Let’s face it: Teaching changed significantly in 2020 thanks to COVID-19. And it may be a while before things get back to normal. Now, as teachers, students, and parents make their through the fall semester, a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Whether your school has chosen to reopen its doors, experiment with a hybrid model, or remain fully online, the order of the day will undoubtedly be adaptability. Welcoming your students to the fall semester, no matter if you’re doing it face-to-face or virtually, is going to require some improvisation, at least for the time being.
If your school has reopened, you’ll need to engage with your students while adhering to social distancing and other health guidelines, and that’s going to make even the most familiar and inviting classroom feel strange, and perhaps uncomfortable, at least for a while.
And if you’re teaching remotely or in a hybrid model, you’re going to have to figure out the best strategies to optimize your students’ learning at a distance.
A Tool in the Palm of Your Hands
But there’s good news because now teachers have more tools than ever to provide their students with the most enriching and inspiring learning experience possible, regardless whether your students are in the room with you or connected to you only in cyberspace. Best of all, it doesn’t require a multimillion-dollar technology investment or a degree in computer science from MIT to make it work.
Perhaps your best tool is right there in the palm of your students’ hands (or hiding in their bags): the ubiquitous smartphone.
Why the Smartphone?
Life in the new normal of coronavirus has not only changed the ways we work and learn, but also how we interact with one another, even our closest friends and family. That not only takes a significant mental and emotional toll on us all, but it can also be profoundly detrimental to student learning.
Anyone who’s spent any time in a classroom will understand why. Students aren’t just empty vessels you pour information into. They need engagement and interaction. And Bandura’s Social Learning Theory explains why. Bandura, a psychologist, says learning is a deeply social activity. That is, students learn from and through one another.
Engagement with other students, with the teacher, and with the external world around them enables the acquisition of information. Even more importantly, however, it helps students to absorb the information and transform the material into something useful, something they can apply. Students learn best via collaboration. Often, the more chances for interaction, the better, whether virtual or in person.
For instance, if students are learning about gravity, speed, and velocity by dropping an egg without breaking it, they’ll learn best by watching their peers and seeing what worked and didn’t work. They’ll see a friend’s egg broke when it was wrapped only in tissue, so they’ll try bubble wrap. Then other students watching will see the wrap worked better, but not perfectly, so perhaps they’ll try wrapping the egg in bubble wrap and putting it in a box. And so on, student’s understanding growing with every attempt they observe or engage in. Smartphones give us another tool to engage in this kind of learning.
Social Connections (Even While Social Distancing)
In the age of COVID, though, the social aspects of learning are sometimes in danger of being lost, or at least significantly changed, even when students are together with their teachers in a physical classroom. Smartphones, however, can help to bridge that critical gap, providing the interactivity, engagement, and collaboration that social distancing guidelines might otherwise undercut.
Here are some strategies for using smartphones to restore the sociability of the socially distanced classroom, whether you’re online, in person, or both.
1. Calm, Cool, and Connected
Even if your school has reopened for regular or hybrid courses, chances are you will have at least a few students who will be learning remotely, either because of their own pre-existing conditions or those of someone in the household. So one of the first and best uses of smartphone technologies is to help your students stay connected with you and their peers, even if they don’t have access to broadband at home, by using their smartphone connection.
2. Schoolhouse Here, There, and Everywhere
Smartphone apps can help your students download written texts and videos, as well as create documents and securely submit assignments via various free and low-cost apps such as LibreOffice. You can even livestream your classroom to your students’ smartphones on a secure server through an app like Zoom, Facebook Live, or Google Meet. That way, no student needs to miss a moment of the action!
3. Get Outside
Another terrific way to engage your students, both in person and online, is to incorporate geocaching into your lesson plans. If you’ve not yet heard of geocaching, you’re about to fall in love, because geocaching is a fantastic way to teach a range of skills from math, geography, and Earth science to reading, critical thinking, and creative problem solving.
Basically, geocaching is a treasure hunt on steroids. And it’s endlessly customizable. If you’re teaching in the classroom, you can geocache in the school’s playground or even in the classroom itself! Additionally, if you’re teaching remotely, geocaching is a fantastic way to get your students, with their families, safely outside, such as in a local park.
4. I Get By With a Little Help …
As exciting as these tools may be, perhaps the greatest benefit of the smartphone in the classroom, both digital and live, is that the smartphone puts an entire world of information at your students’ fingertips. Not only that, but your students can use their phones not just to acquire information, but also to test their knowledge through tools such as Quizlet.
You can share content you want your students to explore directly to their smartphones. You can also create assignments that require them to do their own research. You can even lead them in real time through searches to help them answer questions, look up information, and, in the process, learn important lessons about digital information literacy.
Best of all, with tools like Poll Everywhere, you can receive real-time feedback from student questions to polled responses, no matter whether your students are online, on the ground, or both. This allows you to gauge students’ reactions to the presentation and adjust your strategy accordingly.
The Takeaway about Smartphones
Teaching in 2020 is a whole different world than it was just one year ago. Fortunately, teachers have the opportunity to leverage technologies that are likely already in students’ hands to support their learning. With a bit of strategy and a lot of creativity, you can use smartphone technologies to give your students an unsurpassed learning experience, whether they’re learning in the classroom or from home.
Photo via Pixabay.