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More schools encourage kids to use own phones, tablets

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Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 4:00 pm

Although cell phones were once banned by many schools, smartphones and other electronic devices are becoming more common in the classroom. Many area school districts have loosened policies against such devices to encourage responsible usage.

On Thursday, for example, Aldrich Middle School language arts teacher and innovation coach Karli Kurth had her students haul out their smartphones to text their parents about challenges facing adults. The lesson was part of an ongoing theme of challenges in comedy, heroism, media and more. Students were thrilled when their little phones started rumbling with responses.

Called the “Queen” of technology by her co-teacher Debbie Serotini, Kurth is active in using technologies in the class such as YouTube videos, Twitter and a class blog to engage her students.

To support teachers’ creative ways of reaching students, Clinton and Beloit school districts have implemented “Bring Your Own Device” policies actively encouraging students to bring their iPhones, tablets and more to class while Beloit-Turner has implemented a “courtesy policy” to support the polite use of technology as opposed to an outright ban.

School District of Beloit Instructional Technology Director Beth Clarke said the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy started last year with the middle schools when the new infrastructure to support them became available in January. Implementation of a BYOD policy at the high school has begun this fall. In prior years Clarke said students were required to keep cell phones in their lockers.

Clarke went on to say there was a philosophy shift from the past when all student devices were expected to be out of sight. Not only are the devices welcome now, but encouraged to be out as students learn to set them aside until the time is appropriate to use them — something employers will appreciate as those habits transfer to the workplace. The devices also offer the opportunity for students to take pictures, or to e-mail with their teachers on what they are learning and more.

“It’s always under the teacher’s discretion. If it’s with instruction they can use those tools,” Clarke said.

Since the district’s plans to put iPads into the hands of each student won’t be fully implemented until fall of 2014, Clarke said it’s helpful to continue the goal of incorporating digital literacy throughout the curriculum and assignments. She noted implementation of iPads will not necessarily eliminate the BYOD guidelines.

Clinton Community School District implemented an official BYOD policy this year, but has been slowly incorporating cell phones and other devices into classrooms for the past four years, according to Administrator Randy Refsland.

Several years ago students could use cell phones during lunch or while passing time, but the phones had to be off in classrooms. But later teachers, with permission from administration, were allowed to use phones or other devices when appropriate. During an agriculture class, for example, students took pictures while dissecting pig hearts with their smartphones, noting the different structures of the body.

With the BYOD policy this year, kids are actively encouraged to bring their smartphones, tablets or laptops for use in class.

“We are encouraging it at our high school and, to some extent, at the middle school, but not in elementary school at this time,” Refsland said.

Students who don’t have their own devices can use the Chromebooks laptop computers in the upper grades or some of the iPads available at the elementary school. Refsland said smart phones can do much of the same things that laptops can, just with a smaller screen. If students abuse the privilege, Refsland said they will lose their right to use then. However, Refsland said students have generally been responsible with usage.

For the 2013-2014 school year Turner High School will be implementing its courtesy policy identified in its student handbook for any cell phone concerns as opposed to an outright ban.

“We realized that a policy that forbid students from using technology wasn’t teaching our students how to use their technology appropriately. We have encouraged our teachers to use technology in the classroom and we will teach students how to use their technology appropriately and in a courteous manner. Our goal of the courtesy policy was to create a policy designed to support the polite use of technology instead of a policy of prohibition,” said Turner High School Principal Ryan Bertelsen.

During second semester of this school year the Turner’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) team will focus on student technology by teaching students how to use their technology to interact with one another in positive and respectful ways.

“We do allow students to have their cell phones out during passing time but we do not let students call people on their phone unless it’s during lunch in the cafeteria,” Bertelsen said.

The courtesy policy teaches students how to be more courteous while carrying the devices which are being used for more applications in school and in life. Although the devices are allowed if a teacher wants to incorporate them into the class, rude or discourteous behaviors such as listening to an iPod during a formal lecture or assignment or text messaging or talking on the phone in class is prohibited.

In the past, school policy at Turner stated that cell phones had to be turned off and kept out of sight during the school day, with the exception being the lunch period. If a student wanted to use a cell phone for medical, family, vocational, or other reasons, permission had to be obtained from the building administration. A written letter stating the need and purpose of the cell phone must be approved by the principal prior to its use. IPods had similar restrictions, although in some classes teacher had the right to allow iPod use.

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