eTech Ohio 2010: St Marys Mobile Phone Project

I’m at eTech Ohio this week and will blog some of the sessions I’m attending. Here’s the first one (my comments in italics):

Stepping into the Future With Mobile Learning Devices
Date/Time: Monday, February 01, 2010 > 08:00 AM – 08:45 AM

Presenters:  Menchhofer, Kyle – St Marys City SD (Auglaize)
  Menchhofer, Kyle – St. Marys City Schools
  Van Gundy, Jennifer – St. Marys City Schools
  Newcomb, Scott – St. Marys City Schools

Location: D233-235

• 3rd-6th grade smart phones: 630 plus, including 30+ staff.
• Current technology was not sufficient enough. Had to get district, parent, and community buy in.
• Financial support (they have no tech budget, but worked with eRate and Verizon to make it financially feasible).

Adminstrator concerns
• Parent meeting (had to have one)
• Sustain program for future years (this is definitely an issue with mobile projects. Most original PDA projects died after about 4 years, when the devices died and couldn’t be replaced)
• Mobile tech committee
• Stress PD

Argument that schools need to have tech that matches what students use/have at home. Don’t want students to step backwards when they get to school. Have students step into the future (funny to hear this, this was an argument for use when we did the PEP projects in 2001-2002, and has been an argument for use since).

Classroom goals
• Level the playing field (increase test scores; 11 points on average last year)
• Limit restrictions
• Access technology together
• Assignments can be completed quicker (is this really a goal? Should it be?)
• Differentiated instruction

3rd Grade:
Getting started
• Start slow – journaling (Elliot Soloway’s idea of evolution not revolution)
• Let students explore MLDs (Mobile Learning Devices)
 • Allow students to show you how to do something on the MLD
• Add new tools to create projects

(Nothing really new here, this all sounds very familiar when thinking about past mobile learning projects)

Writing projects
• PicoMap: planning
• Word Doc: paragraph writing
• Editing is faster: no rewriting
• Sketchy: illustrate writing
• Share projects: connect phones to projector or share side-by-side

(seems a little too basic almost, but then, this is third grade. Would have liked to have heard a little more about use of mobile phones by students outside of the classroom. At the end of the presentation, Kyle did talk a little about syncing pictures from a phone to a server when students were riding the bus home from a field trip).

Differentiated projects
• Gifted students: extension
• Special needs: shortened with adaptations
• Students unaware of differentiation (very important!!)
• Everyone is successful

(this is key!! Teacher didn’t really discuss the logistics of making this happen, but it didn’t sound like it’s a problem)

Traditional v non-traditional
• Planning: How would you do lesson traditionally? How can you use the MLD instead?
• Paper/pencil = boring
• MLD: engaging and exciting (yes, but….)

(This is a start, but there is so much more……)

Math achievement data
• 95% passed v. 81% (MLD v no MLD)
• Pass avg 439.72 (18 points higher)
• Homeroom ~3/4 special needs students passed math (75%)

(The question is though: was this attributable to the use of the phones? Or changes in pedagogy/instruction because of the phones? Or something different?)

Use no cell phone service or texting (blocked): hence the use of the term MLD.
Students take the phone home at the end of the day (parents sign permission slip; students are responsible for devices)

4th Grade
• Uncertainty. Will students be responsible? Screen size.
• Nothing broken or stolen in district.
• Will typing transfer to pencil/paper?
• MLDs are very motivating
• More communicating and sharing among colleagues
• More student participation
• Making learning memorable
• Students are engaged in what they are creating
• Everyone wants to share and participate
• Result: takes less time to cover material (e.g. long division).
• Record audio, take pictures, Internet (many students don’t have it at home).
• Again, start out slow
     o Incorporate into the curriculum that you currently have set in place
     o Don’t be afraid to let students teach you.
• Importance of support
     o Tech coordinator
     o Admin support
     o Fellow teachers

• Funding: District purchase (phones are free through govt pricing, pay for broadband $34/month/phone (eRate)). PDAs are dead. Verizon. Rates will go down; competition Sprint, AT&T
• Lack of teacher buy-in; not too much of an issue
• How will next phase be implemented?
• Lack of parent support due to parent knowledge
• Rapidly changing technology (e.g. iPad now)

Want to go to mobile devices for grades 3-12. Doesn’t want to look at netbooks: too expensive to buy, maintain, etc. Smartphones for students in 3-8. High school: different device (e.g. iPad)? Easy to maintain smartphones: if one goes down districts has replacements.

Only pays for phone contract during the school year, not during the summer.

Says they get a lot of visitors: open invitation to come visit (also see their website at

Using GoKnow for software, with syncing to the web (GoManage)

 At the end there were lots of questions about filtering (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) and whether students are trying to subvert the filtering. Phones are filtered through Verizon. District can call to get something blocked. Also lot of questions about logistics such as charging devices.

Also, teachers can see everything that students have on their phones (one issue with student taking inappropriate pictures).

All in all the St Marys project is an interesting one in that it has been able to implement the use of mobile phones on a relatively large scale (630 or so). However, listening to Kyle made me realize how much of what he was talking about sounded exactly like what people’s impressions used to be of the Palm Education Pioneer project in 2001-2002. The only difference really is the device used. I understand their decision to turn off mobile calling and texting (aside from cost of service, which adds up to about $160,000 for a 9-month contract in St. Marys), and the dilemma of access v. safety/appropriate use is becoming increasingly difficult and public (see for example this story on MSNBC). In that respect, I’m not sure how far we’ve come in the last ten years, as it seems that in most cases mobile technology use is either banned or heavily restricted.

Image Credit: eTech Ohio:

2 responses to “eTech Ohio 2010: St Marys Mobile Phone Project

  1. Pingback: eTech Ohio 2010: Mobile Technology Sessions « Ubiquitous Thoughts

  2. Thank you Nice Article.

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