Let Kids Use Phones In Class

Go ahead, call me naïve and arrogant.

Instead of prohibiting smartphones, administrators should take their heads out of the sand and see that these devices are much more than toys.

Officials continue to waste time, money and resources trying to ban or regulate technology, but if teachers are bad at their jobs, it won’t make a dime’s worth of difference—students still won’t pay attention. Instead of misusing smartphones, kids will revert to doodling, passing notes, chatting, or drifting off into some faraway place.

Smartphones aren’t the problem, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out a solution. Schools must attract knowledgeable teachers who create relevant, engaging lessons.

It really saddens me that so many schools ban smartphones. If used effectively, these tools really can make a difference.

In government, my students learn how politicians utilize social networking.

In journalism, my students learn how reporters use Twitter.

In history, my students photograph notes and record lectures.

Sometimes, my runners use their smartphones or iPods to monitor distance and pace.

But I’m hardly a pioneer.

In 2009, the Associated Press reported that in St. Marys, Ohio, officials launched a pilot program for 2,300 students to utilize personal digital assistants, a precursor to smartphones. Kyle Menchhofer, the district’s technology coordinator, perfectly conveys my own feelings:

Cell phones aren’t going away. Mobile technology isn’t going away. Right now, what we’re telling kids is ‘You go home and use whatever technology you want, but when you get to school, we’re going to ask you to step back in time.’ It doesn’t make any sense.

In October, NPR aired a tantalizing piece by Sam Evens, “Some Schools Actually Want Students To Play With Their Smartphones In Class”:

For three years, Oyster River Middle School in Durham, N.H., has been letting students use their touch-screen devices in class. The kids learn how to make presentations on iPads, how to keep track of their homework on a smartphone, and what they should and shouldn’t post on social media sites. The devices can be their planners, agenda books, and pocket reference libraries all day long.

NPR also produces a great podcast to accompany Evan’s written article:

In December, the USA Today profiled a number of districts across the nation now joining the bandwagon, where “teachers use countless apps, many of them free, to better connect students with coursework on a platform they’re familiar with.”

I was also happy to stumble across a cool mobile learning platform: “Project K-Nect is designed to create a supplemental resource for secondary at-risk students to focus on increasing their math skills through a common and popular technology—mobile smartphones.”

Next week, I plan to introduce my students to Evernote, a powerful, free note-taking and archiving application available for all mobile devices.

Originally launched in 2008, the most recent version of Evernote offers a huge suite of amazing features. The application makes it incredibly easy for students to write and share notes, and a premium version allows users to sync and share content on multiple devices.

Certainly, I don’t support embracing  any technology without first establishing clear policy guidelines. Students and faculty alike should know the repercussions for abusing smartphone use. But if your school fosters a positive learning environment with talented teachers, dedicated to crafting engaging lessons, I promise you that very few serious infractions will ever occur.

I don’t know if tweaking Shakespeare here makes much sense, but here it goes anyway:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our [smartphones], but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

1 Comment

  • Reply January 6, 2013

    Willyn Webb

    Well said! It’s so simple and seems so obvious, yet many schools still fear phones. Thanks for sharing this motivational post. I hope that all of it’s readers start re-thinking the ban and start utilizing the tools kids know and love.

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