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Spotlight on Mobile Learning

Learn how these schools and districts are exploring strategies for effectively integrating “classic” resources (such as workstations, laptops, and wires) with emerging broadband mobile devices (such as smartphones, e-readers, smartbooks, handheld gaming platforms) to create a “blended” infrastructure where students can learn in or out of school:

Mobile Learning Explorer

Carola Montana, 8th Grade Science Teacher
Explorer Middle School

Jeff Billings, District IT Director
Paradise Valley Unified School District No. 69

“Instantly, we see everyone’s results and discover trends in the data together. I am assessing students’ grasp of concepts in real time. The students really respond to this kind of work.” Carola Montana

Spotlight on Mobile Learning
Last year, Carola Montana, an 8th grade science teacher, piloted a program that allowed students to use their mobile phones to access information she had posted to her class website. “Instead of printing directions for a lab, the students go to my website, click on the calendar, access the directions and follow them. It saves paper, and they think it is cool to be able to use their cell phones.” Technology equity hasn’t been an issue according to Ms. Montana, because students work in groups and share their devices, or they can borrow a school-provided device.

The students at Explorer are using their mobile devices with hands-on activities, like labs. They’re entering their data using their smart phones and then sending the data to the class website. “Instantly, we see everyone’s results and discover trends in the data together. I am assessing students’ grasp of concepts in real time. The students really respond to this kind of work,” Montana points out. And these instantaneous results are providing more class time for extended learning and participation. “[They] collaborate more and work more productively when they have a clear, specific goal.”

Montana has been assisting more and more teachers within Explorer with setting up their own websites and programs, and encourages fellow educators to “Go for it!” when it comes to mobile learning. District-wide, Paradise Valley Unified is very mobile-influenced, with nearly 16,000 devices in circulation including iTouches, iPads, and occasionally, Nintendo Wii. Jeff Billings, District IT Director, is working to open networks for personal devices and developing new professional development programs to help educators integrate them effectively into instruction. “We’ve taken the stance that we want students and the members of our learning community to use our network.”

Across the district, these new open-use policies have had unexpected results. Not only have professional development initiatives advanced tremendously, the teachers are getting excited about their role in the program’s deployment and evolution. And the enthusiasm is infectious. Students are finally taking more ownership of their learning, and they are embracing their new roles. Aside from the occasional connection issue, Carola Montana jokes that her biggest problem with the program has been “students using me as an excuse to ask for a nicer phone!” Jeff Billings comments that district-wide, the only barrier they have encountered are those who fear losing control of the learning going on in the classroom, who perhaps aren’t comfortable with the technology. But he assures any skeptics that,“the students are working with the teacher, helping to integrate this technology into the classroom … I tell other educators considering a transformation like this to give their frontrunners freedom and be creative to establish new models and then let the others follow in those footsteps.”



  • Enrollment: 559 at Explorer M.S.//34,000 District-wide
  • Teachers/Staff: 57 Explorer Middle School
    3,000 District-wide
  • Community: Suburban school district located in Northeast Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ
  • Ethnicity: Nearly 70% Caucasian, 24% Hispanic, 3% African American, 3% Asian

Mobile Learning Explorer

Tim WilsonTim Wilson
Chief Technology Officer

District: ISD 279 – Osseo Area Schools

“.. there is a revolution in mobile technology, and the prices have dropped tremendously. It’s not any different than students having to purchase a graphing calculator. Prices are comparable.”

Spotlight on Mobile Learning
“To inspire and prepare all students with the confidence, courage and competence to achieve their dreams; contribute to community and engage in a lifetime of learning." This is the Mission Statement of Osseo Area Schools in Minneapolis, which envisions a school-provided network that leverages student-provided mobile devices to incorporate technology into learning. “This isn’t exactly revolutionary,” says Tim Wilson, the district technology officer, “Colleges and universities have been doing this for years. I have had that vision myself—so we provide a learning infrastructure that students plug their own devices into.” Because of the size of this district, Osseo Area Schools did not have the funding to support a major one-to-one initiative. “But now there is a revolution in mobile technology, and the prices have dropped tremendously. It’s not any different than students having to purchase a graphing calculator. Prices are comparable,” says Wilson.

Because Wilson and the rest of the Instructional Media & Technology team weren’t sure how many students would participate, the school provided either 3 iPod Touches, or 3 laptops for all participating classrooms. “But we have been very explicit that moving forward, we would not be providing these ‘back-ups.’ The idea of the program is not about the ‘stuff.’ I seeded the program, but now the goal is student-provided devices. Or some schools can do their own fundraising if they want, that’s up to them,” asserts Wilson.

The district allowed the individual schools to decide which type of device they wanted to pursue. Some schools explored more mobile, handheld technology—students were encouraged to bring cell phones, iPods, Nintendo DSi’sT—and another school tried laptops, and encouraged students to bring those. Wilson notes, “We are providing support and leadership vision, but really I have been letting the schools and teachers grow with this how they see fit. I just wanted to let it go, see what happened.”

Because the students are providing the devices, and they can’t assume students have certain programs, the school has to focus on web-based applications. The students at Osseo are using the Google Apps suite extensively. Wilson points to one of the more common uses of mobile learning: “if students have a writing assignment, they do the work, and then rather than printing it, they share it with Google Docs and then the teacher can now engage in the process. They can be a part of the project at the draft level, providing formative assessment along the way.”

Wilson notices that students are more directed in their learning. “The typical pattern would be a teacher gives an assignment, tells them how they want it to be done, and then they’ll grade it. Now, it is more ‘this is what I want you to learn, and you can decide how you want to demonstrate that.’ So now a student can create a Google spread sheet, or another might do it on a calculator, and another might just do it on paper. But now teachers are more comfortable with these different methods—they are ok with giving up that prescriptive approach. It seems like such a little thing, but it is huge.”

While program-specific professional development was not originally implemented, Wilson concedes that as Copernicus grows they may need to look into more teacher training. Otherwise, Osseo Public Schools has had very few issues, as Wilson points out, “You know, it’s been very easy for us, so I think that really there shouldn’t be anything standing in the way of any school attempting this type of initiative. We haven’t changed any school policies, we didn’t modify our acceptable use policy—ours is very general, and is very elastic toward changing technology. From a policy standpoint, nothing should be holding you back.”



  • Enrollment: 21,000 Students
  • Teachers/Staff: 1,600
  • Community: Large Urban school district located in Minneapolis, MN
  • Ethnicity: 55% Caucasian, 23% African American, 14% Asian, 7% Hispanic, 1% American Indian

Mobile Learning Explorer

Camilla GaglioloCamilla Gagliolo
Instructional Technology Director

Jamestown Elementary School
Arlington Public Schools

“If we apply the ways they learn outside of school inside school, we have a better chance of reaching them.”

Spotlight on Mobile Learning
In 2004, Jamestown Elementary school was looking for a way to tap into their students’ interests and enthusiasm for technology, and apply that energy to specific areas that needed instructional improvement. “If we apply the ways they learn outside of school inside school, we have a better chance of reaching them,” says Camilla Gagliolo, Instructional Technology Director. The school decided to pursue mobile-learning devices in an effort to get as close to what students were already doing in their outside world, and take advantage of those technologies and what they can provide in an instructional setting, notes Gagliolo. “And if we can get these devices for $100 as opposed to a $1000 laptop, we can get more out of the technology for all students. So now we have portable learning devices that we can use where we need them rather than having to walk down to a computer lab.”

The school is currently providing the devices for the students, but they are using a unique and interesting model. According to Gagliolo, the school provides “toolkits” for every grade level. “Each grade level gets 10 or so iPods and 10 or so iPads, so that classes can share. We have a few that can go home, but basically it is for instruction at school only. Some students have brought their own technology; not in every occasion, but we have allowed students to bring Nintendo DS’s as well so that we have a much fuller set available,” says Gagliolo. Students are using these technologies across the curriculum in different ways to create multimedia, writing projects, and podcasts, and they are also able to do many math activities with the devices. Teachers at Jamestown are creating stations, where students circle through to learn different subjects and skills. Though they haven’t adopted any specific 21st century learning standards, Gagliolo says, “We look at content delivery skills, creativity, and collaboration. With a lot of these projects, we are hitting ISTE level standards, though it isn’t necessarily a requirement we are trying to fulfill.”

Gagliolo notes that it was difficult to get some on-board with their unorthodox approach to the technology challenge, “The main concern would be the distrust that these devices can serve as instructional tools, among teachers and parents. They view them as play tools, not instructional tools. It took some work, but I think we have shown them that they are wrong.” In many cases, the school has seen that parents are purchasing more of the educational applications that are used during school for learning outside school.

Jamestown Elementary School has been very mindful of trying to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to professional development for their staff. Gagliolo understands the challenge: “it is a huge shift in the classroom dynamic, integrating these tools, and more importantly, letting the students lead.” But she notes that teachers should have more faith in the students, who are the real experts with the technology. “They know how to manage the devices, even if they don’t necessarily know how to set up the instructional piece of the learning.”


  • Enrollment: 580 Students at Jamestown, 21,000 District-wide
  • Community: Suburban district in Arlington, VA
  • Ethnicity: 49% Caucasian, 26% Hispanic, 13% African American, 11% Asian, 1% Other

Mobile Learning Explorer

Kyle MenchhoferKyle Menchhofer
Technology Coordinator

St. Marys City Schools

“Our experience is that teachers are looking for ways to become more effective in the classroom and mobile learning is a great tool to facilitate this.“

Spotlight on Mobile Learning
Kyle Menchhofer, Technology Coordinator at St. Marys City Schools, knows that the “traditional” is changing rapidly when it comes to education, “The way I learned, the way most adults learned, is not the way kids are learning now, and we have to adapt, quickly.” Currently St. Marys is entering their third year of a mobile-learning program, in which students use school-provided mobile devices to facilitate learning in the classroom. Menchhofer, who hopes to extend their current program, which includes grades 3–6, into the 7th grade this year, notes, “Our experience is that teachers are looking for ways to become more effective in the classroom and mobile learning is a great tool to facilitate this. The positive energy that is being generated has infiltrated our district, and it has been awesome.” But he is working hard to balance the excitement with careful planning: “Well all of this is so new, and one misstep could derail the whole thing, so I am being cautious…my goal is to add a grade-level a year.”

Menchhofer believes that the biggest success of this mobile-learning program is the ability to level the playing field, socioeconomically and academically: “Our rich kids and our poor kids all have the same device, same software, same access…It really helps with differentiation.” St. Marys is able to provide devices for their students through government eRate funding. Currently, Verizon is providing LG Fathom smart phones, which will be in use for two years before replacing the technology. And, because access to broadband funding is one of the major roadblocks for the program, Menchhofer is able to sell the old phones to a recycling facility, and apply the proceeds to the broadband costs. Verizon is also providing network monitoring support and content filtering, all of which is allowing the district to apply that money to other costs to keep the program running.

St. Marys knows that professional development for the teachers will be critical for the program’s success, but they are not mandating any type of technology competency goals just yet. “We are letting the teachers kind of find their way through this on their own. Really, the manner of teaching has not changed; we have just modernized the way that students communicate with their teacher,” says Menchhofer. “What we are finding is that when a teacher assigns something, the students are asking to use the MLD or the Sketchy program to draw something out or create a chart or concept map. So now kids have a real impact on how and where they are going to learn.” Menchhofer notes that the students’ communications with their parents have improved along with the program, saying, “Parents are always commenting on the fact that now their children cannot wait to tell them about what they did at school that day! Before students were powering up to live, and powering down to learn, so it is exciting to see this transformation, where they are living and learning with technology.”


419-394-7278 ext. 1405

  • Enrollment: 2,100 Students
  • Teachers/Staff: 200 District-wide
  • Community: Rural school district located in St. Mary’s, OH
  • Ethnicity: 96% Caucasian, 1% Asian, 3% Multi-Racial

Mobile Learning Explorer

Catherine WymanCatherine Wyman
Program Director for Technology
Xavier College Preparatory Roman Catholic High School

The planning process not only made way for mobile learning but equally important, it clarified the technology standards and competencies the school would implement."

Spotlight on Mobile Learning
Several years ago, the parents of the students at Xavier College Preparatory Roman Catholic High School were shocked to learn that their daughters were going to college without proper knowledge of course management systems—so they got involved! The alumnae parents worked with the Board of Trustees to from a committee to complete a comprehensive needs-assessment over a two-year period, they interviewed a diverse group of stakeholders, and researched best practices. What they devised was a 3-year strategic plan. They hired Catherine Wyman to implement technology into the school to enrich the academics, and better prepare the students for college and future careers.

“The planning process not only made way for mobile learning but equally important, it clarified the technology standards and competencies the school would implement,” according to Wyman. Those technology competencies for the students include: file management skills, backing up work, email etiquette, use of electronic calendars, ability to work collaboratively with Google Apps, course management applications, web 2.0, podcasts, and blog creation. And the same goes for the teachers at Xavier. They are being held to the same standards. “There has to be a shift in the paradigm,” says Wyman, “it’s not just ‘Well I can use technology when we do such-and-such activity,’ we’ve really had to let go of the reins. If you’re scared, try something small, like freerice.com—a simple vocabulary game. Then you can build on that success. There are so many places to go with it.”

The students at Xavier are currently using mobile learning to complete individual projects, work collaboratively on lab reports, and use the Google Apps suite for a variety of assignments. To address any digital inequities, Xavier Prep has discreetly worked with grant money to provide devices to students who don’t have the funds to purchase their own, and so far this system has been adequate. “Ideally, in the future we will have grant opportunities in place for any student who needs assistance,” says Wyman. Currently the school provides the network connection, as well as the web-filtering for internet safety. Wyman insists that “we didn’t have to change very much. We just had to update the student handbooks, and educate teachers on appropriate use of Facebook, etc.” Other than a few instances where the network has been down, Wyman remains very positive, “You have to bring a sense of humor. The network will not be down forever—it should provide a new opportunity to think on your feet.” Wyman’s advice to any educator interested in starting mobile learning initiatives at their schools: “you must have top-down support, or it will fail. But just find some people on your team who are open-minded and do a pilot.”



  • Enrollment: 1,200 Students
  • Teachers/Staff: 200
  • Community: Urban school district located in Phoenix, AZ
  • Ethnicity: 75% Caucasian, 15% Hispanic, 6% Asian, 3% African American, 1% American Indian