School mobile phone jammers and shoe organizers

If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to this blog via e-mail or my RSS feed. I also am on Twitter. Thanks for visiting!

The Des Moines Register reported today that the St. Ansgar (IA) Schools have given up on their proposal to purchase a device that would jam mobile phone signals after confirming that such equipment only can be used by federal agencies. The district had looked into the possibility of buying a jammer because it was struggling with inappropriate student mobile phone usage. One of the school board members said:

I don't think they have a place in the educational environment. The educational environment is supposed to be about students learning and teachers teaching and teachers can't teach over a cell phone. If a student is busy on the cell phone they aren't learning. It's a distraction … and we need to minimize the distraction.

The interim superintendent also noted that he was concerned about students using mobile phones for cheating.

I e-mailed the interim superintendent a couple of days ago and asked him to consider a different, less hard-line approach, noting schools’ responsibility to prepare students for a digital, global era and that other districts have had success with more-accommodating strategies. Maybe I’ll hear from him sometime.

One of the comments to the Register’s article cracked me up:

Oh, For Crying-out-load. Just hang one of those shoe orginizers next to the door and require each student to check in thier phones on entering the classroom, then they can retrieve them after class. Just drop your phone in your slot and pick it up on the way out. Hey look, I solved the problem for less than $5.00

I don’t know if this is a fantastic idea or not, but it sure made me laugh. Sometimes easy solutions to our problems are staring us in the face if only we have the courage to think creatively. As we head into the new school year, who thinks their local school has an effective solution for inappropriate student use of mobile phones?

22 comments on this post.
  1. Dan McGuire:

    There’s been a lively discussion of this topic over at Change.org in the last week or so. http://tinyurl.com/lr8mvo

    Given the comments there and in the Register, we have a long way to go. Cell phones are the literacy device of the time, whether we like it or not. If we don’t include them in our teaching we’re not teaching current literacy, we’re teaching using outmoded technology-paper and pens are a technology, an old one.

    Check out the links that Ira Socol posted to Change.org about the similar discussions that happened when slates were first introduced to schools. Cell phones are the new slates.

  2. Janis Sartucci:

    Would love to hear what your alternate approach is to this issue. Our Superintendent (Montgomery County, MD) is also looking at purchasing a jamming devices. Here is the article in our local paper on this:

    …”On Tuesday, (Superintendent Jerry) Weast told board members that he might consider purchasing devices for the pilot schools to jam cell phone reception during class. During lunch, school officials would turn off the devices to allow students to use the phones.”…
    http://gazette.net/stories/06102009/montnew143120_32533.shtml

  3. Ira Socol:

    Teachers can’t teach “over a pencil” either, but we have them in our classrooms. Banning the basic information device of the century doesn’t make a school better, it makes it irrelevant.

  4. Heather Loy:

    My district just revised it’s cell phone policy for the upcoming school year to completely ban students from bringing them to school. Students caught with a 4th offense related to cell phones will be expelled from school.

  5. Dave Sherman:

    I have written numerous posts about this topic on my blog for the last few months. I am a huge proponent of using cell phones for educational purposes starting in grades 5 or 6. The kids have them, they use them constantly, and they would be highly engaged and motivated if teachers allowed the use of cell phones for learning in the classroom.

    Unfortunately, this is going to be quite an uphill battle for those who agree with me. The general public and most school administrators will need to be convinced that cell phones are legitimate learning tools for students.

    Thanks for posting on this topic.

  6. me in canada:

    THe shoe organizer thing would work if students weren’t all afraid someone else was going to steal their phone. That’s what I hear when my school collects phones at the beginning of each class.

  7. Larry Ferlazzo:

    Scott,

    Jeez, talking about overkill!

    I’ve posted about why I support our school’s banning the use of cellphones during school hours (not banning bringing them to school, though). Our large inner-city school’s ban on cellphones (and iPods), I believe, has contributed positively to improving our school climate. It has reduced the likelihood of students using them to organize and/or escalate fights, and has helped eliminate yet one more tempting distraction from our students already chaotic lives.

    If a student has a cellphone out between classes, a monitor confiscates it until the end of school. If a student has it out during class, a teacher can do the same, but usually only keeps it until the end of class.

    However, confiscations really don’t seem to happen that much — students generally respect the rule. We have what I would call a very “relational” discipline system at our school. Explaining, and reminding, students why we have the ban in place generally makes sense to them. And those times include hearing their feedback. Of course, these conversations are done in the context of a strong teacher/student relationships, which are also emphasized heavily at our school.

    Umm, building relationships…That might be an idea schools could consider before they buy high-tech devices that students will figure out a way around anyway.

    Larry

  8. Mary Beth Hertz:

    The idea of purchasing a device to jam cell phone reception was a ridiculous idea in the first place. We all know that authoritarian measures like this rarely work in schools. As Larry stated, building relationships and explaining policies while allowing student input is much more effective.

    It was refreshing to hear the perspective of another inner city teacher. In my K-6 school students begin bringing cell phones to school as early as 2nd or 3rd grade. While I understand why–no one is home when they leave for school, no one is home when they get home, and the walk to and from school is not always safe–there is no reason for a student to have their cell phone ON during the school day. If someone needs to call them, they can call the main office.

    I understand the possibilities that cell phones in the classroom can have–but what kinds of cell phones? 100% of my students qualify for free/reduced lunch. Their phones are on pre-paid plans. Most of them just call or text or play music, with a few having camera functions. If they were to use the phone to text an answer to the teacher–who is paying the texting plan? What if a student’s phone is cut off because their minutes are used up?

    Larry also brings up a good point about bullying & harrassment. Unfortunately, our school climate is not a friendly one most of the time. Students threaten each other verbally in front of teachers on a daily basis–imagine if they could do it through a cell phone?!

    While I believe that using cell phones in the classroom hold great possibilites for authentic learning, that does not mean that they are the right tool for everyone. Too many times we adopt new tools because everyone else is using them or says their great. We should be making educated choices about which tools are right for our students and our schools. Cell phones (at least for now) are not that tool for my school, and I’m sure for many schools in the Philadelphia public school district.

    Mary Beth
    (aka mbteach)

  9. Mary J. Johnson:

    I still remember Liz Kolb’s presentation at the 2007 K12 Online Conference about “Cell Phones as Classroom Learning Tools” < .”>http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=152>. That session helped me recognize the huge learning potential for cell phones in schools.

    Here I was feeling hopeful about mass access to new learning technologies now that cell phones “have it all.” Guess I hoped too soon. Nevertheless, I would fall back on my reliable change agent tactic: “Don’t get mad, educate!”

  10. Mary Beth Hertz:

    Not sure why my post shows up twice–sorry! I do have an example of something that worked in our school, though. One of our 4th grade teachers collects all the cell phones first thing in the morning and locks them in a box in her closet to be redistributed at the end of the day. This is a safer method than the shoe organizer, but would only work in elementary classrooms, not middle/high schools.

  11. Kevin W. Riley:

    Why we should give every kid an I-Phone as a learning tool…or…10 Reasons why my I-Phone is smarter than your kid’s teacher:

    • Maps
    • Google Earth
    • Internet research
    • Aps for any subject (especially Major League Baseball); to say nothing of the easy-access Ap for Twitter and Facebook
    • The capacity to communicate instantly with anyone in the world
    • Access to YouTube
    • Podcasts
    • Unlimited music through ITunes
    • Translation capabilities
    • Calculator

  12. Michael Russo:

    I like the shoe organizer idea, but I’ve been tossing around the notion of some sort of cute little basket on the corner of each desk in the classroom. When a student comes in, the phone goes in the basket. If teachers want to utilize them in class, they can. If they want to keep things lower-tech or monitor cheating during tests, that’s possible also. The expectation would be that any student who has a phone has it out and visible at all times.

  13. Carl Anderson:

    The whole cell phone debate in schools is, I think, illustrative of school system’s inability to adjust to change. I could write a whole book on why this condition exists in our profession but in interest of time I will just narrow it to 3 big reasons: 1. tenure tends to produce static conditions in people and deincentivise innovation; 2. Lack of funding and time for professional development to deal with or devise methods for harnessing the power of a disruptive technology; and 3. Despite tireless efforts of progressive education supporters schools are still largely systems that support authoritative teacher-centered learning environments. Teachers tend to teach the way they were taught and most likely that did not involve cell phones. The use of a cell phone in a classroom is seen by most educators as going against authority since it does not fall lock step with the status quo.

    Sometimes technologies (term loosely defined) come along that force us to change the way we do things in order to make room for or adjust to the conditions that are created by that new technology. In a battle between technology and the ban of technology, history shows, technology always wins. When teachers say things like, “Cell phones have no place in the classroom,” what they really mean is, “Cell phones have no place in the classroom that has not found a productive way to integrate them.” Tools like cell phones and iPods require us to reconsider what teaching and learning is, what it looks like, how it is administered, etc.

    I have worked for quite a few different school districts since the proliferation of cell phone technology. One thing that always irks me is when a teacher finds a good use for cell phones, or any other perceived disruptive technology, I often hear a cry from that teacher’s colleagues stating something like, “We need to have an absolute zero tolerance policy toward this because if students in Mr. A’s class can use cell phones they will want to use them in Mr. B’s class too.” I have heard this scenario played out at least 10 times in the past 9 years regarding cell phones, iPods, or other technologies. Such policies only come across to me as lazy and complacent. They tell me that teachers like Mr. B are not willing to put in the effort to figure out how to do what Mr. A is doing or don’t want to deal with the classroom management problem incurred by banning the technology themselves.

    If you don’t want to integrate or use a particular technology that is perfectly OK. The Amish have been peacefully doing this for the entirety of their existence. What the Amish don’t do that schools that impose bans on certain technologies do is impose their ludite principles on others. The Amish don’t tell us that our use of electricity is harmful to them. Why should schools take this stance with cell phones?

  14. David Price:

    Visiting a music project I ran in high schools in the UK (www.musicalfutures.org) a teacher told me of how her students were so excited at the radical change in pedagogy that the project had made, that they were recording their friends compositions on their mobile phones. The Principal happened to be walking past, and shouted: ‘Give me that phone! You know you’re not allowed to use them in class!’.
    To his credit, once the student explained that he was going to post the performance up on the project’s web-site so, and then further work up the ideas at home, now that he had a digital recording, the Principal relented.

    We immigrants have to be willing to learn from the natives!

  15. Charlie A. Roy:

    Interesting post. We adopted last year a more progressive policy. Students can have their phones on them but they need to be off and out of site during class unless God forbid the teacher allows them to use them in a method related to education. Fore example in this video students receive orders over their cell phones as part of a mock pit futures trading event in econ.

    link trading project: http://vimeo.com/3513666

    Here is a compiled list of cell phone policies from private schools around the country. What is interesting is the range of consequences and rules. Looks like everyone has a different take.

    http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pXA5Sk606oPICUuLoE_QjQA

  16. Jane McConnell Greenspun:

    We are a large (5500 students) public school district outside of Philadelphia. We have been having this discussion for a few years and this year we decided to develop a new policy regarding cell phone use in our high school (1800 students). For the beginning of the ’09 school year students MAY use cell phones silently in the following areas:
    1) Cafeteria – at lunchtime
    2) Study Hall – (for those that have them)
    3) Homeroom
    4) In the classroom, at the teacher’s discretion, for directed learning related to the curriculum.

    At ALL other times the cell phone will be turned off and in the student’s backpacks. This is an experimental policy, which we will follow for 6 months. After 6 months we will reassess the effectiveness of this policy as it relates to our learning environment.

    How did we get here? We started with a group of about 40 teachers (large number for voluntary group) who wanted to participate in the decision making process. I will not take the time to discuss the whole procedure but it was fascinating from my point of view (tech director). Many were adamantly opposed to any kind of permissive use. Every person had a chance to discuss his or her point of view. The sentiment changed almost 100% from our first meeting to our last.

  17. TheInfamousJ:

    I’m right there with you. I think in my school, the students are less worried than the lawyers. Something about collecting cell phones makes the school responsible if one is stolen, etc. So the rule is, “No cell phones in school,” which means that if the cell phone is stolen the school isn’t liable.

  18. Jeanette Westfall:

    As the principal for Benton High School in St. Joseph, Missouri, I can speak from experience about adopting a cell phone policy one year ago that is almost identical to the J.Greenspun school in Philadelphia.

    We allow cell phones before and after school, during passing periods and lunch. We allow phones in classrooms ONLY if used for learning purposes to be monitored by the classroom teacher.

    We do not punish the technology at Benton, we correct the inappropriate behavior of the student. We follow a pattern of correction which includes:
    - a warning from the teacher,
    - collection of the misused tool (which can be a cell phone, iPod, paper note, paper clip, etc)following the warning, and finally
    - confiscation of the misused tool with a student referral for misconduct.

    If the tool is a cell phone, iPod or other tech tool, it results in the parent having to retrieve the tool from the principal after the second confiscation. We feel we are teaching the students (and often the parents) of appropriate use of a cell phone through this process.

    We also started/grew this approach through a group of teachers meeting to determine a better way to teach instead of deny. We do live in the 21st century, eh?

  19. Robyn:

    Jamming up cellphone signals….slightly archaic!!

    Surely we should be engaging our kids with the technologies that they use outside of school as opposed to “switching them off” at the school gate. Isn’t it better to teach our students the correct usage of the technology – cellphones, SMS, social networking – and the repercussions of mis-use (even if it isn’t immediately apparent – I can’t say I pity the drunken college photos posted online that will come back and haunt our kids later in life!).

    We, as educators, need to ensure that kids are using technologies to their full capacities within the education sphere. We want our kids to have authentic, engaging learning experiences…..let them use what they are comfortable with and what makes their learning easier- I wouldn’t force my 90 year old Grandma to wash her laundry by hand if she has a washing machine, why would I force my kids to always use a book, pen and paper if they can create in another medium…

  20. Roger Whaley:

    Does the jammer take down the wifi at the same time? I have kids that use their iPod to Skype. Yes, there is an ap for that. Also, the neighbors might wonder what is going on with the cell reception as well.

    I think the real problem is the inappropriate use. Not the devices. It seems that we need to help students define what is and isn’t appropriate.

    Using the device to collect data for an analysis project at an approved time is good. You now have skills that could put you ahead in late 20th Century.

    Using the device to get and give the answers to the test is evil. We call this cheating. Expect to suffer.

    These devices can be huge motivators. I have a short unit of computer music composition in one of my courses. Getting the music off the computers to share with others was a problem until one of my students suggested using iPods and phones. These are banned devices in my school. NOT to be seen out of lockers during school hours or you will be turned over to the dean. I had a conversation with the dean and got approval for their use in my class only.

    All of a sudden the quality of work and the discussion of student projects improved. Easily moved and studied projects were something to take pride in. “I want to have something I want to put on my iPod and show off” is the sound of a motivated student and something I have heard said. I think that teachers would call that an authentic project.

  21. Mobile:

    Surely we should be engaging our kids with the technologies that they use outside of school as opposed to “switching them off” at the school gate. Isn’t it better to teach our students the correct usage of the technology – cellphones,

  22. beenthere:

    Too bad these “tech-savey” seniors I have don’t know how to average their own grades.
    When I was in school 40 years ago, it was out of date and irrelevant. Twenty years ago, students said the same thing. It’s never relevant at the time. Blah, blah, nothing new. This is not about technology or even education. It’s about resisting authority and thinking you know better than everyone else.

Leave a comment