September 5, 2014 5:30 pm

Smartphones in the classroom: Technological tool or total distraction?

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TORONTO – Pretty River Academy in Collingwood has banned cellphone use in the classroom.

“It’s a distraction for both staff and students,” said Julie Kerr, head of administration at Pretty River. ”As long as texting is going on, Facebook, Twitter and social media it takes away from what they’re supposed to be doing in classroom.”

It was a surprising start to the school year for students.  Smartphones are kept in students’ lockers or in a basket until the end of class.

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“I miss it. I like texting, Facebook and all that jazz,” said Kenzi Savill, a grade 12 student at Pretty River. “It’s a big change not to have it.  It was shocking. I didn’t realize how much I did check it until they did took it out completely.”

Staff also have to hand in their smartphones which kept in a basket in the administration office.

“If you don’t lead by example then it’s not going to work,” said Kerr.

Educators appear to have mixed opinions on whether or not smartphones belong in the classroom.

The Toronto District School Board banned cell phones in classrooms in 2007 but years later reversed the decision.

The Peel District School Board also changed its policy in 2013 when it introduced BYOD – Bring Your Own Device.

“Does a text message get sent?  Yeah sure, but even before cellphones how do I make sure the students next to each other aren’t talking to each other?  I just manage the class,” said Velisa Anusic, the head of the math department at Castlebrooke Secondary School in Brampton, “It’s just part of today’s education system that we need to adapt to this.”

Anusic believes using technology and social media can help improve the quality of students’ work.

“When they’re submitting work, they’re submitting to a site where everybody has access and then they’re going to put in that much work because now, they’re not just impressing me, they’ve got to impress 29 other peers,” Anusic said.

“I feel like it’s not a crutch it’s something they use to further their understanding.”

Karanvir Sidhu, a grade 12 student at Castlebrooke agrees.

“If we’re saying prepare for real world, why aren’t we letting them use the devices the real world is using?”

Officials at Pretty River Academy say they are not worried about students lagging behind technologically.

“Our children are still using laptops when needed,” said Kerr.  “In the classroom, the cellphone was used for distraction purposes only.  I think it’s more hands on learning now.”

Elias Andersen is a Grade 9 student and says while he sometimes misses being able to check his phone during class, “Being able to check texts after school and at recess is okay because you don’t always need to have your phone on you and checking texts.”

“It’s easier to focus on the teacher when there’s nothing else going on around you,” said Savill.

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