Saturday, June 7, 2008

Cell Phones Banned? Whoops!

Cell phones are banned in most schools in my area and all around the country. Have you ever stopped to wonder why this is an accepted practice? How can we, as teachers, allow this powerful tool to be taken away? This quote, from "A Plethora of Technology" blog, really made me do some thinking,
"The need to know the capital of Florida died when my phone learned the answer."
-High School Student Anthony Chivetta on Student 2.0

Last summer, I attend the Constructivist Consortium Celebration in Atlanta with my pals from FableVision. While at the celebration, I heard someone say something about cell phones that made me think...a lot. I don't have an exact quote, but I think it was Gary Stager who suggested giving kids something to do with phones, instead of banning them.

"Deer caught in the headlights" is how I refer to the facial expressions of my high school chorus as they are singing. This year, I was determined to make that different. I did several different things with the intention of getting kids to be more involved with the text of the song. I invented a game (which I will describe in another post) and I had the students interview someone about the songs they loved and why they were significant.

With the permission of my principal, I stunned the kids in chorus one day by asking them to take out their cell phones and call or text someone outside the school and ask them about their favorite song. A few students looked at me as if I were tricking them into giving me their cell phone, which is the punishment for having a phone in plain sight. Two or three students were unhappy because they had left their phones in their locker and wouldn't be able to participate. Kid who didn't have a cell phone were able to interview someone in the room.

What happened was truly amazing. Students in my tiny little Iowa town were talking to friends and family in all parts of the state and country. Many were within the local area, but some were as far as Oregon and California. Instantly, I had taken my lesson to a more global reach.

Some of the teachers in my school are a little uptight...I expected some backlash. However, I explicitly told kids that this was a one-time deal and they were not to try it or suggest it in another class. Then, I sent out a message to the whole faculty and described the experience. Interestingly, the only comments I received from teachers were questions on the effectiveness and exclamations of "how cool" the assignment was.

Sadly, my cell phone usage didn't catch on with other teacher risk-takers. I do think it had some impact on how the kids approached songs. Most importantly, I proved a concept that in this 'flat world' we need to allow kids to reach out of their own tiny corner of the world and tap into the vast knowledge that is available.


Clay Burell said...

Bingo. For Project Global Cooling, I loved violating the cell phone ban by urging the members to whip out their phones to research concert venues, price banners, call other schools, the whole nine yards of doing real business. Phones are things we use for business in the real world, in order to practice skills like public/persuasive speaking, research and info-gathering, etc. It was probably the first time many of these students ever used their phones for anything but mommy or friends.

TJ Shay said...

Totally surprised that the fun-hater teachers didn't jump me in the parking lot for violating the ban. One teacher wanted to confiscate phones if he saw the bulge in a kid's pocket... Serious fun-hater and sort of creepy.

It was amazing to see the looks on the kids faces when I told them to get out their phones..... I am guessing it was a lesson the kids remember and, honestly, isn't that what we are after?

Barry Bachenheimer said...

I think the more authentic ways we can teach kids to use their technology as tools and engagement towards goals teachers want them to have, the better off we are.

As you know, it is a careful balancing game!

Sounds like a good lesson!

Just to play devil's advocate, how would the lesson have been different if they had just asked each other OR if only say, half the class had cell phones?

TJ Shay said...

The kids (about half) who didn't have cell phones with them, did just ask others in the room or other nearby teachers. They had an experience that was good and important, but not as deep as the cell phone users. Our school is very small and the kids are pretty homogeneous. Mostly they like the same things/music/looks, etc.

Having perspective form the outside world was great! I plan on doing more of it. My big dream is to Skype into a different music classroom next year and have a big conference call!

TJ Shay said...

Clay and Barry,

I forgot to say thanks for the comments. As you can tell, I have only been blogging for a few days and I have found myself loving the feedback of comments.


Clay Burell said...

No thanks needed, Terry. Good ideas bring comments. (Though it took me months to get comments when I started ;-) ).


Jason Everett said...

Kudo's TJ! Great use. Just thought of another music related cell phone idea. Have a "ringtone" contest to see who can create the best ring.

We have also used Gabcast for cell phones in the classroom. Great way to capture voice to a website.

Great job!