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Technology already bridges many divides in the 21st century classroom — but with the right approach, it can do even more. Students are now walking in with devices that can look up information in a fraction of a second. It is our job as educators to show students how to harness that power and information — and help them gain the knowledge they need in our class.

This is my tenth year in the classroom, and I took a two-year hiatus between my third and fourth years of teaching. I was surprised at how quickly technology had changed during those two years. The technology that my students possessed was continuing to evolve and change. Students were turning to “smart devices” — and to succeed, I was going to have to be smarter in how I incorporated the devices into my teaching.

There are various definitions of smart devices. For my purposes, I define them as Internet-enabled devices, like tablets, laptops, iPods, or cell phones, that can multi-task and operate interactively but autonomously, working through Bluetooth, WiFi, or wireless signal. More and more of my students were bringing them into class. What was I going to do? I resolved to get smarter in how I worked with them, and embrace the change.

What is BYOD? How can I make it work?

In my case, I decided to change my classroom into a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment — otherwise, I would be constantly interrupting my lessons, activities, and work sessions with “Put it up!” or, “Johnny, you have detention.” I knew I had to set some parameters and goals for using the devices, and also decide how I wanted to use the devices in my class — that is, whether in groups, as quiz tools, as learning activities, or as whole-group observations.

The correct implementation of BYOD requires that students know the expectations of how and when they can use their devices. To help them gain this understanding, I discuss the class norms of what using smart devices in class will look like. For example, I like to play music in my room while I work, and I have a student “DJ of the day” in order to prevent any battles over earbuds/headphones. Devices have to be turned off and put up by my desk during quizzes and tests. I also keep a “cell phone beaker” on my desk, where students must put their phones if they are caught using them at an inappropriate time or not following directions for using the device during a task. After I’ve walked my students through what I expect them to do with their devices, I show them how we are going to use them in class — which for us falls into two categories: Organization & Communication and Teaching, Reviewing, & Assessing Chemistry.

BYOD for Organization and Communication

Consider using a learning management system (LMS). An LMS will allow you to create a password-protected place where you can provide updates to students, store documents, and let students upload assignments. Most LMS systems (Edmodo, Schoology, and Google Classroom, for example) have apps available in Android and iOS that enable your students to submit work and allow you to grade on the go, or post updates, assignments, or videos. They also allow for parent codes so that parents can “shadow” their students.

Some LMS programs also provide the ability to create and grade tests and quizzes, with the option to link to external test banks or write your own questions. Such programs can work in conjunction with other programs, such as Turnitin. There are even groups (similar to Facebook groups) that you can join to network with other professionals. These popular programs each have a free version, as well as a paid version that a district or school can purchase.

If you can’t or don’t want to use an LMS, you could consider using a blog or website. Depending on how your school system operates, you may be required to keep an active blog that shows what happens in your class. If you are not doing so, I would encourage it, as it helps in many aspects (AACT published an article about blogging that I found to be a good resource).

Whether you use a LMS or a blog, there are a number of benefits. First, it keeps you and your students organized. You can upload assignments to the blog/LMS itself or hyperlink them using Google Drive. Students can then access the assignments during class and submit their work to a Drive folder. Going paperless not only means making less copies of assignments — it also means a student can no longer tell you that they lost their homework! Second, it is a great way to quickly communicate with everyone in and out of class. There are multiple user-friendly blogging and website building options, with great templates available. Typepad, Wordpress, Wix, Weebly, Edublog, and Google Sites are a few of them.

BYOD for Teaching, Reviewing, & Assessing Chemistry

There are fun ways to teach and review chemistry. You can have a student who has a device listen to a lecture as a review. I make my own flips using the eBeam software on my laptop and its record feature. Alternatively, you could use Screencast-o-Matic, ShowMe, or Explain Everything. I do this with students who need to review, want to accelerate, or who have been absent and need to catch up during a work session.


After I make my videos, I upload them to my LMS and my own private YouTube channel and give the link to the students when they ask. I’ve also sent students to Crash Course and Khan Academy, and happen to love ChemPro, which is done in podcast style with slides and a voiceover, making it good for students who were absent. ChemPro has both a free version (good for teaching general chemistry) and a paid version (better for AP/college chemistry). It gives the students a good alternative perspective, in case they don’t like my own style.

Check Out These Student-Friendly Resources!

The Internet has almost countless science and chemistry learning resources, created by science educators, that your students can sample. Some of my favorites:

In a BYOD classroom environment, learning can occur in a variety of ways at the same time: I may have one group of students working on problems from yesterday because they’re behind, another group working in the lab, and one or two other groups working on today’s assignment. I can also have them read or review from an online text or another teacher’s site (see sidebar), allowing me to extend my classroom and time.

BYOD is key when I have pockets of time in class and I want the kids to have a quick review. I can have them review on their own or when they are waiting on other groups to finish. Incorporating technology in this way extends my question sets and resources, as I don’t have to come up with all the questions or input them into the student response system or find the Scantrons.

Sometimes, I’ll challenge students to do a few questions using G Whiz’s 5 Steps to a 5 for AP Chem. This program offers multiple-choice questions, with either a quiz mode or a learning (or browse) mode that gives the rationale for right and wrong answers, as well as choices for single- or multi-topic format. Stetson University has made Mah Jong Chemistry, which is also a blast. It reviews a ton of different topics that can help students grasp things like oxidation numbers, formal charge, acids and bases, and more.

BYOD can be really fun in the classroom for group review or discussion as well. Who doesn’t love a good competition? My kids love to show me what they know — and I love to let them do so in ways that don’t require a lot of effort from me. We have loud contests, individually and in teams, with Kahoot. I’ve done quick assessments using fun formative assessment cards called Plickers, in which students respond to questions by holding up one of four cards representing different multiple choice answers, and features images similar to QR code. The teacher uses an app on his or her phone to quickly scan the responses, collect the data and tally up correct responses.

I can also quickly poll what my students know, or have them brainstorm, log questions for later, or answer each other’s questions using backchannel chatting/idea catching tools like Padlet, Wordle, PollEverywhere, Dotstorming, 81Dash, and TodaysMeet. There are many ways that you can assess the knowledge of your students that don’t involve a piece of paper or pencil. For example, Chemistry Solutions recently published an article on exploring modeling and assessment using Google Drawings. Or how about instead of using a PowerPoint or Prezi — which have both been done to death — use an app such as ThingLink or Haiku Deck? Using these apps, students can demonstrate their subject matter knowledge by creating interactive photographs or graphics with embedded links that a user can click on to get more information. All of these are ways to engage your students without having to truck to the computer lab.

BYOD is crucial when you don’t have resources for labs. Sometimes you don’t have the equipment or finances, but you can do a simulation. Fortunately, more companies and universities are offering lab simulation resources that are compatible with smart devices (see sidebar).

When a Brick-and-Mortar Lab Isn’t Handy …

There are many sites that provide interactive labs and activities with teacher resources. Here are some of the best I’ve found:

A better path?

I’m glad to say I do no longer have to fight the phone/device battle in my classroom, mainly because I have empowered my students to use their devices appropriately. They’re learning to search more effectively — so instead of telling me that some piece of information “doesn’t exist,” they problem-solve and use a synonym for the term they’re seeking. They’re also learning that neither I nor their textbook have to be the sole source for information. Just as importantly, they’re learning to use technology to be able to more effectively create cohesive arguments and defend their positions.

Do we use smart devices all day, or every day? Of course not. However, I do provide opportunities for my students to learn when using technology is appropriate and when it’s not — just like any other classroom expectation.

I hope that these tips about when, how, and why to use BYOD will encourage you as you plan for next year, whether you’re starting something new or expanding on what you are already doing.