Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Day 34: Dem Phones, Dem Phones, Dem CELL Phones...

I allow my students to use their phones in class.
"Involutarily collaborated" from mspourrabi.wordpress.com

**waits for gasping to subside**

This is the first year that I've allowed them.  The majority of my students use them as calculators, or to fix their hair and makeup.  It can be annoying.  I don't LOVE it.

It's just not a battle that I'm willing to fight any more.

Last year, when cell phones were banned in the building, a young man had his phone every day.  It was confiscated 2-3 times per week.  This would force his mother to come to the school to pick it up where she would claim up and down that he would never get it back.

The next day, he had it back.

When he is in my class, he's checking Facebook and Instagram.  He's sending texts to his friends.

And he's doing the work that I ask of him.

Does he do it perfectly?  No.  Do I pretend to post Facebook statuses behind him at least once each day? Yes.

But he does the work that I ask.  And he cares about doing it well.

I have another student who sits with his headphones in when we are doing individual work.  When I go over to ask him if he has any questions (instead of "why aren't you working?") he says that he doesn't and shows his completed paper.

He does the work that I ask of him.

Short of wrapping an electro-magnet around the door and performing strip searches on students every day, there is no way to keep cell phones out the school..

For the first student, allowing cell phones in my class or not would not change his behavior.  He has a demonstrated history of using his phone regardless of the rules.  Banning the phones in my class would only force him to be more sneaky and foster a sense of me as his enemy.  As it is, he puts the phone away when I ask him to and we have a very good relationship.  He feels comfortable asking me questions and talking to me about things that he might not otherwise.

For the second student, banning cell phones in my class would change his behavior.  He is the kind of students who likes to figure things out on his own and only asks for help when he really needs it.  If I forced him to put the headphones away, he wouldn't be able to focus on the task at hand and would simply stare off into space or go to sleep.  I know this because he and I talked about it at the beginning of the year.  He agreed to keep the headphones away when I was going over material and to complete the work that I asked.  In exchange, I let him listen to music when he's working.  This works out well for both of us.

I know that other teachers are very dubious about cell phone use in class.  I don't begrudge them their choices or feelings.  For me, however, fighting having cell phones in school is a losing battle.  The students will have them anyway.  They will never be able to learn how to use them responsibly if we don't teach them.

Today, my pre-algebra students took a test.  Many of them used their phones as calculators.  A few, including the first student I talked about, were surfing the web.  This got me thinking about cheating.  What if students were texting each other for answers across the room?

I decided that I didn't really care.  Yes, they could be using their phones to cheat.  They could be looking up the answers on Google.  Then I asked myself something.

If the answers to my tests can be looked up on Google, are they really worth asking in the first place?

I want my students to be creating, to be evaluating, to be synthesizing information.  I want them forming opinions and interpreting answers.  It would be great if they could determine the circumference of a circle from it's diameter.

It would be better if they could tell me which of the given answers is the most reasonable estimate.

A smart phone can't make judgement calls.  They can't interpret answers.

If a smart phone can answer my test questions, I'm asking the wrong questions.
Or on Google.

I think this is a topic that should be discussed.  I welcome the discussion.


  1. This is brilliant. First and foremost Amen on the if the answer can be looked up on google was it work asking part! I could not agree more. Secondly, I allow cell phones in my class too mainly because I know what I am like at PDs and meetings and I have my phone out the entire time. I feel like it is hypocritical to tell the kids to do as a I say and not as I do. A lot of my students take pictures of notes, or homework, or examples, or something else we are doing to dump into Evernote or another app. Why would I want to stop them from that? Love what you are doing!

  2. Good for you Justin. I figured out about 2 years ago that allowing students to "google it" and use the calculator cut down on the sneakiness and disruption. It made me a facilitator and not the cell phone cop. I also had students doing things I wished they wouldn't, but productivity did increase and students who normally didn't participate in class were sharing ideas and finishing work. It's they way young people communicate and think now and we don't do them any favors by fighting it.

    I still set guidelines for their use, and a small number of students only are violating those rules. Many times they will show me what is on their phone while using it just to prove they are using it productively. It makes me laugh.

  3. I allow cell phones to an extent. For assessments, I don't and they all are required to have a TI-84 calculator (private school). They take pics of notes, listen to music, etc. and I have no issue with that. I would push-back on the notion that anything that you can find on google isn't worth assessing, especially because age/grade isn't taken into consideration with that statement. With sites like wolfram-alpha, it's easy to find step by step how to apply something like the quadratic formula. That doesn't mean we shouldn't ask students to apply it. I have students who struggle with substituting into a formula; they need to know how to do that without having to look it up on Google. Those are often lower level questions, but still should be asked in addition to the higher order thinking questions. If I don't know that 3+8=11 and have to look it up every single time, then I'm not really numerically literate. Research I've read shows that Ss who struggle with the basics of math also struggle with the higher order thinking because they expend so much brain power on the basics, they are mentally exhausted.

  4. (have typed more careful comment a few times; keeps getting eaten. grrr.)

    I'm pretty sympathetic to this argument for classwork, but less so for assessments.

    You say: "What if students were texting each other for answers across the room? I decided that I didn't really care. Yes, they could be using their phones to cheat."

    Couldn't this derail even a high-quality, thoughtful, complex assessment? If you don't know whether William's work is William's and not Natalia's via cell phone, how are you going to assess them accurately and fairly?

    Also, how is Amy going to feel about the fairness of your assessments as she watches William and Natalia use their phones to Google answers (or so she thinks) and pass hints to each other?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...