Should students be allowed to use cell phones in school?

……….An interesting thing happened after an email was circulated regarding cell phone use in our school. An exchange began after a short survey regarding the issue was answered by many interested teachers, administrators and other staff. Some respondents attempted humor or heavy handed sarcasm, but their interest in the issue was belied by the fact that they took the time to respond to the email. Other responses showed frustration with the issue or resignation to the idea that we cannot do anything to curtail the proliferation of such electronic devices. Some respondents took a zero tolerance approach to the devices, while others expressed their interest in adopting the technology into the classroom.

……….What was most apparent to me about this brief and still growing exchange, was the divergent perspectives about what the technology represents to different people and the frustration with the lack of guidance about how we should handle this obvious disruption to our daily school lives. Even the teacher who was tabulating the results said, “Lots of questions have an almost 50/50 split among staff members. It’s no wonder we are having trouble coming up with a cell phone policy everyone can agree on and enforce!!”

……….One teacher pointed out the fact that we already have rules in our student handbooks for handling this kind of disruption, and that the problem is that there is “no consistency” in enforcing the rules. Another teacher said,“My guess is that we just might need to adapt to a changing world where technology like mobile devices is not only commonplace but somewhat necessary to communicate, market, inform and educate the population”.

……….Wherever you may fall on the spectrum of this discussion, the truth is that it is an ongoing conversation in education that has to be continually revisited as the technology evolves. Our current policy, for example, still lists “pagers” as a prohibited device, but makes no mention of “tablets” or “e-readers”. Needless to say, we are not alone in thinking about such things, as evidenced by the list of articles below:

……….Most observers agree that a zero tolerance policy is untenable (sorry, Mayor Bloomberg), especially as the technology continues to both evolve and become more integrated into our daily lives. So, obviously, the only thing left to do is to reconsider the way we are doing things in our school and see what makes sense for us. As we think about making these changes, I offer some of my own anecdotes, observations and further reading for your consideration.

  • When it comes to learning, brains are serial processors and multi-tasking is a lie: Cognitive research has shown over and over again that human brains are only able to concentrate on one thing at a time. Sure you can walk and chew gum at the same time because these processes are coordinated by different parts of the brain, but deep thinking involves language areas which can be distracted by outside stimuli. The fact that our students enjoy listening to music while studying, writing or reading is actually due to the fact that our brains enjoy distraction, but the cost is efficiency. Real concentration and hyper focus are actually difficult to do, but they are skills like so many others that get better only with practice. No environment has been shown to beat near silence when trying to master a new skill or learn a new concept.
  • Compartmentalizing your life is an absolutely necessary skill for modern existence. Nowadays our private lives are so much more exposed to public scrutiny, thanks to so-called “social media” which has exploited our own narcissistic tendencies to talk about ourselves. This is especially true (and overlooked) in the lives of the younger generation. Students using school networks may have no idea about how their privacy is being compromised by using a network that belongs to a government entity. Students using their personal devices may also compromise the network’s security if they are unaware of the safety protocols or if they know how to get around the network filters using their own electronics.
  • Cell phones are not just phones any more. As one teacher so aptly put it, “When I first came here 6 years ago the phones were mostly being used for texting. Now they are playing games with others, streaming video and audio, Twitter, FaceBook, you name it.”  Without a way to monitor who is doing what on their personal devices, how can we be sure that students are staying on task? I’ve already written about my own exploration of the school’s network and how often I find students playing games or using social networks. The worst part is that I know many of the students who are repeat offenders of such distraction, and needless to say, they are not excelling at academics. Too many have an over inflated sense of their own academic skills and are convinced that they “don’t have anything to do” or “have done all their work”.
  • Teenagers are especially critical of hypocrites. Anyone remember Holden Caulfield? You’re all phonies! How about the 60’s credo to, “Never Trust Anyone Over 30”? Virtually every YA title I’ve ever read is about the adolescent protagonist(s) having to confront the duplicitous nature of the adult world where the rule seems to be, “do I say, not as I do”. This has become a bone of contention with how we treat cell phones and other personal electronic devices in school. Students regularly see teachers walking through the halls or sitting at their desks texting away and don’t understand why it’s okay for the “adults”, but not acceptable for them. It doesn’t matter if you agree with this position or not … it is the reality of working with teenagers, and has to be taken into consideration when reviewing our policy.
  • Electronics are status symbols. When I first started working in education, computers were just being integrated into schools and one of the biggest concerns we all had was that there was a great digital divide. Some families have had computers in their homes for twenty years now, while others may have limited access via a game console or smartphone. Allowing students to bring their own devices to school for use may highlight these differences and my even lead to theft or bullying. We are talking about devices that cost several hundred dollars and permitting them for in class use may pressure parents who cannot afford it to spend money on a smart phone or tablet believing it is a “requirement” for school or success.
  • Every school is its own culture. No matter how much data and information we collect from other schools and/or agencies about how they deal with this issue, it will be up to everyone in the school to determine what actually happens here. That is where theory and practice often part ways, since people do not necessarily conform to the rules as stated. Whatever we decide makes sense for us here, will not be lifted from some other school’s policies, but will have to come from our own community of teachers and students.

……….In closing, I would like to add that what I have seen happening in schools since I first started teaching nearly twenty years ago is sometimes disheartening, sometimes uplifting, but it is always intriguing and interesting. Whatever we decide going forward, it will not be perfect and it will not always make everyone happy, but hopefully we will decide to do whatever makes teaching and learning better in our school. That should always remain the focus of what we do and why we do it.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a fruitful and productive week.

 Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2013. All rights reserved

Now that I have your attention again

You do realize that just because I didn’t post all summer long, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t stored a bunch of things I’ve been meaning to share. In no particular order, here is a list of stories that I found interesting, and would like to pass along:

BOOKS: I didn’t get to read many books this summer, but I did take note of some interesting publications.

  • Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers. Another book I haven’t read yet, but feel comfortable recommending because it’s written by a YA favorite. Mr. Myers has proven himself a worthy author in his previous titles like Scorpions, Hoops, Monster and the Vietnam War novel, Fallen Angels.

GULF OIL SPILL: Is it over? Did you see the live video feed that showed the oil pouring into the water? Where did all that oil go? How about these stories indicating we may have been saved by freaky oil eating microbes.

IS COLLEGE WORTH IT?: The Higher Education book got me thinking, are other people also talking about the high cost of college tuition.

TEACHERS, STUDENTS & THE INTERNET: In case you didn’t know, it’s not a good idea to put everything you’re thinking online. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from scrutiny or consequences.

  • Beloit College’s Mindset List: A list of the ever changing reality of the incoming freshmen classes’ world … archived and updated annually since 1998.


  • Meet Milo, the Virtual Boy via TED Talks: Cool and a little creepy. The quest to close the gap between the real and the virtual takes another baby step forward, with Milo, a virtual boy whose “mind” is constructed by interactions with the user.

Hope you find something interesting and thank you for stopping by.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

First Summer Post 2009

First post since school officially ended and I hope that you are all enjoying your summer. Of course it would be better with some good weather, but that’s what we get for living in New England. We can’t complain about the 4th of July weekend though because those days were absolutely fabulous and, yet here we are, just days after that and we are contending with hail storms and intermittent rain accompanied by dark and foreboding clouds. Well, while I hope the weather improves soon, it has given a reason for staying indoors, and with that time I have been reading reviews as I prepare a book order for next year.


As always, I would love to get feedback from everyone (teachers, students and parents). I am ordering from Perma-bound and Follet books, and while both companies make their catalogs available online, you must login to Follet before you can peruse their selection (sorry). The partial list that I have already prepared includes most of the titles from the current reading lists and some books that have been recommended by students and teachers. I can e-mail you a copy of my current list if you leave me your e-mail in the comments section below.


Besides reading reviews and ordering books, I have had some time to spare and of course, that means surfing on the web. One of the sites I keep returning to is TED Talks because I love listening to smart people talk, even when I don’t agree with (or sometimes understand) what they are saying. Here is a list of talks that I really enjoyed from their ever-expanding treasure trove. This is the third time that I have mentioned TED Talks on this site, but I don’t think I have repeated any recommendations. The descriptions are lifted from the TED Talks site, with my occasional commentary in red italics.


  • How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history: While news from Iran streams to the world, Clay Shirky shows how Facebook, Twitter and TXTs help citizens in repressive regimes to report on real news, bypassing censors (however briefly). The end of top-down control of news is changing the nature of politics. An ongoing story that actually makes me think positively about the impact of real time, instant communication. Most times at HHS we are telling kids to put away their phones, when half a world away, they are using them to empower themselves.
  •  The world’s English mania: Jay Walker explains why two billion people around the world are trying to learn English. He shares photos and spine-tingling audio of Chinese students rehearsing English — “the world’s second language” — by the thousands. Another fascinating, and somewhat creepy, video that also made me think about the speech above. When news and video of the protests in Iran broke on television after the elections, I remember thinking that it was really interesting how many of the signs were written in English. The protesters knew that their audience would be world wide and they chose to express their message not in their native Farsi, nor in the most widely spoken language, Mandarin, but in English.
  •  Cultures at the far edge of the world: With stunning photos and stories, National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the world’s indigenous cultures, which are disappearing from the planet at an alarming rate. I recommend this video just because this guy would be great to travel with. Quite against the trend of the former video, this is the story of disappearing languages and “ways of being”. One of my favorite lines is, “Every language is an old growth forest of the mind.” I also found the notion of an ethno-sphere pretty interesting. Ethnosphere (n.) the sum total of all the thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions, brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. Davis argues that the ethno-sphere is being degraded by the success of Western culture.
  • The fragile Earth in wide-angle: In this image-filled talk, Yann Arthus-Bertrand displays his three most recent projects on humanity and our habitat — stunning aerial photographs in his series “The Earth From Above,” personal interviews from around the globe featured in his web project “6 billion Others,” and his soon-to-be-released movie, “Home,” which documents human impact on the environment through breathtaking video. Beautiful pictures with a simple and devastating message, “We do not want to believe what we know.”
  • Are we in control of our decisions?: Behavioral economist Dan Ariely, the author of Predictably Irrational, uses classic visual illusions and his own counterintuitive (and sometimes shocking) research findings to show how we’re not as rational as we think when we make decisions.
  • Why we think it’s OK to cheat and steal (sometimes): Behavioral economist Dan Ariely studies the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it’s OK to cheat or steal (sometimes). Clever studies help make his point that we’re predictably irrational — and can be influenced in ways we can’t grasp.
  • Formula for changing math education: Someone always asks the math teacher, “Am I going to use calculus in real life?” And for most of us, says Arthur Benjamin, the answer is no. He offers a bold proposal on how to make math education relevant in the digital age. This is a short talk that I think our statistics teachers will certainly appreciate.
  • Mathemagic: In a lively show, mathemagician Arthur Benjamin races a team of calculators to figure out 3-digit squares, solves another massive mental equation and guesses a few birthdays. How does he do it? He’ll tell you. I thought I liked the first Arthur Benjamin video and his message for reforming math education, and then I saw this video which convinced me that this guy is an absolute freak. He is obviously a savant of some kind …. ridiculously amazing. What does he know about how the rest of us think?
  • Becoming Buddha — on the Web: In our hyperlinked world, we can know anything, anytime. And this mass enlightenment, says Buddhist scholar Bob Thurman, is our first step toward Buddha nature. Interesting conversation that has more to do with philosophy than with technology. A conversion of modern living and ancient enlightenment.

 Hope you find something interesting and thank you for stopping by.

 Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.