Mobile Monday: 6 neat ways you can use Apple’s “Siri” with your students

Quick overview: Siri is the name of Apple’s artificial intelligence assistant that is built-in to Apple’s newest iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Much more than just a gimmick, did you know Siri can be a useful tool for your students too? No app purchase required.

How does it work? If you hold down the home button on a newer mobile Apple device and a Siri voice prompt will appear. Simply ask your question by talking to your device. It may sound like science fiction but it works surprisingly well!  Here are some things your students can ask Siri:

1) Ask Siri to define any word in the English language: Not only will Siri give you a definition of the word, but she’ll provide you with the spelling too. This is a neat trick when know how to pronounce a word but aren’t sure how to spell it! (You would say: define conjunctivitis)

2) Ask Siri to perform simple or complex mathematical calculations: Siri can do mathematical calculations or provide students with comparisons of statistical information sourced from Wolfram Alpha. (You would say: What is 18% of 934? plot 4x + 12, compare the GDP of Canada vs. Sweden, what is 4.2kg in pounds? What is the boiling point of lithium?)

3) Ask Siri to show you any geometric shape or an image: Ask Siri to show you an isosceles triangle, a circle, or even a velociraptor! You’ll get an image along with other pertinent information (You would say: What is an isosceles triangle or What does a velociraptor look like?)

4) Ask Siri to transform your voice into a written e-mail or note: This is what Siri does best. Students can dictate and Siri will transform their spoken words into text. (Talk to Siri in a regular speaking voice but include all punctuation.)

5) Ask Siri to translate individual words from English into any other language, such as French: Use Siri for on-the-fly translation.. (You would say: What is Breakfast in French?)

6) Ask Siri for important dates:  Yes, Siri does history too! (You would say: When was the battle of Hastings or when did the Beatles break up?)

Can I see an example? Watch the following video (make sure to set YouTube to full screen or you won’t see much) if you’d like to see Siri in action:


Should I let my students use their iPhones or iPads in-class with Siri? Absolutely! However, there’s a time and place for everything. Just as you wouldn’t allow your students to talk to friends while you’re teaching, they shouldn’t start “speak” to Siri either. The idea is that perhaps we can start using mobile devices to help with lower level blooms (i.e. – remembering facts, dates, or calculating by hand) and start using more class time to do activities that promote higher order thinking skills. At the end of the day, I’m not saying Siri is THE reason to start using iPads in the classroom (far from it) but I feel that it’s one way to show how mobile devices can provide students with almost instant access to information.

Benefits and limitations: I think we’ve covered the benefits in this article. As for limitations, Siri requires an active Internet connection to work. She also won’t work well if you student has a thick accent. Last but not least, it takes a little getting used talking to a machine. Whenever I talk to Siri in public, I often get more than a few stares!