Can Cell Phones Help Teach Math?


3.10.10 | When high school math teachers in rural North Carolina experimented with giving students problem sets via smartphones they found surprising and promising results.

Photo by Ziębol

Marie Bjerede, writing at O’Reilly Radar, describes this pilot project, run by Project K-Nect, where high school students received extra algebra problem sets on smartphones. 

The classes using the phones had consistently higher math proficiency rates on their end-of-course exams, with overall increases of 30 percent. The project was funded by Qualcomm.

Bjerede, a vice president of wireless education technology at Qualcomm, argues that delivering problem sets on a cell phone instead of via a textbook is exciting for a number of reasons, most obviously because it can engage students using multimedia – in this case, flash animation. She writes:

“Another difference is that digital content is personalized. In this case, that just means that different students get the same problem (how long will it take a space ship to catch up with a space probe?) but with different numbers plugged in (the velocity might be given as 40,000 mph for one student and 37,500 mph for another). The result is that students can’t simply compare answers - they need to compare solutions. ‘How did you get that’ replaces ‘what did you get?’

A third difference is that, unlike the traditional practice where each student works on textbook problems in isolation, the learning environment in Project K-Nect is participative. Students are asked to record their solutions on a shared blog and are encouraged to both post and comment. Over time, a learning community has emerged that crosses classrooms and schools and adds the kind of human interaction that an isolated, individual drill (be it textbook or digital) lacks and that a single teacher is unlikely to have the bandwidth to provide to each student.”

Additionally, according to Bjerede, teachers found that students who may be more uncomfortable speaking up in a classroom are “completely comfortable speaking up online.” These students were using the cell phones to ask questions or to help the group solve a problem.  “There appears to be something democratizing about having a ‘back channel’ as part of the learning environment.”

Read the full post here.

Related: Read Spotlight’s coverage of the future of mobile technologies for learning.



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