With the start of a new school year, 1,000 fifth and sixth graders in New Jersey's fourth-largest school district will return to the classroom equipped with smartphones.
The initiative, part of a pilot mobile learning program that began with 100 students, is a cooperative venture among Toms River Regional Schools, Verizon and GoKnow Inc., which develops educational software for mobile devices.
The idea is that putting the mobile devices in the hands of students helps them manage their school work in the classroom and on the go. With roughly 17,400 students in four communities, the Toms River district is the largest in the country using mobile learning devices.
Launched in February, the initiative enables school district teachers to create and download curriculum directly to smartphones — or mobile learning devices (MLDs) — allowing students to perform a variety of tasks, including researching and writing reports, drawing and animating or even downloading books.
Teachers can also develop in-depth lesson plans that fit the personal needs of the students. The smartphones, equipped with Verizon Wireless' high-speed wireless broadband service are restricted from making calls or texting.
"This is a great alternative to traditional pen and pencil work and promotes better critical thinking skills," Vicki Rhein, who teaches fifth grade at Silver Bay Elementary School, said in a release announcing the program expansion.
"We're finding that students are more engaged and even requesting to delve deeper into topics," she said.
District officials said they have already seen improvements in student performance as a result of the pilot program.
"In my view, this has been one of the most impactful curriculum initiatives we've undertaken," said Mike Citta, principal of Toms River's Hooper Avenue Elementary School.
Students "have really embraced the technology," to the point where participating students completed 100 percent of their homework assignments on time, he said.
"What we're witnessing in Toms River is truly exciting and we're thrilled to be a part of this game-changing educational initiative," said Mario Turco, president of Verizon Wireless' Philadelphia Tri-State Region.
Mobile learning is steadily gaining traction as a means to enhance learning in the 21st century classroom. A 2009 study by Project Tomorrow, a national education advocacy group based in Irvine, California, found that that 63% of parents say they would buy their child a cell phone if they knew it would be used for educational purposes.
The study also cited increased student engagement, preparation for a workforce where computer literacy is mandatory and extended-school-day learning as key benefits of integrating mobile learning devices in the educational process.
— STAFF, NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM