A program under way in North Carolina is studying
the use of smartphones in the classroom.
It may not seem obvious, but using a mobile phone can improve your math skills. Just ask a group of high school students in North Carolina.
About 100 ninth-grade students in four schools in North Carolina have been issued smartphones for use in their math classes. No, they’re not using the calculator on the devices. They’re using the phones to network among themselves on problems, receive instruction from teachers, play math-improving games, or watch an animation showing the problem being solved.
Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs looks on
as a student shows how a Project K-Nect
device helps with a math problem.
“This combines social networking, blogging and instant messaging for new ways to learn math,” says Erica Whinston, a Qualcomm manager working on the program, which is called Project K-Nect. Qualcomm is working with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and Digital Millennial Consulting on the project. The students are in math classes in Onslow, Durham and Winston-Salem/Forsyth Counties. The project will be evaluated after it ends in June of this year.
Shawn Gross, the project director from Millennial Consulting, says it grew out of a research project with the U.S. Department of Education looking at ways to engage students in math and science, as American students do increasingly worse in those areas. Gross says 22% of college freshmen in the United States have to take remedial math, while the numbers of students majoring in engineering have fallen dramatically.
CONNECTING WITH MATH
The research showed that students didn’t see any real-world connection from math and sciences in their lives. It also showed students liked social networking and using handheld devices.
“The United States is really lagging behind in science and math,” says Shawn Covell, who heads Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach program to show how wireless communications can be used to help people. She cited studies that put U.S. students behind most other developed countries in math and science. “Getting students more interested in math and science is critical,” she says.
Project K-Nect got what it needed when Dr. Irwin Jacobs, Qualcomm’s founder and current board chair, committed to North Carolina education officials to provide wireless broadband access and smartphones for the students.
The North Carolina students are issued HTC 6800 smartphones, which run the latest Microsoft Windows Mobile 6 operating system. The device also uses the Alltel’s high-speed CDMA EV-DO Rev. A network. The devices are restricted so the students can’t access inappropriate content or sites and cannot make calls during school hours.
Each math class has a portal set up by the teacher, where the teacher can push out problem sets, and post multimedia animations and simulations explaining Algebra I problems. The teacher has a content management system that includes MPEG video, Flash multimedia videos, PowerPoint, Word documents and Websites that provide students with information.
Students watch an animation of a
Teachers also can monitor what the students is doing with the device to see how it is being used. The system knows if the device is being used over the CDMA or school Wi-Fi network. Teachers can push out questions to individual students to gauge how they are doing.
The students can work on the problems on their devices but also can use instant messaging to communicate among themselves or post a blog note. They can even create and post a video explaining to other students how they did a certain problem.
In the early stages, Gross says it was discovered that students too shy to speak out in class are more communicative using IM or posting a blog.
Whinston says one student who is good at math has been homebound because of an illness. The smartphone makes it possible for the student to continue to participate in classroom discussions. Because the ill student is good at math, he also has been able to help others out with their problems.
The North Carolina project could turn into a model for use in other parts of the country, or even globally. Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative involves about 30 projects in 19 countries covering different strategies. Qualcomm recently partnered with the GSM Association’s Development Fund to set up three more projects in Egypt, the Philippines and Tanzinia for health care and education. The projects will connect students to educational resources and medical professionals to specialists, all using UMTS/HSPA networks.
“We looked at the state of the world and the huge divide between those with access to technology,” says Qualcomm’s Covell. “Fifty-nine percent of the world’s population doesn’t have a mobile phone and 80% are without Internet access.
She says one telecommunications study showed that a 1% increase in mobile penetration equals a 4.7% increase in average per capital income, while a like increase in Internet access provides a 10.5% increase in per capital income.
“People are being cut off from the tools they need in the 21st century,” she says. Maybe that includes high school students in North Carolina.