Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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15/7/18: when to use smart phones?

So, I woke up on Thursday morning, checked my smart phone – England had lost against Croatia.  If this doesn’t sound a bit strange, I’m sorry that I didn't feeling sorry because I feel that as a patriotic Brit I ought to at least a bit.  But my indifference to all things football took priority over my patriotism, I have to be honest.

So, facing up to the day ahead at school, how to play this?  Having made no secret of my feelings towards football over the last couple of weeks, and having indicated that I’d be looking to see if any organist needed a deputy for Sunday evening, I felt that the time was right to play it cool.  Fine to be against the tide when the tide is high, however…..  Some pupils were kind enough to express their sympathy at me losing the chance to earn a little to go into my holiday fund, which was nice.

But over the course of the world cup period I’ve seen two separate stories involving smart phones.  Now, I really like my smart phone.  Curiously, I don’t use it much for the purpose of making and receiving ‘phone calls for a number of reasons.  One is that reception in my house is poor so I stick to the landline if at all possible.  Also, I got used to communicating by text and face to face as much as possible in Africa, coping with different accents – both ways – is OK if you’re there with the person but, in my experience, becomes much more difficult over the phone.  But I do like being able to check personal emails and the news headlines first thing in the morning without the need to start up the computer, I also use if to check Facebook and there’s a number of games I like.  Being able to keep up with the news headlines in the gaps of the school day has been really great this last week, like many others I followed the Thai football team trapped in the cave closely, almost as if the youngsters were pupils at my own school.  I like the way that Google calendar means I can access my diary through the smart phone or the computer.  All in all, I’m very glad I’ve got one and use it quite a lot.  Pounding the M4 every day I do try to make a point of having it on me when I’m driving, not that I always remember….

Meanwhile, in school, the rule is pupils below sixth form do not use them at all during the school day.  On balance I think this is the right call, but not without a tinge of regret because there’s a number of things we could be doing with them if they were allowed out.  These include looking up bits of information, taking photos eg. of the whiteboard so that the teacher can rub it off and it’s still there for later, and getting ‘votes’ on quizzes, along with a number of apps – in maths we have graph plotting software called Desmos for example – which can be used really helpfully in the classroom.

The problem here is that, alongside many legitimate reasons for using smart phones, there is also the potential to use them in unhelpful ways, including as a tool for bullying, eg. sharing photographs and videos of people forced into compromising situations, to ridicule teachers by recording them when angry, not to mention to send texts, check Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. etc. etc. when supposed to be working.  And of course, if I’m at the front of the room I can see a pupil at the back using a smart phone but, in general, can’t see what it is they are doing, in much the same way that I can see them talking but can’t hear what they’re actually saying.

I was struck through the coverage of the world cup football that the use of smart phones came up twice that I saw.  Firstly was this story  in which members of the audience seeing Titanic the Musical used their smart phones to follow the penalty shoot between England and Columbia, with associated cheering and sighing just as the musical was getting to the sinking of the ship.  The other, as told here is that the Wimbledon authorities have relented on the usual strict ban on the use of smart phones amongst spectators for the tennis,

The first case seems to me to be pretty clear cut.  Come on, guys!  You're at the theatre!  Your actions have an impact not just on yourselves but on other audience members and indeed the cast who are only a few metres away from you.  Is it really such an encumbrance to wait until the end of the production to find out the result of the football?  If it is, wouldn't it have been better to have stayed at home in front of the TV?

Re: Wimbledon, I tend to the view that the powers that be made the right call, if only on the basis of one of the fundamental maxims of teaching, "Don't fight battles you're not going to win."  And there are plenty of gaps in the tennis in which spectators can reasonably take a quick glance at their smart phones.

But I'm still not happy with this.  If I was playing at Wimbledon (I know, I know, I can but dream!) I can't see that I would be happy that people would be sharing their attention between the play right in front of them and something else.  And curiously, as the games become higher stakes, the arguments in favour and against both become stronger.  Had England made it to the final, would it really be appropriate for the live audience at Wimbledon for the mens finals to be following the football also?  Would this not have a huge detrimental impact on the atmosphere at the tennis match?

In the greater scheme of things, the arrival of smart phones is very recent, bringing opportunities and challenges that we haven't yet fully worked out.  I like to think that, over the next few years, our use of smart phones will become more compartmentalised, with them firmly put away when we're engaging with other things, including conversations with other people.  Is this idealistic?  I don't know, and would be interested to hear your views on this matter.

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