20 kids. One hour. 190 phone notifications. What one Ontario math teacher’s experiment found

The experiment, which was done at the end of March, came a month before the provincial government announced a ban on cellphones in classrooms.

A Grade 9 math teacher’s experiment on cellphone disruptions during class was a wake-up call for an eastern Ontario high school.

“To prove the point to students about the distractions that are caused by cellphone use in the classroom, the teacher asked students to turn on their notifications for the duration of the class. They turned it into a math lesson by charting the results,” said Superintendent Bill Loshaw, who oversees Brockville’s Thousand Islands Secondary School.

During the hour-long class, 190 notifications came through for the 20 students — most of them via Snapchat, and presumably from friends who should also have been paying attention in their classes.

At least five students received no messages.

“The action from this was that moving forward in this class, the teacher will be strictly enforcing the Upper Canada District School Board’s ‘use of personal electronic devices in the classroom and school policy,’ which states that devices are only to be used for educational purposes, at the discretion of the educator,” added Loshaw.

The experiment, which was done at the end of March, came a month before the provincial government announced a ban on cellphones in classrooms that permits teachers to confiscate phones should students be on them without permission during lessons.

For kids up to Grade 6, phones must be on silent and put away for the entire day; for those in Grade 7 and up, phones must be on silent and can’t be out during class, but can be used between classes and at lunch.

Teachers will have the authority to take away phones from students who don’t comply.

At Thousand Islands high school, that’s already happening.

“This has been more of an adjustment for some students than others, but generally, students are adjusting well to this expectation and parents/guardians are supportive of this change,” said Loshaw, via email, to the Star.

The Upper Canada board has had a no-cellphone policy for years, but like others across the province, enforcement has always been an issue.

That’s why Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Sunday that a more restrictive cellphone ban would be implemented this fall, and he assured he would “have teachers’ backs” on the issue.

He also said school boards will be required to remove all access to social media websites from their networks, and that an awareness campaign will be launched for families so parents are onside with the tougher rules.

The Toronto District School Board, the country’s largest, was already looking at tighter cellphone rules. Director of Education Colleen Russell-Rawlins said in an email to parents that the board had planned consultations with students and staff “along with a review of best practices from around the world, to better understand what will and won’t work. We also want to ensure that any policy has the least negative impact on class participation, attendance, achievement, and the important relationships with educators and principal/vice principals.”

Her board, along with three others, has launched a lawsuit against Snapchat, TikTok and Meta (Facebook and Instagram), alleging their apps “have negligently designed and marketed addictive products that have disrupted our board’s mandate to enhance student achievement and well-being.”

The allegations have yet to be tested in court.

In a letter to Ontario families, Lecce said the province is “rolling out Canada’s most comprehensive plan to counter” cellphone use and vaping in schools.

“We will also commit to having report cards include comments on students’ distraction levels in class,” he wrote.

“We recognize that some parents want to communicate with their children during school, and the policies listed above will still permit that during noninstructional time or when an educator gives permission. When it comes to cellphones, Ontario’s policy is: out of sight and out of mind.”

He said schools need parents onside, so “to truly change behaviour, we are asking for your support and collaboration to hold conversations at home about the new expectations and the importance of respecting school staff and the rules as we head into September.”

The change in provincial policy comes as concerns grow about the harmful effects of screen time on kids.

In jurisdictions around the world that have limited school cellphone use, both student well-being and academic achievement have improved.