Most educators recognize the ubiquity of mobile devices in the lives of their students and too often see them only as competition to learning in the classroom. Two researchers at the UC Davis School of Education are exploring another possibility: that mobile devices have the potential to bridge formal and informal learning, particularly in mathematics, and can be leveraged to increase student engagement in learning math.
Lee Martin, assistant professor of education, and Tobin White, associate professor of education, will present their work on Sunday, April 28, at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in a talk titled “Integrating Mobile and Mathematical Practices Across Contexts.”
“We recognize a growing divide between the opportunities for active learning provided by digital technologies and the inflexible and standardized practices of schooling,” said White. “This gap robs students of opportunities for learning both at home and in school.”
Their study put loaned iPods in the hands of 19 students (grades 6-11) for two weeks. Students used Week 1 to familiarize themselves with the devices and to learn to apply a framework of four mobile practices the researchers provided:
• Capturing and collecting (e.g., taking photos and video)
• Communicating and collaborating (e.g., phone, email, messaging)
• Viewing, consuming, and analyzing (various media)
• Representing and creating (e.g., edited videos, slideshows)
In Week 2, small groups conducted empirical mathematical investigations, collecting data on a question of interest (e.g., surveying peers or conducting online research), sharing interim results, graphing data, and presenting findings.
“Students come to school with a lot of knowledge, skills and abilities and we need to build on what they already know to get them more engaged in mathematics,” said Martin. “For too many kids, math is merely a system of arbitrary rules with no purpose out of class. We know that it is beneficial to connect math learning with things students care about. We want to know if this approach will help them see math through more informed eyes.”
Martin is quick to point out that this study is small and exploratory but does provide some proof that mobile devices can build bridges in learning between formal learning in school and everyday practices. Martin said the students agreed, indicating that they found the experience “simultaneously fun, meaningful, and mathematical.” Next, the researchers will conduct a longer study with a larger group.