Can ‘smart phones’ lead to smarter students?

Palm Beach County, Fla., school officials say it’s time to consider lifting a ban on student cell phones to take advantage of new technologies and boost achievement, reports the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida. A 2004 state law allows students to take wireless devices to school, but local school board policy says they must be turned off and tucked away in pockets and backpacks while in class, on buses, and at school events. While these rules help protect children from cyber-bullying and prevent high-tech cheating, they are also out of touch with today’s world of instant communication and contrary to federal recommendations to turn classrooms into smart-phone hubs. “It’s a shame not to harness the potential of devices we already have and/or are so easily accessible,” said Lee Kolbert, a fourth-grade teacher at Waters Edge Elementary. “Our students are using these devices all day long when they aren’t with us; it makes perfect sense for them to continue to use them while in school, as well.” But as the board begins to discuss new guidelines, there are several outstanding concerns before kids can use apps to advance their academics: How can educators continue to shield students from their classmates who bully them with text messages or plan fights and confrontations? What about students from low-income homes, or even middle-class homes, who can’t afford the latest iPhones, Droids, and other smart phones? Will teachers lose control of their classes to cell phone ring tones, cheating episodes, and other digital distractions?

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