Every student in grades 3 to 6 in Encinitas Union School District has an iPad. Researchers say the use of technology helps students learn, especially when used in math class. The iPad is the device favored most by students and parents.
In Lindsay Duncan’s class at El Camino Creek, one fourth grade student looked up the definition of “blubber.” One girl found a suitable picture of a whale and attached it to her presentation about marine life.
Books, paper and pencils weren’t in the hands of any of Duncan’s students — only iPads. These days, it’s a common sight in classrooms throughout the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD). Every third through six-grader at EUSD has an iPad, and the district is looking at rolling out more iPads for younger students. Meanwhile, researchers are looking at how the rapidly growing technology is impacting learning.
Duncan is among those researchers. She recently wrote a thesis on iPads in schools after surveying 120 fourth-graders and their parents last school year, when the pilot program debuted. Further, the University of San Diego is slated to release a study this summer on the use of iPads in the district.
“Most people think all technology is great,” Duncan said. “Without rushing to that conclusion, my question was: How might this affect kids? Are they (the iPads) motivational? And I was interested in how students and parents perceive the iPads.”
Duncan’s research indicates students largely believe the iPads are a valuable tool. Parents also see the iPads as beneficial, but some have some reservations with the technology.
Notably, 90 percent of students said the iPad aided their learning. For one, they liked the instant feedback that comes with iPads. Students no longer have to wait days for test results — now it’s a matter of minutes.
“The questions are still fresh in their minds and they can figure out right then what they can work on or improve,” Duncan said. “We had to take a paper test a few weeks ago, and the students just didn’t seem engaged.”
Students overwhelmingly said the iPads made math easier to understand, more so than other subjects. Duncan said that’s likely because students are given a step-by-step animation of how to complete problems. If they’re incorrect, the devices highlight where they went wrong on the spot.
Also, she noted some applications offer “awards” or “achievements” for completing problems, making learning more interactive and motivational.
“Those can be really motivational,” Duncan said. “Students really like challenges like that.”
Most parents noted that their children were more engaged when using the iPads. They also liked that their children were gaining exposure to a variety of computer programs.
Indeed, Duncan recalled how she recently let groups in her class decide which app they wanted to utilize for a history presentation. They could use a movie-making app, arrange slides or explain the information with a story panel app.
But some parents weren’t as enthusiastic about the iPads. They worried the novelty of the technology would wear off over time, along with engagement. They stated it’s important that technology doesn’t replace hands-on learning.
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