George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A Pencil Is a Word Processor: Making the Case for Cell Phones in Class

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Suppose I were to offer you a fantastic word processor, small, portable, battery free, readily available, capable of operating in any language, and easily used by people from ages one to one hundred. There is such a word processor. It is called a pencil.

A Pencil is a Word Processor

Now, suppose I were to offer you a personal computer so powerful that it could be used for any number of tasks and is portable and user friendly. And nearly every one of your students already has one, so you don't even have to supply them. It's the cell phone! It is the most pervasive computer in the world.

Most teachers are well aware of cell phones -- mostly as a nuisance in class, where educators spend a lot of time taking them away from students. Well, you wouldn't take their pencils away, so why confiscate cell phones? Instead of taking them away, I started leveraging them as tools for my classes.

The cell phone may be used as a computation device, a camera, a text-messaging device, a portable storage device, a music player, a word processor, and probably more. Why on earth would I take that from my students? Besides, as you probably already know, it's a losing battle, so why fight it?

Of my 150 students, about two-thirds have a cell phone. I have their numbers, and they have mine. If students are habitually late to school, I give them a wake-up call. If students are absent, I send text messages to ask where they are. If students have a problem they need help with, they get in touch with me directly. I remind them of upcoming assignments, and other teachers sometimes ask me to get in touch with students of mine who also attend a class of theirs.

The obvious objection from teachers is that cells phones are a distraction in class, but in my day, I doodled with a pencil. You know -- that other word processor.

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Stephanie M.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Are we concerned about the method of communication or the intrusiveness? Seems to me the issue is not about the way we communicate as much as it is the quality of experience that we want to communicate. If curriculum is engaging and brings out the creative spirit of the individual, then sharing that excitement naturally will happen and I believe when a child is engaged in learning, they will want to stay with their expereince and not jump into the most convenient distration. Seeing a student as a person also brings forth the need to understand their emotional need for contact and connectedness. Technology is making the virtual space for a phenominal emotional sense of community. The task of educators is to give them something of meaning to talk or text or email about.

Sheila Moore's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found an interesting use for cellphones with my class.
We are studying erosion and erosion control in Honors Earth Science. To bring relevance to the topic, we talk about how this affects the landscaping or our own school setting.
I divided the class into groups and each group used a cellphone(s) to take pictures of examples of erosion and erosion control on different areas of the campus. Students were to find at least 10 images to share and be ready to explain or defend why they were included.
We went on an outdoor trek and happily clicked away. It was great.
They were very anxious to get outside and complete the task...and were equally anxious to share their findings.

anonomus's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a student and i think that ron hit the nail on the head an was right e

Virginia Malone's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think all of the responses are correct. The great thing about American education is its diversity. As a student you get teachers who are "with it" and those who are never "in touch." Some are good, others just plain awful. You have teachers who love you, teachers who teach you, teachers who stretch you, teachers who are picky, teachers who are sloppy, teachers who make you sad and those that make you glad, teachers who care, and teachers who don't. You learn something from each one. So bring on the i pods and the paper. After all this is the kind of American education that gave us Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and maybe even you. It teaches us to be flexible. It forces us to learn how to get along with all kinds of "bosses," and somewhere along with way we actually learn something. Somehow, I don't think it can be all that bad to have teachers with strict rules and those with few, some with pencil sharpeners and some with cell phones.

Viktorya's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

okay. Well my thought is that if you can pass notes in class its just the same as a cell phone.
sure you cant take pictures but you can draw them.
you cant browse the internet but you can talk non stop.
plus notes are more convinient because they dont wast money. just time.
Cells waist time and money. but its not the schools so I dont think that it matters.
If they choose to fail the grade and get held back thats their decision. not the principals.

I text in class all the time.
Its just easier than notes.
but its basicly the same....
you can still give each others answers with notes.
I just think that teachers should lighten up.
I mean, if they had cells when they were young as handy as ours today... they would use them just as we are.
I personally dont think that its a problem.
text in class, choose to fail, your choice.
I'm going to continue to text. I love it.
But I pay attention to things too.

nathan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes,because they could use them during emergencies, but with teacher's guide lines.

jenny matts's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

i love texting in class. makes me happy. I get 75,000 text in a month. I text in school every block and every minute. We should be able to use our phone cause the teachers in my school text behind the desk. Like just let us text and be happy. TEXT ON. TEXT ON! ! ! ! ! (-^_^-).

Ms. Julie's picture
Ms. Julie
Learning specialist public education and private business owner

I think your goal;'What I am trying to make is fully-formed, functional adults' is extremely important. By not adapting as teachers, we are not only making our job harder but, also doing our students a huge disservice. It is no wonder the college administrators are all complaining about the incoming students. More and more they have been coddled through high school, by restrictions that do not allow them to rise up and make appropriate decisions of their own accord.
If we continue to 'protect' students by regulating their behavior they are stifled. They must learn through natural and logical consequences.

Ken K's picture
Ken K
ESP Teacher

Ms. Julie wrote, "They must learn through natural and logical consequences." So unlike my full time counterpart, I let my students play on their cell phones if they so wish, while some use it to check on online dictionaries (which is great). Ultimately, they will see the consequences of their action as I give daily quizzes of what I have covered in class.

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