The Cell Phone Questions

If you have stumbled upon my randomly-updated blog, then you have most likely come around to hear of some of the things I have to say about the usage of cell phones in the classroom. Out of the group leaning that way, many will have stumbled due to a project that is assigned to them for graduate school, and while I absolutely love the program that said school is using, I am disappointed that they have given a project of such low order thinking in a program that is supposed to promote higher order thinking skills. I have mentioned this to a few of the people that I know that are professors in the program, but still, the project has not changed.

So, even though I am starting out somewhat ranting, please know that this is meant as constructive criticism. So, let's start with what I see as issues to a project that states "Find a teacher that has used cell phones in class and ask them questions about the following things." These questions will be posted below. In 2008, I would say that this would be a very beneficial course of action to follow, as the use of cell phones was so new, there was nearly nobody doing it. I received a ton of inspiration from Liz Kolb when I saw her at NECC in San Antonio (NECC is the old name for the ISTE Conference), and I dove right in. I started using Poll Everywhere with one of my classes, and the kids were so enthralled by having a reason to follow the rules that they immediately turned their phones off and put them away so they wouldn't have them confiscated for accidentally having them ring in class. They now had a reason to follow the rules, so I went to my principal to ask for permission to use cell phones in my classroom (the old "ask for forgiveness" routine). So, if this idea has been around for over three years, why are we still asking questions about starting to use them in schools?

Now, I know that there are still many schools out there with a zero tolerance policy. In my classroom, my policy is, "If you're getting all of your work done, then why would I care if you send a quick text message? It's a lot less disturbing than yelling across the room!" Yet many are still shocked that I would allow such a thing, but you know what? This is the world our students are living in and need to prepare for. They need to learn how to balance all of the different tools they have available and to properly utilize them to be productive. When I see a kid texting in class (and getting all of their work done), I often have a short conversation with them about ways they can use the device more productively by challenging them in new ways. For each student it's different, and they each get a different idea from our discussions. If a student is just on their mobile device (cell phone, iPad, iPod, etc.) and not being productive, they first get a warning, then the device is confiscated. A privilege has been abused, and a consequence handed out. So I'm not just that teacher that allows free use of the devices. And in my flipped classroom, it's a privilege that works out pretty well.

So we are now in a time where we aren't just talking about cell phones, but mobile devices. So the fact that this project is still only asking about cell phones is disappointing to me. Why aren't all mobile devices included? And why is it still a low-level project? I have had hundreds of emails from students in the same program ask the same questions, and I often am bombarded by twenty or so emails all within 3 days. Having to answer the same questions over and over is monotonous on my end, and I am sure that the instructors have seen the same answers over and over. I feel bad that there are times in the year that I do not have time to respond due to other obligations, and some students are left searching out other avenues. I have suggested that I could to a short recorded video for the program and answer the questions that way, or even have a time mutually set up to do a synchronous web interview or webinar, but alas, this university (again, I am not bad mouthing the university. I really, really do like what they offer, and recommend the program to many) has not agreed.

So, I do want to help spread the word of integrating cell phones and mobile devices in the classroom. I also want to be able to keep my sanity and not have time for anything else. I also want to prove a point that a new higher-order thinking project needs to be designed in place of the current one to provide a better educational opportunity for these graduate students, and, in turn, their students. These graduate students are tasked with "interviewing" me through email. Well, I am going to respond to all of the questions I get from this program here in this post. If you have questions beyond these and have a genuine interest for integrating mobile devices into your classroom, I will respond. Just be patient. I am a full time teacher, and my students and duties do still come first, but I will get around to further questions.

So, here are some of the most common questions I receive.

1. Does your school currently have a policy on cell phone use?Our policy states that all mobile devices should be turned off and out of sight unless given permission to use in class by the teacher for educational purposes. As I allow a pretty lenient use of the devices in my class (as stated above), I consider being able to be more productive while multitasking to be a very educational purpose, as that is a 21st Century Skill our students will all need when they move beyond high school. 
2. How long has this policy been in place?I think it changed sometime in 2009. I was actually a rule-breaker when I first used cell phones with my students to gather evidence of their learning by utilizing Poll Everywhere. The policy was that all phones needed to be turned off and out of sight during all school hours. Period. But I knew my students all had them, so why not utilize them in a more effective way? After piloting, I approached my principal for permission, or, if things took a turn against what I did, for forgiveness. 
3. What are the consequences for students who abuse the policy?We are to confiscate the device and take it to the office to be held there for one week. A student may have a parent come to the office to retrieve the device in exchange for serving time in a Saturday detention. I am not a big fan of this policy, as we don't take away a student's voice box if they speak out of turn, but I really don't have many issues where I have to enforce the policy either. And when I do have to enforce it, it's usually pretty warranted, and does lead to an educational discussion with most of the students affected. 
4. How did parents react to the use of cell phones in the classroom?My students' parents were ecstatic! It used to be that they were paying large sums of money for students to be social and to entertain themselves with the devices. Now, for that same price, not only are they being social and entertained, but they are being productive (and learning how to be more productive)! Who isn't happy about getting more bang for their bucks? On top of that, parents can receive updates through text messaging services (used to use TextMarks, now use Celly) including assignments and notices about upcoming assessments. 
5. What do you do for students that do not have their own cell phone or text messaging plan?Luckily for us, we were part of a grant program known as Classrooms for the Future (CFF) that provided technology and instructional support for our core secondary classrooms, so there is a computer cart in my classroom that students have access to. Any service that I have used with cell phones can be accessed on those computers, or students could share their cell phones. If there was an issue of recording audio, often a computer or land-line could be used in place of a cell phone. I always make sure to say, "If you don't have your cell phone today..." instead of, "If you don't have a cell phone..." as I don't want to point out that a student may not have this all-important piece of social status (flair), and it seems as if they just kept it at home, in their locker, or they could choose to state that they don't have one. 
6. Could you briefly describe a project your students completed utilizing cell phones?The project itself really had nothing to do with cell phones other than for delivery. I wanted my students to have a better understanding of quadratic equations, so they researched a way that quadratics could be applied to something they enjoyed. As research commenced, students narrowed down their topics, and some even learned about some higher level mathematics that they would not see in the classroom setting that school year. One student dabbled into Calculus years early, another moved into some Physics, all through the gateway of quadratics. A few years earlier, I would have had students write a report on their findings. Instead, students wrote a script, submitted it, discussed it with me, did more research and experiments, revised, and resubmitted, all before the cell phone came into play. Once the script was approved, students recorded the script through a phone call using a service known as Yodio and the project was done. See my class wiki for the projects. There are so many different services out there now that allow for recording like this, and be aware that you might find a service you like one day that might be gone the next or charge you for use.
So, in the end, this wasn't a cell phone project. It was just a project that integrated cell phones. As the students knew they'd be using cell phones, they were excited about the project. By connecting to something in their own lives, they were even more excited. So here is my higher-order project assignment for you: What can you do in your classroom to better reach your kids, where integrating mobile devices is not the purpose of the project, but a way to enhance it.
So for all of you that are here just for your graduate course, here are the answers to the questions you were probably going to ask. For those that were unable to benefit from my knowledge prior to this post, I am sorry I couldn't help. As educators yourself, I am sure you understand how precious time is for me. And for anyone who wants to know more, feel free to contact me! Maybe we could have a full conversation on twitter, via Skype, over email, or even face-to-face.

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