Greg Lehr from the Social Studies department at Newton High School is with the ESSDACK TIG group this morning sharing his ideas of using cell phones as learning tools.

He started out sharing a quick video documenting the evolution of cell phones over time.


Greg also shared some of the current statistics of cell phone usage. He works with a lot of low SES kids but still has usage rate of around 75%. Greg also mentioned that he has had lots of positive support from administrators but still encounters some resistance from fellow teachers.

The building policy is that no cell phones are allowed in school and so Greg had to work fairly hard to get approval to use them as part of his instruction. But he’s found some interesting ways to integrate them.

Audio uses

He starts with as a way for kids to quickly post audio clips online using their phones. Drop is basically an online storage site that allows you to create a “drop” that automatically stores audio clips created via cell phone.

He’s had kids use Drop to create “radio” Public Service Announcements for his world history class. Another assignment is to have kids think as if they are an inanimate object such as country, government or slave ship. They then post an audio clip to Drop using their phone.

Greg also uses reQall, a pretty sweet tool that takes cell phone calls and converts the audio to text. He has kids use reQuall as a brainstorming tool and as way to train kids to create self-reminders. I think you could also encourage kids to create audio summaries of articles, videos and class discussion and then print out them out.

Visual uses

Greg assigns what he calls Five Photo Stories. In a Five Photo Story, kids must tell a story using, yep . . . five photos. For example, he has asked kids to tell a story on the Middle Ages or German Unification using pictures that they take around the school using their phones. In groups, they have to write out explanations of their photos.

They share their pictures using just their phone screens together with their written work as a way to review content and lecture notes.

At his school, Flckr is blocked but I think you could do the same thing by having kids use their cell phone cameras to create online portfolios at Flickr.

Texting uses

Kids in his class use two different tools that support their phone text features.

A quick wiffiti we made this morning

The first is something called Wiffiti. Wiffiti (like graffiti) is a bit like Wallwisher but for cell phone texts instead. You create a free account, provide the supplied text number to your kids and their texts show up automatically.

You could have kids respond to a wide variety of questions or as part of an ongoing discussion. I like the idea of having this on during a lecture or video for back channel conversation. Seems like a nice way to encourage a wide range of responses.

The nice thing is that you can make your Wiffiti screens G-rated, automatically filtering out a lot of possible inappropriate comments.

I also like that you can embed a live Wiffiti screen into a web site. Post a video clip or quote or article on your site, then embed the Wiffiti screen underneath. Kids then text their responses to your guiding questions as home work or review.

A similar tool is called Polleverywhere. I had played with this a year or so ago but either didn’t notice the text feature or it was recently added. Basically the same idea as Wiffiti – post questions and kids respond to them. One difference is that you create questions that actually require yes or no, multiple choice, etc. You can then track the answers.

Sample questions might include:

  • Should the US have dropped the bomb? Why?
  • Provide three adjectives that describe the Holocaust
  • The anti-war movement was effective in ending the Vietnam War. Agree or disagree?

Greg also uses Polleverywhere to have kids complete traditional KWLs.


He uses Joopz

a web-based text messaging service that enables “web texting” – two-way communications from the Web to any mobile phone in the U.S. and Canada . . . and back

to remind kids about upcoming assignments and assessments. You type in your text online which then goes out as a group text message to students’ phones.


  • Anti-cell phone policies
  • Resistance from colleagues
  • Signal strength inside buildings

We also discussed the issue of increasing numbers of web-based phones such as iPhones and Blackberries in schools. These sorts of phones are able to bypass the school’s internet network. System admin folks will lose all control over access as these phones bring 3G networks into school buildings.

(Could this lead to stricter cell phone policies? My gut feeling is that schools will try to enforce stricter policies but am also convinced that Pandora’s box is wide open with cell phones.)

But it’s obvious that more conversation is needed among K-12 educators about how to best do what Greg is already doing in his classroom.

Access Greg’s materials below:

Contact Greg with more questions.