Lesson Plan

So How Much Do We Use Our Mobile Devices?

A student-teacher research project to explore (and get hard data on) mobile device use
James D.
Educator/Curriculum Developer
IdeaDriven Education
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My Grades 6, 7, 8
My Subjects English Language Arts, Social Studies, English Language Learning

Students will be able to...

  • Devise a method to gather data on their mobile device use
  • Extrapolate from that data to attempt to draw conclusions
  • Use principles of computational thinking to deconstruct a complex problem
  • Use principles of computational thinking to search for patterns in the data
  • Use principles of computational thinking to abstract (apply) results in different ways

Note that this lesson plan was inspired by this article from dscout.

English Language Arts
Social Studies
Health & Wellness
Grades 6 – 12
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Hook: Setting the stage for the 'problem'

Activity: Conversing

The goal here is to engage in an informal exploration of the extent of our mobile device use. 

I posed the question to my students "How much/how often/to what extent do you use your mobile devices (phones and tablets) each day?"

We started in pairs with students discussing their use. We then came back together as a whole group with students sharing their responses and me simply moderating the discussion and asking additional questions.

2 Definitions

Activity: Debating

We quickly came to realize that our responses were all over the map. Students pointed out that:

  • There were problems with the question;
  • Determining how much we used devices was very difficult;
  • One factor that made it difficult was that many uses were just a few seconds;
  • Another factor that complicated things was that sometimes we use the device for a long time (e.g., when listening to music) but it's just in the background;
  • There were personal uses, school uses, and 'family' uses (calls from parents, etc.); and
  • We needed definitions and units if we were going to be able to accurately measure device use. 

So that was our next step - determining definitions and units


We considered time as a unit, but students pointed out that sometimes they used their phones for just a few seconds at a time and that this was hard to measure. 

In the end we settled on how often we touched the screen (to unlock, to swipe, to type, to answer a call, etc.). 


Students divided their use into three broad categories:

  • School (when a teacher asked students to use a mobile device to look something up, complete a task, etc.)
  • Personal (anything from chat to instagram to talking on the phone)
  • Parents (having to message or call family)

[Note: I guided this discussion, pointing out flaws in potential units.]

3 How to count (deconstructing the problem)

Activity: Exploring

We have done a lot of work on computational thinking with one of the key concepts being the deconstruction of complex problems and tasks.  

I posed the question to my students "How would we actually count/measure mobile device use using the definitions and units you decided on?"

Again, we started in pairs to discuss and then moved on to the whole group to come up with methods. 

Students came up with these initial ideas: 

  • Straight counts through self-monitoring
  • A sample count through self-monitoring
  • Either of the above with a partner

In discussion they identified some problems including:

  • Using the device and counting touches at the same time was complicated (so we needed a partner).
  • Sampling was complicated because use varied very much depending on time of day, day of week, etc.).

Students, through discussion decided to use sampling but in the following ways:

  • Identify a partner who would/could monitor use in each of the different blocks of time.
  • Switch off with the partner by day during the course of our study. 
  • Identify the periods of time by:
    • School use
    • Outside of school time but busy times (sports, activities, tutoring, etc.)
    • Family times (dinner, going out, etc.)
    • Totally free time during the week
    • Weekday and weekend
  • They would use a tally sheet with the categories of time they had defined (school, outside of school, family, totally free, and weekend).
  • The partner would shadow them for 15 minute intervals and tally.
  • I would be responsible for letting teachers know when students would be doing their data collection (and getting permission).

Students ran the experiment over the course of 4 days with two days of monitoring by each partner (2 being monitored and 2 monitoring). We chose two days so that students could make arrangements to be at each other's homes, in the right classes, etc.

Here is the tally sheet we used.

4 Data analysis

Activity: Investigating


After the data was collected students had to figure out how they could use the data. School times were easy to figure out because the numbers were small and the hours in the day were fixed.

Students multiplied the number of touches recorded in their samples to get a typical hour in school and then that number by the number of hours in the day.

Outside of school but busy times

This was more complicated for some students if they did not have a 'typical day' (i.e., lots of variation). In those cases some students did another data collection.

They then followed the same calculation model.

Family time

This also took some additional sampling for some students if there were big variations in their family routines. Again, this was up to individual pairs of students.

Free time

This was the hardest for most students because there were so many variables like time they went to bed, time spent on homework, etc. Some decided that they needed to do some analysis of those variables and collect data again.


Each pair of students analyzed their results and prepared a visual representation of their data. I encouraged them to keep this private until we revealed data, but most were too excited to do so.

Before the discussion and sharing of all data, each student tabulated the data and briefly answered a few questions to prepare for the follow up discussion using this form .

On the day we revealed data, we tabulated averages per person, looked at which areas were highest (personal and free time), discussed potential flaws in our data and data collection, shared impressions (some shocked, others not surprised, etc.), and discussed whether this was a cause for concern. 

5 Reflection

Activity: Assessing

Each student wrote a reflection of the experience detailing their reactions, the methodology, the potential shortcomings in the process (competition, over zealousness by their monitor, self-restraint because of the experiment, etc.), and whether we should be concerned by their findings. 

This last part (whether we should be concerned) was part of a group discussion/Socratic seminar. As prep for the discussion, students read the piece from dscout