The Right Tool at the Right Time

Cell Phones as Tools in the Classroom (?)

I was directed to a blog post today by Larry Ferlazzo through a tweet:

I was intrigued by the fact that Larry was not a supporter (as most of my Twitter PLN members are) of cell phone use in the classroom. So, I visited Scott McLeod's post to read his comment. Scott had posted about a district that had changed its mind about installing a device in its schools that would jam cell phone reception. Larry had commented about building relationships with students to help enforce school policies. He also commented about why he agrees with his district's ban on cell phones in school.

It was refreshing to hear the opinion of someone who works in an inner city district who deals with the same kinds of issues I do. I responded:

The idea of purchasing a device to jam cell phone reception was a ridiculous idea in the first place. We all know that authoritarian measures like this rarely work in schools. As Larry stated, building relationships and explaining policies while allowing student input is much more effective. It was refreshing to hear the perspective of another inner city teacher. In my K-6 school students begin bringing cell phones to school as early as 2nd or 3rd grade. While I understand why--no one is home when they leave for school, no one is home when they get home, and the walk to and from school is not always safe--there is no reason for a student to have their cell phone ON during the school day. If someone needs to call them, they can call the main office.

I understand the possibilities that cell phones in the classroom can have--but what kinds of cell phones? 100% of my students qualify for free/reduced lunch. Their phones are on pre-paid plans. Most of them just call or text or play music, with a few having camera functions. If they were to use the phone to text an answer to the teacher--who is paying the texting plan? What if a student's phone is cut off because their minutes are used up?

Larry also brings up a good point about bullying & harrassment. Unfortunately, our school climate is not a friendly one most of the time. Students threaten each other verbally in front of teachers on a daily basis--imagine if they could do it through a cell phone?! While I believe that using cell phones in the classroom hold great possibilities for authentic learning, that does not mean that they are the right tool for everyone. Too many times we adopt new tools because everyone else is using them or says their great. We should be making educated choices about which tools are right for our students and our schools. Cell phones (at least for now) are not that tool for my school, and I'm sure for many schools in the Philadelphia public school district.

Mary Beth (aka mbteach)

While we may be in the minority in the world of edtech, we are also in the majority when it comes to real life situations. There are 16,000 teachers in the School District of Philadelphia and over 270 schools. While we try our darndest to be innovators (and succeed!) not all tools are made for all environments. That is not to say that using cell phones as a tool in the classroom in Philadelphia public schools is out of the question, but for many it is not practical.

Please let me know your thoughts/reactions (even if you disagree!)


  • I believe that cell phones being used in class aren't right or wrong (as you seem to express), as it highly depends on your students and school. I'm at a school that is the polar opposite of your school, so I could see cell phones as being a useful tool (although I'm not aware of anyone trying it yet). In our school, I would guess that every student has a cell phone, and most of them have unlimited texting, cameras, even video capabilities.

  • Brian,

    What kind of cell phone policy do you have in your school? Do you have issues with students using them inappropriately? I'm always curious about how 'the other half' lives ;)

  • We have a policy at our school that if they are out there is a warning. If they are out again a teacher takes the phone and gives it to the office and the child can get the phone at the end of the day. If it happens again the parent is called and the child cannot get the phone unless the parent is with them. If it happens again after even that....that child's cell phone is banned.

    I feel the same way that you do about why they should not be used when it comes to just what kind of phone/plan they have. Not all parents activate the messaging feature or the child is on a limit for numbers of messages. Also, as you said, some are on prepaid plans. Doesn't exactly seem fair.

    My other reason has to do with the grade I teach. I teach 8th grade. I have never once observed a 13-14 year old being responsible with a cell phone while at school. 8th graders have a difficult enough time staying focused with all of those hormones raging....I doubt they could be responsible enough to handle using a cell in the classroom. I know of kids who can text while the phone is hidden in their pocket...why should I think they will be responsible enough not to text while I am doing a lesson using a cell phone? I don't trust 8th graders enough for that...they can multi-task extremely well! I prefer to be technologically innovative in other ways, such as wiki's, blogs and gaming lessons.

    Angie (aka @a_dowling)

  • Currently it is the normal, "bring it to school, but have it off and in your backpack." I work at a private all-boys school that has a lot of resources available. I understand the issues of how the students use cell phones for cyber-bullying, but I believe the biggest issue we'd have (at least during class) is the social texting, not malicious. I think our boys would deal well with a message of using the tool appropriately. Think of the cell phone as a pencil. Is it a tool that can be used beneficially? Sure. Could you also stab someone in the neck? Of course, but that isn't an appropriate use...

    Do the guys text with their cell phones in their jacket pockets? Of course. Could they learn to use them responsibly in a classroom? I think they could as much as their teachers can in a faculty meeting... :)

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