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Not just 4 texting: 1 in 3 middle-schoolers uses smart phones for homework

A new survey by the Verizon Foundation finds that middle-schoolers, across income levels, are using mobile apps to learn math, do 'virtual' labs, and collaborate with peers on projects.

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Students use an education app on a tablet at the Bronx Academy of Promise in New York, where Verizon Foundation on Nov. 28 announced national survey results that show that middle-school students use mobile technology to do homework.

John Minchillo/Images for Verizon FoundationAP

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Move over, Angry Birds. It’s time to tackle a math problem.

A new survey finds that about a third of middle-schoolers now use smart phones or tablets not just for entertainment and communication, but also for homework.

Paired with young people’s interest in science, math, and technology, it’s another sign of the potential for digital learning that educators are slowly beginning to tap.

“Most people talk about STEM subjects and technology at the high school level, [but] the critical intervention really should be happening in the middle school, because that’s the age when kids either can get excited about science and technology and math … or they can get turned off,” says Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, which commissioned the new survey.

The national survey of 1,000 students in Grades 6 through 8 found that:

  • 39 percent use smartphones for homework.
  • 26 percent use smartphones at least weekly for homework.
  • 31 percent use tablets for homework.
  • 29 percent of those with household incomes under $25,000 use smartphones for homework.
  • Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely than whites to use smartphones for homework, at 49 percent, 42 percent, and 36 percent, respectively.

Beyond accessing information over the Internet on such devices, students often turn to free apps to play games to help them master math concepts, to virtually “dissect” an animal or analyze clouds and condensation, and to collaborate with peers on projects, Ms. Kirk says.

Yet schools and teachers struggle to keep up with students’ interest in the ever-changing technology landscape.

Some educators are hesitant to embrace more digital devices for fear it will open up a Pandora’s box beyond their control, education experts say. For some, concerns may be based on reports of teens being distracted by games in class or using technology to bully other students, while others may simply not have the confidence that they can master the new technology and harvest it for productive purposes, especially given time and budget constraints.

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