Cell Phones and Classrooms

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beth Fertig, WNYC's education reporter and contributor to SchoolBook, talks about how students and parents deal with cell phone bans in school, and Willyn Webb, educator and co-author, with Lisa Nielsen, of Teaching Generation Text: Using Cell Phones to Enhance Learning describes a few ways teachers can use texting in the classroom.


Willyn Webb, Beth Fertig and Lisa Nielson

Comments [40]

My students and I use our cell phones to keep track of assignment deadlines, set reminders to study for tests, take notes, review notes anywhere/anytime, calculator, translator, texting experts, sharing information in polls, answering test questions, having a voice in brainstorming and discussion, documenting projects with pictures and video, making podcasts, collaborating on writing projects, communicating with teachers/parents about class studies, timing speeches, practicing oral reports, reviewing, getting feedback on our writing, sharing ideas, making presentations with voice, avatars, and pictures, supporting in other in difficult times, offering encouragement, and creating online presentations with input from others in real time communication with Wiffiti....

Oct. 27 2011 04:52 PM

Popejon from Ridge, NY, I use my cell phone for reading, writing, communicating with others around the world, doing an interview on the Brian Lehrer show and much more. All of these activities are useful for learning. Can they be done on a laptop and computer? Sure, if you have reliable internet access. Unfortunately, in most schools this is not the case. Students are frustrated by school systems designed to keep them as prisoners of the past. Just because the adults don't "get IT" doesn't mean the students shouldn't be given the freedom to "use IT."

Oct. 27 2011 04:14 PM

There are MANY ways to enhance learning using cell phones that can be utilized OUTSIDE of school for homework! The debate is not really about the ban, it's about working with kids in ways that they enjoy to make their learning fun, relevant, and applicable!

Oct. 27 2011 02:58 PM
Popejon from Ridge, NY

Raymond Borno from Brooklyn and InnovativeEdu - What is a cell phone at its core? Its a phone and a fax machine (texting). Neither has ever been proven to be useful for learning in the classroom. Its just repackaged old technology, not new technology that should be embraced in the class room. You can not tell me that a cell phone can do anything beneficial in the classroom what a laptop or workstation can't.... Smart phones, phone contracts and data contracts on top of that can add up real fast... I'd much rather see parents spend money on computers.

Oct. 27 2011 02:01 PM
Debbie Yorizzo from Lexington Ave. at 68th street

Cell phones are a distraction even in the elementary schools. They are a total distraction to the simple sophistication of a classroom environment: students, knowledge, and teachers. Rules in a classroom provide us with the paradoxical lessons about the philosophy of education: that a few rules of discipline in schools allow us to expand our minds, think freely, and learn practically. Let's give our attention to the inner strength of human learning, not the superficial seduction of technology. (Also, the requirement for any student in the 5 boroughs with a cell phone should be a possession of an active public library card!)

Oct. 27 2011 01:51 PM

School should be preparing students for real life—and in real life, people use cell phones. If you're making an artificial world inside the school, you're not preparing them for the real world.

Instead of blocking and banning, educators should consider moving to empowering students with the freedom to learn with the devices they own and love. Of course technology will be a distraction in an outdated classroom, but the answer is not to keep students prisoners of the past. Instead, educators need to update their practice. I share ideas on how to do this with articles like this one on my blog and in the book I co-authored with Willyn Webb, Teaching Generation Text (

When parents and educators take the time to learn how to embrace the use of technology, everybody wins.

Oct. 27 2011 01:00 PM
Raymond Borno from Brooklyn

The idea is around using the tools that kids/young adults are part of their daily activities as a device that can support learning. The majority of the comments on this chain are reactive, vs. scientific and thoughtful. The idea is that, "much is broken in the system", and we need to understand how to draw more learners into the conversation. This is just one idea. And, the professor who is writing about his students on their phones while he is teaching might ask themselves how do i insert what i am trying to teach my students into that cell phone track. if kids are keyed into their phones this intensely, then lets capitalize on that psychology. Education is science. there is not one way to get to the finish line.... This one size fits all mentality is why we are stuck.

Oct. 27 2011 11:27 AM

There is fairly inexpensive technology that blocks cell phone communication.

Oct. 27 2011 10:59 AM
The Truth from Becky

What the heck is going on?? Technology is making everyone crazy! No cell phone in school period! Parents, please PARENT and stop enabling your children by calling them during school hours except for in an emergency at which time someone from the school office will walk down to the classroom and with the teacher's permission get your child to come to the office to retrieve your call like in 19*darn*70!!

Oct. 27 2011 10:59 AM
Popejon from Ridge, NY

Any kid can ignore his mom calling him on the cell phone during algebra class by not answering the phone. No kid can ignore getting called down to the main office during algebra class if there is an actual emergency to talk to their parents on the office school phone. And if the school is in "lock down", chances are good local cell towers wont even work because everyone who owns a cellphone at school will be trying to use them all at the same time....

Oct. 27 2011 10:56 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@MP from Brooklyn

Well my daughter does not have your brother for English!

But as far as phones and texting at this school, so much is blocked that it's virtually impossible to get a signal. My husband and I experienced this at an Orientation Night when we tried making a phone call! I suppose this is one way to get around blatant cell use.

Oct. 27 2011 10:55 AM
MP from Brooklyn

@Sophie - English

Oct. 27 2011 10:47 AM

I understand parents want to keep in touch with their commuting kids. I would advocate the simple, strict prohibition of phone use not the phone itself, during school hours.

Oct. 27 2011 10:45 AM
MP from Brooklyn

@Sophie - no, you're right - nothing is!

I can especially sympathize with the dad who said his son has a long commute to another neighborhood. That is one situation where I could really understand the value of a cellphone for kids' safety and parents' peace of mind.

Oct. 27 2011 10:45 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@MP from Brooklyn

What does your brother teach? It's a huge school.

Oct. 27 2011 10:45 AM
CL from NYC

This is the kind of junk journalism that WNYC seems to be increasingly fond of. How, exactly do cellphones in schools "enhance learning"? Not one whit of substantive explanation or, heaven forfend, data. Teachers who can't teach (for a variety of reasons) are not going to be magically improved by incorporating telephones into the classroom.

Oct. 27 2011 10:45 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

I think a segment on hidden costs of being 'poor' would be just as interesting as this segment. What other costs of being poor, minority, undocumented, female are out there? Are there hidden costs of being in the majority that we are unable to see?

Oct. 27 2011 10:44 AM
Popejon from Ridge, NY

In adult life, cell phones are nothing but a constant distraction in work, play and in public. So now its a tool for learning? Oh yes and kids will use it for learning and not cheating and as a major distraction.... Why not let kids bring their own TV to class to?

Oct. 27 2011 10:43 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

I'm not sold on the idea that cell phones can enhance the classroom experience. It just sounds like bribing the kids, to me.

Oct. 27 2011 10:43 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@MP from Brooklyn

The kids who get caught get in trouble. I never said it was perfect.;~)

Oct. 27 2011 10:43 AM
MP from Brooklyn

Amy, see my comment to Sophie. I suspect that "trusting" the kids NOT to use their cellphones during class just doesn't work.

Oct. 27 2011 10:42 AM

My high school daughter loads onto her cell phone all of her vocabulary words so she can study them while on her commute. If she is reading, she can also look up words she doesn't know.

Oct. 27 2011 10:41 AM

Is this really a debate???

Kid's can't focus as it is...

Oh wait, I got an idea!!! Inject more distractions.

SO dumb.

Oct. 27 2011 10:41 AM
Richard from Queens

Re: the teacher who said that she sends out texts to her entire class: what happens if a kid doesn't own a cell phone? Would the school provide one to all students?

Oct. 27 2011 10:41 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Think this is a distraction. Technology excess, as the fundamentals suffer. Schools lack solid pedagogical foundation. This current "technology as learning tool" obsession is being built on sand.

Oct. 27 2011 10:41 AM

Not everyone has them, or has a "internet' connected phone monthly plan. You are requiring yet another expensive item for parents to have to buy. Many people just give their kids a phone just for emergencies.

Oct. 27 2011 10:41 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

The way this teacher (from Colorado) uses the cellphones in class is on to something. However, I can't see that working in a school that is underfunded and poor, because they usually lack the basic materials in the first place.

Oct. 27 2011 10:40 AM
orin michaels

The Colorado lady sounds like a cell phone industry shill.

Oct. 27 2011 10:40 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Can't the schools allow students to bring their cell phones but require them to keep the phones off during the school day?

Oct. 27 2011 10:39 AM
MP from Brooklyn

Sophie, my brother teaches at Arlington! I'm not suggesting your daughter is one of them, but he says he KNOWS plenty of his kids are sitting at their desks texting while he is teaching.

Oct. 27 2011 10:39 AM
Joe from New York

I would hope that one of the cell phone-based lessons that might be taught in school is the likely negative health effects of prolonged cell phone use, particularly for children.

Oct. 27 2011 10:39 AM

Isn't this conversation about how well the kids can look something up using a cell phone and less about learning

Oct. 27 2011 10:39 AM
Bessy from LES

Kids love Bubble Gum but there is a reason it doesn't belong in school.

Oct. 27 2011 10:38 AM
William B. from Park Slope

I have been a college professor for over 20 years and just in the last 2 years I've seen a big difference in student focus capabilities. Why? Because they have a serious addiction to their cell phones. It's a real addiction and needs to be addressed as such. I have a no cell phone USE policy in the classroom but they hide their phones under the desk and constantly check it. They can't go one quiet hour without it. I had a guest speaker one time that was talking about how he caught a child murderer through computer forensics. It couldn't have been more exciting if it had been a TV show. I was sitting in the back watching the students and several were tuned out and on their phones. So from my perspective, cell phones should be banned as long as possible in the hopes of making sure students are more socially developed away from technology before they have technology on them all the time. I think it my help with avoiding problems with addiction. And for the record, I teach courses in technology - I am not anti-technology. I'm pro-student health.

Oct. 27 2011 10:38 AM
Stephen from brooklyn

In regards to Chancellor's recommendation of contacting school in case of emergencies. Good luck getting in touch with school. Never been able to get in touch with school; phone just rings into infinity. This is a bigg accountability scandal.

Oct. 27 2011 10:38 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Public schools in Poughkeepsie will confiscate your cellphone if used. However, my daughter (she goes to Arlington HS) is allowed to use her itouch (w/o phone) during lunch.

Oct. 27 2011 10:33 AM
john from office

I am shock at how inarticulate these kids are, They sound like idiots, must be the rap music and the degrading of American culture.

Guy on the truck sounds like a great role model. Must have been an english major.

Oct. 27 2011 10:32 AM
Stephen from brooklyn

I have a 6th grade middle-schooler who travels back and forth from Kennsington to East Village on subway and I would have never allowed this if I understood that there would have been a ban. This seems almost unconstitutional.

Oct. 27 2011 10:31 AM

believe it or not when i was in school they didn't even have cell phones. some how we got through the day.

Oct. 27 2011 10:27 AM
Thomas Ho from Orlando, Florida

Every student should generate a LearnStream to add immeasurably to our ability to ASSESS LEARNING:

as well as to create a POSITIVE digital footprint.

That LearnStream includes posts to services like Twitter & Facebook which employ texting so those 'aha' moments of learning can be documented & shared to ADVOCATE for education as well. HOPEFULLY, SOME (but not all) of those moments occur IN THE CLASSROOM so WHY would anyone want to prevent a student from sharing them by banning cellphones? It's a no-brainer! :-)

Oct. 27 2011 10:21 AM

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