Premier has schools a-Twitter
McGuinty’s musings to allow smartphones reignite controversy
To some teachers, it’s OMG Dalton, what are you thinking? Others said it is gr8 the premier wants cellphones allowed in Ontario classrooms, as long as it is to help kids learn. Learn? Thornhill math teacher David Fraschetti scoffs, arguing the temptation to text-message is too strong for most young digital natives to resist. “The whole issue is distraction; one student last year claimed he couldn’t physically get his fingers off his BlackBerry and his parents admitted there was nothing they could do — he texts at the dinner table too,” said the veteran teacher at Thornhill Secondary School. “Texting is a huge, huge issue — they’re going off all the time in class. It’s just second nature to these students.” Many school boards, including York Region, Peel and the Toronto District School Board, prohibit cellphones
Traditional ideas of attentiveness challenged
to be on in class, yet students continue to text on the sly.
At one York Region high school, seven students agreed to leave their cellphones at the front as an experiment during a 75-minute science period.
In total, the phones received 78 text messages — all from within the school.
“For every text message, that’s at least two kids not paying attention,” noted teacher Colleen Ireland, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation in York Region, who warned cellphones can be used to cheat, bully and snap embarrassing photos of teachers and students.
And it’s not always from BFFs. One student asked Fraschetti for help with math after school, only to have his mother continually interrupt the one-on-one session by texting.
“I finally called to remind her of our policy against cellphones in class,” he recalled, “but her comment was, ‘It’s after class.’ ”
Debate about cellphones in school was all a-Twitter across the province Wednesday after McGuinty said he believes school boards should be free to permit hand-held technology if it helps in learning.
Toronto school trustee Josh Matlow noted this is the same premier who banned cellphones while driving and who forbids his own cabinet ministers from texting during meetings.
“Our policy allows cellphones in class if a principal feels there is a purpose,” said Matlow, “but otherwise, we need to do more to help students show respect by not texting in class.”
Toronto Grade 12 student Anne Hardy agrees texting while someone is teaching is “totally disrespectful, but if it’s a really boring subject, it’s sometimes tempting.” She said student phones went off twice Wednesday in her classes at North Toronto Collegiate, where repeat offenders have had their phones sent to the office and needed a parent to pick them up.
Yet some teachers embrace the use of hand-held phones in class.
Teacher Royan Lee had his Grade 7 students brainstorming on iPhones and iPads Wednesday about which books the class should read. The Richmond Hill teacher has a class set of hand-held devices and also invites students to bring theirs in for note-taking, research and personal organization. He says while one student is talking, the class can be having a “back-channel discussion” on Twitter about his comments, which is far more engaging than just sitting and raising your hand.
“It definitely challenges the traditional ideas of attentiveness, but just because someone is sitting with their hands in their lap doesn’t necessarily mean they’re listening either.”
George Del Bianco’s Grade 9 science class at Richmond Hill High was in a park Wednesday as part of an ecology lesson that had students using their phones to take pictures and shoot video.
“Cellphones definitely can be a distraction in the classroom, but we are learning to embrace technology so we can capture kids’ attention,” said Del Bianco. Suddenly, spotting a frog “became the most exciting thing because they were videotaping it on their phone.”
He compares the controversy to the old debate over calculators in class, “and look what happened.”