Cell phones allow people to do all sorts of things these days. Need to find directions? Use the phone's internet web browser. Need to determine how much to tip your waitress? Use the phone's calculator. Want to capture that unforgettable moment, just in case you forget? Use the phone's camera.
Usually, these functions are useful during everyday life activities. Now, they can be useful in the classroom at one southern Colorado high school. The Huerfano School District Re-1 School Board has approved cell phone and iPod use at John Mall High School in Walsenburg.
The new policy will allow students to use the devices as educational tools during class. The usage is to be determined and monitored by the teacher. It's an attempt to solve several issues the small school district faces.
First is a shortage of technology.
"We have a technology that's lacking. We don't have enough computers in our school," says Student Council President Alex Sample.
"With the cell phones we have the internet, so we can look up a subject in the classroom whenever the teachers tells us to; instead of having to come use the computers that most of the time don't even work," adds Senior Class President Rachel Montez.
11 News visited a science class where the teacher, Deb Striegel, was having her students, who had video recording capabilities on their phones, capture a lesson on Geology. During the presentation, she mentioned that they will have to recreate the diagram using the video footage at a later date. "This is a global marketplace now. Our students not only have to be literate, they have to be digitally fluent," says Striegel, "They know how to use them as toys, but if we don't teach them how to use them as tools, who's going to?"
A few minutes later, a student connected to the internet through her phone to pull up pictures of different types of rock, the subject of the lesson.
Some parents have expressed concern that students will abuse the opportunity to use their device in class. However, administrators and students alike don't think that will happen often. "Most of the kids figure, oh we have the chance now so why should we even misuse it and abuse it, and get it taken away again to where we can't have anything," says Montez.
School Principal Pamela Siders looks at it as a chance for students to step up and show they are responsible. That's why she's allowing them to use their iPods during lunch as well. She says, it's significantly decreased behavior issues.
Another new policy instituted by Siders this year, deals with homework. Dubbed "No Homework," its purpose was to relieve stress in students who were unable to understand concepts in the classroom, and then have to try and teach themselves in order to complete the given homework. Here's how it works:
After the day’s lesson, teachers are supposed to start an in-class assignment. This will allow them to gauge if the students have understood the concepts of the lesson. If a student understands the concepts, the teacher may extend the in-class assignment to a take-home assignment that allows them to practice what they've learned. If the student does not understand the concepts, the teacher is not supposed to extend the assignment. Instead, during the next day's class, they will attempt to teach the student in a way that leads them to comprehension.
Siders says, this reduces conflict and stress in the student's home. The premise is that not every child has someone at home who understands the material, or even has the time to try and help them. According to Siders, the student may become frustrated by their lack of understanding and choose not to try to accomplish a task they know they can't complete correctly.
By not giving them something they obviously cannot do, Siders says it makes it fair for everyone involved. Students that understand the concept get the opportunity to practice it, students that don't are pressured by a potential failing grade for doing it incorrectly. Mostly, Siders says, it keeps kids in school. "We all had training at the beginning of the year, and we had research that was brought to us, that showed that a lot of students who struggle with homework don't want to come to school, and does in fact add to the drop out rate," says Siders.
For Siders, the first step in keeping students engaged is all about creating an environment where kids want to be. After that, it's up to the teachers to do their job. "If we're doing our job as teachers then every child should be going home with that new knowledge, and be able to practice it," says Siders, "and that's what homework should be, a practice of the knowledge that they're taught at school."
Most students support the homework policy. Joel Martinez is an average John Mall student. He says, he excels in some areas and struggles in others. He likes where the homework policy is going, but says it's not quite there yet.
"For me it's really stressful. I'm like, oh this has to be done, I have to do this tomorrow, and I do like one in five and I'm not even sure if they're right," says Martinez.
His friend, Shawn Dieckman will likely be valedictorian this year at John Mall. He supports the new policy as well. "I can understand it because, it's not just me in the classroom; and If a student doesn't get it, it's not his fault. They may not be as developed as another student," says Dieckman.
Still, Dieckman says he personally would like to be challenged a little more despite the policy. When it's all said and done, though, Dieckman holds the teachers accountable for getting all the students to a place where understanding is reached. "We're supposed to know what we're doing before we actually complete the work," says Dieckman, "I want the teachers to get me to where I can finish the work off right."
As for whether or not these two new policies could work in Pueblo or Colorado Springs, Siders says, absolutely. "Classrooms are classrooms, no matter if you're in a big district or a small district. And so if you allow the teachers to be in charge of the usage, and you have the trust in your staff, I think you can go anywhere," says Siders.