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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 423 757-6249. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/gauthierkelli.