Cell Phones & SMS
Cell phones offer new potential for learning, if well-managed. They can send short text messages (SMS), images, and browse the Web. Users can also send files from their phone to be published on a Web page. Imagine students gathering survey data outside class - now instead of purchasing new tools students' cell phones may enable efficient data transfer and analysis.
Summarizing complex texts using cell phones increases understanding
Inez Brown has taught ninth-grade English for seven years, but last term was her first experience teaching 11th-graders. Her school is in an affluent suburb of a large metropolitan area. Students seem unmotivated, and schoolwide, achievement test scores have been falling.
Brown's class was discussing some of the whaling calculations in Moby Dick. When one student asked a question involving a complex computation, three students quickly pulled out their cell phones and did the math. Brown was surprised to learn that most cell phones have a built-in calculator. She was even more surprised at how literate her students were with the many functions included in their phones. She took a quick poll and found that all her students either had a cell phone or easy access to one. In fact, students became genuinely engaged in a class discussion about phone features. This got Brown thinking about how she might incorporate this technology into learning activities.
Brown noticed that many students used text messaging to communicate, and considered how she might use cell phones in summarizing and analyzing text to help her students better understand Richard III.
Text messaging is a real-world example of summarizingto communicate information in a few words the user must identify key ideas. Brown saw that she could use a technique students had already mastered, within the context of literature study.
Initially, Brown was concerned about the equity of incorporating cell phones into her assignment. Her students explained that in addition to sending text messages from phone to phone, they could also send text messages from phone to e-mail and from e-mail to e-mail. All her students had e-mail accounts. All her students knew how to text message.
To manage the learning project, Brown asked a tech-savvy colleague to help her build a simple weblog. Once it was set up, it took Brown and her students 10 minutes in the school's computer lab to learn how to post entries. The weblog was intentionally basic. The only entries were selected passages from text of Richard III and Brown's six narrative-framing questions. Her questions deliberately focused students' attention on key passages. If students could understand these passages well enough to summarize them, Brown knew that their comprehension of the play would increase.
She divided the class into groups of three (knowing that at least one member of every group had access to a cell phone). Each group member chose two of the narrative-framing questions to answer. As a group, they were to respond to the seventh question, regarding the resolution of a particular part of the play. Once she had the phone number from each group, she used her e-mail account to send text messages to them. Text messaging is limited to 160 characters per message. Brown reminded students that this space limitation would force them to summarize. She stressed that their goal was to decide what was most critical about a passage, then restate their understanding concisely. She reminded them that summarizing requires careful analysis.
Brown told students to use their phones or e-mail to send text messages to fellow group members of their responses to the first six questions of the narrative frame. Once this was completed, groups met to discuss the seventh question, regarding the resolution for each section of the text. Brown told them to post this group answer on the weblog.
Brown used one additional feature. The blogging software has a built-in notification feature, which she used to send the resolution summaries for each section of Richard III to all the students. She told students they could use this summary information on the unit exam. That motivated them to read each othersi answers.
This project prompted Brown to rethink her approach to teaching with technology. She accomplished her goal of motivating students to engage with the content of Richard III. Prompted by the narrative-framing questions and the technology, they were able to summarize their understanding of key information in the text.