Classroom Managment · ICT · Mobile Phones

What should we do about mobile phones?

There has been much talk in the media on the use of mobile phones in schools. The French Government has passed laws that phones are banned at school for students up to that age of 15.

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Here is the full gamut of mobile phone regimes that schools have in operation.

1.    Open slather. Students use their mobile phone whenever they want.
2.    In class time students can use their mobile phone but only with teacher permission. At recess and lunch, they can use the phone whenever they want.
3.    No mobile phones in class. Students are to lock them in their locker during class but you can use the phone at recess and lunch.
4.    No mobile phone use at school at all during the school day. Phones are to be locked them lockers at the beginning of the school day and not to be used again until the end of the school day.
5.    Banned at school altogether. You are not even allowed to bring them onto the school grounds.

Many schools are advocating a ban on mobile phone use during the school day which is Option 4 above. Their main reasons are the constant distraction that phones present in class and the antisocial side of social media.

The case against mobile phones:

You cannot deny the dark side of mobile phones in the schoolyard. People who went to school in the era before mobile phones will remember that occasionally a fight would break out in the schoolyard. Students would gather to watch. Nothing has changed except now they gather and film the fight on their phones and post it on YouTube. I recently rang a parent to inform them their child had been involved in a fight and would be suspended. The parent said, “I know, I just watched it on YouTube.”

The mobile phone is the tool of choice for the helicopter parent. The child has something go wrong at school and immediately contacts their parent via their mobile phone. The parent then rings the school and asks, “Why haven’t you done anything about this?” Often the answer is because the child didn’t inform the school about the issue; they went straight to the parent via the mobile phone.

Please, parents, do not text or ring students at the school.

It is not uncommon to see groups of students sitting immersed in their screens and not even talking to each other at recess and lunch. Schools that have banned phones at recess and lunch have noticed an increase in student interactivity. McKinnon Secondary College’s decision to ban mobile phones had an unexpected side effect. The schoolyard became much louder during recess and lunch. “I hadn’t anticipated the level of noise,” principal Pitsa Binnion said. “There was laughter, people were actually interacting and socializing.” From the start of term 1 2018, McKinnon students have had to store phones in their lockers and are not allowed to touch them until they leave school, even during breaks.

The potential for FaceBook Bullying at recess and lunch to carry over into class and continue afterschool is very real. Social media is a 24/7 source of contact for many adolescents. They are almost addicted to it.

No-one can deny that phones buzzing and pinging during class time are a distraction, not only for the owner of the phone but also for those around them. Few of us can resist reading that text message that just popped up. Especially if it takes us away from a boring task.

Many hours are wasted chasing up lost and stolen mobile phones at school.  Even though we warn students that if they bring a phone to school it is the student’s responsibility to look after it, staff still feel obliged to help students to track them down when they go missing.

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The case for the use of phones.

We have come to rely on phones as an organizational tool. For many of us, our phone is also our watch, diary, calendar, and a notepad. Students use their phones to check their timetable and daily announcements on our internal website. This helps students to be organized for their day. We encourage students to set up their school email on their phones and much communication is done via email at our school.

Phones can be very useful for learning too. In science I have students use their phone as calculators, stopwatches, and cameras. Every time I do an experiment I suggest students take a photograph of the experimental setup to include in the method section of their report.  There are great apps that can also turn a smartphone into a light meter, sound volume detector, and motion detector.

Students can, and should, use smartphone study apps like Quizlet and Quizizz for recall practice. At the end of the lesson, students can walk up the whiteboard full of teacher notes and take a picture so the worked examples stay with them.

By banning mobile phones we are not teaching students to be responsible users of technology. We are not developing in students the self-discipline to avoid distractions. We are deciding they can’t be trusted; can’t resist the temptation of the small screen. Are the schools that have banned phones penalizing all students because a small number are unable to use these devices responsibly?

What next?

Our school’s mobile phone policy is quite clear. It is basically number two on the list above. A student can only use mobile phones in class with teacher permission. If the teacher sees or hears a phone being used without permission it can be confiscated. The first time it is confiscated for a day, the second time a week and the third time a parent meeting is required to collect the phone.

Is this Policy serving us well? Should we change in 2019?

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