Today was Cell Phone Friday at UMS. You can read more about in the principle's posts here and here.
I wrote a response to one of them, and I felt like cross posting it here; find it below. After writing it, I felt ever more strongly about those kids, maybe not many in our neighborhood, who won't have a device to use on these Cell Phone Fridays, or every days, if that's what it turns into. I grew up with parents whom I know would not have been able to afford to provide such luxuries to sixth graders, so I am somewhat reliving a less than happy memory, of knowing that other kids will have the cool new stuff, and I'll have either the old version, or none at all. And middle school can be, or is, where all that awkwardness starts.
Here's my reply to the post.
Just curious, but it seems that when you use the term 'cell phone', you are also referring to pretty much any device that has apps and internet connectivity, correct? If I'm not mistaken, UMS has open wifi, so while at school, it doesn't matter how the user is connecting, either via wifi or 3/4G. Don’t mind if I substitute the term ‘cell phone’ for ‘device.
I honestly don't think that the UMS student community will have a problem with allowing device usage during the school day. As you say, some students already may be doing this and some are accessing the net via laptops or their Chromebooks. We have a good, engaged and involved student and family body, and I’d like to think that things like cyber bullying will be very rare. Distractions and wasting time watching cat vids (or most likely, Minecraft vids) on YouTube are the real ‘threats’.
What I'm more concerned about in all this are the kids who don't have connected devices. It might be that the student may not have shown a level of maturity and responsibility yet, and so the parents aren't ready to provide a device to him or her. Or it could be that the family simply can't afford the cost of the device, and the monthly service fee. With all the other students busy using their devices and their apps, and here's one kid without, that one kid without will need to come up with a reason why she doesn't have one. Now that's some middle school awkward if I've ever seen it. And I've seen it, lived it.
Alternatively, what might happen is that all the other students are so busy staring into their screens, they don't notice those others who don't have them. Devices and their apps are bottomless attention sinks.
It seems that what we’re stepping into here is just the initial allowing of devices to be used on campus, at break and at lunch. That is the first step, I agree, just as I agree that there won’t be much of a problem with it. What we need to start talking about immediately next is how will we integrate these devices into the learning process. Yes, next fall’s sixth graders will be a take-me-home Chromebook, but that’s different than a small, handheld device. Or is it, in the context of the classroom and the learning that’s going on there? I could argue both that it’s different, and that’s it’s not. Thinking a bit more, will these devices be required to use a standard app as prescribed by the teacher, or will the lesson be app-agnostic, and the device becomes more of a research tool? These are the kinds of things I’d love for you to start talking about next.
One question that I do have is: How does UMS's evolving policies regarding connected devices compare to peer schools? What are the other middle schools in the district doing in terms of setting policy? What are other schools in the region, and in the state, doing?
Mr Feinberg, thanks for taking this subject as serious as you have been. It can be a big adjustment of many different kinds for many different people, and I am happy that you are facing the situation with both eyes open, cautious but optimistic, and with all the openness this calls for.