Seven years ago I welcomed the new changes that were happening around me. I embraced technology, yearned to have access to more of it – ipads, ipods, lap tops, and more. I jumped in with both feet as our school district encouraged us to experiment, make plans, connect globally. Students were encouraged in our grade 6/7 classrooms to use their cell phones as a part of their learning tools, just as we were using the ipads and lap tops purchased for our school. I could not have predicted the changes that would take place over the years. Unfortunately not all the changes moved us in the direction we hoped to go. As the world changed and our youth became highly connected through their phones, we (my school) needed to take a step back and rethink the boundaries of using personal devices in the classroom.
As the grade 6/7 teachers at my school became more and more comfortable with technology we encouraged the use of personal devices, specifically cell phones. Students were allowed to have their phones at their working spaces throughout the day using theses devices as research tools, as a place to record their learning, to connect to their google drives and the list goes on. In the beginning things went smoothly – students respected the limits and guidelines we set, they used them as learning tools and felt privileged to have them.
But recently we have noticed a shift and one that is not for the good. The shift may have started over the last year or two but it has become amplified this year. Students have become addicted to their phones and especially to social media. Our 11 and 12 year olds use Instagram, Snapchat and Musically accounts to connect with their peers and with others globally. They know how to create group chat forums where what they share is well beyond what is appropriate. They create on line spaces where they anonymously pair up students as ‘dating’. They are so far ahead with coding, gaming and interacting on line that many of us just cannot keep up.
Now I am not an expert in the development of the brain but for me herein lies the problem – our preteens are technically advanced but their brains are still those of the preteen. As much as we educate them on digital citizenship, as much as we warn them about the permanency of on line behaviour, they just don’t get it. They don’t get it because they can’t. They struggle with seeing the big picture – and so they should – they are 11 and 12.
Our students do not have the life experiences to tell them that sending out a ‘funny’ picture to the entire class body without asking permission from the individual who is the centre of that picture is actually not funny at all. They do not have the knowledge or understanding that as much as they think the picture can be removed it cannot. They also do not understand that something ‘funny’ can quickly be edited to something not so funny.
Preteens do not have the life experiences to understand the consequences of live streaming a student or teacher without their knowledge during class time.
They do not ‘get’ that pairing up individuals as ‘dating’ and sharing this out to all those on the account is embarrassing, uncomfortable and can wreck friendships.
They do not ‘get’ that if you can’t say it to someone’s face then it shouldn’t be said because they have become use to simply hitting send and not seeing the consequences of the message.
We try to educate, we try to monitor, we try to inform parents of what their child is doing on their device, but it just is not working. So finally we have had to put a stop to allowing cell phones in the classroom. We now collect their phones when the students walk through the door. We do not allow students to use them as learning devices anymore because they have shown too many times this year that they cannot handle this responsibility.They are only 11 and 12 after all.
I have to wonder how many other educators have faced similar issues. How many others have had to change how technology is being used in the class. Thankfully, my school has ipads and lap tops that I can access fairly regularly but this too has its own issues that we are trying to better manage for the safety of our students.
I cannot predict where we will go from here. I do know that we are trying to educate our students from kindergarten about digital citizenship but this does not change the fact that our youth do not truly ‘get’ the messages we are teaching not because they don’t want to, but because their brains simply are not mature enough to truly understand the consequences of their actions.
I do not know what is right or wrong. I didn’t think I would need to ban cell phones from my classroom as I felt that I would be able to teach them how to make responsible decisions but the pull of social media and their peers is far stronger than my influence when it comes to this issue. Too many hours have been spent this year dealing with the aftermath of having cell phones at school so a decision needed to be made.
As an aside, I had many parents applaud the move to lock up the devices and many children now come to school without their phones.
How have you dealt with the changing face of social media with your students? Have new policies been put in place at your school? I would love to hear others’ thoughts, opinions and advice.