Middle school now teaching in smartphone ‘classrooms’

NUTLEY, NJ — Middle school is a time of great change. With students dealing with puberty, more in-depth classes and ever-demanding peer pressure, it’s no wonder they can become confused or distracted from their school work. Throw in the nonstop technology of the modern world, always pinging and grabbing their attention, and things get even more complex.

John H. Walker Middle School has a new approach to this situation. The school has managed to translate the smartphone into a fun learning tool, and is getting the message out to local adolescents via a popular newsletter that includes special notes for parents. With at least 80 percent of all teens carrying their own smartphones, it makes sense to utilize their adoration of this technology rather than deeming it unworthy. Learning, along with everything else in our technocentric world, is evolving.

An April 2015 Pew study reports “Nearly three-quarters of teens have or have access to a smartphone and 30 percent have a basic phone, while just 12 percent of teens 13 to 17 say they have no cell phone of any type.”

And, in an interesting development, this study reports, “African-American teens are the most likely of any group of teens to have a smartphone, with 85 percent having access to one, compared with 71 percent of both white and Hispanic teens.”

These phones and other mobile devices have become a primary driver of teen Internet use: Fully 91 percent of teens go online with mobile devices at least occasionally. Among these “mobile teens,” 94 percent go online daily. By comparison, teens who don’t access the Internet via mobile devices tend to go online less frequently. Some 68 percent go online at least daily.

The idea that study time with digital devices can become fun — rather than the boring chore every kid dreads — is something Walker School is offering its students.

Their newest idea is for kids to make their study time like sports or other social time. This concept resonates with the middle schoolers and includes “Shoot and Score,” a game that transforms studying into a sport. Students can crush up unneeded paper and “shoot” it into a basket or trash can every time they correctly answer a question; or use a broom to “sweep” answers between two chair legs when answered correctly.

Most kids enjoy taping themselves while they read aloud into a smartphone; when it’s time for review, a walk or ride in the car can be transformed into a study session via headphones and the smartphone. Studies  prove that listening to information helps make it stick, so this is a fun way to review classroom information.

The school newsletter manages to be fun, and also offers other ideas, such as using alphabet cereal to spell out vocabulary words or the answers to history questions.