Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

5 ways to use cell phones for homework

OK, so BYOT (bring your own technology) doesn’t work for everybody. Not every school is ready to connect a ton of different devices to the district network. I can respect and understand that.

So let’s try a different approach.

For lack of a better term, let’s call it BYOTOOS, or “bring your own technology outside of school.” (I know, horrible acronym. My former journalism professors would chastise me creating “alphabet soup.”)

No change to the district’s acceptable use policy. No overhauls to anything. But still meeting students in the digital world where they live.

Let’s put those handheld supercomputers of the future in their pockets to use.

1. Taking and sending digital photos. This works for just about any subject area. Take something your class is studying and have students take digital photos of it. Use them for real-life examples instead of the pre-packaged textbook pictures. Students can text or email them to your school email address. Or, if you don’t want your inbox flooded, set up a free Flickr or Picasa account with emailing capabilities. Those photo sites provide an email address where photos can be sent for collection in your account. Just download from there and you’ll have plenty of personalized material to draw from.

2. Recording digital video. Similar to the first item, but it can achieve different classroom goals. Students can act out a skit, do a documentary-style video or display something from your curriculum. Download and play them on an LCD projector or a computer with sound for the class to watch. Student-produced work is high viewer interest stuff for kids. Photobucket has free upload-by-email capability (although not unlimited), again, if you don’t want a ton of digital videos clogging your inbox.

3. Practice by text message. StudyBoost is a free site that allows users to create questions with answers and text the questions to a mobile device or social media site for answering. Create a batch of questions and share them with students, or encourage them to create their own. StudyBoost will send questions at a preset time so students aren’t receiving texts while in class.

4. Record answers to digital audio. For some assignments, submitting an audio assignment is just as good — or much better than a paper one. This fits well for me as a world languages teacher — speaking practice is an important part of what we do in my classroom. Students could practice speeches, do poetry readings, create radio shows, recreate the audio of world events, etc. This can be as simple as having students call from their cell phones (or traditional phones) and leave you a voice mail message on your school voice mail (if you have it). If that isn’t possible or desirable, Google Voice will create a voice mail account for you for free with a free custom phone number. Plus, you can download the audio for playback.

5. Download relevant podcasts. Podcasts are ubiquitous. Anybody can create one with a microphone (or a device equipped with a microphone), a way to record and an idea. There are a ton of good ones out there (and some pretty bad ones, so beware). ITunes has a wide array on virtually any topic. A basic search coupled with some digging and previewing could result in extra resources for your students. Of course, brave technophiles can create and share their own podcasts tailored to their classes.

Word of warning — When planning for these kinds of activities, keep cell phone plans (minutes, coverage area, different options available per model) as well as family cell phone rules in mind. Also, be flexible when students don’t have access to technology. Chances are there’s someone with a phone, digital camera or other digital device that students can borrow to complete the assignment. There’s also a pretty good chance the school has something that could be loaned/checked out to a student.

Play around with your cell phone for a while with this concept in mind and new ideas for classroom use are sure to spring to mind. And they don’t have to be assignments for every student to complete. They could be used for extra credit or for extra learning opportunities. Sounds like differentiating by offering additional material to those that get assignments or projects done early and need something to do.

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