There’s no question about it: technology has improved our lives in countless ways. It’s also helped us stay connected, keep working, and keep learning during the Covid19 pandemic, and we don’t even want to think about how things would have been without it. Being tech-savvy nowadays is a definite plus, in both our professional and personal lives. From online shopping and socializing, to medical appointments and business meetings, technology is an intrinsic part of our daily lives. But it’s not all fun and games, unfortunately.
It’s easy to get caught up by technology and spend hours on end scrolling on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, watching videos on YouTube or chatting with friends on WhatsApp and other apps. But spending too much time on devices can lead to all sorts of problems, from headaches, neck and back problems, carpal tunnel, to trouble focusing, sleeping, and even low self-esteem and depression.
Overuse of technology and devices is an even bigger problem for children and teens, who aren’t yet fully aware that spending too much time on their devices can lead to problems down the road. More and more young children are diagnosed with ADHD nowadays, and devices reportedly play a big part in affecting a child’s ability to focus and concentrate.
As a teacher, dealing with smartphones and other gadgets in the classroom can be quite a challenge. Students are often tempted to scroll TikTok or take pictures instead of focusing on the lessons, and this can affect their academic performance. But banning smartphones from the classroom altogether might not be the best option, either, and you might just end up angering students and losing their trust. So, what other options do you have as a teacher, to keep smartphones from becoming too big of a distraction during lessons?
1. Integrate technology into the lessons, whenever you can
This first tip is probably also the most important one. It’s basically all about integrating technology and devices into classes, instead of banning them altogether. Use devices to your advantage, but use them wisely. Instead of allowing students to become distracted by notifications and TikTok dance videos or funny cat reels on Instagram, use fun educational apps that help children learn and get creative.
2. Spark creativity
If you’re an arts teacher, make the best of smartphones and tablets by showcasing famous paintings or other art pieces on blue screens, and having the students learn about these works of art through online images, podcasts or YouTube videos. Make it a fun educational activity: show the students a famous painting or piece of art, and let them use the internet to gather as much information about that piece as they can. If you want to make it even more engaging, set a timer or a deadline, and whoever finds the most information gets to pick the next piece or gets a 30-second advantage in the next round.
Engage your students and help them get creative by making the best of all the photography and photo-editing apps out there. Organize photography contests or encourage your students to record fun videos and create short films about things they’re passionate about, or even have them keep a daily video diary that they get to present to the class. You never know, one of these kids could find that they have a love for digital art, and become photographers or filmmakers in the future!
3. Make the best of QR codes
Let’s face it, QR codes are now everywhere; in the supermarket, at the train station, at the mall, and even in restaurants. If you don’t know how QR codes work, then you might be missing out on great digital experiences, so try to integrate them into classes or school activities. They might take a little bit of effort to create, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you can use QR codes for scavenger hunts, unlocking information on certain topics, and a lot more. Children and teens nowadays are extremely receptive to new technologies, so by integrating new and exciting apps and tools into your classroom, you have a much better chance at getting their attention.
4. Use online dictionaries and language learning apps
Learning a new language can be quite challenging, and a lot of times, it can be downright grueling – think about all the intricate German grammar lessons you had to take as a kid, or try to read and understand a simple sentence in Finnish – it seems impossible. But by using fun apps in the classroom like Duolingo or Memrise, for instance, you can spice things up and turn grammar lessons into a fun activity. You can use devices and apps to gamify the language-learning experience; this way, students will be much more engaged and process the information much better.
5. Collect feedback from your students
Last but certainly not least, use technology and devices to collect valuable feedback from students, to learn what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy, what they’d like to learn about, and how they prefer to learn about it. Use polling apps to make it fun and help students answer questions in a relaxed manner, without feeling like they’re taking a test, or that they will be scolded for their answers. The more relaxed your students feel, the more honestly they will answer your questions, so be sure to craft fun, light-hearted polls that help you understand the needs and wants of your students. Then, you can reassess and regroup, and provide an even better educational experience that benefits everyone in your class.
Other tips and tricks to remember
All that being said, it’s important to make sure that students get frequent breaks from their devices and that they interact with each other, discuss, debate, and play. Whenever you’re not using devices for classwork, have children put their phones away in stowaway pockets attached to their desks, or set up a ‘no-phone-zone’ or a ‘smartphone hotel’ where devices can be stored away safely. Have everyone turn off notifications during classes and place the devices on silent while not in use, to keep them from becoming a distraction.
The important thing is not to ban smartphones or make students think that they’re not allowed to use technology at school – there is even such a thing as phone separation anxiety, if you can believe it. Encourage healthy, productive use of technology, and take frequent breaks where you have students interact face to face and develop their communication skills. Ultimately, maintaining that balance is the hardest thing to accomplish, but if you get creative, it can be done.