Teachers and students reflect on how smartphones have changed the classroom


Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Chloe Fatsis and Amelia Bergeron

“Put your phone away.”

These four words have been repeated over and over again in the classroom since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. For teachers, it can be exasperating to have to repeatedly tell students to get off their phones.

“It is incredibly frustrating to teach when you have to fight for the [students’] attention,” said social studies teacher Michael Garbus. “Cell phones have proved to be a distraction in class, when students are using them or thinking about them. They also inhibit in-person contact. Students look at their phones instead of talking to others,” Garbus said. To combat this, he established a system in 2016 where students put their phones in drawers at the beginning of class before the bell rang.

According to a study by Pew Research Center, in 2010, about 37 percent of teens owned a smartphone. Now, that number has increased to about 95 percent. With so many teens owning smartphones, it is no surprise that cell phone usage in the classroom has increased as well.

Science teacher Angela Benjamin said smartphones first started appearing in the classroom in 2010, and it was around 2012 that they became more prevalent. “I first began to see students using them to Google information,” she said. “But they really exploded around 2014, so that is only about four years.”

Why aren’t students putting down their phones? They’re addicted. Teens use entertainment media for an average of nine hours a day, according to a 2015 study by Common Sense Media. And this figure doesn’t even include time spent working on schoolwork.

Although phone use in class can be a serious distraction for students, it’s not all bad. In social studies teacher Jennifer Brown’s Middle Eastern Studies class last year, she tried to get rid of all paper handouts and instead let students do work and research on their phones. Phones can be used in class for online quizzing programs such as Kahoot, which are fun and informative for students.

For English teacher Belle Belew, phone usage in class isn’t that big of a problem. This isn’t because students stay off their phones in her class, but because she will confiscate them until the end of the day if she catches a student using one. “Sometimes you have to take [the phones] up; sometimes I would get 12 or 15 in a class period,” she said. Belew said that when students first started getting smartphones, they weren’t used nearly as much as they are now.

This school year, Wilson instituted a policy involving the use of Yondr bags, which lock up student cell phones until the teacher lets the students retrieve them at the end of class. Without access to phones, Wilson administration and the PTSO hope that students can focus more on the content of the class and ultimately learn more.

Brown, among other teachers, is hopeful the bags will work. “Professors and future bosses will not be impressed with anyone who can’t go more than five minutes without looking at a phone.” •