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Mobile phones in the classroom…. again

Pogue shared a letter that’s got me all riled up again…

I’m a high school teacher. Like all high schools, we are dealing with a problem that sucks time, energy, and resources like a black hole: cellphones. We waged a similar battle a few years back with iPods, and although stakes seem much higher now, the fundamental argument is the same. The argument is:

1] cellphones are a distraction
2] cellphones present a potential liability in terms of cheating on tests
3] cellphones are a distraction

So I’m asking for some insight on how to sell this to an administration that is overwhelmed with a hundred more important things, and to a school board that feels that two $500 computers are twice as good as one $1,000 machine. What’s the answer?

I’m so fed up with these arguments. Paper clips are a distraction. Spiral notebooks are a distraction. And as we’ve seen recently, students certainly do NOT need a cell phone to cheat on an exam.

So off the top of my head, I decided to rattle off a few things that cell phones could be good for.

Such as…
1) Check the spelling/definition of a word
2) Research a topic
3) Look up reference images
4) Pull up maps (even with satellite imagery)
5) Document a science lab with built in digital camera/video
6) Fact check on the fly
7) Mail questions to the teacher that they might be embarrassed to ask
8) Classroom response system
9) Take quizzes
10) Record and/or listen to podcasts

And that’s off the top of my head, spur of the moment. Give me some time and I’m sure we can come up with a much more comprehensive list.

So let’s stop exerting so much energy trying to ‘bust’ students for carrying the same devices the rest of us carry. Rather, let’s start focusing on how we can use them to improve education in the classroom. You know, prepare them for the world and such…

  • A few things that cell phones could be good for in a classroom

    Alfredo Reyes


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  • We are ninth grade students in Mr. Villavisani’s honors english class. We just watched a Simpsons clip on cell phones in the class. Imagine if we all had iPhones on our desk, it would open up a whole new learning world. We would have internet access, an electronic planner, anywhere in the world would be at the tip of our fingers with just a touch. We could research topics easily without fighting over computers…slow ones at that. I wouldn’t mind coming to class if i had all of that to work forward to.

    EDIT by Nick: I believe that what Kaysey has said is true and would be very convenient and very helpful in class, but the real question is: How do we make this technology more available and more affordable to students in the classroom?
    And… How do we appease the grouchy and stingy School Board members to approve cell phone use in class for educational purposes?



  • @Kaysey Well, I’d say that step one is not to call the Board members grouchy and stingy 🙂

    Seriously though, the key is to understand why they feel the way they do and to validate and address their concerns. The rules were put it in place for very good reasons, but as times change the case has to be made for policies to be updated accordingly.

    Want to make that change happen? Then you have to make a case that will appeal to THEM. In their language, addressing their fears and concerns.

    Now the question is… what’re you going to do about it? 🙂



  • Steve,
    My school recently purchased 7 student response systems which will enable 7 classrooms at $15,000. I was able to demonstrate to my Vice Principal how the students can use their cell phones to do the same exact thing using Poll Everywhere with no cost to the district. My district is now looking into opening up its policies on student use of personal devices. I feel it is a long time coming. Just like “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” It is the same with phones. “Phones don’t distract the class, students do, when not supervised properly.” My only concern is when sites like GCast quit accepting membership or uploads, as is presently the case, or Poll Everywhere now not allowing you to clear the poll without subscription fees. (You now have to copy the poll to use it again.) Hopefully, another site will take up the gaunlet and provide these services free.

    Janet Hallstrom


  • Hi Steve,

    I was just thinking of this issue from a classroom management standpoint – Why not devise a way to reward encouraged cell phone use and discourage inappropriate use? Classes could compete to film their own PSA for school use about acceptable hand-held device use in the classroom. When students appropriately use the tech in class they earn points as a class. When someone inappropriately uses it, the class loses points.

    Steve K.


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  • Some people think that achieving help to the greatest number of people for a fixed budget is better than providing excellent facilities to those who can take advantage of them. You can get your smileys for sending to mobile phones at smilys on mobile phones
    .-= david smily´s last blog ..England football shirts =-.

    david smily


  • […] to social media. Recommended posts: “When does Average Joe become Joe Expert?,” “Mobile Phones in the Classroom…Again,”  ”Geotags and the City,” “A Browser Bag of Tricks,” (which […]

  • We should embrace technology but not to our own detriment. School kids should be taught the proper way to use these devices, that’s all. They shouldn’t be used in the middle of a lecture and they should never be used as a substitute for reading proper text books as alot of these devices can connect to the internet and download information.



  • Currently reading – Mobile phones in the classroom – by @teach42

    Jesse Damiano


  • This action proof to be a win, win situation. This is a true art work, which will be a success story.

    Lg Mobile Phone


  • ABSOLUTELY NOT. End of story. If there is an emergency, call the school office. Keep your phone in your locker. We should NEVER see them out during school time.



  • Hi,

    most of us can not imagine a live without cell phones. I use them too of course. But there are certanly risks for our health, especially for the kids. Maybe you can try it that way.
    If cell phones are used at school, it means that they are allowed. If health problems occur and they can be related to cell phones, the victims (kids, parents) will not only sue the cell phone companies but also the schools who allowed there use. Can schools afford to be sued? I guess not with the limited money they have already.

    “There is a growing body of evidence – more than 2,000 independent studies worldwide – linking EMFs (Electromagnetic fields) with serious health issues, from autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, to developmental delays and spectrum disorders like Autism and ADD, to various cancers……..
    Children and teenagers are most at risk due to their developing brains and skulls.

    France outlawed cell phone ads to children this past January. Many other countries followed suit: Russia’s Ministry of Health issued a warning that no child under eighteen should use a cell phone, and pregnant women should avoid them completely. Israel’s Health Ministry and Canada’s Dept. of Health issued warnings as well. Germany, the UK, Belgium, India, and Finland have all publicly discouraged
    children’s use of cell phones, too.” (from organiclifestylemagazine)



  • At the middle school I teach at there are a number of teachers who are strongly opposed to cell phones in school. I have never understood this as many of the same teachers complain of the lack of available technology (most often computers) in our school. If we don’t have enough computers for are students to use WHY NOT make use of the technology that is available: cell phones. Most of my students cell phones are twice as fast as our school computers anyway when looking up information on the web. The arguments against cell phone use these teachers present have never made much sense to me either. First, they say students could use their phones to view sites other than legitimate research sites. Yes, they could. They could also do this on our school computers but we still use those. Another argument is that phones are a distraction. My classroom phone has proven to be a far bigger distraction than student cell phones. In the past three years I have probably had my class distracted by a cell phone ringing about five times. Considering all the distractions that take place in a middle school, cell phones haven’t proven to be much of a distraction. Finally several years ago when we evacuated the school because of an earthquake, many parents were able to immediately find out that there was no damage and everyone was okay by calling their children on their cell phones rather than panicking while they waited to get through on the school’s completely overwhelmed main line.
    Overall, the benefits cell phones can provide far outweigh the problems. I am still confused as to why more educators don’t see this



  • Sorry, that should be, “If we don’t have enough computers for our students…”, not “are students”.



  • So I overheard one of my fellow teachers explaining to a student why she and others were so against cell phones in school. She concluded with, “they simply don’t fit with my idea of a traditional classroom.” This is a teacher who has been teaching much longer than I have, and I have learned a great deal from her and have a great deal of respect for her. Unfortunately, I, and the student she was talking with, were not impressed with her answer. I hope my classroom doesn’t fit the traditional classroom mold. If it does, then I, and my students, are falling behind in our teaching and learning.



  • its a good blog.



  • All of us actually can’t live without these devices, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to use it inside the classroom.

  • I chanced upon to view your blog and found it very interesting as well as very informative, i was need such type information, which you have submitted. I really thankful to you, this posting help a huge number of people. Great … Keep it up!



  • this post was very long time ago, but still, we are really curious and thankfully for the great articles. i have bookmarked this blog for news in the future..oiya, mercedes from malay.. sorry my english no so good..



  • You could arguably say that anything in a classroom could be a distraction but there is not much that could be more of a distraction than a phone. 2nd lets face it most HS kids are better on a computer than adults. To think that you could prevent them from cheating using them is absurd.

    Josh in Nashville


  • This action proof to be a win, win situation. This is a true art work, which will be a success story.



  • Les téléphones dans les classes c’est vraiment insupportable en France aussi, mais pendant les
    mariage s’est encore pire. Les mariés arrivent à l’église, la robe de mariage encore blanche traine par terre et le téléphone se met à sonner alors que le marié va dire oui.



  • i’m a teacher and I forbidden mobile phone in my classroom!!! Greetings form france



  • […] cell phones as learning tools.  There are even links to two of Steve Dembo’s articles from 2008 and 2009!  This school not only had an idea, it had a plan.              […]

  • nice blog tks



  • Great analysis from the write of this post….I am a late adopter for cell phone technology, still like my laptop better, but I can see how the inexpensive and fast technology of the iphone in particular could be a huge help in the classroom.

    PS. My 2 year old grandson already can unlock his mother’s iphone and scroll the photos!

    Rachel Williamson


  • If they would just let schools use cell jammers it would solve all of this. Of course this would never happen but it sure would be an easy fix.

    Floor Plans


  • Great thought and great article

  • No doubt, mobile should not be allowed in any types of classrooms. I don’t know why students require mobile during classes.

    virginia moving


  • My friend is a teacher. Nowadays kids have no respect to teachers. They’re texting and calling during lessons! Unbelievable.



  • Such a nice article and i am totally agree with the author that norms should be set for this problem.

  • It took me awhile to appreciate everything phones can do. I finally figured it out though. I was even able to find an auto parts ottawa store that I’ve been needing to go to. So in short I agree, phones have turned out to be really helpful.