Science and math majors are exploring how to integrate tablets into lesson plans as they teach students in K-12 schools.
While tablets are increasing in popularity, educators still have to figure out how they support student learning, said Michael Marder, executive director of the UTeach Science Program at The University of Texas at Austin. This semester, students are incorporating this technology into teaching thanks to a Verizon Foundation grant and more than 400 Samsung Galaxy tablets donated by Verizon Wireless.
"I think it's very well known that tablets are becoming ubiquitous — students have them even if schools don't — and phones are often powerful enough to become major educational tools," Marder said. "The question is how teachers are going to be making use of them, and because of this gift, we're going to have a chance to find out."
In UTeach, the colleges of Natural Sciences and Education work together to train current science, technology, engineering and math majors so they will be able to teach in these subject areas when they graduate. The University of Texas at Austin started UTeach 16 years ago, but the model has since spread to 35 other universities.
UTeach students at four universities — the University of Colorado at Boulder, The University of Kansas at Lawrence, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and The University of Texas at Austin — are currently using the tablets in their lessons at secondary schools. For example, sophomore Vanessa Chen and her teammates at The University of Texas at Austin taught a lesson about the cardiovascular system to students in a health science class.
They had students use an app to measure their active and resting heart rate, and also taught them how to do it manually, said Chen, who started college as a biochemistry major and decided to become a biology major with a teaching option after seeing a UTeach flier on campus. In front of the class, they hooked up a tablet to the teacher's projector so they could display a spreadsheet with students' data from the experiment.
While traditional teacher preparation programs involve four years of coursework before students actually get to teach in classrooms, this method puts students in the classroom at the beginning of their training. And it gives students a chance to integrate a variety of technology into their lessons to see what works.
"Being able to have hands-on experience in the field early on to see if we like it or not, I think that's really valuable to have," Chen said.