The following is a fictional situation based on my experience in a high school classroom over the last 5 or so years:
Mrs. Rotary shows up early to school to organize her days lesson, check her email (personal and work), responding to one teacher, two parents and reading through two other emails with important school information and then finally do a little photocopying. She texts her husband and turns off her ringer on her phone. Then Mrs. Rotary remembers, as she is on her way upstairs to the classroom she teaches senior Math in, that she forgot to punch in a class set of marks while she was in her office from the exams she marked last night. She opens the classroom a few minutes early to get her lesson set-up and the projector ready to show some important graphs for the lesson. She would like to use the Smartboard, but someone has taken all the Smart pens and her computer cannot be updated with the necessary update without administrative access, so she will just have to use the whiteboard accordingly until these technical issues are dealt with later this week, month, or semester.
The bell goes and the students mostly all arrive on time (except for the usual two who come 10 minutes late and 30 minutes late, this one with a Tim Horton's coffee in hand, everyday). One student is away for unknown reasons, so Mrs. Rotary will have to make sure she is caught up upon her return, with notes, understanding and assignment. She greets the class, asks about how yesterday’s assignment went and provides a witty math joke to get the students engaged.
One student asks “Can we watch videos on the projector today?”
“Not today, lots to learn, please put away your phones.” Mrs. Rotary responds.
The days lesson goes well, with a fine balance of beautiful whiteboard notes, well-thought out examples, strategic questioning and her beautifully displaying the effects of specific variables on polynomial functions using a graphing website and the projector. The students have been very attentive up to this point as they are busy writing and attempting to understand the advanced material being presented. The one who shows at this point takes a picture of the board and sits down to sip on his double-double.
With 29 minutes left in class, Mrs. Rotary provides the daily assignment and tells the students “to work diligently and let me know if you have any questions.” She then posts the assignment on her website for those away to refer to, does her daily attendance and circulates about the classroom to be sure students are working and understanding how to perform the assigned problems. About 5 minutes later, as Mrs. Rotary starts to look at tomorrow’s lesson, the students start taking out their phones. It starts with one checking a text, not a big deal. Another is using their phone as a calculator, although the provided phone calculator is not very useful compared to a store bought scientific calculator, especially at this level of math. Many are listening to music on their headphones. Mrs. Rotary is happy to see that a few students are using the app related to the graphing website she was using on the projector and she tells them so.
Now with 10 minutes left in class, most students are sending Snaps, scrolling through Facebook, looking at Instagram, watching YouTube videos and playing online games. Only two are still working on the assignment, although no one has completed the assigned questions She kindly reminds them that they should be doing their work, not sitting on their phones. She is trying to be respectful and teach them responsibility but it is a losing battle as most respond “Meh, I’ll do it for homework.” Some will, most will not.
She tried years ago, to have no phones in the classroom, but then sometimes they are very useful for graphing, online textbooks or handouts, instant feedback and assessments or even YouTube lessons in math. She tried some of the solutions presented on wearetheteachers.com but they involved so much policing it was beyond frustrating. Also, many students would cause a large fight over their phones, leading to parent phone calls, emails, students sent to the office and a myriad of head-aches surrounding the technology. Parents were not supportive, and administration mostly seemed to support her but in the end the war was generally hers to wage and deal with.
Mrs. Rotary wonders what inappropriate content these students access at home, what is the effect of taking thousands of selfies on young adolescents self confidence, how bad will this issue be in 5, 10 or 15 years from now? But she has resigned herself to the fact that almost all high school students (and adults) have them, and only a few will use them appropriately. Some will waste a little time but others will even fail courses based on their addictive behaviour with online games, or scrolling social media endlessly. It’s so hard to fight about it day after day, or separate responsible use from those totally wasting their time. Mrs. Rotary thinks to herself, welcome to the modern classroom, which looks similar to attending a teacher conference, where many of those present are on their phones doing just what we expect the children not to do, learning very little to nothing, staring at a smartphone. If only there was some way to help these students (and adults) understand being digitally responsible looks like in schools, at home, and in the community ...