While some teachers confiscate cell phones if they ring during class, and others frown on allowing advanced calculator applications on iPhones and other smart phones to replace "real" calculators in math classes, a project in Texas is taking the opposite approach and giving students cell phones loaded with educational software.

A project at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in Keller, Texas, has equipped 53 fifth-grade students with phones containing "Mobile Learning Environment" software developed by University of Michigan scientist Elliot Soloway.

The software essentially turns the phones into computers that, according to Soloway, allow them to do just about everything a laptop can do for a fraction of the price.

Students can use the phones to map concepts, animate drawings, surf "relevant parts" of the Internet and integrate material into their lessons. Noting that many students already carry sophisticated cell phones, Soloway described mobile devices as "the new paper and pencil."

Matt Cook, the 5th grade teacher who created the test project using the phones and software, said the phones "will be seamlessly integrated into my lessons." Students, he said, will be more interested in lessons "because we're talking in the students' language. Any time you can do that, you're a lot more likely to be heard."

Inside Science News Service is supported by the American Institute of Physics.