Monday, April 5, 2010

Using Cell Phones to Prepare for Standardized Science Tests

Another in the Innovative Educator's "Cells in Ed Lesson Series." This lesson is designed for science teachers who are interested in harnessing the power of cell phones in instruction to prepare for a standardized test and was used in a class where the teacher allowed students to bring cell phones to class.

Subject: Science

Tool(s): Poll Everywhere, Wiffiti, Google Forms, Wall Wisher

Lesson Overview:
This lesson is intended to review past science material for an upcoming standardized science exam by incorporating a current event.

Lesson Description:
In our middle school science course we have been preparing for the upcoming standardized tests by exposing students to current events that relate to material from past science lessons. We normally do this by having the students blog outside of class about various current event articles. However, this particular lesson took place in the classroom. We decided to have our students take a closer look at President Obama's decision to build new nuclear power plants in the United States. This lesson would easily be adapted to any current event issue that has a pro and con side.

We began the lesson by creating an online poll using This poll asked students whether or not they believed it was a good idea to build new power plants in the United States. The students had the option of voting with their cell phones or logging into our content management system and following the available link to vote with a laptop. Due to the students willingness to share cell phones, all students voted in the poll long before the first laptop was logged in.

After the students took the poll they were given two articles. The first dealt with President Obama's plans and the second discussed the pros and cons of nuclear power. The students read the articles in groups of two or three and were told to write three to five main points from each article. After the students finished reading and writing their main points they were instructed to come to a group consensus on the topic. The group was asked to summarize their opinion in 1 to 2 sentences and post it using their cell phones to a Wiffiti board (

Once all the groups comments had been posted, read, and discussed the students watched a two-minute video ( that served as a great summary of the discussion. The lesson came to an end with the students once again taking the same poll they took in the beginning of class. Poll Everywhere enabled us to instantly see that after doing some reading, talking and thinking about the issue, many had changed their opinion.

Here's How...
We did some pre-planning before the cell phones were used in the classroom. We did this by using this Google form to survey our students to learn more about their cell phone use and access. Based on survey results we ensured all students who didn't have cell access were partnered with someone who did. We also had students use the online bulletin board to post possible rules for using cell phones in the classroom. Their ideas are posted here We used this as our class's acceptable use policy for cell fancy district or school policy required. Additionally we sent this letter home with the students to explain our intentions to parents. We set up in advance Poll Everywhere, Wiffiti, Google Survey, and Wallwisher accounts as described in the useful resources section.

Useful resources
  • Poll Everywhere ( This resource allows you to set up a poll where students can submit responses with their cell phones. The poll can be reset making it available to be used with multiple classes.
  • Wiffiti ( Wiffiti allows students to submit a text message an online bulletin board. Messages can also be submitted to Poll Everywhere, but the Wiffiti board is large and animated. Not to mention the students love the fake names it assigns to their posts.
  • Wallwisher ( Wallwisher allows you to leave virtual ‘post it’ notes in one place on the web. In addition to text, you can also embed hyperlnks, pictures and video. The Wallwisher online notice board maker is ideal for making announcements, keeping notes, and basically anything you can do with Post its and more.
  • Google Forms ( With Google Docs, you can quickly create a form or survey share it, and keep track of the answers in one spreadsheet.

Explain how the use of cell phones enriches this lesson.
  • Students love using their cell phones! I think this is sometimes an understated reason for doing things in education. How can you go wrong if the students are excited for class before you even tell them what they will be doing?
  • We handed out two articles consisting of four pages of text to eighth graders. There was not one groan, whine, or complaint! I think the student's eagerness to read the articles so they could send another text message speaks volumes.
  • Every eye in the class was glued to the Wiffiti board to read the next posted comment.
  • Every student had the opportunity to voice their opinion in the pre and post discussion polls.
  • The students left the classroom and raved about class and using their cell phones during the periods that followed.

Special Notes/ Additional comments
In addition to my high school courses, I am currently teaching half a day at our middle school. I had the pleasure of working with Lisa Smith, our afternoon science teacher, in developing this lesson.

NETS Standards Addressed - Students
  • Communication and Collaboration - Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.
  • Research and Information Fluency - Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.

NETS Standards Addressed - Teachers

  • Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
  • Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments

Research-based instructional strategies
  • Summarizing and note taking
  • Reinforcing effort and providing recognition
  • Cooperative learning
  • Setting objectives and providing feedback
  • Generating and testing hypotheses

Written by: Jason K. Suter -
Subject(s) I Teach: Physical Science, Biology, Environmental Science
Grade(s) I Teach: 8 - 12
City, State: Hanover, PA

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