Unexpected Student Reaction to Use of Cell Phones in Class

Until the computer in my classroom was hooked up to the Internet last week thanks to RSCON4, I resorted to desperate measures. The beginning of the year is the time when I must introduce the new students (and remind the older ones) what we do on the computer, how and why we do it. It is the time for building habits for the rest of the school year.


Photo by Gil Epstein
Photo by Gil Epstein

* I sent my high-school students, one by one with an adult escort (not a teacher) to the library.

* I sent them in pairs to the library, having one explain to the other.

* I sent them in pairs to the TEACHER’S ROOM on Fridays (school library is closed) with a note from me.

* I had them pull out their cell phones.

Note: I only have one student who doesn’t have a Smart Phone (I DO have some students who don’t have a computer, only a realy big Smart Phone!).

Some students were pleased that I could explain things to them myself and the Quizlet new flashcard feature caused quite a stir at first.

Others were surprisingly reluctant to use their cell phones. Mind you, these are kids whom I describe as having their cell phones hooked up directly to their blood streams!

At first I thought it was possesiveness. However, at no point did I make any attempt to actually TOUCH their phones, I would just explain and they would touch the screen and hold the phone.

So then I asked about the cost. Perhaps they were concerned about the price of surfing on a cell phone? But that wasn’t it either. All of them have unlimited surfing plans.

A few said that I’m wasting their battery. I pointed out that my new classroom is full of electrical outlets. That was helpful to those who remember to bring their chargers to school (actually many kids do!).

It used to be a lab. There are so many sockets!
It used to be a lab. There are so many sockets!

The others finally clarified their problem. Their cell phones were for them to be on Facebook and Instragram and WhatsApp. What right do I have to ask them to use it for helping them with their schoolwork?!!

I didn’t argue with anyone about it. I left it as an option. Now we have a computer in class. Those who are comfortable with checking their homework assignments and talking to me about them while looking at the app may do so. Others can wait their turn on the computer.

Still, I WAS surprised.

7 thoughts on “Unexpected Student Reaction to Use of Cell Phones in Class”

  1. I am really surprised by the students’ reaction. This summer I attended the Building Learning Communities in Boston which brings educators together from all over the world. The focus is on collaborative projects and use of technology to link students worldwide. Several teachers who presented reported their students were eager to use the cell phones. The biggest obstacle was school policies forbidding use of phones during school, and then seeking administrative approval to use them in special cases.

  2. I think it’s an unstated rule that school is on one side of the line and private life is on the other.
    (an assumption based on observation)
    You heard their reaction – it’s their phone, not for school use.

    On the other hand, when I work with QR barcodes, and some kids refuse to ‘download’ the barcode scanner onto theiri phone, the situation is saved if one student among them has the app already. It’s therefore pronounced ‘okay’ and my activity is allowed to proceed.

    The phone is so very personal. I don’t think of it that way, since I wasn’t born with this technology. But they were (or so it seems). We have different perspectives!

    And how fascinating that we’re constantly trying to bridge an almost unbridgeable gap.
    be well, Naomi


  3. I think you hit the nail on the head, Judih, the phone is so personal for them.
    Do you think it is a cultural thing? The previous commenter was very surprised.

  4. I wonder if the student reaction of use of cell phones varies by location. Where I am in Connecticut, many students would welcome the opportunity to use their phones. Teachers report using apps such as Celly and Socrative with students during class. I have also observed that students in my own classes who do not have a laptop will gladly resort to their cell phone to keep up with a website we are exploring in class. Here, the controversy is not so much if students want to use the phones, but more so school policies banning the use of cell phones in class. Slowly, these policies are changing, and we are seeing more and more use of phones in class, but the process has been slow.

  5. Hi Naomi and Judy
    Yes, there were kids who reported being glad to use their phones (when I asked for feedback about the QR barcode activity). There were outright refusals to download side-by-side the more gleeful participants. However that was last year!
    This year, I have yet to test the waters.
    Today I plan to QR Barcode my 11th Grade class. I’ll be happy to come back later and offer my latest discoveries!

  6. Judy and Judih,
    It seems I should have poll for teachers on the subject! Widen the sample! Do keep us posted of your discoveries, Judih!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *