Cell phones in class: A responsible story

This is a true classroom experience that happened to a friend of mine the other day.  I am leaving out all names of people and schools, because the incident that occurred is against school policy.  All comments in quotes are just paraphrases of the conversations, since I was not there to witness the incident.  A friend of mine teaches in a high school and had the class working in a computer lab for a project.  There were not enough computers for all of the students to research what they were working on, so the students were sharing computers.

My friend noticed a student facing away from the group and acting a bit “odd.”  My friend walked over and the student had a cell phone out zipping around on the touch screen.  As my friend was about to say something to the student, the student turned around and said preemptively, “I am not texting, I was looking up my topic.  I do not have a computer and it is too nice to have to wait and work from home.”  The student then held up the cell phone for my friend to see the screen.  My friend asked about phone fees, to which the student replied, “It is free, I am not stupid.”

Lo and behold, the student had Googled the topic and was reviewing sites to start gathering information.  My friend looked at the student, told the student, “Okay, keep working, but be careful, we could both get in trouble if you get caught.”  The student continued working, and eventually found a site with information and began taking notes.  Learning was occurring in a positive way, class went on as planned, the Earth did not stop rotating, other students did not pull out their phones and begin the wholesale acts of texting, sexting, and calling each other to the point of using up all of their minutes.  It was what should be considered a non-issue, but I am writing about it because kids are not allowed to use this type of technology in class, because some believe that cell phone use is a gateway act to anarchy in schools.  It isn’t, IF YOU TEACH STUDENTS HOW TO USE THESE TOOLS RESPONSIBLY!

Now, according to my friend’s school district’s policy, the phone should have been confiscated from the student, the student should have received some sort of detention, either after-school or Saturday morning.  The phone could have been liberated but only to parents/guardians at a time a few days later in the week.  If the student would have refused to give up the phone, the student could have been suspended from school, which also meant there would have been a large disruption to most of the students in class.

I know that my friend has told students in the past how to use technology for learning purposes.  My friend is well ahead of the curve, we often discuss the projects we have are having students create and share resources with each other.  After all that is what a PLN is supposed to do, and mine is super-fantastic, but I digress.  When asked if my friend had modeled cell phone use in class, the reply was, “Not to that extent, I do not have Internet on my phone.”

The student had actually listened to past conversations with my friend and explored learning on their own.  A marvelous concept…taking initiative and using tools that they already know well to complete work appropriately.  My friend’s next goal will be to show the student some free note-taking apps for the student’s phone.  We do not know if Evernote or Documents 2 will work on that type of phone, it was not a Blackberry or iPhone, just a basic touchscreen version with Internet capabilities. There is some research for us to do so we can help this student prep for college in a couple of years.

Hopefully some day soon this can be a common occurrence and not a topic to write about…

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