Many of the concepts taught in science classrooms are inherently difficult to explain in a classroom or through a book. Physics in particular is hard to illustrate beyond the mathematics of it. Newer technology seems poised to help with this problem, though, as more and more classrooms adopt tablet devices running a variety of interactive learning software.
A new study by Harvard researchers has found that tablet apps can indeed help students better learn science. The study found in particular that iPads can help illustrate the concept of the scale of the universe, which is nearly impossible to demonstrate in the classroom. The results are to be published in the January 2014 issue of the journal Computers and Education.
“These devices offer students opportunities to do things that are otherwise impossible in traditional classroom environments,” said Matthew Schneps, lead researcher on the study and the director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center For Astrophysics. “These devices let students manipulate virtual objects using natural hand gestures, and this appears to stimulate experiences that lead to stronger learning.”
Schneps and his colleagues gave iPads to over 150 high school students in Bedford, Massachusetts who were learning concepts about space. They found that these students were better at understanding common misconceptions with regard to the scale of celestial objects. Students using the iPad learning software were seen to have improved understanding of the relevant topics in as little as 20 minutes.
The study’s authors believe their research could provide much-needed evidence that new technologies do have a place in the classroom. They hope that tablets and other interactive technologies could help students grasp traditionally difficult subjects such as science and math.