Tablets Are the New Way to Learn in the Classroom

Tablets have become a must-have for students and teachers. (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)
Tablets have become a must-have for students and teachers.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)

This spring, fourth-graders in a Tallahassee, Fla., classroom chronicled the life cycle of plants. Preschoolers in Mesa, Ariz., practiced Spanish, and special education students in Phoenix communicated aloud with classmates and teachers.

Sound like typical activities from classrooms of yore? Sure, until you learn that students used tablets to do all of these tasks.

In a mere four years, tablets have gone from gee-whiz gadgets to household items. And in the field of education, they have become a must-have for students and teachers.

Between 41 percent and 66 percent of students in K-12 schools had access to mobile devices at home and in the classroom in 2013, according to Speak Up, an initiative of the education nonprofit Project Tomorrow. And that number continues to grow as educators and policymakers tap into the movement.

“When tablets are used effectively in the classroom, I’ve had teachers tell me they can never go back to the way they taught before,” says Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, which tracks technology in K-12 classrooms.

Teachers use the technology in a variety of ways. Learning apps, online educational videos, e-textbooks and Internet access can enhance the classroom experience. And one of the biggest benefits is the real-time feedback on how students learn and retain new material; with polling apps, teachers can know right away if a struggling student needs extra help.

While tablets have been in some classrooms since 2010, it’s taken a few years for teachers to learn how to use them effectively. That effort is still continuing, but the overwhelming majority of educators think it’s worth the time and effort. In fact, 81 percent of teachers think mobile devices enrich classroom education, according to a 2012 survey by PBS LearningMedia.

With tablets, teachers need to think differently about how they guide the classroom experience, Evans says. “Often it means a migration to more project-based learning,” as opposed to the teacher mainly lecturing during class time, she says.

With the popularity of online lessons such as those offered for free by the Khan Academy, students can reverse the routine, listening to the lecture during homework time at night and using their teacher’s guidance to do homework in the classroom during the day.

A teacher in Chicago also recently had students use an app to read about current events. She then asked them to do Internet research based on the readings and create a PowerPoint presentation. The teacher was “thinking about, in this case, a reading comprehension lesson in a much different way,” Evans says.

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Gayle Bennett

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