Putting the “Smart” Back in Smartphones

When I was working as a classroom teacher in the early 2000s, cell phone use by students was a relatively new phenomenon. My policy–as well as my school’s–was that cell phone use was unnecessary during school hours. Students who were caught using their phones at school had them taken away and given to the administrative office, much to the chagrin of the students involved.

Fast forward to 2019. While some teachers and parents are still fighting the tide of technology, nearly every student from elementary school on up carries a cell phone. Fortunately, if used prudently, smartphones can be great tools for educational purposes.

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Homework tracker

Many students still use paper planners to keep track of their tests, assignments, and other obligations, but cell phones are increasingly becoming the mode of choice to organize students’ calendars. Because students carry their phones everywhere, they are able to check their upcoming work quickly and easily, and they can continually adjust as new events arise.

Reminder setting

For students of all ages, smartphones can be used to help remind the students to carry out tasks throughout the day. Your child can be reminded to get a parent release signed, to be sure his/her pencil bag is filled, or to attend their weekly improv club meeting.

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Fact finding

Of course, cell phones put the knowledge of the world in students’ hands. If a teacher mentions a topic or term that is unfamiliar, a quick Google search can fill in the information gaps.

Taking board or screen photos

Teachers can sometimes move quickly through material in the classroom. Any time a student feels confused about that last trigonometry problem or the timeline of Christianity’s progression through the ancient world, she or he can snap a quick picture of the board to either revisit the information or to show it to a tutor, like the wonderful ones working at Huntington.

Note taking

Typing–or Swyping–is generally much faster for today’s students than writing by hand. Given that, smartphones can be a great way of taking important notes from class. Using apps like Evernote or OneNote can make recording and using ideas from class much more efficient.

Apps, apps, apps!

Finally, many classrooms now use specific educational apps that tie in to what’s being done in class. Teachers now routinely use document sharing apps, like Dropbox, as well as study apps, such as Quizlet, to administer their classes. College Board, the maker of the SAT, offers an SAT Question of the Day app. Smartphones make it easy for students to utilize these apps on the go.

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Of course, as with all technology, parents should set expectations with their children when it comes to cell phone use. Talking with your students about the dangers of the online world is always a good idea. But used correctly, cell phones can be a great way to enhance students’ academic experience, putting the smart back in smartphones!


Developing Critical Thinking at Home

One of my kids came up to me a few weeks ago, and it was obvious he was itching to deliver some information.

“Everyone should be taking cold showers,” he declared triumphantly. When I asked how he’d come to this decision, he said, “A study has proven it.” Intrigued, I asked about his research. “I read a story on the Internet about a rich guy who felt like he was healthier because of cold showers, so he got some scientists to do a study. They found out he was right.”

I saw this as an opportunity.

“So he had a belief, and he paid for a study to be conducted,” I replied, “and the study that he paid for confirmed his belief?” Yes, my son nodded enthusiastically. “Do you see any potential problems with that?” He shook his head as a confused look crossed his face. So we talked a bit more about the reliability of single sources–particularly those on the Internet–and he agreed to do more digging to see what others said on the subject.

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Now, to be fair, I didn’t have an opinion one way or another when it comes to the ideal shower temperature (we found out that there are lots of opinions on the topic, but many studies have shown lukewarm to be the best, coupled with a skin moisturizer afterward). But I do have strong feelings about teaching my kids the value of critical thinking.

Just as there are seemingly countless opinions about our ideal shower temperature, there are myriad articles about the necessity of teaching our children the value of critical thinking. Predictably, the tips and findings of many of those articles overlap, so I’ll give you the best bits here.

It’s never too early to help your kids develop critical thinking skills.

Preschoolers may not be ready to learn the difference between a major premise and a minor premise, but they can be taught to think more critically. The website parentingscience.com, a great general resource for parents and teaching, urges parents to start working with their kids early, encouraging them to restate ideas in their own words. The article also stresses the need to talk with children about biases and how those biases affect what we hear and read.

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Ask the right questions.

In his insightful TED Talk, Brian Oshiro encourages parents to ask follow-up questions to their kids. Instead of focusing on the “what” of a subject, ask kids “how” or “why” something is true. “How do you know?” is an easy way of teaching kids how to think through their sources and beliefs.

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In a recent Forbes magazine article, author Helen Lee Bouygues urges parents to have their children question the media and individual sources. Especially in our age of social media, kids need to be shown the value of confirming their information with multiple sources–what a Stanford University study called “lateral reading.”

Encourage emotional intelligence.

Because much of the misinformation in cyberspace is designed to evoke feelings of outrage or frustration, it’s also important that parents encourage children to learn to manage those emotions.

Making the home a safe place for kids to express and discuss their emotions is key, as is providing good emotional role models for them. Showing kids that emotions can be freely talked about and managed can go a long way to avoiding knee-jerk reactions to false or biased information.

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For many of us as parents, the 21st century can be a scary place. Because so many outlets are working for our children’s attention, it’s vital that we equip our kids with the skill of discernment. Fortunately, parents can take the lead, helping kids learn how to properly navigate the stormy Internet sea.


Meet Our Teachers

Elizabeth is a verbal Exam Prep tutor and works on the Learning Center. She has her Bachelor’s Degree in English and Psychology and has a Master’s Degree in English Literature. Elizabeth enjoys reading fiction and YA novels and loves word play and puns.

Clare is a math and science Exam Prep tutor and works in the Learning Center. She loves parasailing and zip lining and is a huge Civil War buff (she actually visited some of the battlefields). She is also a Day Trader and has a passion for the stock market.

Josh is a verbal Exam Prep tutor and works in the Learning Center. He lived in Alaska for four years where he studied linguistics, Spanish, and TESOL. He once had a job making a dictionary for several native Alaskan languages. He also loves to cook, bake, and play word games.

Kayley is a Learning Center teacher and taught Kindergarten for several years. She is a huge environmentalist who loves crafting and was born and raised in Chicago. She also has a baby named Luna.

Bob is a Learning Center teacher who taught Kindergarten for much of his career. He loves the outdoors and spends a lot of time camping. He is also very passionate about the Oregon Ducks and has many of their stickers on his car.

Tutors: Teachers not Technicians

When you take your car in for a tune-up, you can expect to drive into a garage, hand over your keys, go out for a latte and come back with your problems fixed. The mechanic will tell you what was wrong in your engine and what they did to fix it. You will then pay the appropriate fees and drive home feeling safe in your freshly tuned-up car.

Tutoring can sometimes be this way as well. You drop your child off, go out for a coffee and come back to pick them up hoping they have learned the information they need. In other words – that they have “fixed” their school problems.

I Can Fix It!

This is a common misconception. Tutors are not like mechanics who simply tell you what is wrong. Mechanics will tell you what the problem is. But instead of teaching you how to fix it, they generally just fix it for you. This is far from helpful.

A good tutor will know how to be a technician and look for leaks. But they will take their job a step further and explain how the leak happened, how it can be fixed, and guide you through the process for fixing it.

Tutors are not technicians – they are teachers.

Teaching: A Step Further

Teachers will make sure your child understands why they got the answer wrong by taking the necessary steps to correct their thinking. Unlike mechanics (or technicians), teachers give you the resources you need to continue to get the correct answer in the future and avoid breaking down on the side of the road feeling helpless. If every mechanic gave you replacement parts and taught you how to fix it yourself, every mechanic would likely go out of business.

Next time you look into tutoring for your student, make sure you have done the research into the facility. Make sure the tutors are there to teach and not to simply correct work. Talk to the tutor that will be working with your student. Learn about their teaching background, style and education.

After all, these people will be spending quality time with your kids helping them achieve their educational goals. So why not go the extra mile and ensure your kids are in good hands?