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Three successful mobile learning projects


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.

Virginia’s York County School Division is another school system that allows students to use their own mobile devices in the classroom for instructional purposes, and teachers are incorporating the devices into their curriculum. For example, one high school civics class has small teams of students working together on a mock election. They create position statements for their candidates, research issues using their own mobile device, save their position statements on the school’s network, and share them with one another.

“We constantly hear from students and teachers that they need more computers, more devices, but we have significant fiscal challenges, and our sense is we’ll never be able to keep up with demand for computing devices,” says Superintendent Eric Williams. “But students have … iPhones and other mobile devices, so we want to make use of those.”

The school system does not have the resources to set up a separate wireless network comparable to what you might find at an airport or a coffee shop, but it will be piloting a program to let users register their devices by their MAC address to the existing network. “This way, the user is known to us. The possibilities are pretty exciting in terms of having access to additional computing devices,” Williams says.

Project K-Nect’s pilot program began in the 2007-08 school year and was continued in 2009, during which 150 eighth through 12th grade students were given 3G-enabled smart phones to connect wirelessly to educational resources on the internet and to each other, both on and off campus.

The phones provided access to supplemental math content aligned with teachers’ current lesson plans, and they also allowed students to collaborate with each other and contact after-school tutors who could assist them with mastering a targeted skill set. Teachers used software apps on their laptops to send messages to students on their phones, giving them homework assignments and viewing collaborative work.

The project has shown positive qualitative and quantitative results. The average math proficiency rate of K-Nect students at one of the participating high schools was 30 percentage points higher on North Carolina’s state exam than that of students not in Project K-Nect but taught by the same teacher. Throughout the project, students have discovered creative ways to use the phones and the 24-7 internet connectivity to increase their understanding of Algebra I, especially with social networking tools such as blogging and instant messaging.

According to an evaluation by Project Tomorrow, teachers revealed that the mobile devices and the problem-based learning approach encouraged by Project K-Nect transformed the way they taught math. The pilot program has been expanded beyond North Carolina to include Virginia and Ohio, with approximately 4,500 students.

—J.N.

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