Making the Case for Cell Phones in Schools

My husband and BFF, Kip, has been with me on the last leg of my trip to the amazingly incredible CUE conference in Palm Springs (NCTIES before that.) We're now in Salt Lake City for a two hour layover and he's TRYING to read the latest Tom Clancy book.

He is director of engineering of a manufacturing plant and has a genius mind for efficiency, managing people, AND making technology UNDERSTANDABLE to the average person.  So, I asked him, "What is the most important point that you heard at the CUE conference?"  (Mind you - he sat in on 4 of my sessions Friday - so this is his take on it.)

His answer:
  • He is incredulous that we punish the tools and not the person.  That he can't take a pair of scissors on an airplane and yet, scissors are a standard item in every classroom in schools.   And yet he can take a cell phone and use it openly and freely anywhere and yet  the cell phone is what is banned in most schools.
He is an efficiency expert, mind you, on something called Lean 6 Sigma - which is about efficiency and eliminating waste.

Here we are dealing with budget cuts and struggles - trying to find money for technology.    Remember that there is more computing power in most cell phones than in computers in 1997.

So, let's look at this cell phone phenomenon with some statistics released in January 2009 (about the US as an example) by the Center for Digital Democracy:
  • For kids 8-12 (called tweens) - 46% use cell phones
  • Four out of 5 teenagers (80%)  have a cell phone with 51% of those who use cell phones using it to "get important information."
OK.  So, let me ask you this.  Do you have enough computers for 80% of your students to use them at one time?

Hall Davidson gave a great presentation yesterday on cell phones which is a must read for those talking to their administrators about allowing cell phone use in the classroom.  I received permission two years a go to use the cell phones in lesson plans as needed.  We pull them out at least once a week in most classes.

Now, one of the objections is "expense."  I send a note home the first day of class explaining that we do use the texting feature of the cell phone (not the Internet feature as that it expensive now) and ask if the student has unlimited texting.  If they don't have unlimited texting, I ask if the student has permission to send about 10 text messages the first week of school and 2-3 thereafter.  If not, the student doesn't use their cell phone and uses an alternative (using the Google Cell phone text simulator.)  I want them to know how to use the cell phone.  Now if you want to see my own lesson plan and outline for how I start the year with these, please see the post Kicking the School Year Off Web 2.0 Style with Cell Phones.

Well, there are a lot of complaints as outlined in the blog post "Spies Like Us," however, Kip (my husband) is right:  we've got to get at the BEHAVIOR and use of these tools.

 Some great resources on this topic:

This is near and dear to my heart as in my "previous life" I was a General manager of a Cell phone company and was very excited that NECC accepted my workshop for the Saturday before NECC about how to effectively use cell phones in the classroom.

10 Reasons Cell Phones Should Be Allowed In Schools

So, thinking through, here are 10 reasons I think cell phones should be allowed in schools.
  1. Cell Phones Can Save Us Money

    They are NEARLY ubiquitous and can alleviate some of the strain and cost of our infrastructure.

  2. Cell Phones Can Help Students Be More Organized

    Most students WILL NOT carry a paper planner.  We need to integrate their cell phones and/or iTouch devices as their planner - giving them homework reminders, letting them poll, podcast, vodcast, blog, and study using these mobile devices.  They have them with them ALL of the time which make is perfect for using as a planner.  When I took the Franklin Covey planning course, rule number 1 was "Always have your planner with you."  Kids can be reminded of things from their Google Calendar, which integrates with the calendar I use for planning.

  3. It Makes Kids More Safe

    Because of safety issues, I think that eventually someone will have a legal liability because a student was in trouble and WAS NOT able to use their cell phone.  I think that schools should all have SMS notification services in the case of emergency and that it is a vital lifeline for safety.

  4. It Allows Sensitive Issues to be Kept Private
    I have a real problem with kids names being called over the loud speaker for detention or even to come to the office. This is private.  I think that a text message from the front office preceding such a thing is a lot more respectful and would probably get them there faster.

  5. It Alleviates Strain on the Network.
    Cell phones are a separate network and thus do not go over the local wireless.  Their effective use can provide an alternative method of accessing the Internet and/or querying short bits of information.

  6. It Alleviates Strain in the IT Department
    Cell phone troubleshooting is not something that is needed.  If a child has problems, let them use a laptop, check out an itouch from the library or use a computer.  However, the use of cell phones for small queries and tasks alleviates the use of computers for small tasks.

  7. It Speeds Up Information Retrieval
    If you do not have to turn on cell phone - there is zero boot time.  If you DO have to turn it on, you're looking at 3-4 seconds.  Time your laptop's boot time. I have a PC and it takes at least 3 minutes to be functional.  I find it is much easier to have my students define words and query google with a text message.

  8. It Allows Us to Teach Kids Digital Responsibility and Citizenship
    I was at Disney and a child was lost.  He knew his phone number but NOT his area code.  I found the area code using Google search and we had Mommy there within moments.  Kids should KNOW how to retrieve information easily from SMS.  Additionally, self control about texting is a PROVEN problem for many kids.  Learning the self discipline to use this tool when appropriate is part of life.  By allowing them to be present and NOT used - we're letting kids learn the self discipline to focus and use the tool when appropriate.

    I believe in allowing distractions in my classroom and coaching the kids to focus.  I think this is much better than the "police state" type filtration and technology policies that many schools have.

    I would like to say that by "outlawing" cell phones we've pushed them into the private places of the school like the bathrooms and locker rooms which is precisely where we DO NOT want them to be!  (See the rule listed below.)

  9. It Sets a Model for Effective Change and Innovation

    In Hall Davidson's speech, he mentioned that Cuba finally allowed cell phone use in their country last year.  The only remaining places that ban cell phones?  The Taliban and Schools are the only two entities that now ban them in the world.

    This is a useful tool and part of life. Hall also mentioned how in the 1970's that calculators were banned.  Now, we use them.  It is time to "get over it" and "coexist with it."

  10. You're fighting a losing battle.

    Many educators are seeing that truly, banning cell phones is not a battle that is going to be won.  I think that parents are going to demand that it be on their child for safety reasons.  The chaparone feature lets the parents use GPS to know where their child is at all times.  This is something parents are going to demand, that it be on their child and ON.  I just think it is moving to this.

So, how are we going to "deal" with cell phones?

Just like we "deal" with scissors.
  • Age appropriate use and set up.
  • If we catch a kid running with scissors, we discipline the kid - not get rid of all the scissors!
  • Define acceptable use policies for cell phones that kids and parents can live with.
  • Adequately communicate so there is not unacceptable cost for parents for things done at school. 
  • Share best practices for using cell phones.
  • Encourage all of the companies that service education to allow integration of cell phones into just about everything.
  • Use cell phones for what they are good for and PUT THEM UP when not in use.  If they are out when they are not supposed to be, we deal with the child and put the cell phone on our desk.  (I take them up if they are being used when I didn't tell them to.)
  • If we're concerned about cell phones - move to 1:1 mobile devices like an itouch, which I personally think is better than a cell phone for most anything anyway.
  • I am going to ask my school to go ahead and pass a rule at the school patterned after a rule at the hotel for CUE.  I would like a sign in all bathrooms and locker rooms that says something like this:  "The use of cell phones, photography, and videography equipment in all bathrooms, locker rooms, and any areas used as changing areas is strictly prohibited on this campus."  In fact, I believe this should be a LAW everywhere.  It is a law whose time has come and the reason we haven't done it sooner is because we SAY we don't allow cellphones.  What we've done is pushed these devices to PRIVATE areas which is where we DO NOT want them.
Kip is right -- we're making a mistake here with this tool.  We want our kids safer.  We want to cut costs.  We want to help them be more organized.  We want to be more relevant to this generation.  We want to advance education into the 21st century.

And that, my friend, means, that we welcome cell phones into the world of education.  They are our friend, not our enemy.

For now, I think teachers have to get special permission for their inividiaul classes and remember that EVERYONE is looking at you.  Use them well and see them move to other rooms.  Use them poorly and you stop progress.

Now, we have three of us at Westwood using cell phones and soon to be another.  One middle school teacher uses the digital recorder in the phone to proofread and write papers -- and has 4-5 nonactive cell phones for kids to use who don't have one -- the recorder still works and REALLY helps the kids see their writing errors.  Soon, our language teacher will do the same thing.

Oh, and I'm doing a workshop on this at NECC the Saturday before it starts. 

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