With the proliferation of mobile technology, smartphones and other mobile devices have become common place on all levels of education. With that understanding teachers and administrators with Sherman Independent School District are looking for ways to combat misuse of cellphones in the classroom through campus policy and classroom techniques.
District policies and mobile technology was one of the leading topics of discussion at Monday’s SISD school board meeting, and area students may soon find new policies in place to help them use applications and equipment that they are very familiar with to further their public school education.
“I think the message is that we are trying to teach them how to use it,” Student Support and Engagement Assistant Superintendent Tamy Smalskas said.
The conversation on how to address to address cellphone use in classrooms and on campus came out of routine conversations with campus administrators about distractions in the classroom, Smalskas said. The use of cellphones and disruptions they cause in the classroom has been a repeated concern.
Smalskas said the students violating cellphone policy on campus represent a tiny fraction of the student population, but they typically are repeat offenders. And in the classroom, the devices can prove a useful tool as they allow a student to quickly look up information or research a topic that is being discussed in class, she added.
“I would say all teachers have worked them into the classroom at some point,” Smalskas said. “Whether it is a quick information search to looking up a colleges, a thesaurus, dictionary or even calculator.”
While educators typically don’t see them on the elementary level, Smalskas cited studies that found about 35 percent of all elementary students have a cellphone. By comparison, 81 percent of high school students own a cellphone.
Jessica Todd, an eighth grade U.S. history teacher, mirrored comments made by school board member Brad Morgan that some kids appear to have an addiction to the device and its connectivity. In the instances where she has had to confiscate a phone, Todd said some students have shown apprehension of letting it go. In many cases, this is relieved by the fact that the phone is nearby and they will get it back.
Between districts and campuses there isn’t a consensus on the best way to address cellphones on campus. While some districts have tried to ban the devices, others have said this eliminates the teaching potential and the room to teach good digital citizenship.
Within the district, there is not a concise policy, but it is addressed in the student handbooks issued at each campus. In some cases, a student must pay $15 to have a confiscated phone returned while other campuses use other policies.
Likewise, within the classroom teachers have adopted different approaches.
Piner Middle School Principal Amy Porter said one of her teachers devised a device that allows her students to insert their phones into a small cloth bag with a lock attached at the beginning of the period. A magnet on the bag would allow the phones to be collect and attached to a metal device until the end of the period.
Smalskas has said others use a box at the front of the classroom to collect phones, while others have used charging stations as a way to encourage students to put their phones out of hand’s reach during class. In another example, Smalskas said a teacher has reused a shoe tree on the classroom door to hold student phones.
Moving forward, Smalskas said district officials are working to create a comprehensive set of guidelines for the district that will allow the teachers enough flexibility and autonomy to adjust the policy to fit their classrooms. These rules will hopefully be drafted with teacher input over the next semester for consideration by the school board later this year.