Friday, October 7, 2011

Friday's Five - Allow Students to Use Cell Phones in Class

Friday's Five is a feature every week where I pick a new topic and list five items that I think fit best.  Then I ask you, my readers, to share your thoughts in the comment section.  For an archive of past topics, check the Friday's Five Page.  If you'd like to make suggestions about future topics or discuss topics I bring up on the blog with others, make sure you click the "like" button on the right hand side of the page to join A Teacher's Life for Me on Facebook.  Don't be shy about sharing the blog and Facebook Page with others.  Each post has a "Tweet" button on top and buttons on the bottom that allow you to share in several ways, including e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.

Flickr/William Hook

Last week I wrote about reasons my PLN is so important to me.  This morning, a discussion between members of my PLN on Plurk got me thinking about rules in school that ban cell phone usage.  In today's post I'm going to explore five reasons why banning cell phones in schools is bad policy and detrimental for our students.
  1. If we are preparing our students for life after school, we should allow them to use the tools they will be using when they get there.  How many jobs can you think of right now where a smart phone is not beneficial?  Mechanics order parts on their phone, engineers view blueprints, doctors calculate dosages, and grocers check inventory.  The list is endless.  By the time our students enter their professions the need to utilize mobile technology will be even stronger.  Not preparing our students for that world is negligent. 
  2. In a time when schools are facing tightening budgets, using technology that is readily available is logical.  How many schools point to a lack of funds as a reason they are not doing more with technology?  We can go a long way towards solving that problem by using technology that is available for free and probably in a majority of HS students' pockets.
  3. Mobile devices are great for teaching 21st century skills.  If you want kids to learn to collaborate, what better tool can you use than a phone?  Videoconferencing with people all over the world becomes easy.  One of the main arguments against student phone use is that kids might cheat.  My response is that tests that are so lacking in rigor that students can look up answers on a phone or get them from another student are lousy and outdated in a world where information is free and easy.  We need to get used to the fact that kids don't need to know "stuff" nearly as much as they need to learn to use that "stuff."  Tests of recall don't prepare our students for the world ahead.  Kids know this - it's why they think school is irrelevant.  Kids working together to find solutions to problems (collaboration) should be encouraged, not labeled as "cheating."  Policies that ban cell phones because students might text each other are short-sighted.  As Kevin Honeycutt is fond of saying, "Students used to pass notes on paper.  We never banned paper."
  4. Double standards are not OK.  I know of several districts where administrators come into classrooms with iPhones and/or iPads to take notes on teacher observations.  Yet, in these same classrooms students are not allowed to use mobile devices.  The message this sends to students is totally unacceptable.  These are great tools.  Kids know it.  Let them use them.
  5. We need to teach kids responsible ways to use technology.  Keeping them "safe" by refusing to expose them to technology is irresponsible on our part.  Students are using cell phones whether we ban them in school or not.  They are communicating, sending pictures to each other, using social media and social networking, and consuming information.  We need to be teaching them how to do this while protecting themselves from both mistakes they might make that will follow them for decades and others who want to do them harm.  The dangers and pitfalls of using mobile devices aren't going away.  Isn't it our responsibility to teach our students to be safe?
For those who have read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies, a member of my PLN showed drew a great parallel between events in those stories and this debate with the following quote:
"Children, put away your wands. You won't be needing them." - Delores Umbridge
Now it's your turn.  What are the policies on cell phones in your school?  Do you think phones should be used by students in schools?  Are there ways to ensure that phones are not misused in schools if we allow them?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below and pass the post on to others using Plurk, Twitter, Google+, and Facebook so that we can hear as many opinions as possible.