Eloy Intermediate School students found the standard textbooks and workbooks in their desks when they began the 2013–2014 school year. But something else got them a lot more excited: Each was issued a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet.
The school, one of three in Arizona's Eloy Elementary School District No. 11, is among the first to participate in Samsung School, a program that offers one-to-one tablets in classrooms, along with training, software and other equipment designed to boost learning. So far, it's been a huge hit.
"Our kids don't have a lot of knowledge about tablets, and most don't have them at home," says Technology Coach Kevin Oursler. But by the end of the first week of school, they'd mastered the devices and were using them to learn new material and to build on prior knowledge.
"I was in a classroom, and the teacher was reading a story about an aardvark," Oursler recalls. "The students had no idea what that was. They were able to bring up a picture of one on their tablets and on the TV in the classroom and learn all about aardvarks."
EESD invested in the Samsung School solution after receiving an $800,000 School Improvement Grant from the state of Arizona, says Michelle Covarrubias, the district's director of curriculum and student academic services. With that money, EESD hired a technology coach and technology specialist, invested in professional development, and bought 405 tablets for Eloy Intermediate School, along with 25 touch overlays, 25 wireless printers, 18 Spectrum tablet charging carts, 25 Samsung 65-inch LED TVs, 25 Samsung Series 7 Slate PCs and Microsoft Office licenses.
The equipment works together to "meet the needs of each child while also meeting the needs of the class," Covarrubias explains. "If fourth-graders are working on math, one student may be working on ones and twos while another is working on sevens and eights. The apps are self-adjusting and give students the work they need at the appropriate level."
The technology also can increase student engagement, she adds. "You give them something that lights up, and they want to participate."
A Better Way to Engage Students
In fall 2012, Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tenn., became one of the first districts in the United States to pilot the Samsung School program. The district bought 35 Galaxy Note tablets for Geeter Middle School, which serves a low-income, urban neighborhood. Sixth-grade math students used the tablets in class, and Cleon Franklin, the district's former director of instructional technology, says the positive results were almost instantaneous.
"We saw double-digit gains in math performance," says Franklin, now executive principal in charge of virtual learning for the district. "We had gains across the school last year, but the scores for students in the Samsung lab were higher compared with the rest of the school."
Geeter students used their tablets with the same interactive whiteboard displays, teacher notebooks, printers and other equipment that Eloy students use. They caught on almost immediately and became interested in learning with them — just as the Eloy students have.
31% Percentage of middle school students who use tablets to complete homework assignments
SOURCE: Verizon Foundation (2012)
Another benefit is that students can ask for help without having to raise their hand and admit it to everyone in the room. "Our teachers teach a block and then ask kids to show a thumbs up if they understand, a thumbs down if they don't, or put their thumbs sideways if they're not sure," Franklin explains. Teachers in the Samsung lab, he says, can ask students to tap buttons on their notebook screens that correspond to those responses, but only the teacher can see the results.
"No one wants others to know they don't know something unless their environment is safe," he adds. "The Samsung equipment took that out of the equation, and students gained confidence as a result."
Given these successes, Franklin is currently investigating ways to grow the program across the school and throughout the district.
A Classroom Solution That's Subject Agnostic
Eloy teachers, meanwhile, are using the Samsung equipment across their curriculum. "They're embracing this technology and doing a nice job of integrating it into their lessons," EESD's Oursler says. Several use it to generate QR codes that they post in their classroom every morning. When students arrive, they use their tablets to scan the codes and are directed to a website that launches the day's lesson.
For their part, teachers say the integrated solution keeps lessons moving along. "Teachers run into issues that interrupt learning, such as lack of student engagement or participation, students not being able to see the board, or not being able to hear a question," says Jonathan Contreras, an IT technician at the school. "With the Samsung tablets using Samsung School, teachers can distribute information to each student while still interacting with the class as a whole."
The solution also helps teachers better understand where each student might need extra help, Contreras adds.
"They can still walk about the classroom to monitor activities and progress, but an advantage of the program is being able to monitor in real time what the student is doing on the tablet," he says. "If a teacher has sent a word problem to the tablets and sees that Student C seems to struggle with this type of problem, the teacher can use his or her own tablet to see, step by step, how that student approaches the problem and attempts to solve it."
Lindsay Daugherty, associate policy researcher with RAND in Santa Monica, Calif., says that the way tablets and other technology are introduced into the classroom is critical. "The implementation really matters," she explains. "It's just a tool; it's not magic. It's a tool for teachers and schools that can possibly get more students engaged and open up new learning opportunities." But for that to happen, teachers need from the start proper training, support and enthusiasm about using new things.
"Teachers are already overwhelmed," Daugherty continues. "If new technology is seen as a positive thing and teachers feel like it fits into the curriculum and supports them, they're going to use it and really integrate it into their teaching."
The student engagement benefits Daugherty cites are readily apparent at Eloy Intermediate School, Oursler confirms. "We already had good attendance, but introducing the tablets gave us even better attendance," he says. "These kids want to be at school because of their tablets."