Creating Digital Learners: NYC Lifts Cell Phone Ban

By Scott Noon

Executive Director for Strategic Business Development at ISA.


Effective March 2, 2015, the more than decade-long ban on cell phones in NYC public schools was lifted. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new policy allows principals to consult parents and teachers to create their own school policies on the role cell phones play in school.

Hudson High School of Learning Technologies (Hudson HSLT), an ISA partner school located in Manhattan, is one of the schools now embracing cell phone usage in class. Nancy Amling, founding principal of Hudson HSLT, is a big supporter of the new policy because of its potential to increase the level of engagement during lessons.

Hudson HSLT is a 1:1 device-agnostic school, meaning it supports a wide range of devices and when it comes to technology the school uses the SAMR Model – which stands for substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition. This drives how educators view technology use and its impact on teaching and learning. Amling and her teachers conducted a SAMR evaluation on smart phones and found they have great potential for optimizing both teaching and learning.

Some teachers and parents may argue that including cell phones in classrooms can be a distraction, but Amling strongly believes this can be avoided by providing engaging instruction and the continued teaching of digital responsibility.

“While students may check a text message in the hallway or on their way to a class, they will use their smart phones as a tool to further their learning while in the classroom,” said Amling. “Therefore, we at Hudson HSLT will not restrict students’ use of cell phones for learning purposes, but rather encourage it. Our students have proven themselves responsible with the use of technology so far, and we believe that will continue now with the freedom to bring and use cell phones in school.”

One concern Amling does have is the need for schools to be mindful of the digital divide between students who have smart phones and/or internet access at home and those who do not. Schools must accommodate these students by making sure students have access to school-provided devices so they can participate in lessons and assignments and by making information available in the cloud so students can go to the library and access their schoolwork.

“Technology continues to greatly impact education, so instead of honing in on the potential cons of cell phones in the classrooms, I believe that it is important to think of the possibilities they can afford if they are used intentionally to enhance teaching and learning,” said Amling. “Instead of worrying about misuses of the technology, we will continue to keep our focus on improving our own teaching so students are engaged and challenged. All that we do with technology at our school is designed to move students from digital native to digital learner.”

Hudson HSLT will be hosting New York City educators for the first ever EDxEDNYC Conference of June 4, 2015. Learn more about this professional learning conference and how to submit a presentation proposal here.