Ottawa

Ottawa teacher believes in balanced use of cellphones in classrooms

After a Toronto school banned cellphones outright from the classroom, an Ottawa teacher believes educators need to take a more measured approach to the issue in order to teach students about using mobile devices responsibly.

'There are a lot of benefits that I think outweigh the negatives'

Cellphone use in classrooms is a contentious issue at schools across Canada. (CBC)

After a Toronto school banned cellphones outright from the classroom, an Ottawa teacher believes educators need to take a more measured approach to the issue in order to teach students about using mobile devices responsibly.

Eve Warkentin, a Grade 7 and 8 teacher at St. Francis Xavier Catholic High School in Gloucester, says cellphones can be a distraction in the classroom, but if used properly, they can also be an important learning tool to benefit students and teachers.

"There are definitely a lot of benefits that I think outweigh the negatives, and it would be more difficult to me to plan my lessons without that technology," Warkentin told Robyn Bresnahan on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

In English class, for example, she can easily share short stories and other materials with students with just a few clicks, rather than printing off and distributing paper copies.

Eve Warkentin is a Grade 7 & 8 teacher at St. Francis Xavier Catholic High School in Gloucester. (CBC)
She adds that students have told her translation apps on devices are also very helpful for those who are learning English as a second language. "They do that right on their cellphones, and I couldn't imagine not having them be able to do that in the classroom," she said.

Still, Warkentin maintains a strict policy when it comes to cellphone use in the class that isn't connected to learning. She'll issue a warning once, and then confiscate the device for the period if a student is caught a second time, and she says that happens daily.

"I know what that Snapchat screen looks like. I know the sound that your phone makes when you're logging on to a certain game," she said. "So it's pretty easy for me to shut them down when they are doing those things."

Importance of face-to-face interaction

This week,  Earl Grey Senior Public School in Toronto banned cellphones from the classroom after parents complained students were using them improperly when they should have been learning.

Warkentin doesn't support such a ban, and she says her students don't either. Instead, she believes in teaching students about the balance between screen time and face-to-face interaction.

She teaches a "digital citizenship unit" where her students learn about cellphone security and privacy, the negative impacts of screen time on adolescent brain development, and communication skills.

"I think just having those conversations in the classroom, challenging them with little things, telling them the importance of taking time away from the screen, I think that's a good place to start," she said.

What do you think?