Parents, here’s the good news — that smart phone or tablet which seems permanently glued to your 13-year-old’s fingers might very well be one of their best homework tools. Latino students happen to be the biggest users of these devices for homework, according to a new national survey conducted by TRU, a youth polling organization, and commissioned by the Verizon Foundation. But here’s the catch — while students have integrated these devices into their study habits at home, this is not the case in most of the nation’s classrooms.
“As with any new technology, there can be a generational gap, and it is no different with these devices,” says Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation.
Latino students report more laptop, smart phone and tablet use for homework than African-American students or non-Latino white students. Sixty-eight percent of Latino middle school students use laptops for homework, compared to 64 percent of African-American students and 62 percent of non-Latino white students. The same applies to tablets; 38 percent of Hispanic students surveyed do homework on tablet devices, while 30 percent of African-Americans and 31 percent of non-Hispanic whites do the same. And almost half (49 percent) of Latino middle school students are using smartphones for homework, compared to 36 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 42 percent of African-Americans. The survey polled 1,000 6-8th graders nationwide.
Latino students also reported studying with these devices more frequently. Sixty-five percent of Hispanic students use laptops more than once a week, compared to 57 percent of African-Americans and 54 percent of non-Hispanic whites. And it’s not just wealthy students, by the way; almost one-third of all middle schoolers from the lowest-income households report using smartphones for homework use.
The statistics are very different, though, when it comes to how many middle school students can use these devices in the classroom. Only 18 percent of the students surveyed report using tablets in school. The numbers are even lower in the classrooms of many low-income students; only 11 percent of low-income students report using a tablet in class, 23 percent report using laptops and only 2 percent use their smart phones in the class. And while so many middle school students have smart phones, 88 percent of them are not allowed to use them in the classroom for learning.
This is a missed opportunity, says Verizon Foundation’s Rose Stuckey Kirk. “When you look at the data, middle school is a pivotal point; it’s a place where either students can be turned into the right direction academically or be disengaged for life,” she explains.
Dr. Reynol Junco, a faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, studies how young people use technology, and agrees with the findings of the report. “Educators at the middle school level are not good at integrating newer technology into their teaching,” he says. “Yet we have found in our research that using social technology is a much more efficient way to reach some of the goals teachers are trying to reach.”
The study also found a marked increase between middle school students’ interest in science, computer science and math and the use of laptops, smart phones and tablets in the classroom. As the country looks to fill positions in STEM fields, explains Stuckey Kirk, using these devices successfully as learning tools can help develop a more technologically educated workforce.
The Verizon Foundation has partnered with the prestigious MIT’s Center for Mobile Learning to help schools and teachers integrate these devices into hands-on learning. One way is through the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, a national middle and high school competition where students come up with the idea and design for a mobile app that incorporates science and math. Ten winning schools get to work with MIT experts to build their apps and actually make them marketable. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has partnered with the Verizon Foundation to integrate technology in underserved schools, training teachers and students, in the hopes of increasing the number of minority and women students going into STEM fields.
“We have to level the playing field,” says Stuckey Kirk. She says giving students the tools and knowledge to use these mobile devices to learn math and science “can hook them for life, and graduating with a STEM degree can give many of these children higher earning potential,” she adds.
“It takes a little bit of extra time, but the payoff is so much more when you integrate this new technology in the classroom,” says Dr. Reynol Junco.