Teacher Lisa Earley takes her middle school students through history lessons that delve into the past by relying on a student’s most ubiquitous modern tool — the cellphone.
Most of Earley’s students come to class at Daggett Middle School with their cellphones firmly attached to their hand. When she works cellphone use into lessons, she does so with a caveat: Follow class rules and don’t distract the others.
“It’s a very fine line,” said Earley, who is planning to make a square out of tape for each desk and telling her students: “That’s your phone box and it should be in the phone box unless you have been given permission to use it.”
Classes start Tuesday in the Keller district and Wednesday in the Mansfield district, with more to come through Aug. 28, the state’s official start date.
And when the students begin filling the hallways, most will have cellphones with them.
Eighty-eight percent of American teens ages 13 to 17 have or have access to a mobile phone of some kind, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center. Of those teens, a majority — some 73 percent — have smart phones.
Most districts allow teachers to use their own discretion when dealing with cellphone use. Some teachers don’t allow them, period, while others see them as learning tools, whether as a calculator (via an app) or teacher-created quizzes on Quizizz or the Kahoot!.
But when cellphones are used inappropriately — perhaps texting a friend in another class or shooting video of a prank in the cafeteria — what happens if the phone gets confiscated by an administrator or teacher?
The rules vary from district to district.
At Keller’s Fossil Ridge High School, about two to three cellphones a day are sent to the office. The cost to retrieve is $15.
“Kids are motivated to get their phones back,” said Fossil Ridge Principal David Hadley.
Hadley said teachers have laminated signs displayed in the classroom; a green cellphone sign means it’s OK to use, but a red phone sign — with a slash through phone — indicates they are not to be used.
The Fort Worth school district also charges $15 for a confiscated cellphone. Typically, the money goes into a fund to pay for campus activities. If a phone isn’t picked up in 30 days, parents are sent a notice and the phone is sent to an outside company for disposal.
Last school year in Fort Worth, about 150 cellphones were taken up at Arlington Heights High School and another 40 at Paschal High.
The Birdville and Northwest school districts have strict rules regarding use; cellphones are confiscated, but they’re free to retrieve.
Gina Briones, an eighth-grade science teacher in Everman, said it’s important to set the rules for cellphones at the beginning of the year and to be clear about when and how the tool can be used. Teachers must also understand that students sometimes forget to turn off their phones, just like those folks in the movie theaters.
“You have to make a judgment sometimes as a teacher,” Briones said.