Ever since I saw this image on Facebook, it’s been bothering me. On the surface, it’s a great teacher hack – get the phones out of the kids’ hands and take attendance. It’s a marvelous mix of classroom management and administration, right?

I wish I could admire the teacher, but I don’t. This picture reminds me of my middle school social studies teacher who would confiscate digital watches if they beeped during class. But even he recognized that the device, in this case the dreaded digital watch, was here to stay. He just didn’t want them disturbing instruction.

What this teacher is missing out on is to do more than teach math. He could be teaching personal responsibility and shaping his students behavior. I understand that he wants to minimize distractions to his class, but he is doing so in a way that can create animosity when we are supposed to be building trust. His systems is also so easy to defeat by slipping an old phone into your assigned pocket.

Instead of essentially banning phones, embrace the reality that they are there. Create a norm that the ringer should be sent to silent or vibrate. Teach them how to handle the fact that we live in a constantly connected society, but there are times when we shouldn’t be staring at the screen. Help them learn that lesson.

If he is afraid that the students could use the phone for cheating, then it is time to think about the instructional objectives for the class. We live in a world where content knowledge can usually be found by using Google or some other search engine. The questions that we should be asking should be deeper and more challenging, even in math class. Take advantage of the computing power offered by smartphones and make them part of the instruction rather than a tidal wave that you are continually pushing against. [If you look carefully, this teacher is already using Kahn Academy (look below the phone holder). Use the phones to bring Kahn Academy into the classroom.]

Face it, cell phones aren’t going away and, ironically, with the advent of smart watches, my middle school social studies teacher’s problem is going back to haunt us. The question becomes do we embrace their arrival or rage against them?

 

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