The Cell Phone Trade-Off

It’s an issue that seems to be growing as rapidly as my monthly T-Mobile bill: the intrusion of student cell phones into the classroom, distracting and grasping the attention of young minds that can’t seem to resist their lure. If there was a court case, cell phones would be used as evidence to prove that a whole generation of youth are ADHD. Students resemble squirrels as their attention span on subject matter lasts as long as the time gap between text messages.

I wonder what gaps there will be in the understanding of math formulas and scientific calculations because Johnny was focused on reaching the next level of his video game he was playing on his cell phone?

I’ve tried the “face up-face down” method, where students can use their phones to look up information or even do an assignment. When they aren’t using their phones for academic purposes, they are to stay facedown. But…it is too tempting for them…like a chocolate chip cookie that is calling their name, they can only resist for so long.

I’ve used threats of having them take their cell phones to the office, thus increasing the workload on the office staff that is already trying to fit 10 hours of work into 8, but that only works for so long.

Seriously, some students might forget to put shoes on in the morning, but they won’t forget their cell phones. I’ve had frantic students pleading to their classmates for someone to loan them a charger because their “special friend” is down to 1% on its battery life. The urgency is resembling of a 9-1-1 call.

In our schools, it has not been unusual to see students walking down the hallway, in the midst of passing periods, focused not on their classmates but rather on their cell phone screen. Recently, one student was so absorbed by the video he was watching while he walked that he went into the wrong classroom before he realized where he was. Last week, one student texted another student during class, as if what they were doing for the class was secondary in importance to what was texted to the other classmate.

So, even though I only have one week left in my 8th Grade language arts journey, I tried a new strategy this past Thursday. If a student was willing at the beginning of class to bring their cell phone and place it in the basket, affectionately known as “the cell phone daycare center”, I’d contribute a piece of Hershey’s chocolate to their sugar-hyped diet at the end of class. The seed for the idea came during our recent state assessment testing days. Students were not allowed to have cell phones, Apple Watches, or other devices. They were encouraged to leave them in their lockers, but most of them couldn’t say parted for that long so they brought them into class, powered them down, and placed them in the basket.

When I made the offer of a chocolate temporary experience of personal satisfaction you would have thought it was a “Billy Graham Crusade altar call”. The masses came forward. I went through Hershey’s Nuggets like they were candy, which they are, as the cell phone daycare center reached maximum capacity.

I was somewhat dumbfounded. The price of a class period void of cell phone temptations is the offer of a piece of chocolate. I felt like Monty Hall on “Let’s Make A Deal”, offering a contestant $100 for a hairpin or something else that might be in their pocket.

I know, I know, it’s like a bribe, an undesired reward, but maybe it will be a short-term fix (at least for one more week) to help them stay more focused on classwork. It’s like an educational t-shirt wrapped in a layer of Gucci entitlement. I’m sure if I would be there for more than one more week there would come a point where they would be expecting a chocolate reward regardless of whether their phone was in the daycare basket.

For five more days, however, and for the past two, they’ve discovered that they can survive 60 minutes without their best artificial buddy in their lap. It’s possible.

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