Be the change, technology

One Year as a Cell Phone Free School and Not Looking Back

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For many years, I was so thankful for the power of BYOD. Working in schools that didn’t have the capital needed to provide chrome-books or other computers for easy access to all, BYOD – or bring your on device – was a game changer. We could take pictures, film video, search up things and connect with the world. A few years ago as Chromebook slowly increased in quantity, I started to notice a trend with the way phones were being used in our school. While it wasn’t so much that they were used during class, after all, most students were engaged most of the time, it was more that the minute someone screwed up, which inevitably happens often in middle school, there was a device out to record it. To share it, to snap it, to make sure that everyone who was not present now had a front seat. And its effects showed. Our students started taking less risks, afraid that someone would film them. Afraid that the world would know of their mistakes rather than their attempts at success. Anxiety went up, social interaction went down.

I started to pay attention to my own phone habits, how my world seemed to be ruled more by notifications and interactions with people far away, rather than the life that was happening right within my reach. Digging into the research surrounding anxiety and the presence of phones, proved to be eye opening. While there are many benefits to the connectivity of phones, the noted increase in mental health related issues could also not be dismissed. At what cost, was our connectivity and the ease of BYOD causing our students anguish?

And so, we did an experiment. We took a quarter off from our phones in class, me included, and we waited to see what would happen. I wrote more about here in this initial post explaining our thinking and then as a follow up to how it went. It was eye opening but also anti-climactic. Many kids reported it was no big deal, that they were fine without their phones, they didn’t miss them, we didn’t need them because we had the privilege of having enough technology at our fingertips that didn’t require students to have their phones. A few kids grumbled, these were often the kids who were less engaged and more prone to use social media during class. And then there were the few; the kids were it made a huge difference. The ones that reported that they finally felt safe in our classroom. The one that told us of how they had realized that they were constantly checking their phone for fear of missing out and that they hadn’t realized how much time it took. The ones that appreciated how people seemed more present, less worried, more there. I was not the only experimenting with this and the results were similar in other classrooms as well.

And so as a staff, we started to discuss whether this should be a school-wide policy: ask students (and staff members) to leave their cell phones in their lockers from bell to bell in order to provide a safer learning experience, an experience that focused on meaningful technology integration, and also an experience that allowed them a larger opportunity for face-to-face connections, particularly during their lunch and recess time where we often saw kids have little to no interaction with those surrounding them because they were too busy using their phones. And while I am not one to dismiss the power of interactions between people using social media or gaming, we wanted them to have a chance to also interact live and face-to-face. After voting, we implemented it for this school year.

As I have had visitors come and see our classroom, they have asked about our noticeable lack of phones everywhere. And I have been asked to write more about it, thus this post. So today, I asked all of my students to give me the honest truth; how does it affect them to be phone-free at their school? Are they missing out since this seems to be a major discussion point in the phone or no phone debate? Are we doing them a disservice by not embracing the tool and teaching them how to use it well? Their answers were enlightening.

While most of my students own a phone, a few don’t, reporting everything from cost prohibitions to no desire to own one as the reason why. This led me to think of the equity aspect of expecting kids to all have a phone. Not every family can afford one, not every family wants to provide one to their child, yet when we assume that all students have a phone and then base our instructional experiences around using them, we are creating a noticeable gap between students that may lead to tension and awkwardness in the classroom. As one students said, sure, I could just use a Chromebook but that still makes me stand out and look different than the rest and that can be embarrassing.

I asked my students whether they cared about lack of access to their phones. Overwhelmingly they reported that it wasn’t a big deal, that they didn’t feel they needed them. That, sure, they would love to have them, but that they were not missing out on any educational opportunity in their eyes. I am not saying that phones can’t be used for amazing things, but in this case, the students didn’t see that. In fact, it was interesting to see how many students who did want their phones also reported that they would only use them for Instagram, Snapchat, and texting if they had them, nothing else. A few reported wanting to use them as calculators or to search up words. Not exactly deep reasons to bring them back as we can do all that with other tools provided for us.

Many students reported that not having their phones caused them to speak more to their friends. That while they missed out on some conversations that would take place on social media they were more likely to have more conversations with those around them. One student wrote, “I honestly enjoy it because it annoys me how often people (or my friends) are distracted by social media. I know social media is for “Socializing”, but you have people around you to socialize with. Even if you are not on social media and playing games instead, it still frustrates me.”

Another point often brought up is that we should be teaching students how to use their phones well. that much like all of the other tools the world has introduced us to, phones should now be a part of the school experience so that kids can use them well. I am not sure about this point. While I agree that as educators we adapt our curriculum to face the modern construct, I wonder whether the responsibility of teaching students how to use their phone well should fall on us? Should that not fall on those who provide the tool? That doesn’t mean that it can’t be supplemented in school, but I am not sure the main responsibility starts with us. And what is it exactly we can only do on phones that we cannot do with a Chromebook or iPad? A few things come to mind, and perhaps I simply don’t know enough about the amazing things phones are being used for, but I am not sure it is enough to warrant the blanket blessing of phones without thinking about the potential for increased anxiety, bullying, and overall distractibility that these powerful computers can also bring with them, even for the adults.

As I scanned through all of their responses, what really stood out to me was one common thread; that they wish they could have their phones in case “something bad happened.” That a major reason for why they wish to have their phones is in case of an emergency. Think about that for a moment. Our students don’t always feel safe at school, perhaps now more than ever, and so they see their phones as a lifeline to get help. It shook me to the core, because of course, I feel the same way; I need my phone in case something bad happens, but to hear it repeated again and again from 7th graders was startling.

And so we will continue to be cell-phone free for now. We will continue to ask students to leave them in their lockers so that we can be together. I will continue to leave my phone in my bag unless I need it for a specific purpose. To be more present, to think of the technology opportunities kids do have in order for us to connect, to become more than we were. Does this mean that phones in schools are bad or should never be there? No, it just means that for us, the learning experience we have right now, it makes sense to be cell phone free. That we have seen less phone-related anxiety and stress. We have seen less drama due to kids being filmed or ridiculed when they should have been safe in our classrooms. That we have been more thoughtful when we did bring out devices.

I share this in order to start a conversation, to perhaps plant a seed for others to explore within their own learning communities. Not to dismiss the power of technology, nor the power of what can happen when we connect with others. But as someone who knows the anxiety that a phone can produce, who is “one of those parents” that is holding off on getting a phone for her own kids, I think it is valid to have these discussions. That often in our eagerness to embrace technology, we forget about the mental health impact more technology and how it is used can have. That sometimes when we bring in more devices it traps our students rather than frees them, and that is not something to easily dismiss. I would love to hear your thoughts.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being a teacher, technology

Lessons from a #PhoneFree Classroom

I have been meaning to write more about our phone free classroom for a while.  It’s been more than month now.  I have been meaning to update, and yet, it keeps slipping my mind.

Not because I am busy.  Not because there are so many other things to do, even though there is.


More because quite simply put, there isn’t much to say.

The protests and indignation I was worried would build over this rule haven’t come.

The anger or the sneakiness I wondered about hasn’t happened.

The letters to the principals, the “how dare you” statements never uttered.

Are some kids annoyed?  Probably.

Are some kids leaving them in their pockets? Probably.

Are some kids hoping to go back to the old way?  Probably.

But are they mad?  Outraged?  Feeling like their rights as a learner somehow having been violated – nope.

In fact, every day we have our routine down.  Most kids leave their phone in their locker.  Some in the bin in our classroom.  After the bell, I give a final reminder which inevitably leads to a few more phones in the bin and then we are off.  Focused as much as we can be in May in 7th grade on the learning that is happening.

Yet, what I have noticed has been small.  A few changes here and there; more face to face conversation within our classroom walls.  Less tense faces.  More presence.  Less worry.

It turns out that we didn’t need more cloud for more engagement, but needed more presence.  More here.  More now.

And today I noticed how several kids even forgot to grab their phone, only showing up later in the day to claim it once they realized it was missing.  Some of these kids were kids I have had to remind to put their phone away in the past, and here they come several class periods later, glad that their phone is still there waiting but realizing that perhaps it wasn’t that big of a deal anyway.  Perhaps not having their phone was not the end of the world.

And so we will continue until the very last day.  Separated from something that sometimes feels like it contains our entire world.  Given a moment to breathe that doesn’t involve notifications, likes, or needing to record every moment of our day.  A space to take risks, be present, and focus on each other, with just a small change in our days.

I started this experiment worried about the mental health of us all as we become more and more addicted to our phones.  But I also worried that it would cause resentment and anger, a sense of distrust in our community, that I was yet another adult who didn’t care about my students.  It turns out that my fear was unfounded.  That asking students to leave their phones out as they bring their hearts in was a step in the right direction.   In the end,  it turned out that we really didn’t need them for much anyway, who knew?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


Be the change, being a teacher, technology

One Week Into a Phone Free Classroom

We went phone free in our classroom five days ago.  Five days of no phones allowed.  Five days of fewer distractions.  Five days of being conscious of when we pull out a device, and when we purposely put it away.  Over spring break, I had sent the following email to students and parents letting them know of the decision, worried about the top-down approach I was taking with this decision.  And yet, I felt like we had to try something new and now was the time for the change.

I hope your spring break has been nice!  Just a heads up that we will be going phone free for most of the 4th quarter in both literacy studies and informational studies in our classroom, as well as independent reading.  Students will be asked to leave their phones in their lockers on in a basket on our shelf as they enter the room.

There are a few reasons I have made this decision:

  • While there will be times we will use our phones and with the accessibility of Chromebooks, there are very few times where students need to BYOD anymore.
  • Students are given little privacy or room for risk/failure in our classrooms as other students are quick to pull out their phones and snap pictures or videos to share on social media.  Often they are faster than we are or do it on the sly, this leads to less risk-taking, and a heightened sense of anxiety when it comes to actually doing the learning.
  • One article here discusses how even having it nearby versus out of the room lessens your thinking.
  • Another article here discusses how the constant stimuli from phones are rewiring our brains to constantly seek stimuli rather than dive into the “zone of learning” 
  • And another article discusses the shortened attention spans 

If messages need to be sent to your students during our class together, they can be sent through the office.

While I didn’t know what the response would be, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many parents/guardians loved the idea, how many wish we would go phone free as a class, how many were in favor.  And yet, how would the students themselves react?

Well, it turns out many of them read the email and already were onboard when they came.  A few had questions, but most agreed that it was nice.  So the week went on, the phones disappeared and we dug into our new learning  I noticed there was less scrambling to get to work.  Less distractions from the few kids that would pull them out to check throughout the class.  My phone was in my bag as well, sure, there were less pictures shared of our learning but not having it around was really not a big deal.  Today I asked them what they thought of the policy.  Boy, was I surprised…

I think it’s fair because we don’t need them.

I like it because I don’t get distracted.

It is nice to not have to think about them.

It’s no big deal.

I am grateful for it because I no longer have to worry about being filmed and it shared on Instagram.

Sure, a few voiced their complaints telling me they didn’t like to be without them, these were also some of the kids that were distracted by their phones the most playing fortnite or snapchatting in class, while a few voiced that they didn’t really need the policy because they already left them in their lockers.

What struck me though was how many students were positive about the change.  How many were grateful for the policy because they then didn’t need to police themselves.  It makes sense in a way too as we see just how addicted we, adults, are to our smartphones.  When they aren’t allowed to be around we naturally use them less and yet have a hard time putting them away ourselves.

One comment that did stand out though was that a child didn’t like being without their phone in case something bad happened at school.  Let’s just have that sink in for a moment…  In an age of school shootings, schools are no longer viewed as safe by the very kids we teach and cell phones are seen as a way to find out when they need to run or hide.

So this first week of no phones, it turns out that perhaps going without was not that big of a deal, once again making me wonder what we really needed them for in the first place.  It has been nice to have this one less thing in our classroom.  To see the students focus on each other, rather than on what is happening on their phone.  To see them be more present if even for a little bit.

I’ll keep sharing as the quarter goes on, but I have a feeling that going phone free is here to stay.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

Be the change, being a teacher, technology

The True Power of Technology

He told me that this year he wanted a friend.  Just one.

That other kids didn’t like him.

That they made fun of him.  That they were mean.  That they went out of their way to make him feel less than.

That perhaps he had no reason to be alive because no one seemed to care whether he lived anyway.

I told him we did.

He told me that he wanted to be a writer.  That he had all of these stories to share.  To create.  But that no one would care, no one would read them anyway.

So we told him to write.  Write on your blog whatever you want.  Share your story and I will amplify it for you.  And so he did.  He wrote about a prince and his mission.  Asked me to please send it out.  “Will anyone like it?”

So I did and they did.  Teachers and students left comments urging him to write more.  To not leave them waiting for the next installment.  I approved every comment.

He came to me the very next day, “Did you see it, Mrs. Ripp?  They really like me…I must write more.”

And for that moment he saw himself as a writer.  As someone worth knowing.  Not the child that others found strange, or angry, or unfit to be a friend to.  A writer with words that mattered.

And so he wrote.  And he believed that he, too, mattered.

She came to us wearing cat ears.  Then a tail.  A big jester’s hat.

Her laugh was loud but you didn’t it hear it much.  After all, no one else seemed to get the jokes.

She would go on and on about games she played online.  Filling our ears with Minecraft terms that I had no idea about.  I saw the eye rolls from other kids.  The ones who chose not to be at her table.  The ones that whispered.

And we spoke about kindness as if the kids hadn’t heard it all before.

She asked if she could write whatever she wanted and we told her of course.

And so she wrote about Minecraft.  The place where she felt like others got her.  The place where she felt that she had value.  Where others saw her as indispensable and not just as that weird girl.

And so she wrote, Minecraft fanfiction, I had trouble following it and yet her passion, her creativity marked her words. And so I shared, the least I could do, and the very next day she had 85 comments from kids around the world telling her to write more.  To tell them more.  Asking her to be their friend.

She would come up to me to tell me about her latest installment.  About her newfound fans.  She knew that at our school perhaps many wouldn’t see past the hat, the tail, the laugh, but online, she was something.  I told her she was something to us as well.

At the end of the year, she wrote a speech detailing how friends found online were true friends.  How sometimes you needed the online world to make you feel found.  That she had found her community in the games she played, in the worlds she created.  That she would have never felt as accepted, as valued, as she did online.

That technology meant that she was more than what those face-to-face saw her as.

We bring in technology thinking it will add the next level skills to our classrooms.  That technology will help our teaching come alive, our curriculum have a deeper meaning.  That it may “hook” the kids as if they are fish, keep them engaged, get them ready for the future.

And yes, those are valid reasons.

But the true power in technology is not just the readiness.  The skills.  The playing around with tools to create something impossible.

It is the power to be seen.

To not be alone.

To feel that in the world, someone values you.  That someone out there gets you.

Our oldest daughter cemented her best friendship through Minecraft.  They play together, side by side, and it drew them tighter together as Thea faced the bullies at her school.

When I think of technology, I don’t just see it as a tool.  I see it as a way for kids to be seen.  For kids to be found.  For kids to not be alone.  And for adults too.

Someone out there values us.  Someone out there, who wonders whether they have worth, is waiting for all of us.  Technology means we don’t have to be alone anymore.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.



being me, new year, students, technology

Before We Periscope From Our Schools, Let’s Think For a Moment

I fell in love with Periscope, the free live-streaming app created by Twitter, this summer while at ISTE.  Free, instant access to events happening around the world – finally!  The myriad of ways I could see implementing it in my classroom overwhelmed me in a good way.  Kids could periscope our class at any time to bring the world in.  Students could interact with other students around the world.  Students could have a real-time audience at any time we needed.  We could explore every day moments in cultures around the world.  On and on, the ideas went.

Yet, when I thought about it some more, I started to second-guess my love for it a little bit.  I didn’t fall out of love, but I did start to question my own ideas, as well as the professional responsibility that I carry not just as a teacher, but also as an active conference goer/speaker.  So what has made me slow down?

The need for privacy.  Student privacy and protecting it is at the forefront of my mind as a teacher who shares the work of their students.  Some of my students cannot be shown on the internet for a variety of reasons and that is something I respect.  What if that child walks by in the background?  What if their voice is heard?  What if students start filming from our classroom and do not know who can or cannot be shown on the internet?   This by itself is enough to stop me from using Periscope in the classroom, but there is more.

The need for respect.  When I videotape something I have editing abilities.  That means that anything silly, stupid, weird, or somehow embarrassing does not have to be seen by anyone but us.  The “live” part of the live-streaming means there is no delay, no editing, no take back.  What if a child says something mortifying, screws up, fails in some way and the whole world potentially sees it?  One thing is failing in front of your peers and embracing it, another thing is failing in front of strangers.

The need for attention.  My first job is to teach the students in front of me.  Not the world, not the parents, not other colleagues.  So whenever a tool is brought into the classroom, I have to make sure it is not creating a barrier between me and students.  Being focused on live-streaming something means that I am not working with students but instead acting as a cameraman.  Even if I am live-streaming something that I am taking part in, I am still not giving them 100% of my attention because that would be multi-tasking, which we know decreases our focus.

The need for intimacy.  Some of the biggest moments that have happened in our classroom has been when students have let their guards down and trusted us all inherently.  When the door was closed and just we were present.  That intimacy is gone the minute I start videotaping anything.  So often we end up capturing the not quite as great moments because that is all we can get.

The need for purpose.  If live-streaming something will add value to the purpose of what we are doing than I will consider doing it, but if it really only boosts me as someone who shares, or in some other way becomes more about me than my students then I am not for it.  I worry that some will use Periscope to boost their own popularity and lose sight of why we are all doing this; for the kids.

The need for permission from parents.  While most districts have technology policies and permission slips in place that include sharing the work, name, and image of students, Periscope, I feel, is a new level of sharing.  So as a parent I would very much like the right to know about its use, the purpose of it, and also have the right to think about it.  When we don’t ask, we take that right away from parents.  

The need for permission from speakers.  I had a wonderful discussion on Twitter on what the protocol is for periscoping professional development/keynotes and such.  It seems there is none, but there probably should be.  After all, if a conference has spent a lot of money bringing a speaker in and I have registered for it that does not mean we get to share that conference with the world.  What we paid for is our own experience.  So bottom line is to ask before you periscope and respect if someone says no.

So what Periscope might be great for?

Professional development where you interview other great thinkers or interact in some way and make it about the sharing of thought.

Students sharing knowledge in a pre-determined way.  It would be a great idea to have students run a small talk or demonstration purposefully sharing their knowledge with the world.

Showcasing environment or other non-student immersed ideas.  I love the idea of being able to send someone a live stream showcasing my classroom set up, library organization or something like that.  Again, purpose, control, and meaningfulness is at the forefront of my thinking here.

Tuning into a specific part of the world to see what daily life is like there.  This fits nicely with the tag line of “Explore the world through someone else’s eyes.”

So while there are definite great uses to Periscope, I am hesitant to bring it into my classroom when the students are there.  Perhaps I am too scared?  Perhaps I don’t know enough?  I would love to get your opinion on this.

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 our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

MIEExpert15, student driven, technology

How About a Mystery Vox?


The power of Skype never ceases to amaze me and I have loved doing Mystery Skypes for many years now.  So as I started to plan for back to school I knew I wanted to participate once more in as many Mystery Skypes as possible, but I also wanted to try a different approach; the mystery Vox.

What is Voxer?  It is a free walkie-talkie app that allows you to leave messages asynchronously or even a 15 second video if you would like to other users around the world.  For more information or to download it, go here.

What is a Mystery Vox?  Using the power of Voxer, students would take turn leaving clues throughout the day, checking in when they could in order to try to guess the geographical location of the other classroom.  The questions still have to be in a yes or no format and students may still not google each other.

Why do this rather than Skype?  For me it allows multiple classes to collaborate throughout the day trying to piece together where a class is. It also works around the timezone issues that can limit where we do a Mystery Skype with.  Students will not have designated roles like they do in a Mystery Skype; anyone can guess, anyone can ask a question.  I also love that students can digest the clues before they ask the next question.  However, I still plan on doing lots of Mystery Skypes too!

How will this work?  Sign up below on the form and then go to the form responses to find a match.  Reach out and set up the day or week you would like to do this in.

To see the form responses and find someone, go here.

To see more about Mystery Skype, go here

What will this look like in my classroom?  I will have a running list of clues and answers on the board, as well as questions asked.  I will probably have students do this for me.  I may even put it in a Google doc.  I will alert kids to it throughout the day and ask them to come up with a question and an answer.  I will use my own voxer account as I do not feel like setting up another one, right now anyway, and my students will be the ones leaving the messages.  We will try to have it guessed within a day.  I think that is really it.

Any further ideas?