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Mobiles for kids?

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Group discussion
Topic: Electromagnetic radiation

Should youngsters have their own mobiles? The government's adviser on radiation thinks not. Suppliers are listening. The first mobile targeted at 4-8 year olds has just been withdrawn. There were concerns about health risks. But what proof is there that the mobiles are harmful? Opinions are divided and the evidence is inconclusive. This is not an unusual situation. The first evidence for a link between smoking and lung cancer was also very uncertain. Policy makers usually follow the precautionary principle. They issue warnings at the first hint of danger. They would rather be safe than sorry. Should we take their advice? Are mobiles are harmful? In this discussion activity, students judge the strength of the evidence.

Published: 21st January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 17

Learning objectives

Students will examine evidence about mobile phone health risks and decide whether they would allow a young child to have one.

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Ideas and evidence (KS3)
The interplay between questions, evidence and scientific explanations using contemporary examples.

Running the activity

Suggested time: 15 minutes

Suggested starter: Ask students how long they spend talking and texting on their mobiles in a typical week. Invite them to talk about health risks they have heard of that are associated mobile phones.

Main activity: Project page 1. This includes newspaper headlines to set the context and an outline of two ways mobiles could damage health. It also introduces a dilemma – should Jack (12) let his sister Emily (8) have a mobile for her birthday, or would he be putting her future health at risk?

The pupil task is described at the top of page 2. The rest of the page provides a set of Evidence Cards. Divide the students into small groups. Each group will need a set of cards. Ask them to discuss the evidence for and against mobiles being safe for youngsters. They should pick out the three most compelling scientific reasons for and against. Then decide whether Jack's sister should get her mobile.

Possible plenary: Ask students to vote yes or no to the question: If there was clear scientific evidence that using a mobile phone could double your chance of getting a tumour, would you [still] use it?

Background Notes: According to Sir William Stewart of the National Radiological Protection Board, author of the 2000 Stewart Report on mobile phone safety, parents should not give phones to children under 8 and should urge those between 8 and 14 to use mobiles only when absolutely essential. 25% of 7-10 year olds own mobiles. Scientists have yet to find proof that the electromagnetic radiation they transmit is dangerous, but Prof Stewart said that new evidence suggested there might be health implications. The radiation frequency is just at the border between radio waves and microwaves. Children are at greater risk than adults because their skulls are thinner and their nervous systems developing. They will also have longer lifetimes of exposure.

The cards reflect some of the arguments above, as well as including some non-scientific reasons. One argument appears as both a reason 'FOR' and 'AGAINST' – this is deliberate, and is designed to get students thinking!

News links

BBC news
This is an excellent and accessible summary of most of the key issues.
Stewart Report
This is part of the Stewart Report. It is interesting teacher background information, which is very clearly written (but extremely long and technical!)
The Guardian
This is an article in the Guardian summarizing the main issues. It has more manageable teacher background than the Stewart report and accessible to students with good reading skills

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Mobiles for kids?

Nov 10th, 2012

1 Star

Managed to download the teacher notes but not the activity sheet.

Reviewer: Nicola Clewes


Feb 20th, 2012

5 Star

Fantastic activity that will be of interest to pupils.

Reviewer: Chantal Maun

Mobiles for kids? review

Aug 26th, 2011

1 Star

I couldn't download the activity sheets, so didn't use it in the end after spending hours trying.

Reviewer: Cate Sadler-Barker

Mobiles for kids

Jul 6th, 2011

4 Star

I taught this to a group of y10 students in a special school. I used it as it stood and with TA support most of the children were able to sort most of the statements.
It served as a useful introduction to our work on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Reviewer: Helen Norris

"Mobiles for kids?

Jul 11th, 2010

5 Star

i used this activity as a revision exercise for AQA P1b with middle ability Year 10. They loved it. encouraged a lot of discussion and thinking!

Reviewer: Dianne Ward

Mobiles for kids? review

May 25th, 2010

3 Star

Some struggled with having so much to read, but it generally was appealing to the students. Provoked some great discussions.

Reviewer: n baker

Science In The News Skills

May 10th, 2009

4 Star

I used this activity with a low ability year 10 GCSE group. The scenarios on the cards were very useful in getting students to think about not only whether the information was for or against mobile phone use, but also if the info was valid or reliable. This is something they often get wrong when they write up their Science In the News Tasks.

Reviewer: Niamh O' Neill

mobiles for kids

Jan 15th, 2009

4 Star

I found this an excellent activity for teaching AQA 'how Science works' and assessing value of scientific evidence. Kept entire class on task and talking about science

Reviewer: Catherine Aspinall

Mobiles for kids

Jul 10th, 2008

5 Star

Good resource outlining the pro's and con's of mobile phones. Used with year 10, 21century science to form start of case study. pupils liked it and could utilise their findings.

Reviewer: Daniel Beniston

Mobiles for kids

Mar 12th, 2008

4 Star

Worked well as a short activity to introduce the issues for a single science Y10 set. They came up with some interesting ideas (as well as yes and no, some students felt she could wait until she was older to have the mobile), and it was a good way to review benefit and risk for 21st Century Core Science.

Reviewer: Joanna Barnsley

Mobiles for kids

Dec 7th, 2007

4 Star

I used this with a weak group of single science pupils doing entry level for the digital age unit and it worked well.

Reviewer: Pauline Fenton

Mobiles for kids

May 21st, 2007

4 Star

Engaged year 9 students who are normally not interested in participating. Worked well also with motivated and able year 9s, and with middle-ability year 10s.

Reviewer: John Miller

mobile Phones for childres

Apr 30th, 2007

4 Star

I tried this with my year 10's and the pupils found it engaging. As i walked around the room the different groups were discussing the different points as to whether or not the girl should have a phone. In the end everyone decided she wasnt going to get the phone for different reasons. Its a good discussion topic.

Reviewer: Imelda Mc Kenna

Mobiles for kids

Mar 13th, 2007

4 Star

Have just used this with low scientific ability year 10 as part of the newAQA science course (Physics 1b). They were quite engaged in this task and I extended it to the production of an information leaflet for parents. Initially they found it quite hard to focus on scientific reasons, being more interested in the social and personal security aspects, but most moved on to showing some scientific awareness by the end of the lesson. I also provided them with the first 2 pages of the BBC site which gives some pros and cons.

Reviewer: Catherine Robson

Mobile Phones

Feb 6th, 2007

4 Star

Tried it with mixed ability year 7 group. Went very well, kids were able to understand the points well and sort them out into for/against pretty quickly. Didn't spend too long debating points, but did get them to do a "continuum" afterwards to review their position on wether phones are OK or not for young children.

Good activity.

Reviewer: S EG

Mobiles for Kids?

Jun 13th, 2006

5 Star

We used this activity for year 10 students aged 14 to 15., many of whom have found science difficult and, in some cases, irrelevant. They found the activity interesting and engaged with the concepts. The instructions were clear and the teachers found it easy to use. We laminated the cards and used the activity as part of a unit on minerals and their uses in everyday life. The activity gave the students and opportunity to engage with wider scientific issues and their use in informed decision making

Reviewer: Jill Brown

Emily's mobile phone

May 24th, 2005

4 Star

My top set year nine class found this activity very engaging, and it encouraged them to talk to one another about the scientific uncertainties and to discuss the facts.

Most groups came to the view that Emily should not be given a mobile for her birthday. They recognised that some arguments on the evidence cards were more persuasive than others, which led to interesting group disucssions about the nature of scientific evidence and what constitutes 'proof'.

Following the activity we used the link to the website to get more information - I gave students a printout of the information (which could perhaps benefit from being edited for year nine as it is six pages long) and they had to find further evidence to back up their point of view. If they came across evidence that contradicted their point of view, I asked them to think of a counter argument that they could use in a debate which I have planned for a subsequent lesson.

Reviewer: Mark Gale