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Pilot cell plan: Text messaging answers in class to teachers
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Mike Gaston is the seventh- and eighth- grade science teacher at Veritas School.

He’s also the chairman of the Manteca Unified Technology Committee.

For months, Gaston had been working on a pilot program that would allow students to use their cell phone in the classroom.

He received the go-ahead on Tuesday.

Here’s how cell phones in the classroom could work: An exercise is flashed on an overhead projector. Students can chime in by texting 28223, for example, where a couple of answers pop up including “I need more information.” From there, the teacher can further explain verbally what the student doesn’t get.

The advantage is that, unlike raising hands, the teacher can ask a question and find out who in the class knows and doesn’t know the answer to a question instead of just one person responding.

It also gets everyone actively engaged in the exercise by texting back the answer. Educators also noted text messaging is second nature to students even those who are shy.

Trustees of the Manteca Unified School District gave their blessing to start up the program that, for now, would be strictly limited to the fourth- through eighth- grade students. But it’s only available to those students in the designated language arts, math, science, and social science class at Veritas, and under the directions of the instructors.

But in order to pave the way, the board revised the district policy regarding electronic signaling and communication devices.

The addition to the policy reads: “With prior written permission from the teacher, school principal, and the parent, the student may use an electronic device in the class only under the direct supervision of the teacher for instructional purposes.”

Trustees gave their OK to the change by the narrowest of margin, voting 4-3. Vern Gebhardt, Nancy Teicheira and Manuel Medeiros provided the dissenting votes.

Gebhardt, for one, was concerned for those students without cell phones involved in this classroom group exercise.

“Would we be legally obligated to provide cell phones?” he asked.

Gaston, who said that 90 percent of students at the school possess this technology, noted that accommodations may have to be made for students without the technology and unlimited text messaging.

Options include students sharing cell phones or borrowing one.

“As a teacher, I can’t leave out a kid,” he said. “That just wouldn’t be right.”

Trustees also had concerns about students overstepping their boundaries by using their cell phones outside of the program.

“I firmly believe it will be properly managed in the classroom,” Gaston said. “This is a pilot program and it can be taken away (from the student) at any time.”

Other school districts have similar-type program in place that allows for students to use their cell phones in the classrooms, according to Superintendent Jason Messer.

“As a pilot, we could always revisit the program at a later date and make any revisions,” he said.

 Messer added: “We want to see this technology as a tool. But the teachers are the experts.”

Gaston, who has been at Veritas for the past four years, recently attended a workshop at UC Davis, in particular, the use of the classroom technology to a group of English-learners.

Students chimed in by text messaging the answers during the exercise (they were given several options, responding by texting a five digit code).

“It kept them engaged,” Gaston said.

Board President Mike Seelye, who works as a professor at Delta College, was pleased to hear students take an active role in the classroom exercise.

He’s hoping for the same type interaction from students involved at the Veritas pilot program.

“As long as (the cell phone) is used as a tool and not the whole class,” Seelye said.

The pilot program is scheduled to be in place for the upcoming school year, Gaston said.

“We will let parents know what’s going on,” he added.