Cell Phones, A Life Line in Hard Economic Times - True Stories

Cross posted at the Teaching Generation Text. The blog dedicated to using mobile devices for learning.

While the fact that not all students have access to the same technology is sometimes used as an excuse for banning students from the ability to use their own devices in school, the reality is that in many cases students from low income families are adding tools like cell phones to their list of necessities. While educators never want to exclude, equal access is not a valid argument against students using their own technology for learning. Instead, this must be managed, just like we manage when we don't have enough textbooks or supplies for each student.

At Delta Opportunity School, the students who struggle the most with basic necessities (i.e. food, home, transportation) usually have a phone and have it for very serious reasons (alarm clock, way to contact potential employers, doctors, etc). Amanda, whose story is below, used her phone as a life line when there was no home, no family, no support. We cannot let the "not all students have phones" argument stop us from utilizing their educational value.

Many high school students do have access to phones and when there isn't access, there are many opportunities for sharing, collaborating, or even having a couple text-enabled, pay-as-you-go phones available for less than the cost of a textbook. By banning cell phones, we exclude all students from the ability to use their communication method of choice for learning, connecting, and blending school and life. In the anecdote below we see how a cell phone became an integral part of one young ladies success in learning and life.

She has great intentions and puts her best efforts into educational endeavors, but her basic needs continue to get in the way. The result of a childhood of abuse, moves, and chaos, Amanda is on her own and has been for years. She has worked many fast food jobs and managed to get a beat up old car. She has no home, but stays with friends so that her pay check can go to insurance, gas, and food. She is a very hard worker. Amanda is very giving and is often set back by helping others. With crisis after crisis resulting from things like a common cold, a blown car hose, or a need to loan Mom money, Amanda has a difficult time making it to school consistently. For Amanda, text messaging is often the one way she keeps connected. The cell phone becomes the only watch, the only alarm clock, the only calendar, the only camera, and the only means of communication with the world. Amanda wants to be in school, although she is working two jobs almost full time. One evening she texted me this: “Txt me 2moro morn so I can go to school. My phone alarm doesn't work.” By the way, she did use a period and a capital letter in that text, which was surprising even to me.

Text Talk: Classroom Stories, Willyn Webb - Educator / Guidance Counselor Delta Opportunity School
A poverty stricken student named Amanda knows the importance of a text-enabled cell phone in her life and education. She is 18 years old and only has 10 credits toward graduation. However, she is determined to earn a high school diploma. Even a GED is not an option.

Another time I got this, “My car overheated. I did a chpt to turn in. I'll get my moms phone n call u.” Despite the fact that she couldn't get her work in on time, there was better communication and a greater sense of appreciation for the effort to contact me regarding her work than there would have been without the use of text messaging.

When we embrace the tools that are the natural way of communication in our children's world we open doors to providing connection and support. To find out more ways that cell phones are being using to connect with young people and keep them safe, read this article where you'll discover how cell phones are being used to combat bullying.

For more ideas about effective ways to use cell phones for learning, including research-based strategies, lessons, and more order Teaching Generation Text.

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Tech & Learning.  

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.