Matt Monjan let me know that the Simpsons spoofed cell phones in the classroom this past weekend. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also frustrating because there’s so many hints of truth in there. Give the segment a watch before continuing. For visitors outside the US, visit FOX to watch the full episode. Clip I’m referring to is from about 1 minute in until the 3:30 mark.
Yes, it’s a comedy, but comedies are only funny if there’s kernels of truth in there. The kids are distracted by the phones. When asked what they’re using them for, they know the stock answers and can rattle them off without thinking. But there’s a big difference between a student rattling off an answer that they think will satisfy an inquiry, and a teacher actually using a mobile device for educational purposes. And all too often, the solution is pretty similar to what you see in the clip… lock it away and pretend it doesn’t exist.
Fact is, they aren’t going away. If anything, they’re only becoming more and more prevalent. School budgets are tight, and here we are with millions of dollars in technology that’s being paid for by the parents VOLUNTARILY… and most schools refuse to leverage it because of outdated policies and teachers that don’t want to modify their own classroom management strategies.
I’ve heard it thousands of times it seems, “cell phones are a distraction in class.” That’s great. So is the class pet, a window, a paper clip and pencil/paper. Isn’t teaching students to overcome these distractions part of what we do in the classroom? Heck, I used to focus on that in kindergarten! “Maybe you should put that toy behind you right now because it’s circle time. You can play with it again during choice time.” Saying that cell phones should be banned in schools because they’re ‘too distracting’ is a cop out. If your current classroom management model can’t incorporate mobile devices…. well, then it’s time to do some unlearning and relearning.
When I saw Jeremy Davis recently, he told me of an educator who uses cell phones in the classroom. In fact, this teacher requires that the cell phone be out and ON the desk. In plain site. Not hidden in a pocket or backpack. So if the student is using it, the teacher KNOWS. And if the student is using it when they shouldn’t… Well, that’s when there are consequences. Phone is confiscated until the end of the week, or the parent can pay a $25 fine to get it back for their student. Sure, there were plenty of students who lost their phones, and plenty of fines paid. They used the money to pay for a field trip before the end of the year. But the point is, the students learned when it was ok to be using the phone as a learning device, and when it was inappropriate. Believe me, no student wants to go to his parents and let them know that they need $25 to get their phone back… and explain why.
Sure, we can keep fighting to keep cell phones hidden or banned in schools. But it’s a battle that schools can’t win. Life progresses, things change. Like it or not, these devices are here to stay, and adoption rates are racing towards 100+%. I suggest teachers be proactive. Because there’s a tidal wave coming and you can either ride with it, or have it crash into you.