Full of Sound & Fury

All-teacher email messages can be a funny thing. Sometimes they’re very positive and encouraging in nature (“Hey, did anyone catch the play this weekend? Good job everyone involved!”), and other times, like today, they take on sharper tones. I’d be lying if I said I never got sucked into it, but today I sat on my hands while people argued about our school’s new cellphone/”electronic entertainment device” policy.

Our new policy (in a nutshell) allows for the use of iPods & mobile phones at lunch and in the hallways between classes, but not during class (current policy is no use at all, anywhere during school day). Consequences escalate with each subsequent infraction, but all involve confiscation of the device. This policy will be piloted during the 4th quarter of this school year and evaluated over the summer.

The email that kicked it all off challenged proponents of the new policy to defend it. From there, the emails came thick and fast. By and large, responses revolved around one of these themes:

  • FINALLY we’re allowed to confiscate phones – what took so long?!
  • We’re too soft on these kids
  • Why don’t we just jam the cell signals?
  • They banned them in NYC; why can’t we ban them here?
  • If you didn’t sit on the committee, you have no right to complain (not explicitly stated, but implied)

To my dismay, nobody actually used the phrases “In my day” or “When I was their age”, but the pseudo-rant that I can only hope was a poorly written attempt at satire more than made up for it in the “missing the point” department. Also to my dismay, not a single response dealt with the possibility of using mobile phones in a classroom context. I was getting frustrated reading these responses, and decided to craft my own. After a quick Twitter shout-out for some links to add to my existing collection, I wrote the following:

Hi everybody,
Amid the talk of mobile phones at school, I’d like to highlight the part of the policy that allows for teacher discretion of use in class (…they’re to be turned off “unless approved by the staff member in charge.”).


Some of the links below go to discussions and presentations on the emerging use of mobile phone technology in education, and others are to specific applications that can either be infused into the curriculum or used as organizational aids; the latter use might be particularly useful for our students with learning disabilities and the oft-attendant organizational issues (I use Jott and GoPingMe all the time).


This, like other technologies, is simply another tool for which we have an opportunity to explore and model not only appropriate use, but also potential pedagogical benefits.

http://www.edutechie.com/2007/06/8-ways-to-use-camera-phones-in-education/ http://www.slideshare.net/satonner/mobile-phones-in-education-constructive-not-deconstructive-124979/ http://www.math4mobile.com/index.html


(To my credit, in that email I refrained from the shameless self-promotion in which I’ll now engage.)

My email was followed about an hour later by one from the head of the committee that developed this policy. She provided some links to old favorites of the edublogosphere like Did You Know? 2.0 and A Vision of Students Today, as well as some other stuff based on Prensky, Gardner, et al. Nothing new to most people reading this blog, but potentially (I hope) discussion-starting for my faculty.

My biggest beef with this policy is the confiscation; I don’t like it at all, but I guess I have to live with it, at least for a few months. While not perfect, I think it is FAR preferable to dropping the ban-hammer on 3,200 students (good luck enforcing that, by the way) or mandating a multiple-day suspension for multiple infractions (as appeared in the original draft, since removed).

I’ll be following the grapevine at school with great interest between now and June, and looking forward to the committee’s post-trial evaluation report.


  • Damian,

    Our district policy is out of sight & turned off. My superintendent told me flat out that phones would “never” be used a classroom setting.

    I occasionally see students on the phone in the hallways, but they usually wait until after dismissal to make their calls.

    Our kids aren’t allowed email accounts or laptops either. Yet our BOE “endorses” 21st century learning. Maybe if the young people were able to access these tools at school, they could instruct their teachers in how to use them.


  • “Our kids aren’t allowed email accounts or laptops either. Yet our BOE ‘endorses’ 21st century learning.”

    Boggles the mind, that. Boggles the mind.

  • Thanks for writing this, I was waiting all afternoon 🙂 Joking aside, I admire you for your restraint and professionalism in your reply. As you tweeted, it was a teachable moment and you took that opportunity – I hope something positive comes out of it, but you did what you could while staying on high ground…….email exchanges can be ugly and adults are just as bad or worse than kids. On the technology front, cell phones are banned in my school, but I’m fairly certain that if I approached my principal about using them for a specific class activity it would be approved. I did just that with mp3 players last week – students have to keep them in pockets on the way to class and the way back (can be confiscated in the hall by any teacher who sees one) but they are allowed to use them in my class for help concentrating during keyboarding practice.
    Thanks again for taking the time to post this.

  • Actually, I’m for banning cells in the classroom, unless you’re teaching high school. For middle schoolers, they need to be set free from the technology for a bit. It’s actually like unplugging from the Matrix for them. While I agree that the technologies mentioned are useful (I got Lifehacker RSSed), I still see the benefits of having the cell phones cleared off their minds if not simply for the very necessary skill of learning how to focus, something middle schoolers have a hard time doing. I respect your e-mail, though. Must be nice being a voice of clarity.

  • Great post. I’ve struggled with some similar policies at my school (students here are allowed to use mp3 players and phones in the hallways & at lunch- but are banned from classrooms). If I find myself in a similar situation, I’ll think back to your email, and hopefully do something similar. Thanks for representing the tech-inclusion side so well!

    @diane: Wha? No email accounts? What 21st century skills do they support? I don’t remember ignorance being on the list…

  • I come from a “ban it, damn it” school which is in the throws of experiment with allowing students to use cells/iPods, etc as well as finish their coffees – I truly believe the MaryLou’s down the street would go bankrupt if the kids stopped getting coffee – prior to morning meeting. Has it been a panacea? No. Has it led to far fewer meaningly confrontations in the mornings? Absolutely.

    I really think that these technologies do have a place in school. There are students for whom having music or the ability to access lectures via podcasts is a huge huge help. However, we do need to find a happy medium policy-wise. Confiscating the equipment isn’t the answer, esp in our district where if it gets lost in our possession, we have to replace it. Letting the kids have free reign isn’t either. The question is how do we find the “sweet spot”?

  • Earlier in the year, I had my students with web-access cell plans pull out their phones in class and look stuff up for me, since our classroom computer was completely fugazi’d. At first, they couldn’t believe what I was asking them to do, but then they got into it. There was a race to see who could find out about what first, and a lot of crowding around, and it was cool.

    Then I noticed the classroom rules sheet that the teacher I share the room with had put up, and realized that if my kids were in his class, they’d each’ve just lost 10 points off their final grades.

  • We are cutting edge when it comes to cut & paste state brochures, derivative science projects (can you say “model volcano”?) and PP with special effects.

    Welcome to my world.

  • Sounds like @jeff, @whsbotany, and @kate are all testing the waters to various degrees, as am I. Knowing the climate of my school, I am confident that if a senior administrator walked into my classroom and saw 22 kids, mobiles in hand, but all working on a project, the absolute worst that would happen would be some slight bemusement on his/her part (kinda like @kate’s school, it sounds). I don’t think anyone’s arguing for mob(ile) rule, whsbotany (except maybe some of the kids?), but you’re right about having to find some area of compromise. @ben, do you see that happening at your school anytime soon?

    @jeff, I get the same reaction when I have my kids text responses to polls at PollEverywhere.com, and there’s a part of me that feels like I’m engaging in a little gimmickry. Then I realize how into it they get, and in my experience that engagement tends to carry over into the non-phone-related areas of the lesson; sounds like it’s been yours, too.

    @jose, I teach in a high school, but I’m curious as to your thoughts – when you say ‘banned’, do you mean as in “not allowed in the school” or “keep them off and away during class”? Again, I’d never argue with the latter statement (unless there was a specific purpose for their use), but I’m curious as to how a school would enforce the former.

    @diane, we’re meant to open our own online consulting business when you retire and I graduate, and believe you me when I say there will be nary a model volcano or screen wipe in sight.

  • I’m ready when you are, kiddo. Shake ’em and re-make’em that’s us.

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