aha moment, attention, being a teacher, being me, technology

Why I Will Be Going Device Free in My BYOD School

I work in a fantastic district that believes wholeheartedly in the power of BYOD or Bring Your Own Device.  All year, we have harnessed the power of especially cell phones as we have taken pictures, recorded video, searched for facts, and used them in ways that made what we were already more meaningful, easier, and more efficient.  I believe in the power of great BYOD.  I believe in the power of teaching students how to use the devices they have in a meaningful way.  I believe that all schools should allow students to use the devices they already have so they can work with what they have access to, not what we decide they need.

And yet, my students are distracted.  They are often on their phones checking the time, checking their notifications, moving it, taking one from a friend, or wondering where they put it.  And so am I.  My own phone is an integral part of our classroom.  I send out pictures of students working throughout the day, I take pictures for parents to see, I tweet from my phone to showcase their learning, and I search quick facts we may need as we discuss.  But I also look for my phone, get distracted by its blinking, and check that quick notification and then wonder what that email, Vox, or text may say while I am supposed to be teaching.  Not all the time, but it happens, and it happens more and more.

As a teacher, I am worried about the constant distractions.  About the small bursts of attention we can give to things before we get that check itch.  The itch that tells us to check our phone quick, check the time, check whatever.  That rush we get whenever we see something new come across our screens.  As a parent, I worry even more as I see how much my students rely on their phones to communicate, about the intense scrutiny their social media presence gets, and how wrapped up their self-esteem is in their device and the messages they get through them.  What I am not worried about so much is how students seem to be less connected with those in front of them, I am that way, but with books, which just happens to be a more socially acceptable way of disconnecting.  But the constant urge in the back of our collective minds to just check really quick; that is getting in the way of learning for all of us.

So with 11 days left of school, I am declaring our room a device free zone.  At least on some days.  At least on the days where the constant distraction of merely having the device will stop us from going deeper with our learning.  At least on the days where everything we need to can be accomplished without the help of any devices.  It is not a declaration of war against devices.  It is not a breach of rights.  I will simply be asking my students to leave their cell phones in pockets, lockers, or a designated bin along with my own.  So that we can focus on what we have in front of us, not what someone might have said or the rest of the world.  But us, the community we have right here, and the actions we want to take a part in.

Yes, cell phones and devices have a rightful place in our classrooms, but just like any tool, they are not needed every single day, every single moment.  And sure, there will always be distractions, we all need brain drifts where we can activate our brains in a different manner, but the focus on just this one thing has to be spread out.  Has to be ,discussed, processed, and changed.  So it starts tomorrow, no better time to start than right away.   .

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

18 thoughts on “Why I Will Be Going Device Free in My BYOD School”

  1. I’m curious how BYOD works for students/families that cannot afford a device. Does your district have a limited amount of devices that a student may borrow for classroom use?

  2. Yes, we have Chromebooks and available for students that have no device or only have a phone for example. In fact, many of our students choose to use those devices rather than their own.

  3. This was totally a post that I didn’t expect you to write, Pernille, and yet, I found myself nodding along with so many of your thoughts. I found the same problems to exist more last year in Grade 5 than this year in Grade 1. Maybe it’s because the students were older. Maybe it’s because we almost always had 1:1 devices (between ones brought in and ones available in the classroom), so there always seemed to be a device to look at. Now, all of the devices available in the room are mine, & they’re often off to the side of the room. Students grab them when they need them. They grab them to do a Google search, sometimes publish their work, and record photographs and podcasts, as well as take pictures. But we definitely use devices for less (and sometimes not at all), & that seems to make them less of a distraction. I’ve taken to turning off the sound on my iPad. I won’t say that I don’t sometimes get distracted by notifications that pop up, but I’ve tried hard to wait until break comes and then look, & that seems to work.

    All of this being said, and with your plan in mind, I have to wonder, how do we teach our students to self-regulate: knowing when to put the devices aside and when to pull them out? How do we find a balance between a BYOD room and a BYOD-free one, and how might your approach help with this? Thinking about the 1:1 device programs available in some schools (I teach in one that has a 1:1 iPad Program for all Grades 4-8 students), how do we get students to always see these devices as learning tools & not get distracted by them? Is this a realistic expectation, when we’re often distrated by them too? I’d be curious to know if you or others have ideas. I continue to think about these questions!


    1. Aviva and Pernille,
      This is such an interesting, and important conversation. I also teach in a Primary classroom, so my kids are not so attached to devices, but when I forget to turn my sounds off, we all get distracted by my devices!

      I think we really do need to think about HOW we support and teach our kids about disconnecting at times. About when technology is the right tool, and when it is not.

      Thank you for this. I have a lot to reflect on.


  4. Hi Pernille, Right on! My experience of teaching elementary through HE students indicates that students DO understand the necessity of focused uninterrupted attention. Your statement, “At least on the days where the constant distraction of merely having the device will stop us from going deeper with our learning. At least on the days where everything we need to can be accomplished without the help of any devices”, is a key to a true learning environment. Thanks for the reminder. Tom

  5. Thank you for this post. I was just talking to my boyfriend last night and he said, “I”m always looking at a screen – my phone on the way to work, my computer all day at work, phone on the train to go home, TV in the evening.” Me too! I need to do more self-regulation and we most certainly need to teach our students to do so!

  6. Nice post – and a key reason our school has a mantra “toy or tool”. Toys distract learning while tools enhance learning. But as ‘techno’ as I may be – I am still plotting and preparing our ‘outdoor classroom’ just a tad too far from the wifi…!

  7. Pernille, I love you dearly but I have to respectfully disagree this time. A device is a tool to accomplish a task. I too have been a little frustrated with managing distractions towards the end of the year and have had to institute verbal cues like “devices down, heads up” but I would also have to say “pencils down, heads up” to the same group of students. My class is 1:1, so there are times when we put the devices up, don’t bring them to the carpet for group, or simply turn them over. I guess it’s easier to manage when I am the one providing the device.
    Have a wonderful summer!

  8. I’ve never been a fan of screen time, and since I have a dumb phone, it’s not much of a problem for me. I do think that students and adults are increasingly distracted by screens. On the 8th grade class trip to DC, I found three of our students huddled around an outlet playing some video game on their phones…at the Air and Space Museum. Disheartening.

  9. Our school is at the very beginning of our BYOD journey and this is a concern/pondering that several teachers have expressed. Your post has been very thought provoking. Thank you! I might need to pick your brains at some stage about strategies that you have found successful in helping student switch between ‘plugged-in’ and disconnecting in order to refocus.

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