Better grades, more gabbing

Some 1,500 Oklahoma City middle-school students have received free cell phones in hopes of motivating them to work harder in school.  

For nine months, the students will receive free phones and can earn minutes in exchange for academic success. Harvard economist Roland Fryer has conducted similar experiments in a handful of other urban school systems, using money instead of phones as the incentive.

If students do improve, will the gains last when the incentives go away?

The media generation

If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online, reports the New York Times, quoting a Kaiser Family Foundation study.

Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with electronic devices — plus another hour and a half texting and a half-hour talking on their cellphones.

The study’s findings shocked its authors, who had concluded in 2005 that use could not possibly grow further, and confirmed the fears of many parents whose children are constantly tethered to media devices.

. . . Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, said that with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

Not surprisingly, the very heavy media users (16+ hours a day), who make up 21 percent of the total, were more likely to earn low grades than the light users (three hours or less), who make up 17 percent.

The heaviest media users were also more likely than the lightest users to report that they were bored or sad, or that they got into trouble, did not get along well with their parents and were not happy at school.

The study could not say whether the media use causes problems, or, rather, whether troubled youths turn to heavy media use.

Over the past five years, ownership of cell phones and iPods has soared among 8- to 18-year-olds, growing from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players.

. . . young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones (a total of :49 daily) than they spend talking on them (:33).

When parents limit TV watching, video games or computer use, children average three hours less usage per day.  But 70 percent of parents set no rules.

About two-thirds (64%) of young people say the TV is usually on during meals, and just under half (45%) say the TV is left on “most of the time” in their home, even if no one is watching.  Seven in ten (71%) have a TV in their bedroom, and half (50%) have a console video game player in their room.  Again, children in these TV-centric homes spend far more time watching: 1:30 more a day in homes where the TV is left on most of the time, and an hour more among those with a TV in their room.

“Black and Hispanic children consume nearly 4½ hours more media daily than whites,” the study found.

Some of the largest differences are in TV viewing: Black children spend nearly 6 hours and Hispanics just under 5½ hours, compared to roughly 3½ hours a day for White youth.

Time spent reading books held steady at 25 minutes a day, with another nine minutes with magazines and newspapers.

Teaching with cell phones

Cell phones, banned in most schools, are used for teaching in others. Ms. Cornelius is dubious about a story touting texting as a way to teach Spanish.

Would allowing our students to use their phones as part of the lesson actually transform them and make them “eager?” Those kids may be responding to Spanish instruction, but how much speaking are they doing?

. . . do I need to find ways that kids can use their cell phones in class just to be all cute and techy? Really?

Of course, she could save the time she now spends confiscating cell phones, walking them across campus to the proper administrator and seeing them returned to their owners.

Use a cell phone, pay a fine

In some Texas districts, teachers can confiscate cell phones and charge students $15 to get their phones back. Cell phone fines have netted $100,948 for Klein Independent School District, which has been charging the $15 fee for two years. The money has paid for art supplies, free P.E. uniforms, pizza parties to reward students and other enrichment activities.

Cell phones can be a learning tool, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He wants schools and colleges to deliver course content to phones, reports eSchool News.

“Kids are on their cell phones the 14 hours a day they are not in school,” Duncan said in a recent interview with eCampus News . . . With teenagers and young adults using cell phones constantly, Duncan said, technology officials should find ways to send homework, video lectures, and other classroom material so students can study wherever they are.

Of course, students might use phones less if it meant listening to lectures.

At some colleges, students are downloading course material on their cell phones, avoiding the high costs of buying textbooks. Ball State nursing students must buy an AT&T mobile device to “access lab books, medical dictionaries, diagnosis literature, and other resources throughout the school year.”  Undergrads pay about $250 for course materials that can be used throughout their studies. And they’ve got a lot less to carry from class to class.

High-tech cheating

One third of teens admitted using a cell phone to cheat during tests in a Common Sense Media poll.  Two thirds said other kids use a cell phone to cheat.  Yet 23 percent say it’s not cheating to use notes stored on a cell phone during  a test; 20 percent think it’s OK to text answers to test questions to their friends.

Seventy-six percent of parents say that cell phone cheating happens at their teens’ schools, but only 3% believe their own teen has ever used a cell phone to cheat.

More than half of teens surveyed admitted using the internet to plagiarize.

Common Sense Medis is releasing a white paper on Digital Literacy and Citizenship in the 21st Century.