Q. What are some pros about having cell phones in school for any reason or use?
A. Cell phones are not the enemy. In fact, they are so established as the safety net for families that it is not feasible to ban them from schools.
Parents now pick children up when they call or text to say where they are and when they are finished with various activities. Parents use cell phones to check on their children after school to make sure they are on buses safely headed home. Likewise, children can use cell phones to document bullying happening on buses or to tell parents that something is happening to them on the bus.
Students use cell phones at school to meet up for lunch, making the leaving of campus more efficient—much less standing around waiting for this or that student before leaving, and much more likely to get back to school on time.
Both students and parents use cell phones from their cars on the way to school to report accidents or inclement weather delays that will make a student late to school.
Why cell phones and mobile devices are great for learning
For example, one the most inventive assignments I’ve seen recently is the creation of Facebook profile pages for historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson or Booker T. Washington, and often a Facebook discussion of an important issue of the time period done as posting on their FB walls.
So, imagine a classroom of students, all given a role to play as, say, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, creating a FB profile of themselves and posting about the outcomes of Day 1 of the Convention—or commenting on a character’s blog? Outstanding.
The point I’m trying to make here is that technology has—and should—transform the modern classroom. In focus groups students routinely say that the classes they find “boring” are those that look very traditional—textbooks, desks in rows, a teacher who stands at the front lecturing, the writing of things on chalk boards, workbooks and activity sheets passed out to do at home.
Classes that hold the attention and capture the imagination of students are much more likely to have students seated and working in groups, talking and processing short bursts of information, the use of varied and interesting “text” material which does not necessarily come from a single textbook, role playing, debates, games-as-learning mechanisms, online project-based work, Smart Board activities, Socratic seminar/discussion methodology and students “teaching” portions of class.
When I observe these classrooms, students are, frankly, too busy, animated, and moving around to be on their phones unless their teacher has them doing something purposeful using phones.
This is in stark contrast to “traditional classrooms” where I routinely observe three to five students in the back of the room, trying to hide the fact that they’re texting under their desk.
Why confiscation doesn’t work
When these phones are confiscated, however, these students don’t magically become engaged in the lesson now that the phone “temptation” has been eliminated.
This is an assumption many adults make—that by forcing students to sit in a seat in a classroom makes them learn, that removing all temptation to do something “fun” that students will learn by virtue of having nothing else to do.
In fact, I have observed disengaged students play with their hair, stare into space, check their make-up a dozen times, put their heads down on the desk, ask for bathroom passes—anything to occupy their time without actually engaging in classroom learning.
Cell phones are not the enemy. Technology—all technology from computers to phones to social media to iPods to computer games—must be harnessed to the serve the purpose of learning. Cell phones are incredibly important to students and their families before and after school and are not disruptive to the learning of engaged students in the classroom.
For students who are disengaged from learning, the cell phone is not the root cause nor will its elimination—by confiscation or ban—be the solution.