Mathematics and/or a Robot

He’s going to do math for me.” by firepile is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Digital devices are everywhere. They’re in homes, in public transport and also in schools. People have different opinions on smartphones in the classroom. Some want to ban them, others want to use them for educational purposes. When I was in elementary school the telefoontas was introduced. This was a bag hanging on the wall next to the door. When you walked into the classroom you first had to put your phone in the bag before you were allowed take a seat. At my school the idea of this bag was announced on the first of April. At first, students thought that it was a joke, but it wasn’t. Still, smartphones were not totally banned. Sometimes we were told to get our phone and play a KAHOOT quiz. In this blog I will first discuss how digital tools can motivate students to learn. Then I will discuss how they can distract students from learning. After that I will give some advice on how to avoid getting distracted. Finally, the blog will end with a conclusion and a question for further discussion on the topic.

A Motivation to Learn

In the video above you can watch a robot, called Robin, teach children in languages. The children react very excited about the robot. They want to tell Robin a lot of stories and they want to give him hugs. For them Robin is more human than robot. There is also research on robots teaching mathematics. This robot has the ability to ask personalized question. First he tries to get to know the kid. For example, he might ask whether the kid likes dogs. If the kid does, the robot might ask the following question:

Recently, I had to walk dogs. I worked ten days and walked five dogs a day. How many dogs have I walked in total? So now you have to calculate what 10 × 5 is.

By asking personalized questions the robot makes the subject more fun for the children. Digital tools are not only used for small children. They are also used in elementary schools. For example, there is an organization called Escape the Classroom and it creates escape rooms for school classes. Those escape rooms are educational and they’re fun.

A Distraction from Learning

Sadly, digital devices in the classroom also have negative effects on the learning process of students. This is mostly true for smartphones. Research has proven that smartphones in the classroom form a big distraction for students. That’s why the Dutch government has decided to urgently advise schools to ban smartphones from the classroom, for elementary schools starting from January 2024 and for primary schools starting from next school year. It’s not just smartphones, though, that can form a distraction for students. Even the math robot can be distractive. The children feel a social connection with the robot. The robot is, however, not just supposed to be their friend but also their teacher. He should not just chat with the children, but also teach them stuff.

How to Avoid Distractions

Here are three tips to avoid distractions while working:

  1. Organize your workspace. In an organized workspace it is easier to find the things you need. That will help to stay focused. See my blog called How to Declutter your Digital Space for advise on how to declutter your workspace.
  2. Stay off social media. It is quiet hard not to check your phone when you hear the ringtone, though it might sound easy. Turning of your phone and putting it somewhere out of sight may help to stay focused on your work.
  3. Set a timer for breaks. You could for instance use the Pomodoro Technique to keep you from getting distracted. This method works with intervals which are separated by short breaks. The perspective of a break can give people some extra motivation to continue working.

In conclusion, using digital tools for education has advantages. They can help motivating students. They do, however, also have disadvantages. Students might forget the purpose of the tool while having fun. This is not just about smartphones, but also about for instance robots. In the last part of the blog I gave some advice on how to avoid being distracted while working. I am curious to know: Do you use your smartphone during courses? If so, where do you use your phone for? And do you think your phone forms a distraction?


Jansen, M. (June 3, 2022). Robots houden je bij de les. NEMOKennislink.

Rijksoverheid. Gebruik van mobiele telefoons niet toegestaan in de klas.