My Love/Hate Relationship with Cell Phones in the Classroom - History Gal

My Love/Hate Relationship with Cell Phones in the Classroom

By History Gal

I have a love/hate relationship with cell phones in the classroom. Do you?

WHAT I LOVE: Smartphone technology is amazing! Since we don't have daily access to computer or tablets at my school, it's great to be able to tap into the technology that students hold in their hands for lessons and activities. 

WHAT I HATE: My students don't (or can't) disconnect. It's a constant battle to get them to put their phones up when they aren't being used in class for a lesson or activity.

I WONDER: Do the things I hate like the constant distraction of smartphones and the classroom management headache outweigh the benefits of using and incorporating smartphones into my lesson and activities?  

Well, Richard Freed, a clinical psychologist, discussed this very issue in a Huffington Post article. it seems that cell phone bans are actually beneficial for students. Without a cell phone in their bag or pocket, students are less distracted and more engaged and, as a result, they learn more. I think the key here is a cell phone BAN. A ban means they aren't allowed. Period. This is different than a "don't use while in class" policy. The "don't use while in class" policy means that students are still allowed to carry their phones, but are only allowed to use them at certain times like in the hallways and at lunch. However, since students cannot disconnect, they are constantly on the phones in class when they think the teacher isn't watching. And, this turns into a classroom management nightmare for the teacher who now spends most of the class period policing cell phones.
An article in the Atlantic by teacher and education writer Paul Barnwell further explains the challenges of using cell phones in school. Few students (and, I would add, adults - myself included!) can handle the multi-tasking aspects of using a cell phone in school. There are simple too many distractions on a cell phone (constant notifications, social media apps, texts, etc.). The Atlantic article mentions a 2014 study by Stanford University about how at-risk students learn with technology. The study concludes that at-risk students perform the best in a 1:1 environment. This means that there is one computer or tablet for each student, not one smart phone for each student. Computers and tablets are significantly less distracting than phones. Students can work on these devices without the constant barrage of SnapChat and text notification that appear on their phones.

Since I do not have computers or tablets in my classroom (my school is not even close to being 1:1!), I let my students use their smartphones for some lessons and activities. My students enjoy using their cell phones for lessons and activities. And, I like to think that it helps them learn more about the topic. I recently read an interesting  article by Tim Walker from neaToday that examines cell phone use in schools and it posed an interesting questions - does cell phone use in school simply feed student addiction? I don't know. I do know that I try to be an energetic, fun, and relevant teacher and establish a good rapport with my students. I think it's fun to incorporate cell phones into my lessons. 

But I also know that I am tired. I'm tired of fighting an uphill battle against constant cell phone use by students when we aren't using them in a lesson. I'm tired of an inconsistent school and district policy regarding student cell phone use. Is it worth it?

I'd love to hear from you. How do you handle cell phones at your school and in your class? Do you use cell phones in lessons and activities? Do you think we're just feeding a student addictions by letting them use their cell phones in class? What do you think?


  1. Love this article! Very relevant for me in 7th grade. They want their phones for everything. I'm moving toward being more inclusive as we are also no where near 1:1. As always working on a delicate balance between admin, students, and 21st century reality, lol.

    1. So true - it's a very delicate balance! Some days they drive me crazy and other days they add a great dynamic to a lesson :)

  2. I actually bought a hanging calculator organizer. The students have to put their cell phones in that when they come in. The upside for them is if it rings/beeps and its in the organizer, I don't take it up.

  3. Yeah I loved the idea of responsible use, and I do feel like "they have to learn to use them reasonably somewhere..." but - as a new middle school team next year we decided to go back to a ban. We are trying to get more chrome books and we do have several tablets we can pool together so that helps. Thanks for the interesting article!


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