At Miami Killian Senior High, where cellphones are typically off-limits during class, teacher Tandy Caraway had an unusual request for her morning math students.
“Take out your phones, whatever device you have,” she told the 10th-graders on a recent Thursday.
About 10 teens pull out smart phones. Students without devices partnered up with those who had them. They logged onto the wireless Internet. They texted answers to a poll about using mobile devices at school. Then they got busy solving algebra word riddles.
Stephanie Rosado, 15, used her iPhone, despite its cracked screen, to access the problem on a social learning network. Xochilth Cruz, 16, looked on. She didn’t have a phone because she was grounded. For them, using the phones for school comes naturally.
“Now everything’s technology, so you’re just used to it,” Stephanie said.
Caraway’s class is among those experimenting with the Miami-Dade school district’s new BYOD - Bring Your Own Device - policy. Students can bring hand-held devices, tablets and laptops to class, as more instruction becomes digital.
Teachers see cellphones as “here to stay” and a way to get kids excited, according to a recent study by Pew Internet about how teens do research in the digital age. The study found half of teachers surveyed said cellphones are not allowed in class. But among those who do allow them, 42 percent say students use them to look up information, and 38 percent use phones to take pictures or record video for an assignment. Still, on digital technology overall, the jury is still out. The Pew study found 64 percent of teachers surveyed said current technologies “do more to distract students than to help them academically.”
Caraway said the new approach poses a learning curve for teachers.
“They have to learn how to implement it in their class and still make it effective, as opposed to kids just have their cellphone out because they want to play on their cellphone,” Caraway said. She will be one of dozens of teachers giving workshops at The Education Fund’s expo for teachers Saturday at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
The BYOD policy is born partly out of necessity. The school district doesn’t have the money to buy laptops for all of its 350,000 students. Not all kids in Miami-Dade, where most qualify for free or reduced lunches, can afford to buy one. A $1.2 billion bond measure, which voters approved Tuesday, will support other technology, mostly network infrastructure, but not buy devices for individual students.
“I think by the end of this year, we’ll have a better sense of how many kids are really able to do that -- what the gap is between kids that can provide their own device and places where we need to furnish devices,” said Sylvia Diaz, administrative director of the instructional technology department.
Deborah Karcher, chief information officer for the district, said schools need time to ramp up. So far, all Dade’s high schools have wireless hot spots, but not all have campus-wide wireless Internet. The district is working to install that with federal grant money. “I think what you’re going to see are pockets and the pockets will grow,” Karcher said.
At South Miami Middle School, Suzanne Banas has experimented with using iPads. She calls it “iTeach, iLearn.”