published Sunday, December 12th, 2010

School system may rethink ban of student cell phone use

by Kelli Gauthier

The energy that teachers spend scolding students for using their cell phones soon may be redirected toward encouraging use of the mobile devices in the classroom.

"They're bringing them to school anyway, so why not use them?" asked Cathleen Richardson, an Atlanta-based education consultant and chief innovation officer of Cre8tiv Educational Services.

A presentation Richardson gave recently on the benefits of using cell phones as educational tools in the classroom has prompted Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales to consider re-examining the district's cell phone use policy, he said recently.

The school system now has a districtwide policy preventing cell phone use during the school day, which is executed slightly differently from campus to campus.

"As change takes place in our overall society, we have to get comfortable with it," Scales said. "There was a time when parents didn't allow their kids to have cell phones ... so, things change. We need to look at the real benefits of it and also the downfalls of it."

Any change in the cell phone rules would require a Hamilton County Board of Education vote, Scales said. He plans to have Richardson visit Hamilton County this spring to talk to officials about the pros and cons of allowing cell phones in the classroom.

Facing slim technology budgets, school systems across the country increasingly are turning to mobile devices that many students already own -- cell phones and smart phones -- to do everything from online research to test-taking to e-book reading, Richardson said.

"You can even dissect a frog with an app on your iPhone," she said.

Although Hamilton County teachers don't use cell phones in the classroom often, some of the more technologically inclined already have thought about how they might.

Marilyn Spickard's classroom at Soddy-Daisy Middle School is filled with computers, scanners, digital cameras and a laser. The technology teacher said she knows that monitoring cell phone use in her classroom could give her some extra headaches, but she believes the devices' usefulness would be worth it.

"I teach with all the technology tools I can possibly get my hands on; [cell phones] would just be one more tool," she said. "I look for the day [students'] textbooks are loaded on an iPad or a Kindle, just for the sheer weight they have to carry."

Of course, if cell phones were only useful, Hamilton County wouldn't have a policy disallowing their use, officials say.

Texting or making phone calls during class would be a huge distraction, teachers say, so using cell phones couldn't be a free-for-all.

By the numbers

* 71 percent of youngsters between 12-17 have cell phones

* 46 percent of teenagers got their first cell phone at age 12 or 13

* Half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month

* One in three send smore than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.

Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

"Maybe there's a cell phone basket and only let them pull them out when it's time to use them," Richardson suggested.

Carol Goss, principal at Tyner Academy, agreed, saying she doesn't imagine a revised cell phone policy would allow students to use their phone whenever they wanted.

"It would be more an exception than a rule," she said.

Officer Vaughn Crane, a school resource officer at Howard School of Academics and Technology, said cell phones on campus also create another problem.

"Kids bring $300 and $400 phones to school, and the bigger issue for us is that bringing cell phones to school results in thefts," he said.

But Sam Martin, a special education teacher at Rivermont Elementary School, believes teaching students to properly use technology will help with academics.

"Sometimes it's so hard to get kids to write to a narrative prompt, but these same kids love texting," he said. "On Twitter, they have to know how much information they can fit into 140 characters. We hate what it does to modern spelling, but kids do learn what information is most important."

Marty Massengale, a technology teacher at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, said he allows e-mail-based chatting in his classroom. Although the potential for distraction exists, he believes it also provides a way to teach responsible use -- much like he believes cell phones in class would.

"I think it depends on the school and how the students respond to the freedom. ... We could shut off [the instant messaging], but I think we'd be much better off to teach them to responsibly use it," he said.

Contact Kelli Gauthier at or 423 757-6249. Follow her on Twitter at

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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inquiringmind said...

Good luck. Kids will just treat it as a warrant for free use and text all the more. Just start confiscating the phones when discovered and return them at the end of the term. That might solve the problem. For an "Atlanta-based consultant" to say "they are going to use them anyway" is simply a defeatist attitude that helps his company make some money off Chattanooga schools. Do we let kids sell drugs at school "because they are going to do them anyway?"

I wonder if he was associated with the Atlanta Public Schools or School Board, they are doing such a good job down there.

December 12, 2010 at 9:58 a.m.
hcirehttae said...

Cell phones are not computers. The so-called educational apps that are being generated for cell phones are watered down and attenuated compared with such an experience on a real computer, like the difference between attending a symphony orchestra in a concert hall versus listening to it on an iPod speaker in a train station. Both input and output are thin and watery on cell phones; the quality of thinking going on when using a cell phone for education is definitely narrow-band.

Why are we "settling for" constantly? Our parents' generation was better educated with books than we are with computers, and we are better educated with computers than our children will be with cell phones. That's the bottom line.

Cell phones and texting are a fad that will fade. Nobody uses pet rocks or Beatles wigs in education, do they?

December 12, 2010 at 11:59 a.m.
Salsa said...

Legalize jammers and this problem will be solved.

December 12, 2010 at 1:20 p.m.
cre8tivmind said...

Part 1:

Hello inquiringmind. First, I am a she and I didn't say "they are going to use them anyway"...I said "they're bringing them to school anyway." I have worked with many school districts across the nation who have implemented mobile devices into their curriculum with much success. Since I have researched this topic and worked hands-on with schools to infuse these devices, let me give you some data that you aren't aware of:

  1. Mobile devices are helping students to increase their fluency skills greatly. Our schools are packed with students who aren't on grade level and can't read. Literacy is a huge issue and programs like iRead are turning schools around and increasing literacy and standardized test scores when more traditional avenues have failed. Here is a link so you can read more:

  2. Schools have had to endure massive budget cuts over the past few years. Technology is proven to engage and stimulate our students to want to learn content they otherwise aren't interested in. Since many of our students come to school each day with these devices (many schools allow cell phones to be brought to school, just not used during instructional time) I believe we should consider utilizing them in many ways. Have you ever heard of student response systems? Well, the 20th century model of teaching is that a teacher would lecture from Monday to Thursday and then assess students on Friday. In the 21st century we can no longer wait for Friday to see if our students have failed. Equipped with mobile devices a classroom of students can respond to a poll generated by a teacher. The teacher can then receive instant feedback from them as whether they understood the content or not. And the cost to faithful taxpayers as yourself...$0.00. Check out

December 12, 2010 at 1:35 p.m.
cre8tivmind said...

Part 2:

  1. And for @hcirehttae technology is not a fad, neither are mobile devices. Technology will only evolve. You may want to research our first U.S. Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra and read his thoughts on mobile devices. He created a program called "Apps for Democracy" in Washington D.C. Research how much money he saved DC in one year ( If we have decision-makers in our midst such as Mr. Kundra who believe heavily in technology...where do you think this country is going in regard to technology?

Our students have more resources available to them today than you or your parents ever did combined. And with the mobile device, it is ubiquitous. Anywhere...anytime with these devices our children can learn. Equipped with a smart phone like an iPhone, a student has the world's largest database at their disposal for research, their summer reading books, textbooks, audiobooks, podcasts, a microscope, a scanner, a word processor, a calculator, and we haven't even scratched the surface with apps! And yes, there is an app for that...and they are far from watered down. To be able to use an app like Voice Memos to record a student making a cold read to assess their fluency level, how many words they read per minute (all aligned with state and national standards) and allow them to hear themselves and then! And then, with a tap of my finger I can email the voice memo straight to their parent in an effort to bridge the gap between home and school so they can help their struggling!

We can no longer debate whether we should or shouldn't, but rather how. By the year 2020, 75% of all jobs will have a high saturation of technology. If we don't prepare our students for these jobs now by teaching them how to use technology like mobile devices efficiently and successfully in the classroom...we have done them a great disservice. More data for you here:

December 12, 2010 at 1:36 p.m.
cre8tivmind said...

Part 3:

  1. You may also want to research QR codes and how they can revolutionize the classroom (I will just provide you a link:, how we fare with students globally (countries like China, Africa, Japan and the UK have been using mobile devices for YEARS and with great success.) We have to prepare our students to compete globally. Research the following national and international schools as well:

The latter is an awesome account from Liz Kolb, the author of, "From Toy to Tool: Cell Phones in Learning."

As an educator, I am not settling, I am trying to find new and innovative ways to engage our children. If you have not noticed, our students are different, and they learn different. As result, they often feel disconnected from their teachers of yesteryear. We must rethink the way we educate our children, if not we may be faced with a permanent underclass, ill-equipped for the future that surely awaits them.

I too, doubted mobile devices in the classroom in the beginning, but after seeing first hand the power of these tools, I am now a strong proponent. Hopefully, after your will too!

P.S. Read the Joan Ganz Cooney Center reports: iLearn, Pockets of Potential: Using Mobile Technologies to Promote Children's Learning and Learning: is there an app for that?

Have a GREAT Sunday!


Cathleen Richardson Chief Information Officer Cre8tiv Educational Services

December 12, 2010 at 1:37 p.m.
cre8tivmind said...

And one more thing...Kudos to you Superintendent Jim Scales for being an innovative and cutting-edge visionary. Your insightfulness will take your district far into the future and prepare Hamilton County students to harness the power of technology!

Sincerely again,

Cathleen Richardson Chief Innovation Officer Cre8tiv Educational Services

December 12, 2010 at 2:06 p.m.
rrmurry said...

The comments demonstrate how effective bad PR for schools and teachers has been over the past few years.

The use of nearly anything could be called a fad. The idea of a fad is that it engages the current audience of students. Books don't do it in a mobile, multi-media age.

I have used cell phones in my classroom (not as much as I would like) for about 5 years. 75% the battle in a classroom is to get the students to zone in on what someone else says they should know (and that doesn't come from the teacher, it's from the government and the "standards" they choose). Using their tools is one way to encourage participation by the students. Students can't learn from work they don't do, so getting them to do some kind of work is often better than what occurs for too many students.

So, thank you Cathleen for fighting a battle I have tried to fight on a local level (not in Chattanooga) for about 10 years. The filtering of content in order to receive e-rate funding has creating a modern-day book burning by restricting the information students could use for classroom content. But an over-analyzed interpretation of CIPA laws (et. al) have given the power to the few IT people in schools.

Cell phones and self-owned gadgets put the responsibility on the teacher to monitor students, and the parents (if students access inappropriate "information" since it can be tracked) as to how to use and what to use it for. This approach is a much better filter than any tech-based system can provide, because it is personal.

The more high-tech we become, the more important it is to provide a human element in the lives of the children we teach.

I could keep going, but I won't...Those who understand the situation in today's schools are part of the choir, and those who don't understand the atmosphere of education will continue to criticize without a basis in knowledge.

December 12, 2010 at 5:11 p.m.
rrrccc said...

I am a teacher and I am not even supposed to use a cell phone at school...until it's early dismissal, etc. Then I am expected to call parents, use my minutes and expose my private phone number. Of course, this is because the school only has one phone line. And yes, in this day and time, not everyone has felt the need to resort to an expensive smartphone or has unlimited plans. I know my own child, who hasn't caught on to the texting craze yet, still has a plain cell phone she keeps in her backpack for emergencies only. After school shootings, gang issues in school, including hers, I insist she carries something in case of emergency. My reason for bringing this up is that if cell phones are used in the classroom, which I can certainly see the pros to doing, how will we equalize the access? Not all students carry a phone, the same type of phone with unlimited things like internet or texting, so how will this occur? Do we purchase everyone the same model and make sure the phones are only used at school. Will they be assigned like textbooks are now? Will only the richer schools get them or those with high Title One needs who can get a grant? If you are going to do it for one, then do it for all of them. Equalize the technology we actually have or need before we talk about cell phones in classrooms. Perhaps we need to focus on getting all the schools up to date on all the items the state is mandating we are going to need for the future TCAP tests that will be administered four times a year via computers before we talk about cell phones. I would love to know how we are going to meet that unfunded mandated first.

December 12, 2010 at 7:52 p.m.
rrrccc said...

And as a teacher of primary students even we have issues will cell phones in the classroom. I have 6 year olds whose cell phones have rung in the classroom. I answered one once and it was Grandma calling to say hello at 10 am on a school day. So yes, it is a major issue!

December 12, 2010 at 7:56 p.m.
cre8tivmind said...

Hello again. Let me clarify a few points. I am not saying cellphones should be used all day everyday in the classroom. They should be used at appropriate times, just like lab. Students in science class don't use specific lab tools everyday. They use them when the curriculum calls for them to best enhance instruction. The same should be done with mobile devices.

Mobile devices can be cellphones as well as iPods. My point is that we can no longer ignore the influx of technology usage and the pink elephant in the room. Classroom management is key here as well. When students are engaged in the course content, research overwhelmingly shows students are less apt to indulge in behavioral issues. THESE CHILDREN ARE BORED TO DEATH! We have to find new ways to capture their dying attention.

I made a suggestion in the aforementioned article that they could be used only at certain times and when not in use they should be put away in a basket, backpack, etc. This is no different then laptops! Students can do all kinds of things on laptops too...but are the numbers of 1:1's and computer purchase orders declining in education? Uh no, they are skyrocketing. Classroom management is must. Teachers must have control of their classroom.

When students passed notes in my day the teacher didn't take their pen and paper away. Done properly, with much planning and all of the key people at the devices can be a huge success.

To address a few more points...collaboration is a 21st Century Skill ( Our students need to learn how to work well with others and in group settings. These tools can be shared. Additionally, many schools, especially Title 1 schools have received funding for technology purchases specifically. Many have received the School Improvement Grant, Race to the Top funding and/or SPLOST funding. Many mobile devices can be purchased with these funds, thus leveling the playing field. You may want to read, "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman. As far as the TCAP which measures skills in Reading, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies, these devices can help students taking this assessment excel on the test as well as other standardized tests. Research this please...the data is overwhelming. Yes, our students need to learn how to read, compute mathematical concepts and develop scientific inquiry...these devices have proven to aid in these deficits.

We have to also be concerned not just about passing the test, but making sure our students are actually learning...not just enough to pass the test.

December 12, 2010 at 8:49 p.m.
tchilders said...

I am an educator in Bradley County that works with technology on a daily basis. I applaud the efforts of Dr. Scales in trying to get cell phones approved for educational use in Hamilton County. The Bradley County School Board approved such a measure a few months ago. There are so many educational uses for them, not the least of which is teaching children responsible use of technology. No, there are no SPIs on the TCAP that address responsible use. But there is this thing called "life" that could really use the instruction.

December 13, 2010 at 1:40 p.m.
rrrccc said...

I agree about that test and all the others that we MUST give ALL the time. I would much rather be teaching, teaching, and teaching and not worrying about those tests but when I am told that 50% of my evaluation will now be based on that "test" and that it will be given four times a year and ALL on computers during the same time frame for all grade levels, then please don't wonder why teachers question how this technology supposed to come to us magically. This means in our county we are MANDATED by the state, with no additional funds, to test all students on COMPUTERS. I don't know about your school but we have no wireless, an average of 1 to 2 computers per classroom if that, no computer lab, no training of students on computers that is consistent. Our school infrastructure cannot even handle any updates at this point and needs replaced. When the server works at one end of the school it may not be working on the other end of the school. So either ALL students in the state need to stay paper and pencil or ALL need to go to computers with the updates to do so. I would LOVE to do more with technology and see so many benefits to it but, I am sorry, it's NOT FUNDED. I hope this changes because I am one of those teachers who would LOVE to have more technology and am willing to spend my own time learning how to make it effective. After 20 years in the system, I can tell you I have never been to a training that gave me enough information on any program to fully implement it without assistance later. Sadly, there is rarely follow up for us who want to move ahead once the funding that was there dries up.

I have no opposition to being held accountable for my teaching with test scores if students are divided and shared EQUALLY but we know that doesn't happen. I don't even have the same students from the beginning of the year to the end of the year due to turnover in the classroom. They seem to come and go like a revolving door.

December 13, 2010 at 4:23 p.m.
Innovativeedu said...

Bravo to Cathleen Richardson for articulating so well reasons adults need to stop fighting and start embracing the tools that students love and can use to learn in engaging ways with little or no cost to the school system. I use cell phones for learning all the time, in fact a week never goes by that I don't use my cell phone with Poll Everywhere, Flickr, Twitter, Cha Cha, iPadio, or Memo for notes which I explain on my blog at . There are teachers around the world who get it and are successfully using cell phones for learning with their students. In fact the #1 most read post on my blog is from a half dozen educators who worked to break the ban on cell phones so they could use them for learning. Educators interested in doing the same can read how they did it at . As more and more teachers share successes they're having using the tools many students already own, conversations will quickly move from should we use cells in education to how do we use them most effectively.

December 25, 2010 at 11:13 a.m.
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