Cell Phones in Seattle Schools: Away for the Day or Away We Go?

KUOW had this story a couple of weeks back:

Now that most middle-school students have cell phones, some teachers are embracing the technology for schoolwork and to communicate with kids. Others say phones detract from learning. 
Sure, they occasionally check out YouTube or Instagram during their lunch period, the friends say, but their phones mostly come in handy at school for classroom activities, like the app Kahoot! some teachers use. "It’s just like an educational game, kinda – you answer questions," Smith said. "It’s a fun way to learn, too. It’s not super-boring."
 Kids who don't have phones can look over a friend’s shoulder to play Kahoot!, or sometimes use a computer.
Other times, Pomeroy said, phoneless kids "just sit there."
Those thoughts encompass the three major issues with cell phone use as part of teaching and learning.

1) It could be a good use of time students might have between teaching and learning to keep them engaged (like Kahoot!).

2) However, not every kid is going to have a cell phone in middle school.  That is an equity issue.

3) If a parent has given their middle school student a cell phone, they may not want it used in class. 

This could be because:
  •  they don't want more screen time for their child or
  • they may not want to be paying for a data plan covering use during the school day
  • or they may not, for safety to the actual phone, want their child to be required to share their phone with other students in class.
There is also the issue of students who have cell phones mostly to stay in communication with parents. Whether they are used in class is the real question.

So what is happening in some districts?
Most of those districts restrict cell phone use in high schools, as well — either all day or during class periods.

If Seattle Public Schools adopts a no-cell phone policy in elementary and middle schools, it will join many other districts in the region that have a similar policy, including Bellevue, Everett, Issaquah, Auburn, Mukilteo and Tukwila.
Thoughts from Board members:
Seattle School Board Member Rick Burke is backing a proposal to make "Away for the Day" the norm in elementary and middle schools: no phones out during school hours. "I hear from educators, and my experience myself as a parent, is that they provide more of a distraction than a benefit," Burke said. 

Board Member Eden Mack co-wrote the proposed policy. "There's value in students having a cell phone in case of emergency, reach their parents when they're taking the buses. And I support that," Mack said. "And I also support parents choice in deciding whether or not to give them a cell phone at all," Mack said. 
The Seattle School Board is expected to take up the proposed cell phone ban in elementary and middle schools later this month.
And just look who is for cell phone use in the classroom:
At Denny Middle School, where Castro-Gill taught social studies, she said it was impossible to guarantee in-class computer access for her students because school laptops she reserved could get diverted to standardized testing at a moment's notice. Instead, Castro-Gill said, "we relied heavily on students with smartphones," especially for group research projects. Although she estimates 95 percent of her students had smartphones, only one student per group needed a phone, "because that one person would be the researcher and share out whatever they found using their phone," Castro-Gill said.

Even if her classroom had enough computers for every student, Castro-Gill said she would still harness students' smartphones in order to make her curriculum culturally responsive.
"The ideology is to meet students where they are, and bring their cultural knowledge into the classroom. And cell phones are part of pop culture, which defines generation," Castro-Gill said.
So much to unpack.  First, the Board signed off for the district to buy laptops to be 1:1 in high schools in 9th grade (with high schools with lower-income students going 1:1 across all grades).  In middle schools, it will be 2:1 in just a couple of years.

Even if students are working in a group, it might be necessary for the owner of the phone to pass it around or share it.  Is the district going to pay for phones that get dropped or broken because a student was asked to share with others?

Does pop culture define generations?  It's certainly part of the picture but I would not say that every generation is defined by its pop culture.

What one parent says:
Parent Annika Carlsten said she wants her kids to have less time on their phones, not more, given the studies she's read and what she's seen at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, which does not have a school-wide policy barring cell phones.

At a critical time for kids to learn social-emotional skills, Carlsten said, "You're letting kids hide behind their phones, not encouraging the kind of face-to-face communication that fosters a community, that encourages kids to be kind to each other, that helps kids learn how to navigate body language and facial expressions and and learn how to interact with each other socially."

She also expressed an opinion many parents share: that letting kids use phones at school allows them to learn how to use technology responsibly.
Carlsten said some of her son's teachers also asked students to download an app to get reminders on their phones after school hours about things like homework assignment due dates.
And there's another issue - teachers signing kids up for technology, either on class computers or on the student's phone.  I wish the Board had a policy that at the beginning of the year teachers must send home a list of apps/online sites that the teacher will be asking the student to sign up for and what information each asks from students.

Here's another parent's take:
She also expressed an opinion many parents share: that letting kids use phones at school allows them to learn how to use technology responsibly.
"Just like we don’t teach abstinence in sex education, I don’t think we should be teaching abstinence in technology, either, as the solution for something that’s a very important part of our modern culture," she said.
I think that's quite the stretch to compare using a cell phone in the classroom to sex education. Kids get plenty of technology out of school. Use of technology in a responsible manner should start at home. 
Some Seattle high schools have been experimenting with stricter phone policies, as well.

At Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Principal Kristina Rodgers said for years, students' phone use was "constant."

Staff suspected students' attachment to their devices at school was interfering with their well-being, Rodgers said. They were spending too much time comparing themselves to others on social media and posting or reading snarky or gossipy things about each other.

"We know that there's already so much going on during teen years anyway, that if we can lessen some of that distractability or anxiety-inducing drama, if you will, then let's do it," Rodgers said.

Last school year, Roosevelt started requiring students to put their phones away in class. 

"I was very nervous. And it was one of the easiest things we have ever done," Rodgers said.
 And consistency has never been an SPS strength so the ending to the story shouldn't surprise anyone.
On paper, the "Away for the Day" rule would not be a change at many schools in the district.
Enforcement, however, varies.
At Mercer Middle School, where student Chris Smith said half his teachers encourage students to use their phones in class, the school already has a cell phone policy: they are supposed to be turned off and put away all day.
Parents, what are your thoughts? Okay to have at school but don't take them out?  Away for the day unless it's an emergency?  Use it in class as long as everyone has one or not?


Keypad Kenny said…
"Just like we don’t teach abstinence in sex education, I don’t think we should be teaching abstinence in technology, either, as the solution for something that’s a very important part of our modern culture"

Uh, the logical conclusion of this would be that we teach kids in school how to use their phones NOT BY DOING USING THEM IN SCHOOL, but by learning about their use. Sex education is taught in school, but topics like masturbation are discussed in class. The students don't actually do them in class.

If students are using the cell phones to do school work in class, why can't kids bring tablets and laptops to school from home? Then they could cut out the 20+ minutes it takes the school computers to boot up. Why stop at cell phones? Let them bring their own laptops.
Jet City mom said…
It is a challenge for students to be productive in class as it is, why would we think another distraction would be a good idea?

Kids learn so much by looking over someone’s shoulder you know.
And that is assuming they never use their phone for checking their messages or Instagram let alone for bullying or harassment of other students.


They found college students learn and retain more if they take handwritten notes.
Imagine how much more important that is for elementary students.

Anonymous said…
I know some of the exclusive local private middle schools make the students hand in their phones at the beginning of the day. I do wish SPS would go that route. Of course, students that need them for IEP or 504 reasons should have exceptions.

NW Parent
Anonymous said…
Here, let me shrink your world down to a 2 x 4 in screen. Students, I present to you the future! Infinitely tiny and inclined to addiction. Just, no.

Dumb Phone
Steve said…
At Hamilton, the students are supposed to keep their phones in their lockers, or at least that was the policy last year. I wonder if kids are secretly glad that the adults are making them take a break from the overload that a phone brings.
Linh-Co said…
Lakeside Middle School doesn't allow cell phone use during school hours. Both St. Luke and St. Joseph (K-8) don't allow cell phones during school. I'm sure there are many others.
Anonymous said…
"..."Just like we don’t teach abstinence in sex education, I don’t think we should be teaching abstinence in technology, either, as the solution for something that’s a very important part of our modern culture," she said....

It is actually incorrect. FLASH curriculum does teach abstinence. It just doesn't ONLY teach abstinence.

I actually think it's parents and other adults who seem to panic more about no cell phones than kids. We just came back from three days at Orkila where the 8th graders couldn't take their phones and their were really very little complaints.

Every time there is a cell phone story, Kahoots gets mentioned. I've used it off and on for several years and really-- it's fun but not really that effective at helping students study.
Anonymous said…
I am not in favor of an away for the day cell phone policy, although I share the concern about inappropriate cell phone use in school and I also share the concern about equity issues. I know that those who are in favor of an away for the day policy always say that of course, there will be an exception for students with an IEP or 504 that allows them to use their cell phones. As the parent of one of those kids, I can tell you that my student would never use his phone for the very limited purposes allowed in his IEP if his class or school has an away for the day policy. He would stand out from his peers, which is the absolute last thing he wants.

Here's another way to approach it. Suppose a teacher has a student in their class who is allowed to use their cell phone to take a photo of the board. The teacher could have a standing practice that during the last 5 minutes of class, students who want or need can take a photo of the board. In truth, there are probably other kids in the class who don't have an IEP or 504 who would also benefit from this. And, this is what true inclusion looks like in a classroom -- taking an accommodation and to the extent possible making it a class norm so the students with the accommodation are included with everyone else.

Two Cents
Anonymous said…
Or the teacher could simply make sure that student had a copy of any notes and or put it on Schoology. There are multiple ways to solve the problem without phones. Phones cause way more problems for schools than they are worth.
Jet City mom said…
Yeah my kid would never use anything like that either, howevet, I think kids with IEP could request a note taker like they can in college or to have the lecture taped, which could be used by other kids as well who had to miss the class for some reason.
suep. said…
There was compelling public testimony at the 10/16 Board meeting by SPS parent and nationally recognized screen-use specialist Emily Cherkin. (https://thescreentimeconsultant.com/about)
She supports the Burke/Mack proposal to limit cellphone use in schools, for reasons based on research. I also agree with this proposal.

- Sue Peters

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