Don’t blame cellphones; put them to work

Put that cellphone to workRecently I’ve had two separate conversations about blocking cellphone signals in school. Some teachers are a so frustrated with the interruptions caused by cellphones that they would like to put up cellphone jammers in their classrooms. Fortunately, this is against FCC regulations as outlined in the Communications Act of 1934.

I can see where all this frustration comes from. Students get addicted to their cellphones- particularly the text messaging feature. They’re sneaking it out under their desk to get a glance at the latest gossip, note from their sweetheart or even the answers to next hour’s quiz. Some student’s are even skilled enough to reply back by tapping out a message on the keypad without even looking down. Those with poorer texting skills just ask for the bathroom pass to type out their messages.

To make matters worse, there’s cyberbullying. Students are being harassed and threatened throughout the school day via cellphones. With problems like this, one can easily sympathize with schools that wish to put a stop to cellphones entering our schools.

However, sometimes new problems are actually not that new. To me, texting is like any other distraction in the classroom. In the past, students would pass notes. I know that some notes were used for cheating, many where love letters and some could have been called paperbullying.

Another example is graphing calculators. With enough memory to store games and cheat notes, the graphing calculator presented a new set of problems as they became more powerful.

My point is this- cellphones are not the problem; it’s the inappropriate usage. Banning cellphones to stop texting is about as practical as banning paper to prevent note passing. The cellphone is not going away. As smartphones become more mainstream we will see our students surfing the web from their phones next. You thought texting was disruptive? Wait until they start updating their Facebook status via their Internet connected phone.

The good news is that we’re getting more technology in our classrooms. In many ways the cellphone can be a great classroom tool. It’s time we put those phones to work for learning. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • daily planner: why not teach them to enter those deadlines and assignment due dates into something they’re always carrying
  • text them back: set up a Twitter account that students that can follow via text messaging. You can send out assignment reminders, homework hints, and much more. My students have use Twitter accounts too.
  • take some pictures: last week I needed students to take pictures of their lab. Only a few students had a digital camera but every lab group had a few camera phones. Put those cameras to work. Some even do video.
  • conduct a survey: at you create a survey, students respond via cellphone, and you get a spreadsheet of the results
  • students create podcasts: set up an account with Gcast, students record and post audio online just by calling an 800 number. I had students do this during a field trip.

Cellphones can be used in the classroom but only if you set the ground rules first. While they do present some new challenges, I think cellphones can be part of the classroom just like calculators and notebooks. We just have to give them a chance.

2 thoughts to “Don’t blame cellphones; put them to work”

  1. Those are some great suggestions for using cell phones in the classroom. I do wonder about two things:
    1) How do you deal with cell phone charges? Are students required to Gcast, or is it an optional activity for those that have unlimited credit/available credit for scholastic activities.
    2) What are your techniques for curbing inappropriate use of cell phones in your classroom? These are great ideas for integrating cell phones into learning experiences, but I don’t grasp how they are going to affect students txting at inappropriate times.

  2. Good questions. Regarding charges… I’ve always made assignments that use a cellphone just one of the options that students can choose from.

    Regarding inappropriate usage… I don’t claim to prevent all non-school related texting. But I don’t catch all the inappropriate uses of notebooks either.

    I recommend setting aside a time that the phones can be out during class. For example, if students are entering assignments in their calendar, then they can only do this during the last few minutes of class.

    You make want to check out this video too.

    It outlines how the phones were used in a class project.

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