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

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But some schools and whole districts are jumping into digital technologies to try to engage both students and teachers in a new way, one they see as better adapted to the demands of 21st-century jobs.

Among the middle-schoolers surveyed, 88 percent said they are not allowed to use smartphones for learning purposes in school, and 68 percent said the same about tablets.

Such restrictions on technology use are even more common among low-income students, the survey found. Yet half of African-American and Hispanic middle-schoolers, who are more often concentrated in low-income schools, report an interest in science and computer science.

“We have an opportunity inside of those environments to be very deliberate in how we engage students,” Kirk says. “Digital devices can have an impact. But we can also make it about the STEM subjects, and move these kids onto a pathway that could result in higher incomes.”

The Verizon Foundation already offers training to educators on integrating mobile technology into lesson plans.

Now it is partnering with the Technology Student Association and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to sponsor the Innovative App Challenge. Hundreds of teams of students are conceptualizing mobile applications that incorporate STEM activities and contribute to solving a problem in their schools or communities.

Five teams from middle schools and five from high schools will be chosen as winners. In addition to winning Samsung Galaxy Tabs for themselves and $10,000 grants for their schools, they’ll be given assistance to create their apps and bring them to the public.

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