SRI study indicates usefulness of handheld computers for scientific inquiry based learning.
Teachers participating in the study found that the ImagiProbe System, which combines a sensor interface and corresponding software for real-time data collection and analysis, was a valuable, in many cases crucial, addition to their science curriculum. Teachers report that the use of handheld technology combined with the ImagiProbe System had a tremendous impact on student involvement. Without the use of handhelds, most teacher effort was focused on the mechanics of conducting tests, and students were often unaware of the purpose behind the test. Using handhelds combined with the ImagiProbe System put students in the scientist's seat. They focused on the reason behind the tests, asked more engaging questions, were more on task, and were effective collaborators. Using the ImagiProbe System to take real-time readings with different sensors resulted in greater student engagement, and allowed students to concentrate on the science rather than logistics.
"The response by teachers participating in the study validates our effort to design a learning application that gives students of all ages an engaging and interesting way to experience what real scientists experience," said Wayne Grant, president of ImagiWorks. "It promotes significant and substantial learning because students have to gather, analyze and reflect on the information. Ultimately, that leads to discovery, and personal and collaborative discovery is memorable. We designed ImagiProbe to promote deep learning."
The ImagiProbe System leverages the natural desire of children to explore their environment both inside and outside the classroom. An example of this comes from two classrooms in Illinois that participated in the study. The classes used ImagiProbe to determine the water quality of the Illinois River. Students collected river water and conducted tests on variables such pH level, temperature, and phosphate concentration. Students used handhelds to outline their data analysis process, to sketch their assigned portion of the river, and to input weekly journal entries.
Their teachers reported that students asked engaging questions, were more "on task" than usual, and were effective collaborators. With the ImagiProbe System students could use the real-time data display to immediately notice disparities in their measurements, and raise important questions about unexpected results or differences. These teachers believed that their students were acting like scientists, an occurrence that happens all too infrequently in the typical science classroom, because they had the right tools at the right time, and in the right setting, just like real scientists.
All participating teachers were asked to list the three most important software applications used in their projects and to briefly describe the purpose for using them. Sixty-three projects reported their most important software, resulting in 162 entries. According to the study, the ImagiProbe System was ranked number one software package overall, scoring number one at both the high school and middle school levels, and number three at the elementary school level. Of all the applications listed in the projects, the ImagiProbe System was the only application to appear in the top three across all grade levels.
This was the first objective, large-scale study of the use of handheld computers in more than 100 elementary and secondary classrooms across the United States.
The study evaluated classrooms that received Palm Education Pioneer (PEP) technology grants through a competitive process in which the teachers themselves proposed how the handhelds would be used in their classrooms. Researchers from SRI's Center for Technology in Learning evaluated the use of handhelds in teaching and learning and the implementation strategies that facilitated success, and found, overall, that "handheld computers can offer unique benefits to students and teachers. Students can have a personal, portable device ready-at-hand for individual or collaborative learning activities, wherever they go.... Will handheld technology transform teaching and learning? For many PEP teachers, it already has."
The final report is available at http://www.palmgrants.sri.com.