Many schools are wary about allowing smartphones in the classroom; often for good reason. But we were recently reminded of another perspective on this issue. Jennifer Roby, a student at Merrill Middle School in Denver was working on her SmartLab robotics project and was struggling with the computer-based programming interface. The next day, she asked her Facilitator if she could take her smartphone out to show him something. Jennifer had discovered and learned a smartphone application she could use to control her robot.
It’s important to note that all curriculum supporting the SmartLab robotics system referenced only the computer interface. In fact, until Jennifer demonstrated the smartphone technology, none of us even knew it was even possible. Realizing that the computer/robot communication link was Bluetooth-based, and knowing that her smartphone used the same technology, Jennifer made this cognitive leap on her own. Her smartphone was the tool she used for many technology applications – so why should programming a robot be any different? In retrospect, it seems obvious. Except it wasn’t. Not to most of us who discount the potential of smartphones as appropriate learning and productivity technology.
Today’s students approach technology with a different perspective and a different set of tools. Given the freedom to apply this perspective, they can solve problems and approach academic challenges in new and different ways; ways that educators cannot similarly intuit and therefore cannot teach. We can foster this dynamic through the practice of student-centered learning and putting technology in the hands of students. After all, isn’t this at the heart of 21st century skills?
Thank you Jennifer, for teaching us something new!