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Minnesota teacher allows in-class smartphone use

By Jennifer Stockinger

Brainerd Dispatch

Published: Friday, Oct. 7 2011 1:23 p.m. MDT

CROSBY, Minn. — In most classes, students have to put their smartphones away while in class.

Not students in Bob Kuschel's science classes at the Crosby-Ironton High School. Kuschel has allowed students to use their smartphones in class for the past three years. He finds them to be an effective tool in the students' studies.

Kuschel said students can't use their smartphones during a lecture, but they can use them for class assignments and lab experiments. For instance, he's had students use their smartphones to take videos of their lab experiments. This gives students the opportunity to review their experiment and then find ways to make their experiment better.

Kuschel said the smartphones provide the students with so much information right at their fingertips. This includes their science textbooks, which are online. Kuschel said if the students have a question, they can easily look up their answer quickly using the Internet.

"I would not say that students get better grades by using their smartphones," Kuschel said. "What I'd say is that their interest level increases. They find the information they need by themselves and they ask better questions in class. They're also reading the current science news because they know I'm going to bring it up and they want to be prepared."

Kuschel said there are students who'll use their smartphones to play games, but for the most part the students have been responsible.

"I don't think students in junior high would be responsible enough to use their smartphones in class, but the high school kids are more responsible and can handle it," Kuschel said.

Recently, Kuschel had his physics class of seniors research the pros and cons of using the smartphone in class.

Seniors Phil Stockman, Andrew Silgen, Riley Patrick and Liu Wei, a foreign exchange student from China, worked together to make their list. They found the cons of the smartphones in the classroom were that it would give students the opportunity to text, cheat on tests or quizzes and play games. The group found the pros were it would help with several different kinds of education assignments, such as research; it would have the textbooks online; have the option to use YouTube for physics experiments; and help with finding information on several topics.

The group showed Kuschel another way the smartphone was useful. They used Stockman's smartphone to find out where Wei lives in China by using a Google map application.

Stockman said it's nice that Kuschel trusts the students with their smartphones. He said it gives them the freedom to go on it for educational purposes.

"I have my phone on vibrate, but I don't use it when I'm not supposed to. I don't text or do any games," Stockman said during classes. "You'll find that they'll (teachers) need mature kids in order to have the smartphones be useful in school. It's a good tool if the kids understand the pros and cons."

Stockman said he has applications on his smartphone that help him with school, such as an application for the periodic table of the chemical elements. The senior said he normally will study with his text book, but if the school offered online quizzes for studying purposes, he would use that tool.

Silgen said he also studies better with a book, but the smartphone is handy for when he has a quick question. Silgen said another advantage of the smartphone is if students forget their text book at home.

Senior Mitchell Skjeveland agreed with his classmates that the smartphone is beneficial in the science classes, especially chemistry, as it helps out with the periodic table when looking at atomic mass. Skjeveland said when he's not in school he doesn't use his smartphone for his studies, he uses the iPad as it is much larger and easier to read.

Skjeveland said from a student's perspective, it's nice to have a teacher trust students to use their smartphones in an educational way. He said having the privilege in class actually makes the students want to be more responsible and not want to rebel and try to use the smartphone in a negative way in school.

Senior Jacob Goodwin, who doesn't have a smartphone, but looks at one with classmates, said he has used the technology to look up his report card online

Kuschel, who has been a science teacher at C-I for 35 years, said there are some problems associated with students using their smartphones in class but it is something that could be worked on. Kuschel said there are ways around things so students can't cheat on tests or assignments, for example. Kuschel said the format on tests could be changed to help block cheating. Kuschel said to stop other cheating, such as plagiarism, students could text their drafts to the teacher in stages so he or she could see their work in progress.

Kuschel said the school district has worked on its technology, including purchasing iPads for the fifth- and sixth-graders, but is looking at how to advance the technology for the seventh- through 12th-graders to satisfy their learning curve when it comes to technology.

"We're trying to keep up," said Kuschel.

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