Guide to Using Cell Phones in the Classroom

Given that cell phones are ubiquitous, it seems that we as teachers can do little about it. There’s a classic saying: If you can’t beat them, join them. This guide offers some thoughtful direction on how to incorporate cell phones in the classroom and into your lesson plans. Instead of allowing these devices to disrupt your class, use them to your advantage.

Every teacher knows the frustration of cell phones in the classroom. In today’s world, every 8-year-old has a powerful tool that connects them to not only their parents, but the world. Typically, in class, this connection is only to their friend in the next chair or down the hall. The age-old problem of student passing notes in class has had a technological update. Teachers around the world are struggling with students being more engaged with their phones than the class.

Ontario has made headlines with their cell phone ban in classroom. But the reality is much more nuanced. Even in Ontario, teachers will have discretion over how cell phones can be used in their classrooms.

We begin with generic ideas for using cell phones in your classroom and then move on to ideas of how to incorporate these in to your science and math classes.

Structuring Your Class & Communicating with your Students

Classrooms are easier than ever to set up with Google Classroom. The primary purpose of Google Classroom is to streamline the process of sharing files between teachers and students. You can have them submit assignments online and save some trees. Text reminders are great to remind students about tests, papers or upcoming assignments. Shoot them an encouraging message or study tip the evening before a test or big project. This can refocus your students if they were getting distracted or just be nice encouragement. They can also shoot you last minute questions or problems they are having.

You can also send them updates about their grades, test, or paper scores as they come in. This will lessen the pressure of that moment of seeing it for the first time in front of all their peers. You can send out grading results (e.g. mean score and standard deviations) of the class to show students how they are doing. You can make personalized suggestions for how they can improve next time. This allows you to add a personal touch and be more in touch with your students.

Polling for Comprehension

Use Cell phone to poll for comprehension

Use polls online to collect information from your students. This can be about the difficulty of a test to successful teaching strategies. For one statistics class, I collected poll answers from students to use for the whole unit in about 5 minutes and used it for the rest of the semester. You can also use this to get feedback from your students.

Have you ever been faced with only have a short time to review for a large test (e.g. midterm or final)? Then, using a questionnaire can help you quickly collect information on what your students would like to review. It can even be used daily to see what topics in the lecture you may have covered too quickly. Use technology to help you gather information from your students so you can teach them better!

Cell Phone Games for Review and Greater Classroom Learning

Online games have been a favorite of mine to review material for tests and are a great way to use cell phones in the classroom. Kahoot!, Quizlet Live and Quizizz are easy to use and fun. Students become competitive, engaged and excited to use their phone. Nothing is more fun then competing with friends over brightly color screens. And if they are busy competing, there’s no time to get distracted with other social media platforms. There are options for team games and solo games. They are also a great way to review the material after a long lecture to ensure retention of salient information.

Promoting Better Study Habits

Have students log different strategies they used to study, or hours spent studying. This will allow them to see correlations between different study habits and study time. It may be worthwhile to discuss the practices of some of your more successful students. You can reinforce that success is not just the product of talent but also effort! And, in our view, effort trumps talent in the long run.

Use the Cell Phone Creatively to Promote Better Study Habits

Or how about using the cameras on the back of the phone for something useful! Have them snap selfies when they are studying for bonus points.

Get Creative with Cell Phones for Science and Math Class

Send your students on a scavenger hunt to find things that apply to class. This can stretch from Fibonacci sequences they see in nature to playing ball for projectile motion. Get creative because examples of science and math are all around us! When students experience the information in class in real life outside of the classroom the impact is incredible.

Conduct some Real Life Science

Use the cell phone to engage students in conservation efforts in your community
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

There are apps such as iNaturalist which allow students to snap pictures of plants and insects and learn their species. This information is collected and stored for conservation works. So, your kids can also be motivated by making a difference. There are similar apps for Butterflies, Bees and other STEM fields as well!

Give your students bonus points for learning 10 new species in their yards or around their house! Discuss the impact of invasive species in your locality.

This is a great example of how science has become crowd sourced on the internet and how you can use this to further engage your students.

The Cell Phone as a Scientific Instrument


There are also special attachments you can buy for the classroom that will allow the phone camera to work as a microscope. This allows classrooms that don’t have the budget to buy a microscope to have those resources. Look at rocks and minerals up close to see the structures or inspect insects. It continues the idea that science and math are easy and accessible in our everyday lives. Imagine inspiring a child so much that they ask for one of these attachments for a birthday or holiday present!

Scientific Data Logger

Additionally, special attachments allow the cell phone to capture very useful data including:

  1. Temperature – be it ambient or of a liquid.
  2. Pressure – of gases and liquids, including atmospheric and water pressure.
  3. Humidity – relative humidity, dew point, and water vapor concentration
  4. Voltage – with useful adaptations to pressure, torque and load to force
  5. Current: AC and DC

Conducting Research

Have students conduct phone interviews with experts in the field for a graded assignment. Nothing is more interesting than talking to someone that knows so much about something you’re interested in. Let students pick topics from the semester to cover. Let students get creative with who they talk to. For a semester about mechanics, a student may talk to a baseball player about projectile motion. Another to a construction worker about operating heavy equipment down a hill. The opportunities are endless!

Managing Student Use of Cellphones in the Classroom for Non-Educational Reasons

How to Allow Cell Phones in the Classroom for non-educational purposes

There are also teachers out there who allow their students to use their cell phones in the classroom for non educational reasons. In exchange for not using their phones during teaching time, teachers allow students small breaks for phone time. Setting strict rules about phone time is crucial for successful implementation. All students in the class must agree to the terms. Be sure to make it clear that you can revoke the privilege at any time. After phone time, students must put their phones away in a backpack or pocket, not on the table. Start with a stricter time limit, say 30 minutes of class for 30 seconds of phone time. This could grow to 30 minutes of class and 2 minutes of phone time. Allowing the students room to grow this new privilege will encourage them to be respectful of the rules you set in place.

Report back

Try these strategies in your classroom and comment below with what worked and what didn’t! Let me know if you have any other tips, you’d like to share with the teaching community here at Ajax Scientific!

Drafted by: Mackenzie Brandt ; Edited by Earl D’Souza

General FAQ

How can teachers use cell phones in the classroom successfully?

1) Use them to structure your classroom activities
2) Increase the communication with students
3) Poll students for comprehension of lessons
4) Play games for review and increased learning
5) Promote better study habits
6) Be creative to tie science and math to real life examples
7) Conduct some real life science for conservation efforts in your area
8) Use the cell phone as a scientific instrument be it a microscope or data logger.
9) Conduct field research
10) Manage but don’t necessarily ban phones for non-educational purposes.

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