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iPads Can Change Math Instruction, Study Finds

Dig-Boy-iPad.jpgBy Elisha McNeil. Cross-posted from the Teaching Now blog. 

Using an iPad for portions of mathematics lessons may not make much of a difference in student performance, at least initially, but it can help teachers in managing and differentiating instruction, according to a recent study.

To investigate the impact of technology on teaching and learning, Oregon State University-Cascades researcher and instructor Rachael Schuetz conducted the experiment last year in a 2nd grade classroom at William E. Miller Elementary in Bend, Ore. Schuetz presented her findings on last week in a lecture at her university, according to the Bulleton, an Oregon-based news service.

For the study, 85 elementary students were randomly placed in two groups—with the first group using the app IXL on iPads to practice math, and the second using paper worksheets. According to The Bulletin, this was done daily for 25 minutes, and after four weeks, the groups switched.

The students were asked to rate their interest in math after being tested at the beginning, middle, and end of the eight-week experiment.

After comparing the students' achievement and engagement in math, and incorporating feedback from teacher focus groups, the study found that on average, student achievement and engagement were about the same in the two groups.

Teachers, however, reported significantly different experiences from the two methods. From the Bulletin piece:

The iPad app read problem instructions to students and told them immediately if they got a problem right or wrong. If they got it wrong, the app could give them a hint for next time. Students could also work at their own pace and typically did twice as many problems in the 25 minutes.

For students with the paper worksheets, however, teachers sometimes had to read them instructions (remember, these students are also still learning to read) and help them find the answer.

If students got a problem wrong and the teacher didn't notice, the students would just keep going—sometimes they'd do all the problems wrong and the teacher wouldn't find out until she went to grade the worksheet, Schuetz said.

Schuetz said that teachers found it easier to differentiate instruction with the iPad app, and noted that a longer study with more students may yield different results on students achievement and engagement levels.

Based on the findings, Schuetz suggested that teachers consider giving math homework on an iPad for support out of the classroom, but also warned that teachers should be "critical consumers" when recommending devices to students.

"Technology is in our schools," she reportedly said. "It's here to stay—we just need to make the right decisions about how to use it."

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