Using Handheld Devices to Support Ambitious Learning and Teaching Goals

Jo Louie contributes her extensive expertise in conducting education and social science research to a wide range of EDC’s R&D initiatives, including Ocean Tracks—a Web interface and set of data analysis tools that make it possible for students to access and analyze large, complex datasets. In the National Science Foundation-funded Research + Practice Collaboratory initiative, she is a member of EDC’s Interactive STEM team that is working to identify, document, and disseminate ways that practitioners and researchers can work together effectively to enhance K–12 STEM education across formal and informal settings. In this post, she shares findings from an August 2015 report, Preliminary Guidelines for Using Interactive Mobile Technologies in Early Elementary Mathematics, written by Jo and the Interactive STEM team.

How can tools such as iPads, Chromebooks, and other handheld computing devices support ambitious learning and teaching goals? My Interactive STEM team colleaguesCatherine McCulloch, PI Pam Buffington, Marian Pasquale, Jennifer Stiles, and Amy Busey—and I have published a report that presents a set of preliminary guidelines for using interactive mobile technologies to promote the development of mathematical thinking among young students. The report is the latest in a series of briefs, reports, and tools related to our work with researchers and practitioners from across the country and close collaborators in  Auburn, Maine to build and share knowledge about how interactive technologies can support STEM learning. Developing and disseminating this knowledge is a central focus of our work as a partner in the Research+Practice Collaboratory (view all partners here).

Background of the Report: Inquiry Group Convening
Our report’s guidelines stem from a two-day Interactive Mobile Technologies Inquiry Group meeting held in Auburn, Maine. During the Inquiry Group, 35 participants—education researchers from across the nation, district and school leaders, teachers, and our team—engaged in panel presentations and intensive discussions focused on how to maximize the opportunities that  interactive mobile technologies offer to support mathematics learning among young students. Patricia Moyer-Packenham talked about her work using virtual manipulatives with young children; EDC’s Ashley Lewis Presser described her findings from the Next Generation Preschool Math project; Jere Confrey discussed her work mapping early mathematics learning trajectories; and Cathy Fosnot offered examples of how digital tools can help uncover and support young students’ efforts to navigate landscapes of mathematical learning.

In addition, K–2 teachers and school and district leaders shared insights they have gleaned from their experiences in the classroom about how young students respond to interactive digital tools during mathematics lessons. Our practitioner collaborators in Auburn, where all teachers and students in the early grades have iPads, described our ongoing efforts to co-investigate strategies with iPad apps to promote young students’ mathematical communication and conceptual understandings of Number & Operations. A key part of the work in Auburn has involved teachers in establishing a common vision of best practice in early math instruction—with a focus on the Common Core’s MP3, 4, and 5—and adopting a shared vocabulary of best practice. Our collaborative efforts started by asking, “What does effective early mathematics learning and teaching look like?” and then moved on to explore how we can use interactive technologies to help achieve that vision. As is true of all R+P Collaboratory sites, the Auburn, Maine practitioners have been actively engaged with our Interactive STEM team in every step of the research process.

The Benefits of Building Bridges between Researchers and Practitioners
It’s important to note what a productive and powerful experience the Inquiry Group was for education researchers and practitioners alike. Building bridges between research and practice is a key part of our work in the R+P Collaboratory. We believe that education researchers and practitioners too often work separately from each other, and the gaps in knowledge, communication, and culture that arise between them hinder the development and widespread implementation of effective research-based learning and teaching practices. We conjecture that if we create opportunities for members of both communities to exchange knowledge and engage critically with each other—by working together to address issues of importance to both communities—then we will generate new ways of thinking to bridge research and practice and to develop feasible, sustainable solutions to persistent challenges in education.

So, from my team’s perspective, it was very exciting and rewarding to see the researchers, teachers, and school and district leaders engage in deep conversations about their craft and share insights about the mathematics learning and teaching issues they are exploring. We took deliberate steps to design and structure the Inquiry Group meeting to promote equitable cultural exchange among researchers and practitioners, and all of the participants in the Inquiry Group told us that they learned a tremendous amount from each other. Practitioners said that they felt like they had a meaningful opportunity to express their ideas and that their voices were heard. Researchers walked away with significant insights into how to improve the relevance of their research for practitioners.

Overview of the Report’s Five Preliminary Guidelines
In our report, we describe five preliminary guidelines for using interactive mobile technologies to promote the development of mathematical thinking among young students.These guidelines emerged from the discussions and resources shared among the Inquiry Group participants. For each guideline, we offer implications for teachers and leaders and suggest additional resources to explore each guideline further. A snapshot of the five guidelines follows:

1. Take advantage of the affordances of interactive mobile technologies to support conceptual learning. Key affordances include digital technology's capacities to:

  • Provide dynamic, multisensory representations of mathematical ideas.
  • Record and respond to user data.
  • Make student thinking visible and more widely shared.
  • Facilitate shared learning activities.

2. Keep learning at the forefront.

  • Know the learning goals.
  • Understand relevant learning progressions.
  • Understand uses and activities that are developmentally appropriate.
  • Integrate digital with non-digital activities.
  • Provide opportunities for thoughtful, reflective practice.

3. Create a classroom culture of exploration and sharing.

  • Encourage students to take risks and persist in the face of challenges.
  • Set norms by which students can take the lead in their learning.
  • Support students in building knowledge from what they already know.
  • Foster collaboration.

4. Provide teachers with supports to use new tools and to transform instruction.

  • Offer opportunities to learn math content, math practices, and new technologies.
  • Promote teacher learning through collaboration with peers.
  • Enable teacher learning through small, iterative steps, ongoing over time.
  • Envision adults as facilitators of learning.

5. Establish organizational arrangements to support effective use of technology.

  • Build adequate time for math instruction with interactive technologies.
  • Facilitate regular access to research.
  • Allow alternate teaching arrangements.
  • Ensure principal support for teacher development and classroom change.

To learn more about the progress of the Auburn, Maine site and the work of our Interactive STEM team, I invite you to visit our Interactive STEM website regularly, explore our upcoming events, sign up to receive our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - 1:00pm