Cell Phones for STEM: Technology as a Learning Tool in a Tight Economy

STEM. It’s the national movement that is drawing our efforts and realigning our lesson plans toward where we must take our students in our technology driven world.

It’s science, technology, engineering and math. STEM skills will enable our lunch box carriers and backpack lugging job seekers of the future to keep high-tech, high-skill jobs here in a competitive global market.

There are opportunities to partner with technology leaders and a new norm that link the corporate world of resources to our students. Change the Equation’s video below highlights the investment of corporations and why this change is vital:

The Reality of Technology in Our Classrooms

Our students were born in a world with satellites and cell phone towers. But the policy in the school yard has that technology tool held hostage in their backpack or back pocket.

A Huffington Post article featured the undercurrent benefits of cell phone technology in the classroom, showing a softer-sided issue that is often over powered by bullying scenarios leading headlines.

“It really is taking advantage of the love affair that kids have with technology today,” said Dan Domevech, executive director of the nonprofit American Association of School Administrators. “The kids are much more motivated to use their cell phone in an educational manner.”

Today’s phones are the equivalent of small computers – able to check e-mail, do Internet searches and record podcasts. Meanwhile, most school districts can’t afford a computer for every student.

“Because there’s so much in the media about banning cell phones and how negative phones can be, a lot of people just haven’t considered there could be positive, educative ways to use cell phones,” said Liz Kolb, author of “From Toy to Tool: Cell Phones in Learning.”

Technology Literacy

Technology Literacy

Teachers need to be able to hook their students with the tools they bring with them to class. I bet if I took a survey tomorrow morning, more of my students would have their cell phones in their backpack and less would have a pencil or pen.

STEM Partnerships Bring Needed Support

We have a STEM partnership with NAV AIR in Orlando. That partnership enabled a much needed improvement with five laptops in my learning lab. We had the laptops but the screens were too small for a group to share effectively. With NAV Air’s support, a human factors solution expanded the quality of learning in the lab. Attached to the five laptops purchased through the school district, are an impressive squadron of 32 inch screen monitors. This made an immediate improvement in the learning experience in our classroom.

That technology pairing was a win-win. The previous teams of students had to hover around a small lap top screen for their Laser, Hydroponic, Aquaculture, and GPS Discovery Lab lessons. In tough budget times, our partnerships link learning to technology for our digitally motivated students.

STEM Problem Statement :Who will fix it when it breaks?

In a tight economy that continues to trim support staff, there is a missing link that I hope corporations will fill when it comes to keeping technology working in the classroom.

It’s not only the recent cut backs in the classroom budget, but also the old fact that moving parts break. Add to that the user is a 12 year old with a natural inclination to take things apart to see how it works or doesn’t work if you pull out that white wire.

Last year, we had to say goodbye to our robotic arm at one lab station due to lack of performance or random movements when a student curiously mismanaged the white wired pulled out by the student in the previous lab. We would fix it. It would break the next day. This went on for months. I upgraded to a free NASA simulation program called NASA Space Walk . The students love the experience this program provides and there are no white wires to pull out to shut down the program. Problem solved.

Back to the cell phone solution.

I have yet to see a teenager pull a wire out of their beloved cell phone social networking tool. The ownership factor is key to the care they take with their cell phone.

I see the classroom management part of the cell phone solution as minor in the grand understanding of the benefits. Their “life tool” is an already-in-hand learning tool. To manage the misuse of cell phone in your classroom:

  • Set clear boundaries.
  • Promote the purpose.
  • Identify misuse examples.
  • Specify consequences.
  • Remind them they can choose their behavior, but they cannot choose their consequences.
  • If the consequence is to lose their beloved cell phone, the motivation is high to stay within the technology boundaries.

STEM discovery in the classroomOne of my students wanted to take a photo of her biotechnology plant experiment to share with her mom. The energy behind her question was like a bouquet of neon flowers. I said yes and gave a quick boundary reminder to only take a photo of the plant, putting it away in her backpack as soon as she was done. Even that tiny policy reminder drained some of her “I want to share this learning moment” excitement from the initial desire. As a teacher of a digitally motivated generation, I will be glad when snapping a plant photo in class will become the new norm.

From the vista of my discovery lab classroom, I see cell phones as an immediate solution to a contagious interest in science and engineering for our students.

If you have any ideas we can share regarding how you use cell phone technology for teaching in the classroom, please include your comments and experiences.


Kay Borglum, MS

Space Lab and Biotechnology Science Teacher (FL)

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