Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Tablets Help Students Learn Science

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Tablets Help Students Learn Science

Article excerpt

The scale of the universe can be difficult to comprehend. Pretend you're making a scale model with a basketball representing the Earth and a tennis ball as the moon. How far would you hold the tennis ball from the basketball? Most people would hold them at arm's length from each other, but the answer may surprise you: At that scale the balls would need to be held almost 30 feet apart.

A new study by Smithsonian re-searchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows that students grasp the unimaginable emptiness of space more effectively when they use iPads to explore 3D simulations of the universe, compared to traditional classroom instruction.

This study comes as educators are increasingly questioning whether tablets should play a greater role in education. It suggests that tablets can improve student understanding of challenging scientific concepts like astronomical scale.

"These devices offer students opportunities to do things that are otherwise impossible in traditional classroom environments," says study leader Matthew Schneps. "These devices let students ma- nipulate virtual objects using natural hand gestures, and this appears to stimulate experiences that lead to stronger learning. "

Schneps and his colleagues looked at gains in learning among 152 high school students who used iPads to explore simulated space and compared them to 1,184 students who used more traditional instructional approaches. The researchers focused on questions dominated by strong misconceptions that were especially difficult to correct via teaching. Many questions examined students' understanding of the scale of space.

They found that while the traditional approaches produced no evident gain in understanding, the iPad classrooms showed strong gains. …

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