Cell Phones in my classroom: I give Permission

This post is in response to the recent Vote by the Teachers Federation Union to Ban Cell phones from the classroom. According to CBC, “The new rules state that mobile devices should be turned off and stored during school hours, unless special permission is given.” Ontario teachers’ union votes to ban cell phones in classrooms

The meeting minutes found here indicates hat Policy Statements, 73.0, Student Use of Personal Electronic Devices in the Classroom, be amended to read: LINK  WHERE did the word BAN come from?  please not use the world ‘BAN’ here?  Could it give the wrong message? How about we advocate for ‘Safe Use’, or ‘Education/Training is needed’ or, ‘Helping students and teachers navigate online tools?

IMG_0290I use cell phones in the classroom.  I also use as much social media, web 2.0 and chat tools with my students as much possible. I have two specific reasons: First, it is these tools that provide assistive technologies and needed accommodations to many students that would/could not otherwise succeed in a system that is meant for the mainstream of learners. Second,  What I’ve come to realize, as both a parent and teacher is that unless these tools are explored, discussed, shared and scrutinized in the classroom by knowledgeable and informed educators – with kids – that THEY (our students) are going to have little opportunity to explicitly learn how to use them effectively, safely and appropriately in the real world.


We know that cell phones and similar tools are becoming (or will become) a way of communication in the future. It is for that reason, that  Parents, Educators, Teachers, Instructors, Professors and of course Learners need to step back from the podium of teaching and find ways to integrate, moderate and balance the safe use of these tools instead of banning them.  I wonder, would better training/education about these tools  for the students, parents and teachers be more practical? What if the real problem (or reality) is that the way we are teaching students needs to change?

It wasn’t long ago that the Globe and Mail quoted our Premier (ex), “Telephones and BlackBerrys and the like are conduits for information today, and one of the things we want our students to do is to be well-informed,” Mr. McGuinty said. “And it’s something that we should be looking at in our schools.” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/schools-should-be-open-to-cellphones-in-class-mcguinty/article567928/)

The Horizon Report K-12 also emphasized that such tools are also conduits for learning,

> Mobiles are a category that defies long-term definitions. With more than 1.2 billion new mobile devices produced each year, the pace of innovation in the mobile markets is unprecedented. Mobiles,  especially smartphones and  tablets, enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity, and hundreds of thousands of custom applications. Mobiles were listed in previous years because they could capture multimedia, access the Internet, or geolocate. Now they are effectively specialized computers for the  palm of your hand,with a huge and growing collection of software tools that make use of their accelerometers, compasses, cameras, microphones, GPS, and  other sensors. http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2011-Horizon-Report-K12.pdf

Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 9.13.58 AMIn the winter of 2011, the Ontario Teacher Federation Publication, “Voice” also showcased and applauded use of cell phones and other devices in the classroom.http://etfovoice.ca/back-issues/2011/V14N2_WINTER_11.pdf “Opening the door to student-owned devices, means facing  the challenge of dealing with a number of computing platforms in our classrooms”, writes David Curruthers, an Ontario classroom teacher.

Further, the June 2013 issue of Professionally Speaking features the latest gadgets and tools that are designed for the classroom, including cell phones.

– Smaller than tablets, smartphones are popular among students. “The kids have them in their pockets,” says Todd Wright, OCT, a curriculum administrator in information communications technology at the York Region DSB. “And some of the screens are bigger than they used to be, so they’re more useful.” But smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy S III and BlackBerry’s Z10 aren’t as powerful as tablets and laptops, which limits the software these hand-held devices can process. Still, users can access hundreds of thousands of apps on iTunes and Google Play. There aren’t as many for BlackBerry and Windows Phone 8 (yet). (source)

Allowing cell phones in my classroom was difficult, but how can I, as an educator put barriers on the very tools that students are using in the real world? Isn’t that my job as a teacher, to prepare them for the world they are living in now and the future?  I had to spend many classroom hours developing trust with my students as well as inviting parents and community into my class often.  This included teaching them social skills when using these tools, appropriate use and balance.  In the end,  it allowed me to step back from that need to ‘control’ the environment in every which way and facilitate a classroom where rich inquiry driven projects could be at the basis of teaching and learning.

A couple of simple ideas:

* Use of QR codes in the classroom

* Integrate Instram – Great opportunity to share and discuss social media practices (privacy issues)

* Interviewing people

* Quiz application

*Internet source (on rare occasions and always with parental permission)

* Safety (on trips)

* Class texting

* Practice Digital Citizenship

*Learn how to monitor and balance use of tools