Schools getting smart in use of smartphones

Most school districts limit or prohibit their students from using cellphones on campus. But two schools in Tangipahoa Parish plan to use their students’ smartphones for classroom instruction this coming school year.

It’s an experiment in smart technology that other school districts also are considering.

The trick is to make sure the students are distracted by the devices.

“The other schools that have experimented with this have found that teaching a child the proper way to use technology is a much better approach to controlling the use of that technology,” Tangipahoa School Board member Brett Duncan said.

The Tangipahoa school district’s technology policy bans students from using cellphones and similar electronic devices on campus unless for an emergency. But the School Board’s curriculum committee voted July 16 to authorize Hammond High Magnet School and Jewel Sumner High School to allow smartphones on campus for classroom purposes only.

The new policy is nicknamed BYOT — bring your own technology.

Chad Troxclair, principal at Hammond High Magnet, said students will be able to use devices such as smartphones and laptops, as well as iPads, which the school began using a year ago after buying 247 of them through a federal grant.

Troxclair said students use the iPads to connect with teachers’ smartboards, which are an interactive, computerized form of a blackboard.

“We’ll go through growing pains like we have everything else,” Troxclair said. “But I expect we’ll have the same type of success we had with the iPads.”

The move could save parents some money, Troxclair said, noting that a graphing calculator can cost anywhere from $85 to $120, but a graphing calculator app on a smartphone costs only a few dollars.

“The key is to teach them to use it responsibly,” Troxclair said.

At Jewel Sumner High, students will have to register the devices with school administrators so teachers know who is allowed to use them, Principal Lisa Fussell said.

Any device with access to wireless Internet will be allowed, Fussell said, but students will only be allowed to access the school’s Internet system and cannot use their own data plan.

The use will vary by classroom, Fussell said, but the smartphones can be utilized to research information for a paper, read articles suggested by teachers or use the smartphone-to-smartboard response system.

“I can’t tell you how it’s going to work across the board, but these are some of the ideas my teachers are generating before we start the school year,” she said.

Fussell noted that not every student will have smartphones, so teachers will have to craft lesson plans that all students can use and that won’t penalize students who don’t have, or can’t afford, the technology.

Fussell said her school will implement the BYOT policy only with teachers who are comfortable with the idea.

Fussell said she was hesitant at first about using smartphones because of disciplinary issues, but she said students also will have to learn how to use the devices before they get to college.

“It’s a responsible way to use it during the day,” she said.

Tangipahoa Superintendent Mark Kolwe said if the program is successful, administrators will explore expanding it.

He also noted that allowing children to bring their own smartphones will save the school system money by not having to buy the devices for the students.

Duncan, the Tangipahoa School Board member whose district includes Hammond High Magnet, said the school system should expand its use of the technology because educational instruments like electronic textbooks will one day be the standard.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School System bans cellphone use during school hours, but principals have discretion in enforcing the policy, said Herman Brister Sr., associate superintendent for student support services.

Brister said he is “100 percent” behind the idea of implementing the “bring your own technology” policy at Baton Rouge schools because smartphones aren’t just phones — they’re handheld computing devices.

“It can be a very cost-effective device as schools move to digital content and digital instruction,” Brister said.

Kelli Joseph, St. Helena Parish School District superintendent, said St. Helena’s students are banned from using or possessing cellphones at school — but most kids find ways to bring them to campus anyway.

Joseph said her district is looking into the smartphone idea because the devices can download class assignments and are a way to engage the students.

“That’s the way our children communicate,” she said.