Part 2: 36 Smart Ways to Use Smartphones in Class

Smartphone Use 36 Ideas

(First published on on January 21, 2013.)

In continuation of last week’s article, Part 1: 44 Smart Ways to Use Smartphones in Class, here is a new list of thirty-six additional ideas to help leverage the power of these tech gadgets in the learning environment. In this blog post, I have attempted to avoid any redundancies, and I sincerely hope my endeavors were successful. Please join me in helping educators everywhere creatively use smartphones by contributing any overlooked uses and supportive responses via this survey. The shared comments can easily be assessed by clicking this link.

Use Smartphones to Collaborate

  • Have students collaborate with their off-campus peers by exchanging phone numbers. This may sound far-fetched, but the organization is easy to set up. Through teacher communication, an explanatory permission letter, and a shared Google form/spreadsheet, appropriate information from many students could be distributed. Imagine, for example, three different classes from three different schools collaborating on a shared project. Now that is “real-world.”
  • Use the Skype smartphone app to accomplish the same task mentioned above. I am blessed to be in a school with a strong wi-fi setup. Obviously, you will want to check on the availability and coverage of wi-fi in your school.
  • Embrace the power of augmented reality with apps like Planet Finder to make a lesson plan more realistic. Imagine thirty in-class students pointing their smartphones towards the sky to reveal the actual location of Jupiter, Mars, or Saturn.
  • Use Junaio on a field trip to continually research and access information on-the-go. This app uses augmented reality to “float” informational bubbles in the direction of the host area. Although it is often used by shoppers and social media fans, Junaio is well worth the time spent investigating its potential educational value.
  • Participate in an on-campus scavenger hunt to locate QR codes that link to assignments via the teacher's pre-made YouTube videos or other websites. This active lesson can be as intricate as time allows. However, teachers should not take on all the stress of creating the QR code-based mega-lesson. Students can create QR codes directly from their smartphones. Apps like Qrafter and Redlaser can help with creating and viewing quick response codes.

Use Smartphones to Communicate

  • Have P.E. students/athletes post workout data by using a Google form/spreadsheet. Instead of the old school format of a wall poster where students pencil in their workout maxes, P.E. teachers and coaches can ask students and players to quickly post their athletic progress directly from their smartphones. This method encourages educators to abandon the time-consuming and inefficient task of periodically calculating the data. Instead, educators can simply input a formula and share the spreadsheets online and/or print them out and make visible on classroom walls. Students will also have the freedom to continue their workouts and training outside the classroom without having to remember to record their scores upon return to school. They can take care of inputting the data immediately after performing the task.
  • Athletic coaches can also integrate powerful apps like Cyclemeter, Heart Rate Monitor by Azumio, and iMapMyRide with modern workout accessories like heart-rate monitors to create powerful and accurate data. Click here to see how Coach John Calipari of Kentucky is doing something similar to get the most out of his players. Just imagine how this on-going data collection could be integrated into science, math, language arts, and even history lessons. Heck, you could even ask an art student to illustrate the growth of an athlete in a symbolic drawing or painting, while inviting a “Music Theory” student to create an instrumental song that accurately depicts the same student’s triumphant transformation.
  • Generate interest in a lesson by asking students to peruse new movie trailers and identify correlations between the storylines and the assigned standards. Flixter works perfectly for this assignment.
  • Extend lessons by having students listen to related podcasts.

Use Smartphones to Create

  • Not enough cameras to go around when recording original movie trailers and mini-movies? No worries. Allow students to use the powerful iMovie app to produce polished videos. On a personal note, I see this so often with my 13 year-old son who routinely turns a slow, laid-back Sunday afternoon with his friends and cousins into a collaborative movie-making expedition with a create-on-the-go script, multiple camera angles, and an accompanying soundtrack. With this app, students can elevate any lesson plan by creating an interesting movie trailer.
  • Use action movie and Extras4iMovie apps to bolster and add special effects to any video. Would you want students dodging a runaway car during class to make an effective mini-movie? With a few swipes of the thumb, the same special effect can be added with these way-too-easy apps.
  • Rig a smartphone or iPod to any tripod to avoid recording “floating” scenes.
  • Lean on Videolicious and Vidify apps to create less-tedious, short films.
  • Use apps like Mouth Off, Zippo Lighter, Lightsaber, and Rimshot for visual props and to liven up any in-class skit or presentation.
  • Upload audio, video, pictures and text to a polished online, multimedia presentation using the Capzles app.
  • Create an instant song with Songify. Have no singing or rapping talent? No worries. Just speak into the app and let it work all the magic.
  • For the more serious musicians, use SoundCloud to record original sounds, songs, and podcasts to share with the world.
  • Take an a cappella recording to newer heights by producing original tracks with Easy Beats and other beat-maker apps.
  • Assign students certain topics and allow them to create boards of informational pictures via Pinterest. These Pinterest boards of images, information, and links can be shared with the entire class as additional resources to kick-start any unit.
  • Take beautifully edited pictures and share with anyone through Instagram.
  • Have students create an informative collage of pictures that address a particular area of concentration. These collages can then be printed and posted around the classroom for yearlong references. PicCollage makes this way too easy.
  • Capture symbolic photographs of lessons studied and send with textual citations to Posterous for viewing by the entire class.
  • Leverage the power of Juxtapose to “photoshop” or transpose pictures.
  • Declare everything as a potential note by setting classes up from day one with Evernote. By sharing “notebooks” as a class, students are able to treat anything as a potential note. Whether a picture or text, students continually add to the shared documents that are accessible from anywhere.
  • Have teams document their progress with large, collaborative projects with Pinterest, ImageFave, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
  • Make a geometry lesson real by photographing examples of various angles and theorems on campus.
  • Add audio and explanations to pictures and invite comments with Audioboo. Think of it as the speaking version of Twitter. This app would be excellent for interviewing, reporting, documenting, etc.
  • Write an original poem with symbolic pictures using Visual Poet. This app could be very effective during a campus walk designed to take pictures of nature while linking those images with original poetry to reflect a particular genre, such as Romanticism.
  • Bring out the inner artists within all students by allowing them to represent their understanding with drawings. Check out the Draw Something Free app.
  • Create and share podcasts with Audioboo or other voice recording apps.

Use Smartphones to Curate/Coordinate

  • Take a Google Literature Trip in Google Earth.
  • Explore the world directly from students’ desks with Google Earth.
  • Take pictures of on-screen notes and use Evernote to write directly on those pictures.
  • Diffuse students’ indecision by encouraging the use of simple selection apps like Dice.
  • Check stocks in Economics class with the touch of an app.
  • Read available PDF’s directly from smartphone when not enough books exist or when you have already reached your copying maximum. Here is a PDF file that would be very handy for my American Literature class: The Red Badge of Courage.
Still not convinced? Check out this parody of Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild and Free” that illustrates how these awesome tech gadgets are revolutionizing the classroom. Written by my friend and colleague, Dave Guymon, and me, it is appropriately titled “Smart, Sleek and Me.” As with the smartphones-in-the-class issue, we wanted to take a negative and turn it in to a positive. I hope you enjoy. [youtube]

SoundCloud + QR Codes = A Gallery of Students' Voices

Soundcloud Plus Square

(First published on on February 15, 2013.)

For a multitude of reasons, teaching in today’s time is nothing short of exciting. One such reason for so much enthusiasm is the availability of educational technology. It seems every day I discover a new technology tool that offers to enhance, structure, or assess a lesson plan. Furthermore, the technology apps for students’ creative endeavors are only limited by a classroom’s imagination. Whether I gain knowledge from my professional learning network on Twitter, from my tech-savvy students, or from the many talented colleagues in my district, the most appropriate and successful technology gadgets and apps are just a click away. Not too long ago, a few clicks of the mouse had me calculating how I could improve an already-strong lesson plan. My calculations led me to a solution. Although it won’t be the next “E=MC2,” it did solve a huge, logistical problem in the assignment details. The equation? Well, it’s quite simple. SoundCloud + QR Codes = A Gallery of Students’ Voices.

The Foundational Lesson Plan

I try my very best to never put the cart before the horse. The standards and objectives are first and foremost in my mind when planning a lesson. Afterwards, my thoughts revolve around technology. Just like a carpenter building a house, I ask myself what tools will help students achieve their goals and demonstrate their knowledge more efficiently and creatively, while realizing education is the totality of the essential question, “What is needed to get where one needs to go?” For one of our recent classroom assignments, students needed to demonstrate mastery of certain poetry terms and genres of American Literature by writing their own songs. Whether choosing to construct a parody or an original song, students were asked to deliver their creations vocally. Although students clearly understood where they were headed after studying these guidelines, I still had a few qualms about certain bumps in the road once we neared our destination.

The Problem

We are absolutely blessed in Studio 113 to have a mini-recording studio with a microphone and Peavey mixer that run through a desktop computer equipped with Mixcraft 6. Brilliant students at East Hall High School have been creating authentic songs in this room for the past five years. For this particular assignment, however, we needed to expedite the process just a bit to make the most out of such precious class time. With approximately forty teams in four different classes needing, and wanting, to record their poetic works of art, we needed many more microphones. Enter SoundCloud.

The Solution

SoundCloud is a website that allows creators to upload their songs, podcasts, and other sounds to share with the world. Since SoundCloud allows students to record from their mobile devices, whether smartphones or tablets, the only question was, “How many students have a mobile device and would be willing to use SoundCloud?” An August informational survey via a Google Form had already informed me of this number. All that was left to do was discuss the procedures for creating, recording, and sharing.

The Process

The process is an absolute blast to watch. Since all teams demand privacy and discreetness to create their songs, they may easily be found during project time seated on the floors of the hallways, lounging in the spacious cafeteria, lying on our hexagonal stage, busting a rhyme in our musical studio, and anchored to every corner of our room. They take it seriously. Some teams choose to do parodies and remakes, such as this one resembling Justin Bieber's latest track, and they print out the original song’s lyrics and begin counting syllables, gauging rhyme schemes, and matching poetry term for poetry term. Witnessing this magical ingenuity in real-time is a pleasure. Many teams follow their intuition through a field of words, sounds, rhythms, and meanings only to arrive at their authentic voices. Here's a team that resembles that feat. With an open-minded smartphone policy and a strong BYOD classroom management system in place, all teams are freed to construct their poems in ways suitable to them. Some check off accomplished tasks and terms from the assignment sheet, and others speak into Dragon Dictation while using various apps to keep track of their progress. Some go solo and write their own lyrics and play their own electric guitars. No rules. Just mastering the standards, creating exemplary products, and enjoying the learning process.

The Gallery Walk

After all poems and/or songs are written, teams are asked to print out typed copies with all terms labeled. Teams should then print out QR codes of their songs’ destinations on SoundCloud’s site. This task may need to be modeled the first time by discussing how a URL can be sent from a SoundCloud audio file to an e-mail in order to create the QR code. If students are able to print directly from their smartphones in the classroom, this procedure will be quicker. Our students don’t have that option. They simply e-mail themselves the addresses of their sound files and print the QR codes from the printer in our classroom. Most students use this site to create their QR codes in a matter of seconds. All teams should post their songs and QR codes side-by-side in preparation for the following day’s gallery walk. Click here to view a posting. At this time, students will be armed with a rubric and class roster as they casually walk around the classroom and read poems, search for accuracy of poetry terms, and scan QR codes with apps like RedLaser to hear original music. It’s quite a scene. With the exceptions of the headphones and earbuds, a gallery walk is reminiscent of a museum. Students gravitate towards the artifacts and works of art most appealing to them. For example, check out this live performance below. YouTube was this student’s mode of expression. Her peers will surely be enthralled by the courage she exhibited in front of a microphone and camera on the first take. Their excitement will surely bubble over, and they will be eager to share the most interesting examples. This natural tendency can be enhanced by allowing all students to comment and share using an assigned Twitter hashtag. For those without a Twitter account, Polleverywhere would serve as an excellent, and easy-to-use, backchannel. Of course, the traditional sticky note will work just fine also. You are definitely invited to Studio 113 to take a gallery walk and hear the students’ voices. In case you can’t make it, we will compile all songs for this project here. Ready to begin your auditory stroll ? Hope you have your headphones because these students are about to bust some rhymes. After all, no formula is needed for creativity. Just opportunity.

Flip a Class & Create a Movie: A Dream Come True

Flip a Class & Create a Movie 2

(First published on on February 7, 2013.)

Proudly, I am a teacher and a dreamer. With all discrepancies of skills and talents set aside, I relate to Steven Spielberg in at least one area: I, too, “dream for a living.” I dream of modeling the correct attitude as a persistent and teachable student. I dream of inspiring the shy, reluctant student, sitting in the farthest corner of the classroom, to rise up, hold his head high, and share his thoughts with his mesmerized peers. I dream of witnessing a team of students command our stage and spontaneously and creatively breathe life into age-old literature through improvisational acting. I dream of students who see past scores and comments on their papers to the true meaning of education. I dream of a class where academic rigor and educational enthusiasm are one. Simply put, I dream of dreams. Recently, one of my dreams became reality. Our literature class, affectionately dubbed Studio 113 by students years ago, was granted our wish. In fact, the goal for next year’s American Literature Honors students is to flip a class and create an original movie. It’s a dream come true.

The Standards: Leveraging Technology to Flip Our Class

To master all standards and assignments while flipping our class, we will use Dell’s online learning platform, which our county has rebranded as HallConnect. From the unlimited creative and sharing potential of Google Drive to the virtual backpack of class notes and folders that results from merging a powerful app like Evernote with Idea Paint, all technology apps will be fair game. Twitter, Facebook, Wikispaces, Celly, ClassParrot, Remind101, and Voicethread will all be options as we seek to efficiently communicate and collaborate during an always-hectic high school year. Likewise, the power of the smartphones to expedite our learning will not be ignored. To be perfectly honest, any educational tool able to alleviate the stress of such an enormous task will be considered.

The Product: Creating an Original Movie

The cut-and-dry basics of the product are essentially simple: use the majority of class time to write an original screenplay, to assign students to suitable production teams, to cast the actors and actresses, to record hundreds of scenes over and over, and to score the entire movie with a soundtrack written and performed by students in Studio 113. However, make no mistake about it. The goals of creating an original movie and cultivating an in-depth understanding of the curriculum are not separate. They are symbiotic. Knowledge of the standards, literary terms, and texts will give birth to the creative ideas that surely constitute the framework of a movie, whereas the inquisitive process of writing an authentic screenplay will demand a deeper understanding of the studies-at-hand. If the two-week, multi-camera video project shown here successfully implemented the assigned standards in such limited time, nine months should be sufficient to represent mastery through a full-length movie.

The Process: A Breathable Lesson Plan

Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Leaning heavily on such a potent truth will infuse our class with the necessary energy and ideas to produce a high-quality product from a fluid, breathable task. Of course, getting an early start in late June or July with the assigned coursework will only add extra breaths. Until the final touches are placed on the movie, every aspect of the product will be a work-in-progress. The screenplay. The casting. The recordings. All of it. Obviously, this is quite a challenge, but it is a welcomed challenge. Obstacles of various kinds will surely crop up, prompting me to periodically point a stern finger towards a favorite quotation that reads: “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; courage breeds creativity.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Grand Finale: A Red Carpet Premiere

Want to know my vision of the final product? Well, here it is. Imagine, if you will, a rented, local movie theater buzzing on the premiere night of a full-length movie that was completely produced at a nearby high school with a handful of HD cameras and lapel microphones. Follow me further, as we envision a crowd of parents, peers, school officials, media reporters, and local dignitaries as they wait outside an area outlined by red, velvet ropes. Across the parking lot, a heavily lit vehicle rolls closer to the front of the movie complex. Quicker than you can say, “Flashing lights,” the doors of a yellow cheese wagon open, and a class of talented students, all garbed in their finest attire, step onto the red carpet, which is just some bulletin board paper leading to the front entrance. Smartphone cameras light up the night as the stars, ingenious students from East Hall High School, stop to sign autographs on posters and soundtrack covers. Eventually, the hysteria and excitement funnel into a crowded, standing-room-only theater. The movie plays. The crowd cheers, cries, laughs, and wonders. The crowd is left speechless. And the students are forever changed. This will be our collective dream, and we hope you join us on the journey next school year. If you just so happen to miss any postings of our progress, don’t worry. It will all be recorded. In fact, it will be a motion picture. Major to me.