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Op-Ed: iPhones in the Classroom?

With the explosive dissemination of iPhone, Android and Windows smartphone and tablet devices, and the plethora of apps they run, many bemoan the way these new technologies are distracting young students, leading them to advocate for these devices to be banned or at least restricted within our schools. Rabbi Schneur Hayes, a teacher in Miami, makes the argument that, on the contrary, not only should these devices and apps be allowed in the classroom, but that they should be incorporated into the lessons – both Torah and secular – and that students should be encouraged to use them:

There are skeptics that point out the negative side of technology and computer usage in general. They fear the possible negative exposure that comes along with Internet usage and other things that can be utilized with technology. However, avoiding technology because of the possible dangers, can be analogous to avoiding using a car because of the dangers involved. Driving a car involves so many risks that parents send their children to driving school to teach them how to safely operate the vehicle, and avoid the possible dangers that can happen with its usage. It is specifically because the Internet and technology usage comes with risks, that we should be training our children to use it appropriately, and instruct them how it can be a tool to advance their positive growth. There is no better place for this “training” to happen than in the classroom, under the guidance of a trained professional.

Use the Opportunity

Our students are growing up in the 21st­century. Their lives are connected to technology in many different ways outside of the classroom, this does not have to be perceived by parents negatively. In fact, by depriving them of positive exposure to technology in the classroom, you may be missing out on the opportunity to (a) show them all the good and positive things that can be accomplished through its usage, (b) train them to differentiate between useful and not useful information on the internet, and to train and habituate them to healthy internet usage, and (c) reap the benefits that technology offers with regards to raising academic performance, as many recent studies have shown.

App’s to Enhance the Learning

I’ve observed as an educator firsthand, how using different tools of technology has brought up the level of proficiency in reading, writing, and comprehension skills, of underachievers within a very short amount of time. What may have taken educators of the past a long time to accomplish with regard to teaching academic skills, now may be done in a much shorter time because of the vast amounts of technology applications available which give students the opportunity to master skills in a fun and enjoyable way.

There are some basic educational applications which educators should be familiar with, such ‘kahoot’ or ‘quizlet’ to name a few. These tools work miraculously getting students engaged in learning and speeds up the process of skills mastery. By simply incorporating one of these technologies into the learning process, one can transform a classroom into a fun and energetic learning environment, I have had classes wherein the students did not want the class to endbecause they were having so much fun learning. At first, I too questioned the effectiveness of using these technologies, but I’ve seen firsthand that they have a positive effect. In fact, in one class Chumash class where the average was 55%, the average grade improved dramatically to 90% after using these two educational applications for just four weeks.

Fueling Passion

I had an experience wherein two students were having trouble paying attention in class. They seemed to be pre­occupied with something other than the lesson. I began to notice that they were discussing a great deal with each other about coding. They were passionate about coding and it was getting in the way of their studies.

“chinuch l’nar al pi darko” (Mishlei 22:6)

I recognized that this was a learning opportunity to be had. I approached the students and asked them if they would be willing to develop an app for the class that would help the students access the classroom material and interact with each other and the teacher. In order to develop the app, they would need to go through the lessons to appropriately transfer them to the appropriate format . At first, the students were shocked. They could not believe that their hobby and passion could be combined with Torah learning. They were also surprised that they were being given an opportunity to use their talents and passion in the classroom. In the end, they agreed and developed an amazing app which helped the learning process in the class. This story got small publicity. It eventually caught the attention of Verizon magazine who chose to feature it. (See Link.)

Student Engagement

The impact of incorporating technology into Torah lessons in the classroom is huge.The students learn firsthand what an amazing tool it can be for their lifetime of learning and the advancement of their connection with Hashem. As far as computers being a distraction to students are concerned, students have and probably always will find things to do when they are not engaged. If not a computer then something else. I remember the days of passing notes, writing on my desk, or getting distracted by an eraser in my desk. When done right, incorporating technology into classrooms will raise the level of student engagement and classroom participation.

14 Comments

  • 3. Great idea. wrote:

    I think it would be great for kids to be able to use their phones in the classroom.
    Teachers should get together and discuss how to make use of these devices in their classrooms.

  • 4. Anonymous wrote:

    Not everyone wants/is able to give each of their children an iphone $$$$$$$$

  • 5. Smart wrote:

    Could not agree more,
    The fact of the matter is that everyone is using them so it’s a worthwhile investment to show them how to use it properly and for the right things
    Witch is essentially our mission in this world to make גשמיות in to רוחניות
    It’s send a great message to the students on how to view technology in general
    Great post !
    Moshiach now

  • 6. Student wrote:

    I’m in university and we had one prof that would put questions online and we had to text in our answers throughout class. It got people answering questions and being interactive but there was still a lot more phones out surfing the Internet and texting instead of taking notes. So yes from what I’ve seen it’s really hard to concentrate when have phone in front of you. The idea mentioned is a good one maybe there’s a way to use a device so help make it advanced and interesting but at the same time not distracting.

  • 7. Anonymous wrote:

    “חנוך לנער על פי דרכו, גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה”
    משלי פרק כב פסוק ו’, חלק מתנ”ך – תורה שבכתב, לא פרקי אבות…

  • 9. DonkeyKong wrote:

    add AngryBirds, Whats App, and Youtube as well.

    From a students perspective, absolutely!

  • 10. Brain wrote:

    this would ensure that not many of us would remember how to search an encyclopedia or write without a spell checker. now with toys of entertainment welcome in the classroom, intellectual rotting of the generations can be assured. And with teachers going along, the future of education is appalling.

  • 11. Citizen Berel wrote:

    Just no. For years, secular schools have been trying to integrate technology into the classroom and it has been islands of brilliance amidst a sea of fail.

    The op-ed is misguided. Cleary, Rabbi Hayes can do this, but that says little to nothing about general applicability of his methods at large.

    The approach needs to remain conservative. Simply write about how you have managed to integrate high technology in your instruction and let teachers decide if and how they can adopt these methods or how they may device methods of their own. This article is short on details.

    One thing is clear, open carry ‘i-phone’ policies in schools would be disastrous. The waste-of-time (and far, far worse) use cases for the smart phones so far outweigh the educationally beneficial, that this isn’t really even worth discussing at a broad application level.

    Rabbi Hayes should attend the various and many teacher forums and workshops to ‘market’ his ideas. They can and should be evaluated and perhaps adopted on a case by case basis, with extreme caution, a hefty sense of suspicion and with proper controls for unintended consequences.

    I am also guessing that the school in which Rabbi Hayes works is on the modern side (it’s co-ed and probably pretty small) and the kids are already in possession of these ‘tools’ in the school. To consider o whether or how that experience is directly applicable to massive chassidisher ‘no-phone’ schools like our moisdois is left an exercise for the reader.

  • 12. Toronto wrote:

    Cheder Chabad in Toronto utilizes smart boards in all the classrooms which are basically huge blackboard sized ipads. They are very interactive and really engage the students

  • 13. Nechama wrote:

    Using technology as a tool in the classroom can be good, but individual unfiltered iphones in the hands of kids (and many adults) is dangerous. I would really hesitate to give children the idea that any and all technology can be used without restriction.
    As it is, teachers should be banned from the classroom when they cannot manage to turn their phones off and stop texting. They are in essence telling the children, whoever I am communicating with on this phone, is more important than you and then the Torah I am teaching you.
    Do you really think that once allowed into the classroom you will be able to have control over its usage?
    Technology is a tool and when not used properly it takes away from mindfulness – the ability to truly be where you are.

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