Mobile Devices in the Primary Classroom

Mobile devices have been around classrooms for a couple of years now but have largely been living under the shadow of their bigger brothers, namely the tablet computers. This is a real shame because one can do almost everything on a mobile device that one can do on a tablet computer and mobile devices are a lot cheaper than their tablet counterparts. In this article, I’m going to explore some of the things I have done with children in my school using a Nokia Lumia, a Smartphone that uses Microsoft’s Windows Phone Operating System. However, the intention is to ensure that no matter what device you have, you should be able to fulfil the same functions. Also, for the purposes of clarity, I am defining mobile devices as those that are around the size of a mobile phone or phablet, that is, a device that fits in one’s hand.

I received 19 Nokia Lumia Smartphones minus their SIM cards to see what could be done with them from a primary school context. The phone runs Microsoft’s Smartphone Operating System and it is easy to use once you get used to it. For me, a Smartphone has a number of advantages for primary school children. The main advantage is its size. It is easily transportable around a school and can fit nicely on a child’s desk. I would see the Nokia Lumia fitting very nicely beside a pencil case, schoolbook and copybook and being used for a variety of purposes. Let’s look at this in further detail.

In the classroom

Dictionary.com provides a range of reference tools
Dictionary.com provides a range of reference tools

Most Smartphones have access to the Internet and this allows a teacher to replace the following primary school books that they ask children to buy.

  1. Dictionary
  2. Thesaurus
  3. Encyclopaedia
  4. Atlas

While some people would argue that having a paper-based dictionary teaches children how to search and alphabetise, are these skills pupils really require in the 21st century? Hasn’t the whole concept of search changed since Google was invented? These days, there are a variety of dictionaries available but my favourite tool is dictionary.com, which does exactly what it is supposed to do. There are other types of dictionaries that can be useful such as rhyming dictionaries. There are even dictionaries for translating from one language to another, including a couple of English-Irish dictionaries such as focal.com.

A thesaurus is always a useful tool for teaching synonyms and another potential saving. Thesaurus.com is my favourite and is part of the same suite as Dictionary.com. Speaking of which, this web site also caters for idioms and quotes, which might prove useful. The days of the big volume of encyclopaedias at the back of the classroom also appears to be over with huge amounts of information available at the touch of a screen. An atlas is an almost obsolete tool these days thanks again to Google as mapping has become far more interactive and social. However, using something like Google Maps (or Bing Maps for Microsoft enthusiasts) is probably more useful than the static atlas. There are plenty of other reference tools that can be accessed using the Internet on a Smartphone and can be left to the imagination of the teacher.

padletBrainstorming is another tool that can be brought to life with a bunch of Smartphones. If everyone uses the same site, pupils can collaborate in real time, creating large mind maps with plenty of information in order to inspire written work. My favourite tool is Padlet. For example, picking the topic of Carlow, child A might add a thought: Dolmen. Child B then might add his own note: Croppy Graves. Both screens would show this information and both children might benefit from it. With my 19 Nokias, the potential is amazing!

Smartphones also have calculators. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t use my phone when I needed to use a calculator. I would be almost certain that few of the pupils in primary schools will use a traditional calculator in later life.

These are but a few uses for a small screen and already one can see how many different things it can replace – it’s already almost paying for itself!

As a Camera

Digital Cameras were once the most important piece of technology in the primary classroom and, even though they aren’t used as much as they used to be, I feel they are an still incredibly important resource for a variety of reasons. The great thing about Smartphones such as the Nokia Lumia is that it contains a good camera and video camera. This allows pupils to take photographs and use them for a variety of purposes. Coupled with the power of the Internet, photos can be taken and uploaded to the Internet in no time at all. V

Videos can also be taken without the need to buy separate video cameras. Again, I cannot remember the last time I videoed anything using a video camera that wasn’t on a mobile device! Video is a powerful tool for learning and pupils can make really interesting learning opportunities using the video camera tool. Again, like the digital camera, video can be uploaded to a service such as YouTube within minutes of filming.

As a Voice Recorder

Smartphones also have microphones built into them and can be used to create podcasts. There are lots of ways to use podcasts in the classroom, for example, interviews, radio shows, profiling and reading books aloud. Equally, podcasts can be played back to pupils, giving auditory learners a way of learning more easily. Similar to the camera, audio can easily be uploaded to podcasting services on the Internet such as SoundCloud. One great concept that is used in secondary schools is the Youth Media Team, where a group of young people armed with mobile devices create podcasts of the news from their school. This was a concept born from LIT Thurles a number of years ago and has gained a huge amount of respect.

Nokia_Lumia_1520Other Uses

Most mobile devices have apps to practice maths facts or learn niche information but they are mainly dependent on the particular device that is being used and I don’t think there are many decent ones anywhere. However, I found that all the various stores for apps have a load of maths tables apps and there’s no harm in using some of them for consolidating tables.

I think the size of the mobile device gives it an edge over some of the tablets. As pupils generally don’t have a lot of space on their desks, having a 5 inch device that takes the place of several books and recording tools is very handy. There are the usual safety and classroom management concerns that teachers are already getting used to in their classrooms but overall, I find the potential learning opportunities are so great that these concerns should not prevent them being used.

Thank you to Microsoft for the use of the Nokia Lumias in my school. I would highly recommend these devices as they are a good size for small hands, they are fast and they are not very expensive. If using these devices, specifically, I would recommend adding a OneDrive account, which is free.

Last Update: August 17, 2017  

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