Oct 23

Article: Cell Phones in the Classroom

Came across an article today on the Chicago Tribune discussing how various educators are starting to experiment with cell phones in the classroom, and how specifically one group was pushing for them to be used in the Chicago Public School system.  The suggestion was made that “cell phones should be allowed during passing periods, lunch and as a teacher-defined learning tool (e.g. as for research, surveying students)”, that is, allowing them when it is beneficial to learning, or during free time.

In the article, they mention a statistic that I found very interesting: in a survey, 86% of students admitted that they would bring their cell phone to school even though it was against policy.  The kids see no problem with bringing them.  The parents see no problem with the kids having it.  So why does the school?

Organizations have a habit of banning things when they can be used for inappropriate things.  Other examples are the government banning smoking in public places, or work places banning the use of Facebook.  It’s always something than can be resorted to, but it is rarely the easiest to enforce, the most efficient, or the most useful.  Today you are finding more work places that do not ban Facebook, but rather emphasize to employees to use it only during breaks.  Personally, I view this as a respect issue.  When you respect someone (specifically, respect their ability to control themselves and make good decisions), you don’t ban them from things.

Children are banned from many things: not crossing the street without a parent, not using the stove, not staying up past their bed time, etc, etc.  These are GREAT and important things to do.  However, children don’t know better and need that structure to learn.  Once children reach a certain point, they are worthy of respect – they are worthy of responsibilities.  Most parents will agree with this (heck, just HAVING a cell phone is a responsibility).  Once they reach this point, they need to be given some respect, or they will just rebel.  Consider a 13 year old.  In the past, a 13 year old would be seriously considering getting married, especially when talking about a 13 year old woman!  I’m not saying that this was good, but what I am saying is that for many many years, children became adults much faster…and they survived.  A 13 year old is not stupid.  Not by far.  They have the ABILITY to take things seriously, and if they want to, they can take school seriously.  But, if they don’t see a reason (like they don’t see a reason to not bring their cell phones), then they are not motivated.

In my opinion, bringing cell phones to class is totally fine.  The problem of students using them inappropriately during school would be solved in the most part simply by making school harder, and forcing students to work harder to do well in school!  If a student suddenly realized that if they failed this test next week that they would feel some serious pain or it would seriously inconvenience them, then they will choose to take the learning seriously!  A student who sends text messages constantly while in class is not doing so because they want to, but because they know they can get away with it.  Why is this?  A student that doesn’t pay attention to my classes in university will see this reflected in their grades, where students in high school today can coast through, get a reasonable grade, and everyone is happy.  Let them struggle a bit because they miss something, and guess what?  The texting will all but disappear…

This problem also gets put on to the parents: if children see you not valuing them doing well, they won’t value it either.  If students can get away with skipping class, or failing assignments, or bombing tests, and there are no consequences imposed by you, they won’t see a reason to try harder!  It is incredibly unfortunate when a student doesn’t learn this concept until their first year of university, and then bomb it and drop out.

Summary: Don’t ban student’s cell phones.  Needing to do so is but a symptom of the problem, and doing so stops you from using a valuable technology for teaching!  Fix the underlying condition of students (specifically teenagers) not being motivated to do well in school and you wont need to ban them.

Original Article

>Edit: Found a nice blog article on finding ways to use Mobile Technologies in the classroom.


  1. David Wees

    Great article!

    The only thing I have an issue with is the “make school harder.” I’d rather talk about student engagement here. So school should be more relevant, more engaging, more interesting, more collaborative, and all of these things will make it more challenging for students, but in ways they will accept.

    Making school harder is just going to turn even more students off. School is hard. No one learned about quadratic equations in a public school 200 years ago, but now practically every kid is expected to be an expert.

    So, yes, do not ban the devices because it shows a lack of respect and they have uses, this part I completely agree with.

    1. admin


      Thanks so much for the comment! The big thing that I am pushing here, rather than making school harder, would be MOTIVATE the students. I am coming from a background where school was too easy – I was a talented child at school, and there were no advanced classes really available. I felt no motivation to work any harder than I did. But today there are also children who are not learning the basics of math, science, writing, and the like, and yet are not motivated to learn them! I want these students motivated so that they will choose NOT to text while in class, or use their devices inappropriately, BECAUSE they feel the serious NEED to learn the material! One way to do that is the school making content harder, but another way is the school just holding to the standard they claim to hold, and give a student a failing grade when they deserve it. Another way is for the parents to take a more active roll in caring about their child’s grades.

      I wish there was an easy answer–my wife is pregnant with our first child right now, and I want my child to grow up RIGHT!


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