How Common Sense Is Helping NYC Welcome Cell Phones into Schools

Devices in the Classroom, Part 1

February 27, 2015
Tali Horowitz Eastern Regional Education Director
Common Sense Education
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense News, Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Technology Integration

Today’s students are hyper-connected multitaskers who operate in the state of now. But opportunities for connected learning aren't always available at school, where students are often asked to disconnect and power down. As a result, students can feel the world of school isn't relevant to their outside lives.

Fortunately, an increasing number of districts across the country recognize that for student success, we must allow them to learn with the tools they love. The New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) is one of them. On March 2, 2015, they are lifting their cell phone ban and empowering schools to make instructional decisions regarding the use of personal devices for learning.

Lifting the cell phone ban means that students are no longer prohibited from bringing their phones to schools; however, it does not mandate that schools use phones or other personal devices for learning. Individual schools can decide whether they want to incorporate students’ personal technology into classroom learning and can implement a "bring your own device" (BYOD) program.

Peter Kornicker, dean of development and library media specialist at Don Pedro Albizu Campos, PSMS 161, an NYC K-8 public school in Harlem, believes lifting the ban on cell phones in schools provides “an opportunity for both growth and education in our entire community.”

Kornicker goes on to explain, “Despite being a 98% Title 1 school, PSMS 161 has noted that a very large percentage of our students have smartphones, tablets, laptops, and a wide array of connected devices. As a school that has a strong infrastructure in technology in the building, with BYOD, our students will now have the freedom of 24/7 access to the educational subscription services we provide and the ability to communicate and collaborate with others.”

Lifting the ban is just the first step. Lisa Nielsen, director of digital engagement and learning at the NYC DOE, shares how the district is preparing schools to move forward. “An important part of this work is supporting schools in putting the right building blocks in place for success. This includes providing professional learning opportunities that address how to harness the power of the devices for learning. It also means ensuring staff is able to incorporate digital safety, citizenship, and responsibility into the work they do with students."

Common Sense is excited to be partnering with the NYC DOE to provide our award-winning digital literacy and citizenship curriculum and edtech resources, as well as professional development for their schools.

Nielsen says, "Our partnership with Common Sense Education will not only help our schools build their students’ digital citizenship skills and understand how to use devices to enhance learning, but it will also help families understand how they can support their children in a BYOD environment.”

Are you thinking about going BYOD? Here are three important ways Common Sense can help you get started:

Provide meaningful digital citizenship instruction.
Empower students to use their devices in safe and responsible ways. Common Sense's comprehensive K-12 curriculum has lessons for each grade level on topics like Internet safety, privacy, and digital footprints. Supplemental programs include:

  • Digital Passport -- Web-based games and activities for grades 3-5
  • Digital Compass -- An animated choose-your-own-adventure for middle school kids (coming March 2015)
  • Digital Bytes -- Media-rich digital citizenship activities for teens

Engage families by inviting them into the conversation.
Parents need to understand the purpose of BYOD and how they can support their kids in using personal devices for learning. Common Sense's Connecting Families program can help facilitate meaningful conversations among parents, students, educators, and community members about digital media use.

Offer quality teacher professional development and resources.
BYOD isn't about the technology or tool, it's about enhancing learning. Teachers need high-quality professional development to support effective practice and integration. Common Sense offers a range of PD solutions, including:

For more information on how Common Sense Education can help you, contact

Read part 2 of our series on devices in the classroom: "New Digital Citizenship Starter Kit for Remind."

Photo: "Cell_Phone_Pocket" by Gwyneth Anne Bronwynn. Used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.