Cell Phones in Math Class

Barbara S., a high school math teacher and blogger over at The Fischbowl, may have found not only a compelling reason for allowing students to carry cell phones into her classroom, but she’s found a great way to engage students using pieces of technology that many in our profession demand be kept out of the classroom.

“Stand up if you have a cell phone with you today,” I announced last Wednesday in my algebra class. The excitement was visible. “Sit down if your phone does not have a camera,” I continued. Their disappointment was manifested in groans of various pitches and duration. I quickly paired them up – over half the class had phones with cameras – and sent them on their way. Their mission: to find as many examples of circles and take pictures of each one.”

I was initially attracted to the post by this opening paragraph, but after reading further I realized that her lesson was an excellent blueprint for engaging students through use of their cell phones. She easily admits that the pictures of the circles they took weren’t the focus of the lesson, and that they ended up measuring and comparing circles that she provided them, but she acknowledges that getting her students (high school students at that) engaged enough to be excited about measuring circumference was all she needed. The images they took (one students boasting of taking 56 pictures) were compared, and then she produced several circular objects that she had brought from home for the students to measure. The students eagerly started measuring circumference, diamater, and then plotted their data and made a line of “best fit” producing a line whose slope was fairly close to the value of Pi.

She then played off this success by having the students take pictures of squares the next day, and then discussing diagonals. There are even plans in the works for using the cell phones as stop watches and recording other students (presumably with built in video) as they pronounce tongue twisters, and then graphing the results in an attempt to find some type of correlation between different lengths of tongue twisters and the amount of time it takes to say them.

What intriques me the most is that Barbara admits none of the ideas are new, but by inviting the cell phones into her classroom, and using a “cool” piece of technology, she managed to excite her students and produce much more actively engaged leaners. Read more about the lesson via the link below.

Referenced Blog Post – A Math Teacher’s Experience


  1. Thanks for this blog..I am a pre-service teacher taking a class about implementing technology into our classroom. I visited The Fischbowl and read more about this math exercise. I understand why the students got excited about being able to use their cell phones in the classroom and I thought it was a great way to implement technology. It was interesting to see other teachers’ comments about not having cell phones in the classroom and I am fairly certain that the school district that I would like to teach in does not allow cell phones in school but it really got my mind reeling on how I could possibly use this, or something similar one day.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the Fischbowl Susan. The more I read it and other blogs like it, the more I realize that teachers often do themselves a disservice by banning devices that students are inherently infatuated with. In fact, much more engaged learning could take place if more teachers found ways to use the cell phones, iPods, and other electronic gadgets that students already have on them.

  3. Hi!
    I am so impressed on this blog. Thank you for it. I am a teacher student and am having a course on ICT in teaching and learning. My interest is how we can use available technology in the integration of ICT in teaching and learning in developing countries, and, I was thinking on how hand-held devices like cell phones which is more widespread and popular in use can be used in teaching/learning. I learn that this is practical and I will employ this method in my classes sometimes after my studies.

  4. I am looking for a 5 point Likert scale survey to survey middle school teacher with the use of cell phones and iPods. I am very open to suggestions. This is effort to promote teaching with cell phones and iPods for homework, study sessions and projects.

    1. Mmm, that’s a tough one, and I really don’t have an answer, as it seems the polls everywhere doesn’t really doesn’t have that as an option, unless they made a recent update.

      You could just create a Google Form and have the students visit the page on their cellphones, or on a computer.

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