So many kids have cell phones these days. It appears as if the cell phone is a standard issue school supply for students starting in 5th or 6th grade. I will admit that my own two daughters (ages 14 and 11) have cell phones, and these phones have come in handy on many occasions over the last year or two.
Of course, the kids are not really talking much on the phones. Instead, they are sending and receiving text messages. Text messaging has become quite the rage in the last couple of years. One month, my older daughter sent and received more than 6500 texts. Yes, we do have an unlimited family text messaging plan. Of course, the messages look something like this:
“how r u”
“k, nd u”
“k. r u goin to j’s house fri”
“idk. r u goin”
And so on into the night. The old English teacher in me shudders when I see these messages, but I digress. The point of this post is that we are not going to stop this method of teenage communication, so we should not even make an effort to try. Instead, it is time to embrace the text messengers and use their new-found passion to our advantage in school.
However, there are a few hurdles to jump over first. One of them is school policies prohibiting cell phones in classrooms. My own school policy regarding cell phones (which I wrote a couple of years ago) reads like this:
Students may bring cell phones into the school, however, the phones must be turned off and stored in backpacks and/or lockers during school hours (8:50-3:10). Students may not use a cell phone (talk or text message) during school hours. Students who abuse this cell phone policy will have their phones confiscated.
This is probably similar to most school policies on this issue. Of course, we are an elementary school, so this may be appropriate, although I am not so sure anymore.
Anyway, an interesting thing happened a few weeks ago that has me rethinking my views on cell phones in schools – especially middle and high schools. One day, my wife received a text message from our 14 year old at 11:00 am. This was the message: “Am I Polish?”
Say what? Such a random question to ask in the middle of the day. And, BTW, kiddo, why are you texting during school hours? You cold get in trouble for that. They have policies…
My daughter’s answer (aside from “everyone texts in school, Dad”) was that she was involved in an interesting discussion about immigration in social studies, and she wanted to find out about her heritage. She was so interested, in fact, that she wanted the answer immediately after class was over, so she went into the bathroom and sent a text message to her mom looking for an answer.
That is cool! The teacher created a spark in a student, and the student used an easily available tool to kindle a flame. WOW. What if teachers let students use their cell phones as another research tool? What if sometimes, teachers let students discuss books, articles, current events, and other topics via text messaging? Do you think the students would be psyched to get to work? I do.
What if teachers let students use their cell phones to connect with “real people” out in the world? Wouldn’t this help to make learning more authentic? Again, I think it would.
So here is the second part of the story. I met the principal of our local high school today at a conference (Michael Fullan was the speaker, but that is fodder for a different post). Anyway, she and I started talking about technology use in schools, and our conversation got around to cell phones. I said to her,
“You know, the kids in your school are texting all day long, even though you have policies…”
And she replied, “Of course they are. We know that, and maybe that isn’t so bad.”
This was another WOW moment for me. Our high school principal is looking the other way in regard to this hot button of an issue. She then explained that she is working with the superintendent to allow certain classes to use text messaging as another way of communicating in school. I was quite impressed with this educator’s forward-thinking point of view.
We both agreed that the teachers’ job is to teach how to use this technology in a responsible and educational manner, and that teachers should somehow have access to the “work” done on the phones.
Anyway, I am hoping that my daughter’s principal can start some type of new initiative that allows appropriate cell phone use in schools. I think the time has come for this to happen.