How To Teach Generation Smartphone

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Students today make up a new generation of learners. Born into Generation Z, these students grew up using technology, smartphones, tablets and computers. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens have or have access to a smartphone. They live their lives connected in a digital world through apps, social media, and instant communication. This fast paced, instant speed of life has become their norm.

When thinking about how we cater to these Gen Z learners, should we ban all technology in the classroom or use it as an educational advantage?

The smartphone has revolutionized the way that we live our lives and communicate with one another. For me, it would be hard to imagine life without my iPhone. It is my alarm clock, calendar, camera, internet browser, music, to do list, connection to friends, family and the world, just to name a few. With a few taps you can quickly toggle through messages, apps, internet tabs, social media, making multitasking very easy. In the same way, it can also provide many distractions and shorten one’s attention span. 

When thinking about my classroom, I recognize how much of a distraction smartphones can be. Even if an assignment requires the use of a smartphone, the temptation is there to access the million other things the phone can do. I believe that it is our responsibility as educators of Gen Z to help teach them appropriate norms of when, where and how technology should be used in different settings. 

Despite the fact that smartphones and technology can become a huge distraction in the classroom, there are so many ways to use it to your advantage. Here are some ways that I set my students up for success when using technology in the classroom.

Set Norms. Norms should include when and how technology is used. In my classroom, cellphones are not permitted at all, as supported by a school wide rule, and are required to be placed in the cell phone “hotel” (storage cubbies) during the class period. Instead, we use laptop computers. At the beginning of the school year, each student is assigned a computer to use in my classroom. This places the responsibility on each student to take care of the computer when they are using it. Any damage or misuse goes back to the student that is assigned to that particular computer. 

Technology isn’t used every minute of every class period. Having the computer open when not working on a tech based assignment is a big temptation and potential distraction. In my classroom, when we are not using technology, computers are stored away in the computer carts. When we are partially using technology, computers can remain on desks, but they are closed when we are not working on them. When we go back and forth from tech to no tech students “pac man” their computers, lowering the screens to forty-five degrees. This last piece has been super important especially when I am giving instructions or if someone is speaking and ensures that everyone is paying attention and not distracted by what is on their screen.

Using technology opens so many possibilities but also provides endless possibilities for distractions. Technology in the classroom is meant for educational purposes. It is important for that message to be clear, and students can code switch between what is appropriate to do on technology during their free time versus during class time. I have a zero tolerance policy for gaming in my class. If a student is caught playing games when they should be doing an assignment, they owe me time after class. If this behavior continues, they might lose technology privileges in addition to having a parent meeting. 

Provided Justified Consequences. Norms are in place and taught to students so they know what is expected of them. If they do not follow those expectations, there should be some type of consequence. However, if we, as educators, don’t explicitly teach these norms, it is hard to enforce consequences. Students should be able to explain what behavior resulted in that particular consequence. For me, I want my students to be on task using technology to accomplish the assignment at hand. If they are misusing technology, they are harming themselves because they are not learning.

Model Expected Behavior. Cellphones are not permitted in my classroom so if I expect students to follow this rule, I need to follow it as well. Additionally with my computer, I model on task behavior of what I expect of students and leave browsing the internet and checking my emails for after class.

Technology provides so many unique opportunities in the classroom if used appropriately. In our current state of society, everyone is moving at a fast pace and connected to technology. It only makes sense that we incorporate that in the classroom and model how students can use technology in the educational setting. Generation Z has grown up using technology. The key piece to this incorporation is teaching students the appropriate ways to use technology in a school setting. How do you leverage technology in the classroom?

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Chelsea Culbert

Chelsea Culbert is a proud product of New York public schools where she graduated with her International Baccalaureate diploma. She went off to attain her B.A. in Chemistry with concentrations in Public Health and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies at NYU. While at NYU, she started the chapter of “Strive for College,” a non-profit organization that connects college students as mentors to assist high schoolers throughout the college application and financial aid processes. Immediately after graduation, Chelsea pursued her teaching career with Teach for America Los Angeles. While teaching, Chelsea completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University. Chelsea is currently teaching at her Teach for America placement school in Lincoln Heights where she serves as Department Instructional Lead, Instructional Leadership Team member, and coaches Varsity soccer.

Chelsea Culbert



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