddy is a similar tool that provides live web polling and can be embedded in web pages and blogs. Socrative is another polling tool that also runs on laptops, tablets, and smartphones and allows you to take a quick poll of your students through true-or-false, multiple-choice, or short-answer questions. Socrative also includes exit tickets, a quick way to gage students’ understanding of the day’s lesson; quizzes that are graded for you; and the game Space Race, in which teams of students answer questions as fast as they can to move their rocket across the screen to victory.
Create a class Twitter account and encourage (or require) kids to tweet notes, comments, and questions on various topics that they’re studying. Use Twtpoll,a tool that allows you to launch polls directly from your Twitter account. The class account can serve as a note-taking tool. Assign a different student each day to be the class tweeter and encourage all your students to tweet their comments and questions during class and later when they’re doing homework and need help.
Right before class starts, send out a group text with Remind101 that explains the day’s objective. Remind101 is also a great tool for keeping in touch with students after school hours. Need to extend a deadline? Text them. Want to remind kids to bring in certain supplies? Text them.
Technology can be an addictive hindrance to education, or it can enhance and expand the ways we communicate with and engage our students. Mobile devices are here to stay. Make them work for you.
This article was featured in School Library Journal's SLJTeen enewsletter. Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a month for free.