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Thursday, February 13, 2014

What's White, Black, and Grey All Over? Cell Phone Usage in School

When you think of cell phones in school, what image comes to mind? I think of a student with a hooded sweatshirt, turning to the side, constantly glancing down and fidgeting because they are busy texting.  I think of the time I walked into a restroom and saw feet pointed sideways in a bathroom stall and the sound of click, click, click. I tapped on the door and said "when you're finished texting, step on out." 
I think of the high school I recently visited that allows students to text during lunch time. Friends are literally sitting next to the same friend that they are texting. It made me question the value of cell phones in education, however, why not use cell phones in the classroom? Kids already have them in their pocket and are dying to use them anyways! 
There are so many possibilities to open up creativity and engagement in the classroom. Plus they are already finding creative ways to use their cell phones when they are not supposed to have them anyways. What if we opened up the possibility of using them in the classroom? Would it allow them to be creative in new, innovative, and productive ways? 
I could think of a few uses or ideas:
1. Why not have students Tweet about a certain topic? I was recently at a conference, where the presenter encouraged participants to take 5 minutes to "tweet" a response. Then we discussed it as a group. Cool idea and great for students who have trouble speaking to an entire class. They can still speak their mind and their tweets can speak volumes. 
2. Instead of using expensive clickers to check for understanding, why not use Apps like Socrative? This tool can help check for understanding through multiple choice questions, polls, short answer, etc. It is a great way to engage students through technology and allows you to move beyond "what" the answer is to "why" the answer is what it is. 
3. You could use Aurusma, an augmented reality app, to have students do scavenger hunts, engage differently in activities, and demonstrate creative ways of learning. 
The problem with the cell phone issue, is that I have seen many schools treat it as a black and white issue. Some schools say that cell phones shouldn't be seen. Others have taken the extreme of having them available all of the time or during certain points of the day. Unfortunately we cannot get around this issue because they will always be around. Unfortunately, there is more grey in this issue than we see. 
I think about many of the parents who text their children during the school day, even though they know that students shouldn't be using their phones. I think of the teachers who are busy texting their family and friends during school. There is just too much grey and an issue we cannot avoid. 
If we are supposed to teach our students 21st century skills and Netiquette, wouldn't this be the perfect tool to help students learn these valuable issues? If students use them the other 16 hours of the day, could we teach them how to use them in productive and creative ways? 
What are your thoughts? Do you think cell phones should be allowed or prohibited? Why? 

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