Articles like this get me wondering; is the problem the cell phone in the classroom or is it that the classroom has not caught up with the cell phone? Being an old fart and used to the traditional pre-cell phone classroom I am going with the first option but I am just not sure if that is correct. Education does not seem to handle changes in technology well. Those of us that have been in the business a while can remember the big stink over the calculator. There were all sorts of dire predictions if they were allowed into the classroom and I have to say many of them were and still are true. Kids do not want to do mental math, they look for every answer in the calculator instead of looking at the problem first, and the list goes on and on. On the other side of the fence more time can be spent on problem solving than on “trivial” arithmetic and computation. Then TI came out with the TI-92 and we were all going to Hell. Kids will never learn to think if they have one of those devices of Satan. Now it is WolframAlpha. I love WolframAlpha. I can convert gallons to acre-feet in a second. Admittedly I do not seem to need to do that too often but I can if I want to. WolframAlpha can do anything I can mathematically dream up. But it still cannot problem solve.
So back to the cell phone thing. Ban them from the classroom, use them as needed or accept that the new generation lives on the thing? I have been taking the middle road lately just to see what happens. My own little study. Through diligent observation I have concluded that a student with a cell phone in math class with the intent of using it as a calculator is using it as a calculator about 20% of the time. Maybe less. Not very scientific but very realistic. The gist of it is that cell phones in the classroom are a major distraction and, as the calculator issue proved, users are going to turn into uneducated idiots. Well, maybe not that bad but the things are going to have a detrimental effect on student focus. No great revelation there.
I do like then for some uses. I give my students things like find the length of the major and minor axis of an American football and find its volume. I do not teach the formula for the volume of an ovoid, they have to find it. On the way they learn what a major and minor axis is, they have to read a little algebra and they have to find a website that is readable. It allows me a broader set of problems than the text offers. Years ago I would have given the same assignment with a CRC manual. The thing with the CRC manual is when they were done they were not going to continue reading it for entertainment value. With the phone when they are done they are off to who knows where.
Next year I am going to bail on the cell phone use. It has great possibilities but the management is just too much to deal with. Use it once and the kids expect to use it all the time. With the cell phone they have a strong tendency to not get things done in class. Or out of class for that matter.