Cellphones In The Classroom? Not a Problem Anymore!

Stop cellphone distraction in the classroomCellphones in the classroom – talk about a blessing and a curse in one tiny, expensive package!

Leveraged for good, cellphones in the classroom can open up a world of technology based learning for students. But how can teachers utilize their amazing benefits, without the constant battle against distraction?

Not many educators will argue against the idea that cellphones in the classroom can be used to do awesome things. Students are essentially creating a one-to-one technology environment, without the school system having to pay a dime!

Some teachers at my school call them “weapons of mass instruction!”

Blended Learning – the idea of incorporating technology into the every day experience of education – can save time, raise engagement, and increase student retention.

All of these and so much more, available daily with cellphones your students bring with them into the classroom.

But every educator has also waged the war against these same devices. “Get off your cellphones” seems a constant mantra.

Lets face it, our students are addicted to their phones. Like…drugs addicted. It is not just a bad habit, it is hard wired in their brains (literally) to have the constant stimulation of their phones.

If you are interested in the research, there is a lot out there to read about how it happens and how bad it is. This post is simply about what to do as a teacher facing these addicted teens (and pre-teens…and increasingly elementary kids!)

Some schools stop phones at the door. No cellphones in the classroom at all. Many teachers take the same approach, cellphones may not enter the class, or if they do they can be placed into pockets or storage boxes at the front of the room.

While this helps to eliminate the problem, I feel like it is letting a valuable resource go unused.

My policy in the past has always been to use cellphones in the classroom but put the responsibility on the student to put them away when technology time is over.

But this leads to the constant (constant…) fight against the powerful teen-brain addiction! The only solution I saw was to take the phone front the offending student and keep it until after class (or after school).

Here is the issue I was starting to notice when I took a student’s phone away

The teen, now separated from his beloved device, is visibly anxious and agitated.

Not in a rude or disrespectful way, but it was obvious the rest of the lesson was lost on him because he could not focus. All he could feel was the loss of his phone.

There is actually a word for what this teen is feeling – nomophobia. It is an abbreviation of “no mobile phone phobia”, or a fear of being without a cellular phone.

I promise I am not making this up!

Do a Google Search of the word. There is even a Scientific American article published about a recent study of nomophobia – on adults (yes, many of us are addicted too).

Now you may say that this reaction is a good thing. The pain will cause him to think twice about using his phone inappropriately in class.

But it doesn’t. He is addicted. He will do it again and again. And every tine you take the phone you become more and more of an enemy in his eyes.

We were both losing – he lost his phone and I lost the student.

There has to be another way!

Research shows that simply the act of putting the cellphone out-of-sight can reduce the impulse to check it.

I found a handful of ideas on Pinterest (I love Pinterest!) where teachers were requiring students to put their phones in zipped pencil pouches at their desks!

I thought this was such a great idea! The student still has their phone nearby, but it is out of sight.

But….the cost of pencil pouches times 25 or 30 students is…well…beyond what I am willing to spend.

So here is my simple, cheap, and very effective solution.

Take large sized brown paper lunch bags (or craft bags) and laminate them! When you cut them out, cut off the top 1/2 inch or so, which will allow the bag to open.

Solution to cellphones in the classroom
Student put cellphones into these Bags of Self Control.

Vola! A perfect cellphone keeper! I provide an alligator clip to make it that much more secure, but I find that the clips are not even necessary.

**Tip** when you cut off the excess laminate, leave about a quarter inch all the way around the bag. It helps reinforce the sides!

I call these “Bags of Self Control”. Students put their phones into them as part of our beginning-of-class routine.  Every desk has a phone bag, and I can see that their phones are in the bag (when they are not flat!).

The bags allow students to feel comfortable, knowing their phone is still with them, but they are not nearly as distracted by it.

They can not feel it calling to them in their pocket. They can not see the glowing screen. And they know that it will be very obvious to the teacher if they try to go after it (the bags are crinkly!)

Some of them truly forget it is even there. At least once per week, a student will leave their phone in the bag after class!

I call that a win-win!

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Have you found some good ways of helping your students win the battle against cellphone distraction? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

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8 Replies to “Cellphones In The Classroom? Not a Problem Anymore!”

  1. This is a great idea! It’s so ridiculous that we have to invent strategies to get students to get off of their phones long enough to get through a class period. Changing times…

  2. I have a wooden box with 28 slots. It sits on my table. Each student with a cell phone places their cell phone in a slot and takes a blue laminated number. This way they have a “claim” number when its time to get their cell phone. I have “zero” problems now! Works smoothly and they are learning responsibility plus RESPECT.

    1. Diana, that sounds like a great system! I like the idea of a claim number – do you monitor that exchange at the end of each period to be sure no one grabs a phone that is not theirs?

  3. I am thinking of trying this out in my classroom. A question I have is do you have issues with students claiming to not have a cell phone and not placing it in the bag?

    1. Debbie, For sure – students will sometimes try to sneak having a phone in their lap. Its pretty obvious when they do! When I first introduce the Bags of Self Control I let students know that if they choose not to use the bags, and I see their phones, they will be taken for the period. Then when I see a phone, I will walk up and, even in mid lecture, just slide a bag towards them. This is usually all it takes for them to put their phone in the bag. Every now and then I still have to take one, but it is very rare!

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