Blog  “No Cell Phones”, No More

“No Cell Phones”, No More

Originally Posted on the Blog

by Seth Kroll
Temple Shalom, Newton, MA

Youth are the best adopters of technology.  They generally seem to have a natural ability to conceptualize how technology works, implement it into everyday life, and then create new social norms for its use.  Last month the Youth Department at Temple Shalom (Newton, MA) threw away the “no cell phone” in class or service policy and in fact embraced the use of cell phones as an important tool and resources in learning and ritual efforts.

SCVNGR Hunt TeensThe schedule of our High School program has been redesigned this year.  Students meet for class by grade three Tuesdays a month, and as a whole unit one Sunday a month.  The Sunday classes are experiential offsite programs.   For our first Sunday kickoff class we took our 9th-12th graders into downtown Boston for an Amazing Race program.  We utilized a custom “trek” using the smart phone application SCVNGR, where students used their phones to navigate between sites and complete specific “challenges” to gain various amounts of points.  One of the nicest features of SCVNGR is that the treks really are custom.  Knowing our program time constraints and the pieces of information we felt were important to convey, we were able to select our specific sites and decide exactly what the challenges would be.  Each group was also able to keep track of the status of the others, and when groups crossed paths they were able to earn extra points for being “social”.  The students not only had a great time, but we were able to use phone technology to convey our learning points in a new and innovative way.

Shortly after our High School kickoff, Rosh Hashanah was upon us.  For the past several years SHAFTY, the synagogue’s senior youth group, organizes an Erev Rosh Hashanah teen service.  As youth professionals or clergy we tend to think that a teen service is exciting for teens because it includes creative readings and an engaging songleader.  However, even this kind of service can get stale and formulaic.  For 5772 my teens and I decided to do something new and innovative.  This year during Avinu Malkeinu piece of the service students were encouraged to respond via text message to “Avinu Malkeinu…(what do you hope for in the new year?)”.  Their responses were immediately (and automatically) compiled on a custom poll on, which was then projected on a screen in the front of our chapel.  As a form of communication, middle and high school students are fluent in texting.  Using this norm for them in the setting of a service created an opportunity for the community to share their thoughts simultaneously to create a collective prayer.

The use of mobile phones in a learning or service setting could be written off as a gimmick.  However, this is the world that our teens live in.  According to research conducted by Harris Interactive, nearly four out of five teens (roughly 17 million) carry a mobile phone.  This technology is an important and integral tool for how our teens interact with each other and the world around them.  This is where they are, and this is where we need to be.

Seth Kroll serves as the Youth Educator at Temple Shalon (Newton, MA) and taught the 2011 Kutz Camp Digital Media Major.  Seth is also an independent filmmaker, and has also written and spoken on the importance of the continual emergence and openness of digital media technology.