Martensville elementary school teachers, kids seeing benefits after hanging up on cellphones in class

Venture Heights Elementary School in Martensville, Sask., has banned the use of cellphones, and staff and students say it's made life better, both inside the classroom and at home.

Ban on cellphones in classrooms was phased in over 3 years with support of community

The principal of Venture Heights Elementary School says most students leave their phones at home or in their backpacks or lockers. (CBC News)

Staff and students at a Saskatchewan elementary school that has banned the use of cellphones say it's made life better, both inside the classroom and at home.     

Ron Biberdorf is the principal at Venture Heights Elementary School in Martensville, just north of Saskatoon. He said one mother told him her daughter talks to her more at home, since the mandatory break from her device during the school day came into effect.

"We've had nothing but support and praise from the parents, at least the ones that have spoken to us," said Biberdorf. "We're quite surprised with how it's impacted kids away from school."

It's not that we're against technology. We're just finding appropriate uses for technology.- Principal Ron Biberdorf

The rule, initially prompted by inappropriate cellphone use at the school, was phased in over the course of three years, starting with a ban for K-4 students and moving up to those in Grade 8.

The teachers were on board with the initiative and the school's community council was also supportive.

And it's not like the students are cut off from technology — during class time, they have access to Chromebooks, iPads and computers. The school has also invested in coding kits.

But most students leave their phones at home, or in their backpacks or lockers, Biberdorf says.

Ban means less homework: student

"It's not that we're against technology. We're just finding appropriate uses for technology," he said.

Teachers at the school are firmly supportive of the ban, he said.

"They're loving it. There's so much less drama. And there's [fewer] little incidental issues with cellphones," he said. 

The odd student is still caught with a phone in the classroom, he said. In those cases, the teacher takes it away for the day and may call the student's parent. But the new rules have worked so well that a nieghbouring school is going cellphone-free after Easter.
Venture Heights Elementary School began implementing the rule in phases three years ago. (Venture Heights Elementary School Blog)

Grade 8 student Holden Doell said not all his peers were happy about the new rule, but most have since come to come to terms with it. He said he has seen positive benefits, including taking less schoolwork home because there are fewer distractions in class.

"I really never had trouble with bringing my phone to school. But my friends, some of them brought their phones a little bit too much," he said.

"I've noticed that [since] you're not even allowed to bring them to school, they don't even try to hide them in the classroom or hide them from the teachers.

"Instead, they just don't bring them and they get their work done way quicker."

Tool or distraction?

Jay Wilson, head of curriculum studies at the University of Saskatchewan's college of education, said teachers are now discussing the idea of digital citizenship with students so they learn to use technology responsibly.

"Phones aren't bad. It's just the way we use them can sometimes be inappropriate, especially kids in the younger grades, even in high school," he said.

"They haven't learned how to properly use the technology and their parents probably aren't modelling use of technology very well either."

He said teachers have been finding students are more distracted, thinking they can multitask with their phones, when really they can't.

If the technology is used properly at the beginning, then people see how it can be used. It can be a benefit to learning.- Jay Wilson, University of Saskatchewan

Wilson also said that high cellphone usage can have further negative impacts, like depression and bullying.

"People need that constant companionship and rather than it be a person or a support group, it's a thing," he said.

"I think it's made bullying easier and it's harder for teachers and parents and other people to have a complete handle on it, and to really have a sense of the impact of it."

On the other hand, Wilson said technology can enrich the educational experience. He requires his students to use their devices in the classroom to find answers and respond to questions.

"If the technology is used properly at the beginning, then people see how it can be used. It can be a benefit to learning," he said.

"Bans usually come as a result of issues, problems, concerns that people have, and that comes back to maybe poor planning or poor instructional models."

With files from CBC Radio's Blue Sky

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