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Kansas University has joined a pilot project that uses mobile technology to help teach math and science in K-12 classrooms.
The UKan Teach program, which trains KU students majoring in math, science and technology-related fields to become math and science teachers, has received more than 35 tablet computers equipped with mobile wireless access through a grant from the Verizon Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the mobile giant Verizon Communications.
KU students taking a one-credit course through UKan Teach are currently testing ways to use the tablets in classrooms "not just for bells and whistles" but also to "aid in student learning," said Carol Williamson, a master teacher with UKan Teach and former elementary and middle school science teacher.
UKan Teach students who are observing and teaching some lessons in middle schools have been using tablet applications in classrooms. Among them are apps with lessons on Earth's natural history, waves and sound, and angles.
The apps are visual, interactive and can incorporate video to help simulate complex physical phenomena, all of which can help engage younger students. The tablets themselves are also intuitive for many young students, who often come to class knowing how to use them, Williamson said.
The tablets also turn on and connect to the internet far more rapidly than desktops can, helping to minimize what Williamson and teachers across the country call "downtime," periods where students are left waiting for the lesson to begin. When it comes to more widespread deployment, Steve Case, director of UKan Teach, said tablet computers are cheaper for schools than buying every student a desktop computer.
KU is working on the project in collaboration with the University of Texas, which founded the original UTeach program that started the network UKan Teach belongs to, as well as University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Verizon has helped fund the project with more than $1 million in cash and wireless service.
Michael Marder, director of the UTeach program at Texas, said this phase of the project would help develop a "repository" of lessons that can be taught using the tablets. From there, the partnering universities will begin testing student outcomes more systematically to look for ways "we can amplify our efforts," he said.