Ways to Integrate Cell Phones in the Virtual Classroom

If most families have cell phones, how can teachers harness the power of this tool to help fill educational gaps for early childhood learning?

At-Home Learning: PBS SoCal and KCET, in partnership with LAUSD and in collaboration with California PBS stations, are offering broadcast programming with digital resources that adhere to California’s state curriculum. Download this week’s schedule.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to virtual learning has been equitable access for students. Many families do not have the resources needed for the shift to online learning, such as computers, internet access, and even the non-distracting learning space many schools are requiring. Additionally, early childhood education (ECE) students do not have the same access to technology that their older siblings do, and even if they do, we do not want them to sit in front of a screen for hours everyday.

So what can we do to include everyone in our ECE classes? Most families have cell phones and usually can find a Wi-Fi connection to upload/download content. So how do we harness the power of this tool? Below we list some tips by subject areas, plus ways for teachers and students to exchange lessons and completed work.

A young girl looks over her caregiver’s cell phone. | Hindrik Sijens / Flickr / Creative Commons License

Language Arts

  • Have students do a scavenger hunt to look for letters around their house, on a walk around the neighborhood, or on television. Have the student or parent take pictures of the things they find for the letter. You can also have them find items that match beginning sounds, ending sounds or rhyming words. They can then create a collage of the pictures using the free app Pic Collage.
  • Many authors have posted videos of themselves reading their books on YouTube or their websites. You can play these videos for kids to listen to books. You can also use a service like Storyline Online to watch books. If you want children to read books on the phone, teachers can create classes and assign books on Epic! Teachers can also create classes on Vooks so kids can watch stories come to life!

Math

  • Ask families to prepare a meal or snack together. They can make sandwiches and count the toppings. Share these questions with parents to discuss while they cook:
    • Look at the shape the sandwich makes. Can you cut it in half and make a triangle?
    • Can you cut it in half and make a rectangle?
    • Can you cut fourths and make squares or triangles?
  • They can also use their phones to make a video tutorial teaching others how to make their favorite treat. Have the learner rewatch the video, count through the steps and think about any changes they want to make.
  • Scavenger picture hunts for colors, shapes, and numbers. They can then create a collage of the pictures using the free app Pic Collage. Have the student or parent take pictures of the things they find for the topic.

Science

  • PBS has a great Nature Bingo game. Teachers can assign this activity and have families take pictures of the items they find and post it on a bingo board using Google Tools or create a PicCollage.
  • Use the internet to find the food for their favorite animal. Make a snack that uses the same foods or looks like the same foods. Take a picture of the learner eating the snack and put it in a collage beside the animal eating the food.

Social Studies

  • Parents can help their students make a timeline of their child’s life. Use pictures the parents have on their phones or pictures they have printed. You can include a family tree if they want, as well. You can create the work using an app or you can create it with paper pencil and take a picture of the timeline.
  • Watch this collection of videos about Community helpers, which introduce “helpers” and explain the role they play in emergency situations. Make a thank you note to the helpers in your community.

Making and Sharing Videos for Families
Teachers can make simple learning videos to share with families. These videos can be watched on cell phones, as long as the teacher keeps it short. Teachers can use the camera on their phones, ipads, or computers to create simple videos. You can also make them look professional using free programs like Adobe Spark.

So what would you make a video about? Think about what you teach in the classroom, like cutting skills, washing your hands, word families, life cycles of animals, and writing letters. All of these can be taught through a teacher made video that you then send to families and have them show their students. If teachers are not confident in making the videos, YouTube, Vimeo, and TeacherTube have tons of short videos about teaching topics.

Students Share Their Work
Students and parents will work hard on these fun activities, but how can they share them with the teacher? Parents can email the teacher. Teachers can also create a Google Voice number and have parents text the pictures to them. Another option is for teachers to set up a Remind class, where parents can submit activities through the app. Perhaps the easiest way is for teachers to create a Padlet and have parents upload the work on the Padlet.

Want another way to see if kids are learning? Have them create a video to send to the teacher to show what they learned by watching the teacher. Flipgrid is a great tool for this. It is a free app that you can download to phones and record the video in the program. It is simple and gives kids a way to share their thinking.