None of the students in Stacey Ellison’s math class were looking at the white board as substitute teacher J.C. Feger put up a question about transformational geometry Monday.
Instead, the eighth-graders’ eyes were glued to their smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
Their teacher wouldn’t have it any other way. As with other educators at Mexico Middle School and around the country, Ellison and Feger are embracing students’ use of mobile technology in the classroom.
The students were using a free program called Kahoot, a game-based learning platform that lets teachers design interactive quizzes, lessons and surveys for the classroom. Students can participate in the quizzes and other instructional tools on their phones or other mobile devices by logging in with the unique pin number their teacher supplies.
With a colorful, simple layout design and upbeat music, the Kahoot quizzes are also highly customizable. Teachers such as Ellison and Feger can determine the number of questions their quiz will have, the amount of time students have to submit their answers, and even upload their own videos and images to accompany the questions.
Students can create their own username and at the end of the quiz, just as in many of their favorite video games, the leaderboard displays which users answered the most questions correctly.
The program is popular with the students.
“It’s a lot more fun than working on paper,” said eighth-grader Kylah Gore. “When you get an answer wrong, you remember it way better. That’s really helpful, especially right before a test.”
Feger said the program is a useful tool for educators because it saves time on grading and lets them gauge students’ grasp of the subject material while they are still in class. Teachers can see in real time which students answered correctly, as well as how quickly they were able to answer.
As the use of smartphones and other personal electronic devices has grown among those under 18 during the last decade, banning them in schools has become an increasingly uphill battle for many educators. In a recent Nielson study, 24 percent of teens responded that they are online “almost constantly.”
Some research suggests that banning cell phone use in the classroom can have positive effects, with student test scores increasing by more than six percent in one study after cell phones were taken out of the equation.
But the usefullness of the devices may also depend on the subject area being taught.
Another study found that students who use smartphones or other mobile devices in class expressed more interest in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
Feger said he has seen his students grasp difficult concepts in mathematics more quickly when they are allowed to use their personal electronic devices.
“They get more involved. When you make it fun for them and turn the test material into a game, it plays into their competitive nature.”
Feger also said the Kahoot program makes it fairly easy for teachers to make sure students are staying focused on the lesson and not using their phone to text or update their social media status.
“If someone isn’t paying attention I can tell because they won’t be keeping up and submitting their answers to the quiz,” he said.
Deb Hill-Haag, middle school principal, said that when used properly, she believes smartphones can be effective tools in the classroom.
“The teachers work very hard to make sure the technology is for a purpose and not just for the sake of having technology,” she said. “They tend to steer away from applications that would let kids make poor decisions. We’re all about making minds stronger.”