The unauthorized use of cell phones used to develop into a common discipline issue at Mexico High School. This year, however, teachers have embraced the use of smart phones, along with other devices such as electronic readers, in the classroom.
"The practice, in recent history, has been one that allows student to only use cell phones or other devices before and after school and during lunch," Brad Ellebracht, assistant principal, said. "Now, some teachers have been finding ways to use phones and other technologies to enhance learning."
So, at the beginning of school, students were told teachers could determine access to technology, while also teaching the students about appropriate use of their devices in academic and/or professional settings. "There really isn't a mandate to 'bring your own device.' We are just allowing teachers to utilize available tools to engage students in learning," Ellebracht said.
The school does, however, have expectations. "We say that if electronic devices are used in a classroom, they must be used within the context of learning for that class," Ellebracht said. "Teachers need to clearly define what that looks like for their students."
The teachers discussed the possible use of this technology as a whole faculty and within smaller groups. "We discussed it before we implemented the change and are continuously monitoring its impact," Ellebracht said. "The feedback we are getting is positive. I think it is safe to say the majority of our staff use, or allow students to use devices in the classroom, at least occasionally and situationally."
Math teacher Keith Louder is one teacher who allows students to use the electronic devices of choice when working in learning situations.
"Students generally have smart phones, which I encourage them to use when they have 'what if' and 'I can't remember' questions," he said. "For example, if our problem requires application of the quadratic equation, and a student can't remember what that is, I tell them to Google it. The smart phone is a great resource for this situation."
Louder says he thinks allowing electronics such as smart phones in the classroom is positive. "Approximately two-thirds of the students in my classes have smart phones," he said. "I ask that they put the phones, or electronic devices such as tablets or lap top computers, on their desks at the beginning of the class period, to eliminate digging for them after class has started. For students with no personal devices, we have a few loaner devices, or the students pair up to use the resources."
All of the schools in the district are wireless capable. "It's important we meet students where they are technologically," Superintendent of Schools Kevin Freeman said. "Students with smart phones have more computing power in their hands than what took the Apollo astronauts to the moon. Our focus is really changing to teaching thinking and collaboration skills, reading and basic math; we are teaching them now to find, analyze and utilize good information to do bigger and better things than we ever dreamed."
Page 2 of 2 - Ellebracht says the teachers do not expect all students to have devices. "We have access to a lot of technology here at MHS," he said. "When students need a piece of technology to reach a certain objective, we will make sure they have it."
A secondary improvement is that the teachers and administrators have fewer discipline problems. "Managing the use of these devices has been a challenge for several years," Ellebracht said. "When we look at discipline referral data, it appears the inappropriate use of electronic devices is down, and when you walk through the building you see many students using their phones and tablets appropriately. So teachers, overall, are spending less time dealing with electronic devices as discipline issues."
Another technology advancement this year at MHS is access to a school Google account. "This account allows students to use and collaborate on Google forms/online documents," Principal Terry Robinson said. "This is the first year all students have a Google email account given to them from the school."
Robinson said with the newest generation of smart phones being much like a small computer, students are increasingly incorporating them into their lives and their learning. "We are looking for ways to use the technology students bring to school to our educational advantage," he said. "The iPhone, iPads, android phones, Kindle devices and other electronics are becoming the chalk boards, Trapper Keepers, three-ring binders and spiral notebooks of today."