Monday, August 15, 2011

Ten Common Challenges We'll Face This Fall - Challenge #6: Cell Phones

Image Credit: mstephens7
One of my most popular presentations, the one that I'm most frequently asked to give, is 10 Common Challenges Facing Educators. When giving this presentation I outline challenges that classroom teachers often face and present some resources and strategies for addressing those challenges. In preparation for the new school year I've created a series of blog posts based on that presentation. Today's post is about cell phones in schools.

Cell Phone Policies
I'm fortunate to work in a school that allows students to use their cell phones. That has not always been the case in my school. In fact, the first time I had students use cell phones in my classroom, it was against the rules. (You can read the full story here). After the class period during which I had my students use their cell phones I promptly walked into my principal's office to explain why I did it. After listening to my explanation, he was not only not mad he gave me his unofficial endorsement to do it again. While I can't take credit for changing the school's policy, I do like to think that I pushed the rock in the right direction.

Last August, Burlington (Massachusetts) High School's Principal Patrick Larkin was featured in a Boston Globe article about his progressive policy of allowing the use of cell phones in his school. Here's one of the stand-out quotes from Patrick: “If they want to cheat, they’re going to cheat,’’ Larkin said, “with technology or anything else.’’ He said he doesn’t see much difference between this and the old scourge of teachers — note passing. “We’ve had no problem with note passing the last few years . . . I wonder why . . . they’re texting!’’ 

Computers in their pockets.
Ask students at random where their textbooks are at any given moment and they might not be able to tell. But ask those same students where their cell phones are and they'll reach into their pockets. Even the most basic of flip phones (the ones you get for a penny with a new contract) can be used for valuable purposes besides calling. From sending a text to Google to creating a video on the go, cell phones can be used in a variety of ways in your classroom. 

Send a text to Google to discover some content that you couldn't find in the textbooks in your classroom. Students can contribute to a group blog by using their phones. Check out for more ideas. 

Want to survey your students for their feedback, not influenced by a show of hands, about the amount of time it took them to complete an assignment? Try using a service like Text the Mob or Poll Everywhere. You can use these services as cheap or free alternatives to proprietary clicker systems. 

And what about those pixelized black and white codes you see in magazines and on signs lately? Those are QR codes and you can use them in your school. Create a QR Code Treasure Hunt to get your students physically moving while researching. Or try one of the suggestions made by my guest blogger Charity Preston.

Fight 'em or teach 'em?
At the end of the day the issue of cell phones comes down to a question of how do you want to spend your time (or have your faculty spend their time)? Do you want to spend it trying to catch kids using their cell phones under their desks, writing up the paperwork for policy infractions, and other aspects of enforcing a policy that seems to be reserved for airline flights and military complexes? Or would you rather spend that time and effort teaching students how to use the technology they have in their pockets for productive educational purposes? I choose teaching. 

This is part six of a ten part series of posts about common challenges facing educators. If you're interested in having me speak about this topic or others at your school or conference, please contact me through the Work With Me page.