"Teenagers forget how to be alone. You need to be alone in order to feel your emotions and realize who you really are. We forget that we are human and that our feelings, both good and bad are really important things that we have to understand. When you have a cell phone, you can just call someone and then you, the
that is important and needs to feel, disappears."
One student who was without his cell phone for about two weeks made this comment to me early in the development of the unit. It was striking to me that teenagers in 2014 really do not know how to be alone, and the connection to their mobile phones has become a psychological one. It occurred to me that most of us are pretty mindless about our own dependence on our phones as well. For students to learn thoughtful use of their phones, they first need to be aware that their phones are in fact causing problems in their lives and in their education. This information is important for teachers as well in order to find more effective ways to address the omnipresence of cell phones.
Simply stated, it seems clear that prohibited or not, students are bringing smart phones and tablets into the classroom. Separate from the requirements of our particular curriculum, developing a unit on Internet use, especially use of smart phones, seemed something universally important. How are some ways we as educators might incorporate students' smart phones intelligently into our lessons, especially for students who don't have access to desk computers at home, and at the same time give all students insights into using these devices mindfully? The formative assessments in this unit include a comparative essay and a literary essay, requiring students to view and assess videos, articles, research documents and fictional stories. For their final exam, students would come up with their own claim in a synthesis essay, including references to the works they have viewed, read, researched or experienced. For this unit, we also wanted our students to have experiential learning and we incorporated interviews, class discussions, and an experimental "day without your cell phone" as part of our lesson plans. The unit addresses many critical skill sets including writing, reading comprehension, analysis of visual and text materials, synthesis, and research.
At Wilbur Cross High School, our students are mostly a mix of African-American and Hispanic students, many of whom have families that struggle financially. We also have many immigrants and students who transfer in from the suburbs. Students might be children of Yale professors, children of the urban streets, refugees or children of professionals from all over the world. One of my students is from Colorado, and he fits in as nicely as the rest of the "foreigners" here in the Northeast. One thing they all have in common is that they are all natives to the land of instant communications, and almost all of them carry smart devices with them to school.