“Students will not be allowed to use or display… cell phone or other… electronic communication device in school… Students will be allowed to possess these items but they may not be visible at any time during the school day. All such devices must be in an off position and can only be used outside the building after the school day…”
That comes straight from the 2012-2013 Upson-Lee High School Handbook. But that ban on the usage of cell phones or other electronic communication devices in school will be greatly reduced beginning with the new school year in August and the start of the Bring Your Own Technology program. Students in all schools in the Thomaston-Upson School System will be encouraged to bring internet-capable cell phones, tablets, and/or laptops to school for use in the classrooms.
Dr. Larry Derico, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the school system, said the new program is another opportunity to get students better prepared to move into the 21st century by developing 21st century classrooms.
“We are very excited about this implementation,” said Dr. Derico. “We know that our students have the devices or have been exposed to them, and it is our responsibility to help those students use those devices from a learning standpoint. We are looking at devices that are internet capable, because we want to be able to help enhance their research skills. Critical thinking skills are real big right now. It is a huge part of common core standards, teaching students how to think critically. This goes hand-in-hand with the common core standards.
“There are so many facts that are right there that they can access with just the touch of a button. We know that they can go out and find facts and the information. But what we want to do is put them in some real world situations, and be able to use the devices to problem solve and to be able to research. It is teaching them how to use the devices responsibly and for educational purposes, rather than the primary reason being playing video games.”
The school system did not jump into this relatively new program without a lot of research first. A district office team, along with school level teams from each of the five schools visited other school systems that are already implementing Bring Your Own Technology, to see what was working and what was not. They also gave the students surveys in order to determine which students have devices and what type of devices they have.
They are also not requiring all teachers to use the electronic devices in their classrooms. They are starting this year with a group of pilot teachers who will put the devices to use in their classrooms, and hope the remaining teachers will see the benefits of using the devices in their courses.
Dr. Derico added that it is also not mandatory for student to have an internet-capable device. Instead, they will be encouraging students who have the devices to share them with those who don’t.
“In most of the systems we visited, the cooperative learning of the students is very beneficial. Students, as we know, learn better from one another than they do from the lectures,” Dr. Derico said. “Our goal is, once those students are in the classrooms and we can see the lack of technology in those classrooms, then we can fill in the gaps with technology from there. Teachers are designing lessons in the classroom with a dual purpose. If there is a particular lesson where students can use their devices, that lesson will also be appropriate for students that don’t have a device. No students are going to be punished because they don’t have a device.”
Dr. Derico added that while students will be encouraged to bring their cell phones and other devices to school, that does not mean they will be allowed to call or text others throughout the day.
“What we noticed in a lot of other school districts, and what we’re going to do is, while you are in the classroom, if a student has a cell phone, that device will be on the desk in front of the student. If there is a time when the device is not supposed to be used, it will be on the desk. When they leave the classroom, the students take the devices and keep them the same way they keep them now. We do say in the policy that it will be the responsibility of the student to keep up with their own device.
“At the elementary school it will be the same process, with one exception. When the students go out to recess, the teacher will take up the devices and keep them in one certain location. Each individual school is working on their own policies and plans, and each of the schools will have parent meetings before the school year begins to address some of these questions.”
While this is a new program which encourages students to use their devices for more than just communicating and playing games, Dr. Derico said in many ways, it will also be a learning process for the adults as well.
“We realize it is more us getting comfortable with them using the devices than it is them getting used to using the devices. So it is up to us as adults to start adjusting to their world. Right now we are doing them a disservice by not allowing them to use the devices. Even in our everyday world, we practically can’t live without them. Yet we’re telling our students, who were practically born into this technology age, that no, they can’t use them to enhance their learning.
“We’re excited,” he added. “We know that this program is new. Our school system has always been progressive. We’re going to have to prepare that 21st century learner who is going to have to think critically, and once they leave high school, be able to be competitive in the real world market.”