Study: Teachers report big differences with iPad vs. paper

Miller Elementary students tried both

By Abby Spegman / The Bulletin

Bringing iPads into second-grade math class made little difference for students but a big difference for teachers, according to research at a Bend elementary school.

Rachael Schuetz is an instructor in OSU-Cascades’ teacher education program and a former teacher at Miller Elementary School. With so many districts rushing to give even the youngest students tablets or laptops to use at school and at home, she wanted to know what the devices meant for learning.

In Bend-La Pine Schools, students are given iPads beginning in third grade, and younger students may use them regularly in class.

Schuetz ran an experiment at Miller Elementary last year to see whether using an iPad or paper and pencil to practice math affected student achievement or interest in math. For the study, 85 students were randomly assigned to two groups. One group used iPads and an app called IXL to practice math, while the other used paper worksheets.

They did this daily for 25 minutes. After four weeks, they switched.

Students were tested at the beginning, middle and end of the eight-week experiment and asked to rate their interest in math. Results showed on average achievement and interest were about the same with the iPads and paper worksheets, though she notes a longer study involving more students may have different results.

Teachers, however, reported a big difference between the two.

Schuetz presented her findings Wednesday at OSU-Cascades.

The iPad app read problem instructions to students and told them immediately if they got a problem right or wrong. If they got it wrong, the app could give them a hint for next time. Students could also work at their own pace and typically did twice as many problems in the 25 minutes.

For students with the paper worksheets, however, teachers sometimes had to read them instructions (remember, these students are also still learning to read) and help them find the answer.

If students got a problem wrong and the teacher didn’t notice, the students would just keep going; sometimes they’d do all the problems wrong and the teacher wouldn’t find out until she went to grade the worksheet, Schuetz said.

“Providing differentiation was quite challenging. This was an experience shared by all the teachers in my focus group,” she said.

Since the iPad and paper groups showed about the same achievement level, it is possible without extra help from teachers the paper group would have done worse. And if a whole class is using paper worksheets, that is twice as many students for one teacher to help compared to the study conditions.

Schuetz said based on results in the classroom, teachers should consider giving math homework on an iPad, since not all students can get similar support at home.

Still, she said, iPads aren’t always the answer and teachers should be “critical consumers” when it comes to steering students toward the devices.

“Technology is in our schools,” she said. “It’s here to stay, we just need to make the right decisions about how to use it.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7837,

aspegman@bendbulletin.com

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