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


Why DO I protest? I am looking beyond the present.

Dear Reader,

It is with great concern and much confusion that I write this post,  as there are so many dichotomies at play in the conflict between the Ontario Government and the Ontario Teachers Federations.

I spend my days in solidarity with many teachers across Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, and across Ontario, in Protest against Bill 115.

To clarify, I am participating in a “pause” of any non-instructional work that I do during the school day, which includes all extra-curricular activities, clubs, and homework help.

It has not been easy. I love teaching and like many of my colleagues, working extra hours, participating in trips, plays, concerts and sports  is a huge advantage of this profession. I can’t help to be filled with not only anxiety and trepidation but also confusion. The last several weeks have been filled with voices across my own community and Ontario debating the issues at hand. Do teachers have the right to Strike? Why are students being made to “suffer”?

I’ve noticed that people are focused on the present. Perhaps it is because they have a child in the system right now and  they have a very personal stake.  They want their children to have the very best education and they know that extra-curricular activities are an essential part of the schooling process. Research proves this. They know that their children need choice and flexibility at school and need to be enriched with a variety of learning that includes field trips, clubs, and opportunities to practice ARTS during non-instructional times. We know this well. I understand this because I am also a parent with two children in this system.

Student designing a “concept” for the Barton and Tiffany land in Hamilton Ontario.

However, as a teacher, and as many of my teacher colleagues, I am looking beyond the present.

I protest for my students next year, in five years and in 20 years.

I protest to protect their future in the labour force.

I protest because  I want my children and my students to experience an environment where labour rights are respected, debated, and upheld. I want them to continue to feel safe to voice their opinions in a democratic society. This debate itself – what an excellent learning opportunity this has been for them!

Students using Inquiry Methods to interview a group of explorers via satellite

I protest to ensure that Ontario continues to uphold the high standards of instruction and respect for students and teachers that we have.  I am proud to work for one of the most well respected systems of learning in the world. My stomach turns every time I hear someone try to compare our system to a US State that uses high stakes testing as a way to measure their children and teachers. I grimace at the thought of lowering our standards. What kinds of teachers would we attract to our profession? I am confused when I hear the community criticize teachers. Shouldn’t we support those that are working with our children?

Students creating proposals for a community project

I protest for change and progress in education. I push for innovation in teaching and learning. I push for new methods and insist on meeting the needs of our 21st Century children. I push for the ARTS in education. I am fortunate to work for a system where I feel safe and protected to take risks, while also getting the support that I need.

The last few years have afforded me opportunities to travel to many places across North America and the world where I would visit, share and collaborate with educators, researchers, parents and students. As an Ontario Educator and Activist, what I learned most from these experiences is how fortunate our children are to be attending Ontario schools and how fortunate I am to be a teacher in a Country that values my profession. I learned that even with a highly regulated system (much more than other countries), there continues to be a great deal of trust and autonomy amongst educators, which has led to much progress and innovation in many of our classrooms.  Our organizations strive to work in partnership to empower teachers, as I have witnessed as part of the Teacher Leadership Program (OTF and Ministry partnership).  In Ontario, our students and teachers are valued which is why we are constantly implementing new research and finding new ways to teach students that prepare them for 21st Century jobs.

If we accept Bill 115, I fear that the balance between Trust and Regulation in our system will swing irrevocably too far, creating a rigid system that is lead by those far removed from the realities of the classroom. Good teachers will leave. We will condone mediocrity and will fear risk taking. Our most valuable assets-  our children – will ultimately be the ones that lose.