Today I experimented with Google Voice, student discussion and cellphones . Cellphone are not allowed in the classroom of most high schools. In the high school where I teach, cell phones are confiscated by teacher, administrators and the dean of students if they are out. The new dean of students tells students that three offenses will find their cell phones in the vault for an entire semester. Most teachers associate cell phones with cheating or a major distraction.
Today, however, I decided to encourage students to use their precious cell phones to communicate their ideas after a small group discussion during class. I instructed the students to form small groups after I assigned them numbers. I gave them the topic: is photography an art or science? I asked them to do as much research as they felt was necessary using Google search or Wiki, discuss the topic and come up with a concensus. Once they formulated their ideas I told them to decide on who had the best calling plan and text me their thoughts in 160 characters or less. I allowed them fifteen minutes to discuss, formulate their ideas, and decide who would text. I monitored their progress and when they had all contributed to the text, I rolled down the screen and turned on the projector. I spent the rest of the period reading off their answers and asking them to tell me what they talked about in their small groups. Somehow only the light of the projector and their answers on the board aided their openness in the discussion.
What a cool exercise. Students were totally engaged and excited to share their answers by cell. I have had this discussion in past classes with little participation. Today, student participation and engagement neared 100%. Students who rarely participate asked if they could text me their thoughts away from the group. The funniest thing that happened was a student who ask me, “is this allowed?”