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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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August282007

Back to School - Don’t Forget Your Cell Phone!

As middle school students go back to school this week in Montgomery County, MD, many of them will probably have cell phones in their backpacks. But this school year, they won’t be penalized for doing so, as the local school board expands its relaxation of cell phone restrictions.

The debate over student cell phone possession has never been an easy one. Critics of the idea have long argued that cell phones are a major distraction at best, and a catalyst for bullying and cheating at worst. Supporters, though, insist that cell phones are a necessity for parents to communicate with their kids, particularly during times of emergency. Battle lines have been drawn all over the country, particularly in large school districts like New York City, which enforces a strict prohibition against cell phones on campus.

These battle lines, however, have shifted in suburban Washington DC. For 12 years, cell phones and pagers on campus were actually banned by Maryland state law. In the wake of the September 11 attacks six years ago, members of the Montgomery County school board and others successfully lobbied the state legislature to overturn the law. Once this happened, local school districts approached cell phone policies in different ways. Calvert County schools, for example, allowed students to carry phones if their parents signed a waiver. Howard County, adopted more of a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy: keep it out of sight and we won’t confiscate it.

In Montgomery County, high school students could carry phones as long as they were switched off, while middle school students needed a parental waiver. But as the Washington Post reported yesterday, the county has now extended their high school cell phone policy to middle schools as well.

It wasn’t an easy decision-making process, as many middle school administrators were nervous that middle school students lacked the maturity to possess cell phones responsibly. So last year, the school board decided to conduct a cell phone policy testbed with four local middle schools, observing how the draft policy impacted learning and discipline. According to Joseph Sacco, principal one of the four testbed schools, there were some instances of cell phones going off in class. However, they didn’t experience any serious incidents, such as students using cell phones to transmit test answers or snap inappropriate photos. This, despite the fact that an estimated 25% of sixth graders and 50% of eighth graders carried phones during the school year. Prior to the testbed, said Sacco, “We were enforcing a well-intentioned policy that was out of step with modern realities.”

Based on the success of the testbed program, the school board voted this summer to extend the policy to all middle schools. “You know, cellphones are ubiquitous these days,” said board member Patricia O’Neill. “Many elementary students have cellphones. They’re marketed for safety and security purposes.”

Of course, it’s just the beginning of the school year, and only time will tell if Montgomery County’s decision is a wise one. I’m hopeful it’ll work. Either way, I think they deserve kudos for conducting a testbed prior to changing their policy, allowing them to make an informed decision based on local school dynamics. -andy

Filed under : Mobile Devices, Policy

Responses

A little song for all the kids going back to school…

http://video.dotcomedy.com/player/?id=150360

Well, I’m still not sure this is progress. It might be progress if they allowed them to be on, and used.

I do not agree with cell phones on and in the possession of a middle school student during class. With the rampant text messaging going on, whose to say answers won’t be shared on exams. When a student uses a phone during class, it is sending the message that school is not as important as a phone call. Our office gladly relays messages to students if parents have to get ahold of them.

We’re thinking backwards. Cell phones and iPods are part of our culture now. Let find ways to make them useful in schools. How about text messaging quiz and test answers to the teacher for review? Podcasts of how to setup science labs — with photos and simulations — that can be viewed as homework. Collecting data for a class project — sent directly to the teacher’s computer. I’m certain people smarter than I am can find many ways to integrate personal devices into curriculum.

Food for thought…..For years students have been writing notes in class to other students. When passed, the notes distrupted every student that handed the note to some one else. So now, text messaging only interrups two students; the one sending and the one receiving.
Why not teach children responsibility of having a cell phone. The correct usage. If we ban them we are only creating rules that are impossible to enforce.

I am confused. are the students able to use the cell phones during the school day? If so, that shouldn’t be the case. I feel that cell phones should be there for emergency and use after school to communicate with parents.
Cell phones are definitely a big part of most people’s lives and finding ways to incorporate thier use in the classroom would be fun and possibly educational, but I still firmly believe we need to teach students how to communicate face to face with one another, not just text messaging.

i think we should be able to use cell phones n breaks and during lunch because that is our personal time!!

I THINK THAT THERE WOULDN’T BE A HUGE ISSUE ON USING CELL PHONES IN SCHOOL IF TEACHERS/SCHOOL BOARD WEREN’T MAKING SUCH A ISSUE ABOUT IT. SOME STUDENTS HAVE A BUSY DAY AND DONT HAVE TIME TO TALK TO THEIR FRIENDS OR THEY NEED TO MAKE A QUICK PHONE CALL TO A PARENT. I THINK STUDENTS SHOULD BE ABLE TO USE THEIR CELL PHONES DURING LUNCH OR BREAK BUT NOT IN THE CLASSROOM.

we should be able to use them during break and lunch i dont see wyhats the big problem bout it but we arent learning during thos periods so there shouldnt be a big deal!!!

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