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Stamford schools dial up learning value of cellphones in class

September 25, 2018

STAMFORD — Enter a high school cafeteria during lunchtime and you’ll see the usual shenanigans: selfies, Snapchat and students glued to their cellphones. And sometimes the phone activity continues into class — as approved by teachers and integrated into the lesson plan.

While Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk recently banned cellphones in classrooms, Stamford Public Schools does not have an overall policy and some see the devices as valuable learning tools.

At Stamford High School, Principal Ray Manka said teachers use various methods to control cellphone use in class. Some rooms have phone caddies where students store their devices for the duration of class. Others use what’s known as the “stoplight protocol” — red, yellow or green signage at the door of the classroom indicates whether the phone should be off, on and ready to maybe be used, or is definitely part of the lesson that day.

Since cellphones have become a part of some teachers’ instruction, Manka said he hesitates to implement a blanket ban in the classroom.

“I’d be worried about creating some sort of digital divide,” he said.

The district relies on its appropriate-use policy to control cellphone use. The policy states, “each user is responsible for his/her personal device and should use it responsibly and appropriately.”

“Its useful,” Westhill High School junior Micayla Roth said. “I like that we’re allowed to use them. Sometimes people use them a little too much.”

In his two decades in education, Manka said he’s only seen cellphones become an issue in about the last five years. However, as cellphones have advanced, they’ve also become a learning tool to teach students about having an online presence and using the devices in constructive ways.

“What we really try to stress at Stamford High is being responsible and being able to make appropriate decisions,” Manka said. “We’re trying to help our young people use these tools appropriately. We all make mistakes, we all fall down. It’s our responsibility as educators to help our students learn these can be valuable tools when used appropriately.”

Students have embraced the value of cellphones — some after-school clubs use an app called “Remind” to send members texts when they have meetings. Others use Google Drive for papers and note taking, while some teachers use apps as part of their lesson plan.

But for every positive use of a phone, students see misuse such as cheating and using the devices to avoid socializing during lunch.

“I’ve seen phones being used in an unproductive way much more often than I’ve seen them used in a productive way,” Stamford High senior Shayna Druckman said. “I’ve seen people use them to cheat or just be distracted on them. It’s pretty easy to conceal your phone. I don’t think that’s helpful at all. If they were banned at least during class time, that would help that problem a little bit more.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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