Here's a very modern question with an ever-evolving answer:
“Can we use cell phones in the classroom?”
And the answer is… it depends! It depends on who you mean by “we,” and what you mean by “use.” Let's examine the pros and cons of this important issue more closely.
Cell phones in the classrooom: teachers
If the “we” you are referring to is the classroom teacher, it depends on the purpose for using it.
I use my smart phone daily in the classroom for specific educational purposes. For example, I have timers set for when certain students need to report to the office to receive medication. I've also used a “flip a coin” app when teaching probability.
At times, I have been asked a pertinent, on-topic question when I am presenting at the whiteboard, a question that required a quick internet search to answer. An example might be:
“How many tons of apples did Washington state export to Japan last year?”
If the question is not appropriate to save for later to look up on the classroom computers, I have quickly researched it on my smart phone, expanded the display and placed the result under the document camera for all to see.
This demonstrates the nature of information access in our connected, know-it-now world. These are the same kids who will be sitting in meetings as adults answering questions as they arise, rather than tabling matters for next week while someone researches them.
It doesn't hurt to see this in action in the classroom.
Here is another highly-effective way to use your cell phone: You can take a picture of student work, upload it to Dropbox, then immediately project it using your computer-connected document camera. It's a great way to dramatically share a great example with everyone in the room.
Let me reiterate: I only use my cell phone in the classroom when students are present for educational purposes and will even write it into my lesson plans if it warrants it. Teacher professionalism does not encompass texting or calling/answering calls during class.
Your students need to feel that they are your number one priority when you are together in the classroom.
Teacher personal use
If you have small children at home and are worried about the “what if's,” make sure you have a plan that includes calling your school's office in case of illness or emergency as the first step – not texting. You know you won't be able to resist a text alert of any sort if you think it might be about your kids, so don't even go down that path.
Do I even need to discuss updating your social media status when students are present? No? Good. I'm glad we all agree that's not a good idea.
Cell phones in the classrooom: students
This website is dedicated primarily to elementary school best teaching practices, and cell phone usage at our level is a developing issue.
Primary grades? No way. Most children between the ages of 5 and 10 are highly distracted by these handy devices. Even the thought of it in their backpacks can drive them to distraction.
And we don't need kids mastering texting abbreviations before they even learn to spell words the correct way!
Closer to middle-school age? Only if:
- Your district allows it.
- There are access and security protocols in place to ensure appropriate internet usage.
- It is beneficial to your curriculum and lesson plan.
And, most importantly:
- Your students can handle the responsibility with maturity.
Follow your district guidelines strictly. No exceptions!
Video tips: cell phones in the classroom
What to do when a mobile phone shows up
That is, when it's not supposed to be present at school… even a non-working one that a student considers to be a toy.
Since you've set expectations early in the year, there should be no question about the consequences. Yes, it can still happen, but there is no need to make a huge deal of it.
When a student of mine brought a dead cell phone to school just to “play cool,” I took the phone, called his mom and let her know she could come get it or pick it up at conferences. Simple and effective.
For real cell phones, usually there is a school or district policy about their use. If there isn't a policy against bringing them to elementary school, these rules should apply:
- Students must keep them turned OFF and in their backpack until after the final bell rings.
- If backpacks are unsecured during the day, give the students the option of putting their phone in your locked desk OR giving them to the office to hold
- Under no circumstances are the students allowed to keep them in their desks.
If a parent of an older elementary student states that their child needs to have their cell phone available in the classroom to call in case of emergencies, your answer is:
“Your child is never unsupervised during the day. If she needs to contact you, she will be able to do that. Just be certain your contact numbers are updated in the office.”