Sunday, September 2, 2012

Teacher shares “secrets to success” in breaking the ban cell phones

Editor's note: For innovative educators back to school means establishing classroom policies & procedures. Find out how this can include the use of mobile devices from 11th grade social studies teacher Melissa Seideman broke the ban at several schools and made technology a part of that work. For additional ideas, policies, lesson plans, permission forms and more, check out Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning.

Guest post by Melissa Seideman

Mobile devices have become one the fastest and most popular forms of communication.  They can be an important classroom tool, however many many schools regard them as disruptive, distracting, and have implemented zero tolerance policies that prohibit them. The reality is that students still use cell phones in school even if they are banned. According to Time Magazine, "even though the vast majority of students own cell phones--something like 80% by eighth grade--more than half of schools prohibit the use of any mobile device." I  am amazed that teachers of the 21st century are not embracing the power of technology in their classrooms.  

Surrounded by Mobile Devices

As a member of the millennial generation, I grew up surrounded by mobile devices. I find it difficult to go to meetings with paper and pen, or store papers in a file cabinet, or even use a book for my lesson plans. My life is digital and I think it is time for educators to teach our students to become members of the 21st century. Our students need to be taught to use technology to adapt and THRIVE in this ever-changing world.  

Breaking the Ban in Four Schools
Since my very first year teaching, five years ago, I have encouraged other teachers and strongly persuaded my administrators to approve mobile devices in the classroom. Due to my husband’s job relocations, I have taught in five schools in both New York and Pennsylvania. Every school, except one in Westchester County, embraced this new form of technology. I have used mobile devices in my classroom for parent communication, polling, instant response, peer to peer contact, first day of school sharing, QR code web searches, and so much more.

As a first year teacher, I went to my principal in Geneva, NY and asked for permission to use cellular devices in class with my 8th grade students. His response was an enthusiastic Yes! My students looked forward to coming to my class because it was cool to learn through this new method. When I moved to another school in Trumansburg, NY, my principal was on the fence about it. I was able to win him over with the line “do you want to see it in action?” before you give your response. He came to observe my classroom. My students were placed into groups of two and I posted questions using Polls Everywhere as an instant response tool. My principal was amazed to learn about this new method of assessment and class participation that he had me demonstrate it at a faculty meeting.

When I moved to Hanover, PA, my principal at South Western High School highly supported the use of technology. Unfortunately, I felt like I was in a league of my own as I was the only teacher embracing it. As the year progressed, I took great pride in demonstrating to colleagues ways mobile devices could be implemented in a safe, supportive, and educational way. I showed teachers how to use in the classroom.  With administrative and parental approval, I use to send text messages to my students with reminders, announcements, polls, questions, etc. Students could text me and ask a specific question such as "what is on the test tomorrow?" or ask "what did I miss in class?" when absent. One student named Meghan commented that she enjoyed using because “I could ask you a question at anytime and you would always be there to answer it!”
Two high school students participate in a QR code scavenger hunt about the Civil Rights Movement. One student in each group used their mobile device and a QR code scanner app to unlock the website and respond to the teacher’s prompt. Students explored the school looking for clues to learn about the movement.

Improve Parent Communication
Mobile devices have the potential to bridge the gap between the home, school, and social media world. At Hanover, PA, I encouraged parents to join my text messaging cell classroom group. I was surprised by the results. Of my 55 US history students, 35 of their parents participated. Parents commented that they appreciated the text message reminders about homework & tests, updates about their child's progress, and even enjoyed the in-class texting activities. Parents are now more informed about how their kids are doing and are better able to help their children with their schooling, which is key to student success.
Ways to Use Mobile Devices in your Classroom
One activity in which I involved parents and mobile devices I call "text a friend." For example, my students text a family member or friend asking the question "Did you vote in the last election? Why or why not?"  Through the responses our class received we were able to learn firsthand far more than just having the textbook or teacher’s perspective. Mobile devices truly bring the world into your classroom.

This year I will be teaching in Cold Spring, NY, which is a very supportive and innovative district. This is the first year I am actively ENCOURAGING my students to use their mobile devices in the classroom. I made clear mobile device classroom expectations on an infographic. I am providing a student guide to technology assignment for homework during the first week of school.  I will be  urging my students to use applications on their devices: My Homework app to keep track of their assignments, a QR code reader for QR codes in my lessons, Easy Bib to properly cite sources, Evernote to take notes, SoundGecko to take any online text and convert it to mp3, just to name a few.   

These rules are the foundation for mobile device expectations in my classroom. My students sign a form the first day of school acknowledging that they read and agree to the mobile device rules. If you set clear expectations and maintain them, your students also thrive with devices in the classroom.
Goals for the Future
My hope is that I will teach my students to be responsible with mobile devices and encourage them to use their devices for more than just for social purposes.  21st century technology has the potential to encourage student growth, collaboration, research, and skills they can apply throughout their life. Schools across the country need to be more flexible with their policies. Mobile devices can enhance instruction and learning if done appropriately.

Websites referenced

Melissa Seideman is currently an 11th grade Regents U.S. History, 12th grade Government/Economics, and AP Government and Politics teacher at Haldane High School in Cold Spring, NY.  In addition to five years of teaching social studies, she is the author of the blog Not Another History Teacher. Melissa is presenting Mobile Devices in the classroom at the National Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington in November 2012. She is also an active member of Twitter’s #sschat and a teacher trainer for My Big Campus. You can follow her @mseideman

Melissa grew up in Boonton, NJ and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Studies Education at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. While teaching full-time in both Geneva and Trumansburg, NY she earned her Master’s Degree in Inclusive Special Education at the University of New England. She lives with her husband and their two adorable rescue dogs in Poughkeepsie, NY.


  1. Though the statistic you quoted from Time Magazine in the beginning of the post states that most students have mobile devices, have you encountered classrooms where any of the students did not have a mobile device? If so, how was this overcome? Obviously, students could share but does that make any students feel awkward socially?

  2. The first day of school on my back to school form I poll my students to see who has it and who doesn't. If I have a class with less devices I always partner them up. They get used to it and it's so much better than not using devices.

    I taught in a city school district outside NYC and only 6 out of 125 students in 5 classes did not have an ipod, cell phone, or kindle. I have also checked out laptops or tablets if I do longer assignments. As expensive as they are, devices are becoming the new back to school item!

    This summer I collected used ipod touches (4 of them) for students who don't have them. So now there is a good chance every student will have access.