L.V. Rogers teacher Kari Kroker (left) with teacher Angie McTague and the cell phone receptacle McTague uses to help her take attendance. “I want kids interacting with each other and their senses and the environment, that’s primary,” McTague says. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

What it means to be human (without a smartphone)

Two LVR teachers take control of phones in the classroom

You have to turn in your phone when you arrive in class.

That’s the way it works in Angie McTague’s science classes and Kari Kroker’s English classes at L.V. Rogers Secondary.

McTague has a cloth rack on the wall with students’ names in individual slots. She uses it to take attendance. If your phone is not in your named slot, she wonders where you are. In Kroker’s class there is also a receptacle for phones at the front of the room.

“I was so frustrated for years — put your phone away, put your phone away, give me your phone,” Kroker says. “There would be fights and arguments, and it was awful.”

McTague had a similar problem, and she says Kroker inspired her to try something different.

“The number of texts and snapchats these guys get within an hour can be up to 50,” McTague says.

Kroker thinks the test should be whether phones in class improve student learning.

“Intuitively, at the very least we don’t know. My sense of it is no, because it is a distraction. I don’t have a lot of time with these kids. We are trying to give them the best education we can in the limited time we have with them. So why would I bring in something that is an unknown until I know it will improve their learning?”

She introduces her phone policy at the beginning of each semester to each new class.

“I say to kids, we are in an English class where we are talking about the big questions of life and we are discussing the most beautiful pieces of literature and we are working with philosophy. We are here together in this moment in time and this moment is not going to happen again. We are going to be all together, and that means you give me your phone.”

Kroker’s students seem to accept these ideas. In a group interview with the Star, four of her Grade 12 students agreed with the system but a fifth, Max Moyle, was not so sure.

“The teachers should just teach the lesson, the way they would,” he said. “They are getting paid either way and if the students are not paying attention, that is their own problem and ultimately it is their fault.”

Sophie Edney disagreed.

“Teachers are putting in their time to make sure we learn the things they are supposed to teach us,” she said, “and if we are creating unnecessary problems for them, that is not fair to them.”

Edney said she doesn’t miss her phone in McTague’s or Kroker’s classes.

Student Julia Arnold said she has observed that “people that pay more attention and don’t use their phone while they are working are getting higher grades and doing better in their classes.”

Tristen Schuh, a student from another class who joined the interview, said he doesn’t spend a lot of time on his phone “but I understand it for other people because the phone is designed to make you look at it, you get the vibration, you get the sound, and we are programmed, you have to look at it.”

Everyone in the group said they were familiar with research on how getting a like or a text releases dopamine, a brain chemical that makes us feel good.

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Kroker says parents’ response when she first implemented her system surprised her.

“In the beginning of the second week I sent out a letter to parents saying this is the policy, and I was unprepared for the parental response. They loved it. They said we wish all teachers would do this. It was music to my ears. I have never received a negative response from a parent.”

McTague says with no phones at their desks there is a palpable difference in the attention level in the classroom, and the students quickly get used to it. The Star interviewed five of her students. All of them supported not having a phone in class. They think McTague’s system is a good one.

“But this is honours physics,” one student said. “You should be talking to the Grade 9s.” In fact the Star intends to talk to a broader cross-section of students for a future article.

Principal Tamara Malloff says the school’s phone policy is up to individual teachers.

“If we are looking at a broader social context – that cellphones are causing harm — then we should examine that,” she wrote in an email to the Star. “I have read articles that indicate they have caused harm, and others that indicate they are not to blame for ‘destroying a generation,’ that there are other societal forces at play. Perhaps we need to ask how technology is impacting youth and adults alike.

“We need to continue to have conversations about the impact of technology, and what it means to be human, and have human interactions so that we don’t lose sight of that aspect of ourselves.

“I would hope that we put that at the forefront of our conversations in order to create policies or guidelines, without necessarily being absolute either way.”

 

LVR students, from left, Eden Solarik, Gretchen Lewandowski and Sophie Edney put away their phones at the beginning of teacher Angie McTague’s class. They say they don’t miss their phones during class and they think McTague’s system is a good idea. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

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