What might a Home screen reveal?

 In Lessons and Ideas, Neil Andersen, Secondary

Many students’ smartphone home screens are a random collection of app icons while others are carefully curated and organized. How might teachers use these variations for a fun, practical and educational experience?

For example, what might this home screen reveal about its user?

Male or female? Parent or childless? Working or unemployed? Athletic or inactive?

Explain how you determined the answer to each question.

List 5 more characteristics that you might infer from the icons, their clustering, arrangement on the screen, the background image, etc.

How might this concept be applied to the classroom?

1. The teacher could ask students to capture and send home screens.

The screens might be projected and discussed in terms of what they reveal about the owners.

Some students might be able to guess the owners of specific screens based on the appearance. (Students might have to change their background images to a generic image to mask their IDs.)

Caveat: some comments might be personal and judgmental. Teachers might collect screens from students in other schools/classes.

Here is the home screen of someone I know. What can you tell about the person?  What questions might you ask them to assess their life activities, then customize a home screen to optimize their online life?


2. Students might examine the above screen and assess the effectveness of its organization. Then they might debate and formulate tips for maximizing screen organization. This might even result in a guide for good organization, an example of which can be found here.

3. Students might create—and justify—the home screen for a character they are studying.

The character might be imaginary, e.g., Marcus Yallow in Little Brother or Homeland, Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, or Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. (The latter 2 existed before smartphones, so some agreement over suspension of disbelief will have to be negotiated.)

The character might be historic (Alan Turing, an early computer programming genius, Marshall McLuhan, an early media literacy scholar, Harriet Tubman, a famous Underground Railroad guide.)

The character might be living (David Suzuki, an ecology activist, Cory Doctorow, an online freedom activist, Malala, a women’s rights activist, a sports star, mayor, senator, prime minister, president.)

Defending choices is one of the highest order thinking skills, so asking students to design and defend someone else’s home screen is a good way to promote critical thinking.

These activities exploit popular culture activities to help students think critically and be more media literate.

(This lesson idea can be adapted to both Elementary and Secondary classrooms – ed.)

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