Students using cell phones in select JCPS classrooms - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Students using cell phones in select JCPS classrooms

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Cellular phones have been banned in most Jefferson County Public Schools, but some school officials fought to break that rule.

The assistant principal at Waggener High School says around 70 percent of students there have cell phones.  Trent Bates and several other school officials said rather than reprimanding cell phone usage, they wanted to use the technology right at their fingertips.  "Just the instant access of being able to get to the things they want to use, they need to use, has changed the way they go about planning instruction immensely," Bates said.

Educators say cell phones are a fundamental shift in communication for the future.  "That's how we talk to each other, that's how we communicate and the world moves very fast because of it," said Brian Bowles, an algebra and advanced geometry teacher at Waggener High School.

Bates, who has been teaching at WHS for 10 years, said they want to use that fast feedback to their advantage.  "You can use it to do a poll in a classroom – ‘how many of you really find that you understand this material?'" Bates said.  "You're a lot more likely to get honest feedback as opposed to the hand raising." 

Bates said students could be embarrassed or shy when an instructor asks about understanding the lesson, but with the click of a button, the situation changes.  "While the kids are doing an activity, they take out their phone, they respond to a question that I sent out quickly and I can immediately gather data on my phone and use that to help with instruction," Bowles said.

Bowles said the phones did not even have to be smart phones, but just had to have the ability to text.  He said one application called "Celly" allowed him to collect data through text and applications or "apps" which also prevented the students and teachers from seeing one another's phone numbers.

"The kids don't have my cell phone and I don't have their cell phone but I can still communicate with them about homework and tests coming up," Bowles said.

Teachers at eight JCPS high schools are allowing the digital devices with discretion.

"If we are not using it for instruction, we have to make sure they are in our pockets or on our desks visible," said WHS freshman Desiree Cole.

Cole said she felt the phones were not a distraction because teachers closely regulated their usage.  Bates said the gadgets help with research and interactive learning in all subjects, even in areas outside of the classroom.

"We want to teach kids how to use technology responsibly," Bates said.

"They're using technology anyway, most of the time it's for social networking or things of that nature.  We want to show them that it can be much more than that; it can be a very useful tool."

While the students are merely teenagers, Bates said they want to prepare them for the real world.

"When they do go to college or work force they can use their technology for much more than communicating or social networking," Bates said.

Bowles said they also planned to teach etiquette on phones to help the students be better digital citizens in the future.

"If we haven't taught them ‘hey it is not okay to have your phone out texting with your boss,' they're not going to be prepared for that," Bowles said.

Students say it clicks with them.  "I think it was better than banning it because they understand what we are using it for," said WHS freshman Olieng Kalakon.

Bates said the immediacy and organization of information the tools provide allows the students to feel like they are more a part of the learning process.  "The more directly connected to the instruction the students can feel the more they are going to learn," Bates said.

The assistant principal said it is a new norm in the digital age, but even instructors are adjusting to the ever-changing learning curve of technology.  "We are still learning about it ourselves," Bates said.

"The more we know about it and learn about it the more we will be able to use it in terms of more than just polling and research."

Bates said students who do not have a cell phone will be given a tablet or comparable device to complete the activity.  He said those tablets came from various grants the school applied for.

JCPS Spokesperson Ben Jackey said the permission slips signed by parents ensured the students would be using the school's WiFi so the phones cannot access other sites.

Ballard, duPont Manual, Fairdale, Iroquois, Seneca, Southern and Valley High Schools are also allowing students to use cell phones for learning activities at school.  Jackey said the individual policies varied by the discretion of the principals.

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