For the second year in a row, students and teachers who responded to a national survey on educational technology expressed a strong desire for schools to focus more on the integration of technology and real-world problem solving into math and science classes. In addition, more than two-thirds of parents said they are unsatisfied with the amount of time their children are using technology in school, and an overwhelming 97 percent of students–but just over half of teachers–say they think cell phones should be allowed in school for emergencies and for connecting with parents.

The findings of the fourth annual Speak Up survey, released at a Congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., on March 21, collected ideas and views from more than 270,000 K-12 students and 21,000 teachers from all 50 states. For the first time, the survey also included parents, and some 15,000 parents took part.

The study shows that students want to learn math and science through real-world problem solving, visiting places where they can view science in action, and talking with professionals in the fields. Teachers also believe that teaching these subjects within the context of real-world problems is the most effective method, but a key challenge is that there is not enough instructional time to teach science, they say.

According to the survey, students cited communication as their No. 1 use of technology. "They are very interested in not only communicating among themselves, but also with students all around the world," said Julie Evans, chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow (formerly NetDay), the survey’s sponsor.

Students are increasingly connecting with their peers from other towns, states, and even countries through applications such as instant messaging, the survey shows. Many refer to these people who they have never met as their friends. "This new online connectedness is redefining the definition of the word ‘friend,’" said Evans.

One area of concern that stood out in the survey was the decline in interest among students in pursuing a career in science, engineering, mathematics, or technology (STEM). Eighty-six percent of students in kindergarten through second grade said they were interested in specific STEM-related careers. But starting in third grade, that interest begins to wane. More than a third of third- through 12th-graders said they were no longer interested in pursuing a STEM career.

Another issue that surfaced was the availability of technology in schools.

"In terms of obstacles to using technology, [students in the] younger grades tell us there is not much access," said Evans. "They don’t have enough computers, or [the machines] are difficult to get to. In older grades, it’s all about control. They want to have the rules and regulations over technology more relaxed and want to have more control over when they can use computers."

This years’ study introduced a new aspect in surveying parents to see how their views on school technology differ from those of their children and teachers. "We wanted to bring their voice into the national discussion," said Evans.

More than half (55 percent) of parents responding believe their children will need a good understanding of math and science to be successful in the 21st century. Thirty-seven percent of parents say they are worried about the impact of global job competition on their children and the fact that their children might have to compete with better-educated students, and 31 percent believe their children are going to need more than a four-year degree to get a good job.

Although the study suggests more than half of parents surveyed are satisfied with the amount of technology in their children’s schools, there is a deep concern over how high a priority is placed on its use. More than two-thirds of parents said they are unsatisfied with the amount of time their children are spending using technology in school and how well this technology is being integrated into core academic subjects.

In addition, 41 percent of parents said they wanted information about their children’s grades sent directly to them via eMail, as opposed to having to go to the school’s web site for this information or receive it via traditional printed bulletins.

Here are some other results from the survey:

•97 percent of students think cell phones should be allowed at school for emergencies and connecting with parents, compared with 77 percent of parents and just 56 percent of teachers.

•53 percent of students in grades K-12 use video games on a weekly basis. Girls are just as likely to be playing as boys until high school.

•75 percent of teachers believe the use of technology in schoolwork has resulted in increased student performance and achievement.

•One-fourth of students are eMailing their teachers, and one-third are interested in taking an online class.

•When asked how well they think their school is preparing students for working in the 21st century, 48 percent of parents and 47 percent of teachers said well. More than 50 percent of parents said not well.

•41 percent of teachers have used lessons plans they found online, and 46 percent have modified lesson plans they found online. Thirty-eight percent have used ideas they found online to shape their own lesson plans.