From Nuisance to Asset: Promoting 21st Century Skills with Smart Phones

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Anyone working with middle school and high school youth has been frustrated at one time or another with excessive cell phone use during programming. Rather than constantly trying to fight it, why not embrace it? After all, many youth have smart phones, which are one of the most underutilized resources in afterschool programs. Teaching youth how to harness the powerful devices at their finger-tips for educational purposes can be a big step towards mastering 21st century skills.

Set a Program-Wide Technology Policy

Like all good management, expectations need to be set before any apps are launched. Directors and staff should come up with policies, procedures and consequences that work for the program and the population of youth served. Then the policies and procedures should be discussed with youth, get feedback, and make changes accordingly to increase youth buy-in. Make sure to keep in mind provisions for youth that do not have access to smart phones. Some programs may choose to provide laptops or have youth in project groups with at least one device per group.

Internet for Inquiry

When it comes to project based learning, inquiry is key. Many providers struggle to provide the necessary resources, such as laptops or relevant books, to support the inquiry that drives project based learning. Creating a program culture where it is permissible and even encouraged to “ask the internet” when youth don’t know the answer is crucial. Free apps like dictionary and Wikipedia can also be useful tools on the road to self-reliance. 

Exceptional Apps

One of our absolute favorites is the Khan Academy app, which provides free detailed video instruction on a wide variety of topics. This is especially useful for high school youth, as they have a large SAT prep section.

Many of our programs already utilize social media apps like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Blogger to promote their projects and culminating events. While these are great apps that youth are already pretty familiar with, there is so much more out there. John Hardison’s 44 Smart Ways to Use Smartphones in Class highlights a variety of educational apps that all reinforce 21st century skills with tips on how to use them effectively. So stop texting, and check it out!

by: Ariel Zander

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