The Katy Independent School District in Texas has about 60,000 students. During the 2009-10 school year, the district used bond funds and federal e-Rate funding to create a program that put the Incredible Droid from Verizon into the hands of all fifth grade students at a single elementary school.
The calling and paging features of the phones were turned off, and students were allowed to use the phones both within and outside of class. Students were encouraged to use Edmodo, a secure social learning network for teachers and students, to share ideas with peers, ask questions, and post answers. The phones were incorporated into the students’ everyday math and science classes.
“The kids use their mobile phones to do their homework. That’s been the most advantageous thing we’ve seen with the devices,” says Lenny Schad, Katy ISD’s chief information officer. “It’s more interactive, it taps into that creative side, much more so than pen and paper.”
The district took advantage of a number of Web 2.0 applications that run on Google’s Android mobile operating system. For example, one app allows students to point their phones up to the sky, take pictures of the stars, and have the constellations mapped for them, which they then shared in class. There are math wikis that help students with difficult concepts, and websites that allow students to create their homework online.
“It’s been so powerful. The kids are coming back to the teachers and saying, ‘Hey, look what I learned we can do on this phone,’ so they’re showing their teachers and peers how to do new things,” says Schad.
Already, the district has seen “huge, huge gains in math and science,” says Schad. Benchmark scores for math and science at the pilot school went up between 20 and 30 percentage points, he says. Attendance has gone up, and discipline issues reportedly have plummeted. Teachers in subjects other than math and science have begun using the phones as well, and scores are improving in those areas, too. Music teachers, for example, have had kids use a keyboarding app to study music.
The program was so successful that it was expanded to 10 more elementary schools this year, with 1,500 devices distributed. Katy ISD also allows students to bring in their own devices and use them for educational purposes in the classroom.