Young students work with tablets Young students work with tablets Young students work with iPads at a school in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Tablets promise to boost learning in the classroom

Teachers say the devices improve classroom learning activities, digital literacy, independent thinking and motivation.

Learning is getting more interactive - and a whole lot more fun - thanks to new tablet technology sweeping through U.S. schools.

While computers have been integrated into classrooms for more than two decades, electronic learning has gotten a huge boost in recent years, with the advent of lower-cost tablets. "Before, it was more 'sit and get,'" Leslie Wilson, CEO of the One-to-One Institute, which advises school districts, told the Washington Post. "In this transformed environment, students can direct their own learning."

Industry analysts say American schools will purchase some 3.5 million tablets by the end of the year, while textbook publishers are rushing to create interactive learning materials. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says the new technology offers the opportunity to make education more efficient.

Israel-based Fourier Education's new einstein Tablet+ is an education-specific device pre-loaded with multimedia experiments for biology, chemistry, environmental science, human physiology and physics. The device includes eight built-in sensors that allow students to collect data on humidity, ultra-violet light, heart rate, temperature, light, accelerometer, microphone and GPS location, as well as two built-in cameras. Teachers and students can also add external sensors or create their own experiments using the einstein Activity Maker.

New Albany High School in Indiana became the first school in the U.S. to use the einstein Tablet+ in its science classrooms earlier this year. The program came out of a partnership with Indiana University Southeast. James E. Hollenbeck, a professor of science education at IUS, acquired the devices on behalf of the school thanks to a local grant.

"This is cutting-edge technology," Hollenbeck told the (Clark County, Ind.) News and Tribune. The Wi-Fi equipped tablet "does everything an iPad does at half the price with science gadgets built in. These are like little tanks," he said.

The einstein Tablet+ recently took the top prize in the digital devices category at the 2014 Bett Awards. Here's a video that shows how the device can be used for science, technology and engineering education.

In a recent study completed at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, researchers found that most teachers believe the use of tablets improves classroom learning activities, understanding of material, digital literacy, creativity, independent thinking and motivation.

The study showed that students used the tablets not only for taking notes and searching for information on the internet, but also for watching and creating audiovisual materials, communicating with their classmates and teachers, completing tablet-based exercises and sharing their findings.

Additionally, teachers say independent, tablet-aided learning gives them the opportunity to focus on individual coaching, rather than getting bogged down by routine tasks. The Icelandic e-learning firm InfoMentor analyzes data collected by the tablets, allowing teachers to see who has progressed and who is struggling.

Some school districts have had trouble integrating tablets into their classrooms because they were too fragile, but tablet maker Amplify, the education arm of News Corp., has recently partnered with Intel Education on a new rugged tablet built for K-12 education. It features a break- and scratch-resistant screen made of Corning Gorilla Glass and a tethered stylus. The tablet runs on the Android 4.2 operating system with a 2.0 GHz dual-core Intel Atom Processor, includes both front and back cameras, and comes with a case and an external keyboard. It also includes an option that allows teachers to lock the devices when they need to get students' attention.

Amplify tablets come pre-loaded with the middle school curriculum for America’s Common Core State Standards Initiative. Other tablets, like the Aakash tablet from the Canadian firm Datawind, are loaded with a basic school curriculum. The tablet from Kuepa, a Buenos Aires, Argentina-based company, comes with courses designed for schools across middle-income Latin America.

Amplify tabletAmplify tablets come pre-loaded with courses suited to middle school students. (Photo: Amplify)

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Tablets promise to boost learning in the classroom
Tablets in the classroom are expected to number 3.5 million by the end of the year, while publishers are rushing to create interactive learning materials.