No ban, just incentives: How SF teacher got students off their phones

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Julia David is an English teacher at George Washington High School in San Francisco who knew she had to do something about phone use in her class. Too often, her students were distracted by their devices, unable to concentrate on their readings and other class material.

About a month ago, David started using an app called Pocket Points, developed in Chico, Calif. in 2014 by two founders who say they had trouble getting off their phones when they were in school. So far, 2 million students and 20,000 schools are using it nationwide.

Here's how it works: You sign up. A timer logs how long you've been off your phone. You earn points for every minute logged. Those points lead to rewards.

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In David's case, she sets the rewards. The app itself also has built-in rewards with discounts and coupons from local businesses. David says it's worked really well for her students.

"2613 hours off of their phone, with a total of 74 students and 54 incentives, have been completed," she said.

And that's just after one month of use. As for the rewards, here are some student favorites:

"Homework pass actually, because I don't get to do my homework for one day," says student Rich Diaz.

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"A grade drop actually, that's really nice what happens if you have a bad grade," says Alison Huang, another student.

Banning or limiting cellphone use in classrooms has been a hot topic with educators across the country. This Fall, San Mateo became the largest public school to do an all-day ban, forcing students to lock their phones in pouches. A Common Sense media study shows teens spend about 7 hours of screen time a day.

"I think for me as an English teacher, with social media and all these other things you can get on your phone, it's actually decreased literacy," said David.

Her students agree, sharing stories of constant texting or playing games during lunch hours. While they don't believe in outright bans, they know that limited use is important.

"Disengaging from the phone puts them in a space where they can learn," says David.

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"It gave more of a competition and it made it more entertaining not to be on your phone," says Noah Buschkamp, another student.
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