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Exploring student thinking and problem solving in iPad-supported learning environments

Research Team: Garry Falloon

Project Dates: 2015 - 2017

Partnerships: Leamington Primary School

This project explored student thinking, problem solving and collaboration when using digital tablets (iPads) for a range of conventional curriculum-related purposes, and in project, problem and inquiry-based learning programmes. Three separate studies were completed in this project. They were

  • investigating how students used their devices to collaborate on learning tasks in the classroom and beyond, which device features and functions they considered assisted in this process, and how these were used;
  • exploring the nature of thinking skills students applied when using computational apps to solve learning problems embedded in mathematics curriculum; and
  • analysing how students combined procedural and conceptual scaffolds within apps with practical ‘hands on’ work to learn basic science concepts.

Data were collected in junior and middle/upper primary innovative learning environments (ILEs) at Leamington Primary School in Cambridge, where small teams of teachers collaboratively planned, taught and assessed.

Why was this research important?

Developing computational skills is increasingly being viewed as a core component of curricula worldwide. This is evidenced by their inclusion as components of national and state schemes in the UK, Australia and elsewhere. However, evidence of if and how students develop these skills through basic programming activities involving apps and dedicated websites is scarce. The same applies to students engaged learning using virtual science simulations and experiences. Using a unique data capture method, evidence of the development of such strategies and skills was gathered and analysed, to provide greater insights to inform pedagogical and technological decisions.

What is the background to the project?

Developed from an informal collaboration, this two year, TLRI-supported project was located in a provincial contributing primary school and involves 100 students and four teachers, working in two innovative learning spaces. To date, display capture, interview and observational data of students engaged in app-based computational thinking activities, and in student-led science inquiries supported by science concept teaching apps, have been analysed for evidence of thinking skill exercise and development.

Principal Researcher: Garry Falloon (second from left)

Research Partners:  Leesa Mangino, Margaret Lelieveld, Paula Hale and Tonia Fenemor, Leamington Primary School, Cambridge

What are the key findings to date?

The three studies used similar methods to gather highly authentic data recording the strategies and practices of students as they used their devices within their normal daily classroom activities. A set of iPads supplied by the university were equipped with a display and audio capture app that recorded all student interaction with the apps and others they worked with, irrespective of their location in the classrooms. These data were downloaded and analysed against different coding frameworks using Studiocode video analysis software. Display data were supplemented with student interviews, focus groups and informal observations.

What are the most important facts to take away?

  • Computational activities such as coding provide valuable  opportunities for students to exercise a range of thinking types, but  these require careful and systematic planning and implementation  to ensure young students in particular, grasp foundational concepts;
  • Working collaboratively on computational activities in pairs or small  groups can be a useful means for students to develop an array of key  competencies;
  • Over time, students increasingly view personal digital devices  such as iPads as a natural tool for their learning, and are able to  make excellent decisions about how to use them, and their apps, to best support their learning.

This two year project has been funded by the Teaching & Learning Research Initiative (TLRI).

Reports

Falloon, G. (2017). Exploring student thinking, problem solving, and collaboration in iPad-supported learning environments. TLRI

Outcomes Poster: Exploring student thinking, problem solving, and collaboration in iPad-supported learning environments

Publications

Falloon, G. W. (2017, March 16–17). Using apps as digital scaffolds for science learning in the primary school. Paper presented at the New Perspectives in Science Education Conference. Florence, Italy.

Falloon, G.W. (2017). Using apps as digital scaffolds for science learning in the primary school. In the New Perspectives in Science Education proceedings (pp. 254–260). Florence, Italy: Science in Education.

Falloon, G. W. (in review). Using apps to scaffold science learning in primary classrooms: Design, pedagogical and curriculum considerations. Journal of Science Education and Technology.

Falloon, G. W. (2016). iPads, apps and student thinking skill development. In N. Kurcikova & G.W. Falloon (Eds.), Apps, technology and younger learners: International evidence for teaching (pp. 224–239). Milton Park, England: Routledge.

Falloon, G. W. (2016). Researching students across spaces and places: Capturing digital data ‘on the go’. International Journal of Research and Method in Education, Special issue: eResearch, 1–16. Retrieved from        http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1743727X.2016.1219983

Falloon, G. W. (2016). An analysis of young students’ thinking when completing basic coding tasks using Scratch Jnr. on the iPad. Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning, 1–18. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcal.12155/epdf

Falloon, G. W., Fenemor, T., & Hales, P. (2016). Learning mathematical concepts and building thinking skills through coding: Experiences from the junior primary school. SET Research Information for Teachers, 1. Retrieved from        http://www.nzcer.org.nz/system/files/2016_1_008_0.pdf

Falloon, G. W. (2016, December 8). Coding and thinking skill development in the primary school.  Paper presented at Createworld 2016. Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Falloon, G. W. (2016, November 16). Using digital scaffolds for learning science in the primary school. Paper presented at TEMS Spring Seminar Series. University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Falloon G. W., Mangino, L., Lelieveld, M., Fenemor, T., & Hale, P. (2016, October 7). Building thinking and mathematics capabilities through coding in the primary school. Paper presented at the ULEARN 16 Annual Educators’ Conference. Energy Events Centre, Rotorua, New Zealand.

Falloon, G. W. (2015). What’s the difference? Learning collaboratively using iPads in conventional classrooms. Computers & Education, 84, 62–77.

Falloon, G. W., Mangino, L., & Lelieveld, M. (2015, June 18). Exploring student thinking in iPad-supported learning environments. Paper presented at Digital Learning Symposium. The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Falloon, G. W. (2015, July 6–8). Building computational thinking through programming in K-6 education: A New Zealand Experience. Paper presented at EDULEARN ’15. Barcelona, Spain.

Falloon, G. W. (2015). Building computational thinking through programming in K-6 education: A New Zealand Experience. In the EDULEARN ’15. proceedings (pp. 882–892). Barcelona, Spain: EDULEARN.

Project Updates

What is new?

It's interesting to note how student use of the device across all learning tasks has become completely seamless, and how they are able to independently make sensible and appropriate choices and decisions on when to use (or not) apps to help in their work. There is no need for any teacher direction, advice or instruction on how this is to be done - they are very capable of sorting these things completely independently.

What has changed?

New focuses for the junior school case studies have been developed. These extend the 2015 work on coding to include work with the Sphero and Ollie robots, and apps for learning in science and literacy.

What is next?

The third round of data collection in the classrooms is due to commence at the end of March. Two themes have been identified: Coding and robotics (computational—senior classrooms) and Apps as literacy scaffolds (junior classrooms). The next period should see completion of an article from the science work undertaken at the end of 2015. There should be another article from the interview data collected in March, subject to completion of data transcribing.

Publications:

Falloon, G.W (in press) An analysis of young students’ thinking when completing basic coding tasks using Scratch Jnr. on the iPad. Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning.

Falloon, G.W., Fenemor, T. & Hale, P. (in press) Learning mathematical concepts and building thinking skills through coding: Experiences from the junior primary school. SET Research Information for Teachers.

Falloon, G.W. (in review) Researching students across spaces and places: Capturing digital data ‘on the go’. International Journal of Research and Method in Education.