More About the Use of Cell Phones in Schools

I have written numerous posts about the use of cell phones in school for educational purposes, and I continue to search for others who have written on the same topic.  Here is a great article which states the many reasons for allowing students to use cell phones and other handheld electronic devices (such as iPods) in classrooms.

Think Before You Ban: A Handheld Is a Powerful Learning Tool

According to By Bob Longo of TechNewsWorld,

“… looking at the world outside of education, everyone is using their cell phone to do many things they used to do exclusively on their computers. Much of this is informational and productivity related. Furthermore, cell phones or other PDAs are very cost effective and significantly more portable. Schools that cannot afford to deploy a 1:1 laptop initiative could achieve a 1:1 with a mix of laptops and lower-cost portable devices like an iPod touch.

Part of the solution, I believe, is not to ban enabling technologies that possess great value in the learning environment, but rather manage the risks that may surface in the same way we manage all risks to our children. Some of this can be done with technology, some with education and some with policy and supervision. We don’t prohibit playing in the schoolyard because it borders a street; we put up a fence, we add a supervisor and we instruct the children not to run after a ball that goes into the street. Similarly, with well-constructed software learning environments, we can provide teachers with management tools to protect our students; we can access Web 2.0 technologies and push value to our children and at the same time provide a safe and secure learning space for them to explore and prepare for the excitement of the technology-rich world they live in.”

I hope you will read this article and pass it along to other educators.


Texting and Driving

Tomorrow I will be taking my 15 year old daughter, Marni, to get her driving learner’s permit.  OMG!  I remember when my dad took me to get my permit.  Later that day we went to a deserted parking lot so I could drive around and get a feel of the car.  Then we went out onto the road.  Wow!  That was exciting and very nerve racking.  I am not sure who had the whiter knuckles – me or my dad.

I plan on doing the same thing with Marni tomorrow.  I will take her out somewhere and let her take the wheel.  Will we go out on the road?  I’m not sure she and I are ready for that yet!  I’m sure my dad thought the same thing 32 years ago, however.  Watching my daughter learn to drive will bring back so many memories for me like my first time on the expressway, my first left hand turn in traffic, and my first experience parallel parking.  I also will remember the stupid things I did as a neophyte driver (I’m keeping those to myself in case my parents are reading this!).  Thinking back, I wonder how I survived those days.

This morning I was watching the Today Show on NBC, and they had a piece on the dangers of texting while driving.  This is when it hit me that my little girl will be out on the road facing the awesome responsibility and inherent dangers that all drivers face.  Featured in this story was the sad tale of a 17 year old girl who was killed on her way to school becasue she was sending text messages while she was driving.  The story goes on to explain how texting while driving has been proven to be more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.

Well, my daughter is the queen of cell phone texting, having been known to send/receive more than 4,000 texts in one month.  And, until now, I have not had a problem with that.  I have gone so far as to argue why cell phones and texting should be allowed in our schools (see here, here, and here).  Now, it appears as if my daughter’s world of texting and the very adult world of driving are about to collide (no pun intended).

I can guarantee that Marni will be watching this story tonight, before she gets her learner’s permit.  She must see and undersand the danger in this behavior before she gets behind the wheel.

Soon enough, Marni will have a driver’s license which will be very convenient for our family.  I am looking forward to the day when I can send her out to the store or take her younger sister places.  However, I also am dreading the day when she is driving by herself, no longer under my wachful eye in the seat next to her.  How will I know that she is focused on the road and not on her cell phone?

If you have a cell phone and a driver’s license, please click on the link below to watch the video.  I only wish they had included the acts of shaving, applying make-up, reading the paper, and eating cheeseburgers in this story.  I am seeing those activities taking place behind the wheel as well.

Texting and Driving

I’m Not Changing My Mind About Cell Phones…

Regardless of what transpired at school yesterday,  I am not changing my mind regarding cell phones at school.  See the posts here and here for my earlier thoughts on this topic.

Here’s what happened.  A fifth grade girl got on the bus at the last stop on the way to school.  There were no open seats next to other girls, so she was forced to sit next to a fifth grade boy.  A group of fifth grade boys thought that was funny, so they started teasing the two kids who were sharing the seat.  The pre-adolescent teasing took a turn for the worse when the boys yanked out their cell phones and started taking pictures of the “couple.”

The boys were adding graphics such as hearts to the pictures on their phones, and they were threatening to send the pictures to other fifth graders’ cell phones.  The girl was covering her face and telling the boys to stop.  They continued with their taunting, taking pictures and teasing the two kids, even as she pleaded for them to stop.  It ended when the bus arrived at school a few minutes later.

This caused some big time embarrassment and grief to both the girl and the boy in the seat.  The girl was especially upset, and she immediately told her teacher who shared the story with me.  I, of course, dealt with these boys in an appropriate manner, and I spoke with each of their parents at length.  Fortunately, all of the parents were horrified at the behavior of their sons, and I think these boys are in for a long weekend at home.

I have two big issues with this poor behavior.

First, is the abuse of cell phones on school property including the school bus. The school is responsible for the students’ safety and their behavior on the bus.  We allow cell phones at school so the students can use them to contact their parents in case of an emergency or to change or discuss plans.  The phones should be turned off and stored in backpacks during the school day unless a teacher chooses to use the phones for academic purposes.  That has not yet happened in the elementary school, but I think the day is coming.

This group of students abused the privilege of bringing the phones to school, they used the phones to harass (sexually?) other students, and they invaded others’ right to privacy.  This type of behavior is what causes knee jerk reactions from those who want cell phones banned from school.

Please, do not ban cell phones from schools! Instead, use these examples of poor behavior to teach children to use their phones (and other technologies) responsibly and appropriately.  Teach children the positive uses of technology so that they respect the power they hold in their hands. Instead of eliminating cell phone use in school, use cell phones more in school.  Teach children how they can take and send pictures that relate to the curriculum, that have merit, and that show creativity.  Give children the freedom to explore the uses of technology with the proper guidance and instruction.  I believe that once kids respect the technology, the examples of irresponsibility, cyberbullying, and “sexting” will diminish.

My second big issue with this incident is that the female victim repeatedly told a group of boys to stop their inappropriate behavior, yet they continued to taunt her.  She held her hands over her face, pleading with the boys to stop, but to no avail.

We MUST teach boys that when a girl says “STOP” they have to stop. In other words “No means No.” As the father of two daughters, you can imagine my horror when this realization hit me.  If this is the fifth grade version of sexual harassment, imagine what the high school version might look like – A group of boys surrounding a girl who is begging for them to STOP.  They don’t.  It’s all good fun until…

The image sends chills down my spine.

Regardless of yesterday’s incident on the bus, I am not changing my mind about cell phones in school.

Cell Phones and Cheating

An interesting post was written on LeaderTalk the other day which really hit home with me. The post was titled: General thoughts on handheld technology and assessment (a boring title, but hopefully a good discussion) by Matt Hillmann.  Matt writes about the use of handheld devices in school and about the concept of cheating among students. I was interested in this because I had written a post on the topic of cell phones a few months ago, and just the other day I had a conversation with a colleague about cheating in school.

Here is my take on cell phones and cheating. If we stop giving one answer multiple choice or true/false tests, we can worry less about cheating. Such tests typically assume that the teacher imparts the content to the students all at the same time (e.g.lecture), the students then memorize the information and regurgitate it back to the teacher. If the teacher gives the same exact information to all of the students in the class, then there are no secrets. All of the students have equal access to that information, however, some kids can memorize better than others.  Does that mean they have learned the concepts better?

Instead of using a testing system that is older than John Dewey, teachers should require the students to use the information to solve authentic problems, or to explain or demonstrate their understanding in creative, unique, and different ways. In other words, allow the students to discuss and use the information to problem solve instead of memorize and then forget.

In your daily work, how often do you have to memorize information and repeat it back to your boss? Probably not too often.  Instead, we all use the resources available to us to do our jobs well.

Teachers should be encouraging students to work together and to use all available resources to find answers to challenging problems and questions. If that means a calculator, a computer, a cell phone phone call, or a text message, then that should be allowed. The information is out there – Kids need to learn how to access and use it to solve real, authentic problems, not to memorize and then forget.

Rethinking Cell Phones in School

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:

Cell Phones

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.