Grade 9 girls’ career day and cell phones in classroom

Principal’s Page
By Jeff Reaburn

Girls in Grade 9 are reminded to return the consent form for the Girls Unlimited Career Day, scheduled for May 23. The consent forms were sent home with the recent Interim Report Card, and while the event is several weeks away, we do need to confirm our attendance numbers shortly. We need to have the consent forms by April 14 for all girls who are planning to attend this event.
In a recent column I indicated that I would be writing some columns on technology and its role in education, and I thought that I would start with perhaps the most controversial piece of technology in schools today – the cell phone. Until about three years ago, we had very few problems with cell phone use in schools because very few students had them. However, in the last couple of years there has been an explosion in the number of students who have their own cell phones, and we have struggled with how to respond to the situation.
The problems at school caused by cell phone use are fairly obvious, with the most common complaint being that students are distracted by cell phones ringing or vibrating during class, along with the accompanying need to answer the call. Increasingly, however, students are being caught text messaging one another during class time, and some students are being accused of paying more attention to the cell phone than to the classroom teacher. Many young people today spend so much time text messaging one another that they find it a real challenge to turn their phones off or ignore them, no matter where they are or what they are doing – attending class, driving, watching a movie, or eating in a restaurant.
The most common response to the concerns at school has been to impose a ban – either a total ban of all cell phones and electronic devices from school, or a ban on using them while in class. Schools and boards that have tried the total ban have not had much success for a couple of obvious reasons. The biggest problem is that cell phones have become so small that it is virtually impossible to determine who has one. In fact, in many cases, total bans actually encourage students to bring cell phones to school, just to see if they can do so without being caught. Since in most cases it is parents who have purchased the cell phones for their kids, having them confiscated by the school administration is generally not well received.
Our approach at South Huron has been to allow students to have cell phones at school but to expect them to be turned off during class time so that they do not become a distraction. If a student is caught using the phone during class time, the teacher has been authorized to take it away for the remainder of the period or for the rest of the day. Repeat offenders have had their phones turned over to the vice-principal, and our policy for continual offenders is that the phone will be confiscated and held until a parent can come to pick it up. Naturally, we have faced some challenges with this policy, and because cell phone use continues to be a concern, we are continually reviewing our response to this situation.
Recently, there has been considerable discussion in education circles about using cell phones as educational tools, rather than trying to stop the use of them. Cell phones can now be used for much more than making phone calls, and they are becoming more and more like hand-held computers. Cell phones now have calculators built into them, digital cameras, dictionaries, text messaging, and, increasingly, students can access the Internet on their phones. Educators are now exploring ways to incorporate cell phone use into their lessons. In fact, I have heard that some university professors even encourage students in large lecture hall classes to text message them during class with questions they may have about the lecture.
Personally, as a classroom teacher, I would prefer to have my students put their cell phones out on their desks where I can see them, rather than try to prevent them from using them surreptitiously during class. Some students are so adept at text messaging that they can send messages without even looking at the phone itself. As they become more and more skilled at doing so, it will become almost impossible to prevent them from doing so secretly. Maybe if we turn cell phones into an educational tool, it will become less attractive for students to use them during class time.
It seems pretty likely that within a few years virtually every student will have a cell phone. And since they are using them so much outside of school, they will want to do so at school as well. Clearly, we will have to develop a more effective response to this issue, as it is not likely to go away.
Perhaps a good place to start would be cell phone etiquette – teaching students when it is appropriate and when not to take or make a call on a cell phone. At virtually every meeting I attend, the first order of business is to tell the audience members to turn off their cell phones. Despite this request, someone invariably has a phone ring or rushes out to respond to a cell phone vibrating in a pocket or purse. Maybe if we can convince students that there are times and places that are inappropriate for cell phone use, they will become responsible by the time they are adults.