Productive Use of Cell Phones in the Classroom

How can technology impact society? How do we harness the technology that is easily accessible? Why are our classrooms still in the strict sense of hardback books, lined paper, and pencil? Why not use the technology readily available in the classroom, in pockets, in backpacks?

Many teachers and many classrooms hold fast to the traditional standards and protocols of school and student management. Homework, classwork, and tests are accomplished routinely by paper and pencil. How quaint.

“Put away your phones or it’s mine,” teachers remind students on a daily basis. I can account for this since I am a high school English teacher myself. I cannot go a day without reminding a student to put away their cell phone. Then, mid school year, it occurred to me through another teacher in the science department how we teachers need to use these cell phones in a more productive manner. Why not? This is the 21st century after all. And I should also add that the new California State Common Core Standards address that students need to have the 21st century skills to succeed as productive members of society.

According to the Pew Research Center, 75% of teenagers have a cell phone. However, it is also important to note that this study was published in 2010, over four years ago. The rise of cell phone usage and ownership among teens is apparent in the longitudinal study of Wave 7, published in 2013. There are approximately 73% smart phone owners around the globe, which is a 44% rise from the previous year. With this rise in smart phone ownership among teens, it suggests that more than 75% of teenagers have a smart phone today.

How can teachers actually use this in their classrooms? They can harness this technology and decrease the time they spend on grading, concentrating more on planning and supporting students. Grading quizzes and tests is time consuming for teachers, especially teachers in public schools where class sizes are larger and much more difficult to  manage. Let’s put this in perspective. If an average public school teacher has 5 class periods a day with about 30 students in each class, the teacher has 150 students. Now, if a quiz was multiple choice with about 20 questions, it would take the teacher approximately one minute to grade each quiz (let’s assume the teacher is smart enough to have created a key for the quiz). That is 150 minutes of time spent grading and that is just a short multiple choice quiz. Can you imagine how it much time is spent grading tests where there are constructed, written short answers?

Let’s utilize technology readily available. Teachers are able to create short quizzes online and even on apps where students are able to access them through their smart phones.

Let’s think about the scenario again. If students have a pencil and paper 20 question multiple choice quiz, it would take them approximately 20 minutes to finish, given that they spend a little less than a minute to read the question and choose their best answer and that English Language Learners or those with learning disabilities also need more time to process. 20 minutes of class time gone. Then the teacher grades the quizzes during a free prep period. 150  minutes gone. I must also include the waste of paper. Hey. Let’s be environmentally conscious. This is the traditional way.

Now if teachers used an online or smart phone app for a quiz, results are in within minutes of completion. All the teacher needs to do is spend a few minutes inputting the grades in the gradebook. That is it. A few minutes! That just save 130 minutes of time! Imagine the possibilities!

 On the website, they include a teacher’s testimonial, Kristina Buenafe, who states, “Socrative saves me 80 minutes per week in grading time.”

I know what you’re thinking. What if students don’t have a smart phone? That is easy. If a partner is willing to share their phone, that student is still capable of taking the quiz. Teachers can use, a site and app where students are able to log in and out with a different user name, able to share devices. The site also allows collaborative work in case many students do not have a smart phone.

What if students text or go on sites instead of spending time on the quiz or activity? I suggest a lot of front-loading and discussing how being responsible and honest citizens would afford them better outcomes. In the beginning of the school year, the first few days of school should be spent discussing outcomes of dishonesty.


The positive impact that cell phones give to teachers and students is plenty:

1.) It allows teachers to spend more time supporting students

2) It allows teachers to spend more time planning

3) It allows teachers to spend less time grading

4) It allows teachers and students to harness technology without expensive computers and laptops

5) It saves money the school and the district may not have in buying technology for the classroom (like Smart Boards, computers, laptops, and tablets)

6) It saves the environment by reducing the use of paper

7) Data is collected quickly

8) It allows teachers to check for understanding in a timely manner

9) Shared information to students allows them to access themselves and their understanding of the material, reducing learning gaps

10) It allows students and teachers to improve their technological skills


In order for the student and teacher to be more engage with one another, write a letter to your local school district, your superintendent, your principal, and your teachers and encourage them to utilize the readily available technology waiting for them already resting in their pockets.


5 Facts about smart phones, teenage usage, and rise in technology

  • 75% of teenagers ages 12-17 own a cell phone (Pew Internet Research)
  • 62% of all students say they can have their phone in school, just not in class (Pew Internet Research)
  • 69% of cell-owning teens say their phone helps them entertain themselves when they are bored (Pew Internet Research)
  • Of people in 65 countries, including the UK, the US, India and China, 73.4% own a  smartphone, up from 44.8% just a year earlier (Wave 7)
  • 90% of children are online by the third grade (Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center)

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