on cell phones, and tablets, and kids … oh my!!!

'My current iPhone homescreen' photo (c) 2010, Johan Brook - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The sky is falling!!!  The sky is falling!!!

For the next two weeks, students are going to be allowed to use their cell phones during the school day at our middle school!  We’re DOOMED!!!  DOOMED!!!


This week deans at our middle school rolled out a two week long “cell phone experiment.” Our middle school, like many (perhaps most) around the country has a “no cell phone during the school day” policy.  During the “experiment,” the middle school policy is being modified to be in line with our upper school policy–cell phones may be used outside of buildings when students are not in class.  Part of the context for all of this is that we run on a nine-period school day.  At no time, other than during all-school assemblies, are all of  our students in class at the same time during the school day.  All students in grades seven, eight, and nine have between one and three periods each day when they “X” and do not have a class to attend.  During an X-period, students come to the library, visit one of the student lounges fronting each of the grade-level deans’ offices, enjoy the outdoors under the trees around campus, meet with their teachers, or hang out at the dining commons.

As anyone who has ever worked in a school might expect, some of the teachers were very happy that the change is being considered; some of the teachers were visibly unhappy the change is being considered; and some really didn’t have strong feelings either way.  It was made clear that in classrooms, phones were not to be heard at all, and that teachers had complete latitude to ask students to completely turn phone off and power phones down when they were in their classrooms.

As someone whose academic career, personal life, and professional life have been so significantly changed for the better because of technology, it is really a challenge for me to see why some among us are so very strongly opposed to integration of technologies into our teaching and learning environment.  I think people in the tech averse camp, were particularly upset because in the previous week our administration had announced that teachers would each be receiving an iPad 3 before the end of the school year and that a 1:1 computing initiative (perhaps iPad, but also possibly laptop) would be launched in some form during the 2013-2014 school year.

All of this change got me thinking about why I like the idea of middle school students having access to their phones and to eventually have access to either an iPad or a laptop so I decided to start a list:

Executive Function:  Many middle school students, simply because of where they are developmentally, struggle with executive function.  Teaching a student struggling with executive function issues to, for example, write assignments in a print planner is really almost counter-productive because, well, a child struggling with executive function issues usually cannot remember where that print planner is at any given time during the day, much less, remember to write assignments in it with any consistency!!!  I know this to be true because I WAS the middle school child who could not find my beautiful daily planner so I could write my assignments in it.  Learning to use AOL Calendar when I was in graduate school was life changing!  Since learning to use an online calendar I have almost never ever forgotten an appointment, missed a bill that needed to be paid, or forgotten to check my tire pressure once per month.  I know we have middle school students struggling in much the way that I struggled as a middle schooler.  If an effective organizational tool is available,  I think it is a disservice to students to make it impossible for them to utilize it.

Work Flow:  As a librarian, I believe that it is far, far too early to predict the demise of the print book. On the other hand, as a librarian, I very clearly see that the demise of certain genre of books is underway and in some cases long over due.  When was the last time you cracked open a print dictionary?  What will we do when our current sets of Encyclopedia Britannica are out of date? In the grown-up world that our students will inhabit, much (and in all likelihood the majority) of the information they access will be digital.  As our students, literally, are grown-ups in training, I see it as highly irresponsible of us as educators to NOT be teaching students how to most efficiently employ the productivity tools and collaborative work flow tools of the day.  Evernote, Dropbox, Google Docs, Zoho,  Slide Rocket, Prezi, Noodle Tools, Easy Bib, Diigo,  LMS systems … They don’t have to be completely ubiquitous throughout the curriculum, but in today’s schools they truly must be present!

I know that there are other good reasons, but it’s late and I’m tired so I’m going to leave it here. Now, I do not deny that this change is disruptive and when we integrate a disruptive technology, any disruptive technology, we are going to introduce issues that must be dealt with.  I acknowledge that we will need to be concerned about distractability, social issues, privacy issues, relational issues, plagiarism …

Just as the list of advantages is long, so is the list of issues and challenges.  The issues and challenges, though, really are issues of abundance.  Obesity is a truly significant problem in most developed societies today.  Ultimately, however, do we really want to go back to a time when food was scarce and starvation common?  I think not.  I see the challenges brought on by technologies in much the same way.

So, what would you add to a list of reasons why emerging technologies should be part of the learning ecosystem that is the place that we call a school?


One thought on “on cell phones, and tablets, and kids … oh my!!!

  1. Great article! Just yesterday my middleschoolers used their smartphones to take pictures of the assignment on the board, and then they started taking pictures of sections of a book they weren’t finished taking notes on. I thought that was a great use of the technology – and they thought of it on their own. We were in a classroom and had no photocopier, but the kids wanted just a couple pages for research. Perfect and easy solution. However, not all 7th graders have smart phones, so this is where the school supplying iPads becomes important. It will decrease the “digital divide.”

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