NATIONAL FORUM OF TEACHER EDUCATION JOURNAL VOLUME 21, NUMBER 3, 2011 Investigating Effectiveness of Using Handheld Computers in Elementary Students’ Learning Mathematics Yixin Zhang, EdD Professor Burton College of Education Department of Educational Leadership and Instructional Technology McNeese State University Lake Charles, LA________________________________________________________________________ ABSTRACTThe new emerging technologies – handheld computers or mobile devises, haveincreased in schools as a second wave of technologies after microcomputers. Thisresearch contains two experimental studies examining effectiveness of usinghandheld computers for the fourth and fifth grade students to learn mathematicsand survey results. Specifically, the first experiment compared the fifth gradestudents who used handheld computers with those who did not use handheldcomputers in learning fraction multiplication. The second experiment compared thefourth grade students who used handheld computers with those who did not usehandheld computers in learning least common multiple. Both experiments showedpositive results in supporting the alternative hypotheses that handheld computerscould increase students’ mathematics study potentials. The survey results assessedelementary students’ attitudes toward handheld computer use for learningmathematics. More research is recommended to explore handheld technologyutilizations in other subject areas, such as language arts, social studies and science.Key words: learning mathematics, elementary students, handheld computers________________________________________________________________________ The handheld computer, or palmtop computer, also known as Personal DigitalAssistant possesses at least three features in education: (a) easy to use, (b) mobile, and (c)relatively inexpensive. Handheld computers were inexpensive, portable, and couldaccomplish most tasks that desktop computers in schools were being used for(eSchoolNews, 2011). More and more personal digital assistant or handheld computers 1
NATIONAL FORUM OF TEACHER EDUCATION JOURNAL2____________________________________________________________________________________have been used to enhanced students‟ learning and reduce the teacher‟s workload inschools and universities in recent years (Segall, Doolen, & Porter, 2005). Now,practitioners need to discover what the handheld computer can offer to our students(Kadel, 2005). Literature ReviewHandheld Applications in Education Positive potentials of handheld computers in education have appeared in theliterature in recent years. For instance, successful gain was attained by students wholearned mathematics using mobile devices in the classroom (Goldman et al, 2004). Thehandheld computer could handle 80 percent of the things a regular desktop computerprovided at only 10th of the cost (Joyner, 2003). Today, mobile technologies are afamiliar part of lives in the United Kingdom (Naismith, Lonsdale, Vavoula, & Sharples,2010). Handheld computers benefited students in data collection for field-based research(Adiguzel, Vannest, & Zellner, 2009). While teachers and students had limited access to them due to higher costs ofcomputers, today‟s handheld computer price is only a small portion of other computers.Handheld computers made technology more affordable and accessible. Educators shouldnow consider how to use the handheld computers to enhance teaching and learning (Yuen& Yuen, 2003). Learning through a mobile device such as Personal Digital Assistant, handheld PC,or palm-top PC, coined as m-learning, is going to be the next wave of learningenvironments (Goh & Kinshuk, 2006). In the Computer & Education (2009) report, bothelementary and secondary school teachers believed that handheld computers motivatedstudents‟ engagement in learning activities and catered for the weaker students. Thehandheld PC can support a wide range of learning activities of all ages. How can theteachers take advantage of this emerging technology to enhance the learner-centeredapproach to learning (Naismith, Lonsdale, Vavoula, & Sharples, 2010)? Handheldcomputers necessitate educational research for new foci on computer-assisted instructionin educational settings (Penuel, Tatar, & Roschelle, 2004). The Carolina Department ofPublic Instruction, USA, posed the million-dollar riddle that confounded debate overhandheld devices as instructional tools rather than instructional distractions (Ramaswami,2008). Much debate concerning technology issues in K-12 mathematics learning andteaching still exists and whether and how to apply handheld computers in K-12mathematics teaching remains to further inquires (Powers, Allison, & Grassl, 2005).Review Relevant Studies Hooft, Diaz, and Swan (2004) surveyed 217 students to examine the use ofhandheld computers and the possibility of handheld computers‟ utilization in improvingteaching and learning. Most students indicated that handheld computers were easier touse, fun, and could be used as a learning tool. Powers, Allison, and Grassl (2005)
YIXIN ZHANG ________________________________________________________________________________3examined the effectiveness of handheld computer algebra system in teaching discretemathematics. A total of 30 students were assigned in the experimental group using theHandheld Computer Algebra System, and 31 students were in the control group. Theresults did not find any statistical differences between the experimental and control groupstudents‟ mean test scores. The effect sizes showed some practical differences on thefinal examination favoring the Handheld Computer Algebra System group. Corlett,Sharples, Bull and Chan (2005) conducted an evaluation of a mobile learning organizeramong university students. The results suggested that there was a demand for institutionalsupport of mobile learning. Schmidt (2010) conducted a survey among students toinvestigate the effects of the use of handheld CAS (Computer Algebra System). Theresults showed there was no significant deference in terms of mathematics achievementbetween male and female student, and the students who were measured previously asbetter skilled students benefited more from CAS. This study did not carried on anyscientific experiment. Chen, J., Whittinghill, and Kadlowec (2010) did two experimentaltests and the students performed a quiz by the end of each treatment period. However, thefindings were mixed with one result showed students‟ positive effect when they receivedfeedbacks from handheld computers and the other result did not show significantdifference. Teachers in Hooft, Diaz, and Swan‟s (2004) study stated that handheld computerswere an efficient tool to store and organize information and to distribute assignments tothe whole class as a communicative tool. Roschelle, et al (2010) reported that softwarethey developed for handheld device called TechPALS benefited students for groupfeedback and social processing. Handheld computers were involved as a formativeassessment to guide a preservice teacher cohort during their mathematics methodologycourse (Bennett, 2008). Wachira, Keengwe, and Onchwari (2009) described how to usedigital assistant in mathematics method class for preservice teachers. Their articledepicted some activities a personal digital assistant could support, such as scavenger hunt,determining the formula for the circumference of a circle, and determining scale factors.The researchers concluded that the preservice teachers showed enthusiasm whileperforming those activities. Purpose of Study “To compete in the 21st century global economy, knowledge of and proficiencyin mathematics is critical” (The National Mathematics Advisory Panel, 2010). TheNational Mathematics Advisory Panel identified and addressed mathematics issuesamong pre-kindergarten through eighth grade in the country (e.g. knowledge of fractionsnot developed among American students) and called for “the best use of scientificallybased research to advance the teaching and learning of mathematics.” A group of teachereducators collaborated with the college‟s professional development school and used astate-supported grant and other resources to purchase a large quantity of handheldcomputers and distributed these to classroom teachers in the professional developmentschool, which was an elementary school located in the southern area of the United States.Handheld computer technological trainings were provided to school teachers. The
NATIONAL FORUM OF TEACHER EDUCATION JOURNAL4____________________________________________________________________________________researchers and the classroom teachers implemented this “Handheld Computer” project inthe entire school. This paper investigated the results of integrating handheld computer inone of the elementary subjects – mathematics. Rapid development of mobile technologies as handheld computers havepermeated into human daily life and caught educators‟ attention to take advantage ofavailable emerging media in improving student performance. The International Societyfor Technology in Education (2011) calls K-12 students to use media applicationseffectively and productively, and support individual learning and contribute to thelearning of the others. Handheld computers have become the landscape in educationalsettings. Although mobile handheld devices have been increasingly used, empiricalexperiments were less than 10% in research methodology on mobile handheld devices inK-12 and higher education settings (Cheung & Hew, 2009). How then can we ensure theinnovative teaching/learning with handhelds positively and fully impact students‟achievement? Quantitative data were collected based on the following alternative hypotheses intwo experiments. The alternative hypothesis in Experiment 1 is that the test scores fromthe fifth grade students taught fraction multiplication using handheld computers aresignificantly higher than those students‟ taught without handheld computers. Thealternative hypothesis in Experiment 2 is that the test scores from the fourth gradestudents taught least common multiple using handheld computers are significantly higherthan those students‟ without handheld computers. The researchers and classroom teachersalso collaboratively constructed a survey to find out students‟ attitudes towards handheldcomputers in learning mathematics.Experiment 1 The first experiment was conducted in the fifth grade mathematics classes. Theunit for the students to study was multiplying fractions. The students in the experimentalgroup learned multiple fractions using a handheld computer, the Palm Zire 72s, while thestudents in the control group learned the same content without using handheld computers.After completion of this unit, the same teachers gave the fraction multiplication test witheight questions (e.g., multiply the fractions and write your answer in simplest form wherepossible 2/4 * 2/5). The final mean scores were compared to determine whether there wasa significant difference in testing scores between the experimental and control groups. MethodSubjects Elementary school students participating in this study were from a public schoollocated in the Mid-South area in the U.S.A. A total of 42 fifth grade students were in theexperimental group, while 51 fifth grade students were in the control group.
YIXIN ZHANG ________________________________________________________________________________5Procedure There were five classes, Classes A, B, C, D, and E in the fifth grade, and the samemathematics teacher taught these five classes. The quasi-experimental design was used tosimulate the true experiment. Because the students remained in the original classes in thenatural setting, this quasi-experiment might enhance its external validity (Sprinthall,2007). The quasi-experiment shares true characteristics of interventions or treatments(Wikipedia, 2011). There were five classes – Class A through Class E. Two classes wererandomly selected as experimental group. The teaching method of using handheldcomputers was used in the experimental group in Class A and Class B. Students openednotes in the handheld computers. They worked in notes to solve fractions. They workedin groups to beam answers to each other after solving problems through the Palm Zirehandheld computers. In Classes C, D, and E, multiplying fractions unit was taught by thesame teacher. Mathematically, the content was identical as in the Class A and Class B.The only difference was that the handheld computers were not used in these three classes.Students in these three classes practiced using paper and pencil approach, and sharedtheir results with peers. The students in both experimental classes and control classestook the same test containing eight fraction multiplication questions with 100 points asmaximum. Table 1 showed the test results.Table 1Hypothesis Test of Difference for the Students’ Results with Handheld PC Instruction andwithout Handheld PC Instruction on the Subject of Fraction MultiplicationDescriptive Statistics and t-test N Mean SDInstruction with Handheld PC 42 61.80 32.37Instruction without Handheld PC 51 51.70 34.05 t df Mean Difference Significant 1.43 89 10.10 NSNote: The effect size = 0.303. The descriptive statistics showed that the mean scores from the experiment group(61.80) were 10.10 higher than the mean scores from the control group (51.70). Theeffect size was 0.303 in favor of the experiment group scores.
NATIONAL FORUM OF TEACHER EDUCATION JOURNAL6____________________________________________________________________________________ Experiment 2 The purpose of the second experiment was to compare students‟ learningoutcomes of Least Common Multiple lesson in the fourth grade classes. Equal numbersof the students were assigned in both experimental group and the control group. MethodSubjects A total of 22 fourth grade students were assigned in the experimental group. Inthe control group, the same number of 22 students participated in this study.Procedure The students in the experimental group were given handhelds to use throughoutthe lesson which was taught over a two day period. The students were asked to addfractions with unlike denominators. Once they realized this could not be done, they usedNote Pad on the palms to draw regions. After drawing two regions that represented eachof the fractions they were trying to add, they had to determine how to make the tworegions have equivalent portions. For example, if they were adding 3/4 plus 2/6, they hadto discover that they could divide both into 12ths to make them the same. After workingwith drawing the regions they then moved on to practicing multiples by using thecalculator on the handheld computers. Once the students understood the mathematicalprocess, they paired up to solve problems. One student found the Least CommonMultiple then beamed it to his/her partner. The partner finished solving the problem byadding the fractions and beamed it back to his/her partner. The students in the controlgroup did not use the handhelds. As in Experiment 1, the contents were identicalmathematically. The students in control group learned the least common multiple inregular classroom, practicing, discussing and sharing with peers. After completion of thisunit in two days, the same test was given to both groups. Table 2 shows the test results.Table 2Hypothesis Test of Difference for the Students’ Results with Handheld PC Instruction andwithout Handheld PC Instruction on the Subject of Least Common MultipleDescriptive Statistics and t-test N Mean SDInstruction with Handheld PC 22 79.14 26.78Instruction without Handheld PC 22 38.09 30.02 t df Mean Difference Significant 4.79 42 41.05 S******p < .001; effect size = 1.443.
YIXIN ZHANG ________________________________________________________________________________7 The data analysis in Experiment 2 showed that the mean scores from the studentstaught using handheld computers were significantly higher than the mean scores fromthose students taught without handheld computers. Therefore, the alternative hypothesiswas accepted. Analysis of Survey Results The students participating in this research took an online survey regarding theirattitudes toward handheld computer use for learning mathematics. The researchinstrument Student Attitudes toward Handheld Computer Use for Learning Mathematicswas constructed by four university teacher educator specializing in educationaltechnology, a dean of college of education, one professor of English, and two elementaryschool senior teachers. The survey instrument contains six questions, where SD = Strongly Disagree (1point), D = Disagree (2 points), A = Agree (3 points), and SA = Strongly Agree (4 points).Cronbach (Cronbach, 1951) alpha was used to evaluate the internal consistency reliabilityof the survey. A reliability alpha estimate of .811 was obtained for the entire six items ofstudents‟ attitudes toward handheld computers for learning mathematics. Table 3 showsthe responding percentages of each question.Table 3Student Attitudes toward Handheld Computer Use for Learning Mathematics Level of agreement (in %)Statement SD D A SA Missing1. It is easier to understand math teacher 3.8 8.1 47.6 32.4 8.1when the teacher has me use the handheldPC.2. I wish I would have a handheld PC to 1.9 9.0 24.3 56.2 8.6use in every math class.3. Every student at [School Name] should 7.6 22.4 29.5 31.9 8.6have a handheld PC.4. Using a handheld PC makes me feel 3.8 16.2 44.3 27.1 8.6more confident in math class.5. Using a handheld PC makes learning 0.0 3.8 18.1 69.5 8.6fun.6. I feel math is easier when our math 3.3 7.1 32.9 48.1 8.6teacher allows us to use a handheld PC. The result skewed toward Strongly Agree or Agree. Question #2, Question #3,Question #5, and Question #6, have the highest percentages of Strongly Agree, Question#1 and Question #4 have the highest percentage of Agree.
NATIONAL FORUM OF TEACHER EDUCATION JOURNAL8____________________________________________________________________________________ The teachers and the researchers also collected qualitative data which wereconsistent with the result from the online survey. The following highlights some ofrepresentative comments from the fourth and fifth grade students. “It makes learning fun. Plus I feel like I understand math more using the handheld PC.” “When I use a hand-held PC it make me feel special and help me understand what the teacher is saying when she is explaining a math problem to us.” “You can use note pad and that allows you to draw on the screen and it makes it easier to solve the problem when you write it.” “What it is like using a handheld in math class, that we do problems on them. Then we beam to a classmate or teacher for her or he (sic) to check it. Sometimes we to [we play] games on them.”Figure 1. The students collaborating learning activities through handheld beaming function. DiscussionHandheld Computers Facilitating Elementary Students Learning Mathematics The results from both empirical experiments show favorable achievements ofthose students who used handheld computers when their teacher taught the unit. Themean score difference was 10.10 with a maximum score of 100 in fraction multiplicationtest. In other words, the average scores from those students who used handheldcomputers in this unit had 10.10 higher scores than those students who did not usehandheld computers in this unit even though there was no statistically significantdifference. Students might perform better when they become more familiar with theemerging technologies.
YIXIN ZHANG ________________________________________________________________________________9 In the second experiment among the fourth grade students, scores weresignificantly higher for the students who used handheld computers than for those studentswho learned the same unit, Lease Common Multiple, without using handheld computers.This finding implies that integrating handheld technologies into mathematics classesmight enhance students‟ mathematics comprehension and performances. The online survey reflected the students‟ actual feelings and experiences in theirmathematics classes. The high percentages of positive attitudes in Strongly Agree or inAgree categories clearly showed that students would like to use handheld computers intheir mathematics classes. What the students overwhelmingly expressed implied thathandheld computers could be a helpful learning tool in the school. Previous researches described handheld computers as efficient tool to store andorganize information (e.g. Hooft, Diaz, and Swan, 2004); addressed usefulness ofhandheld computers, or utilized handheld computers as portable assessment tool (e.g.Bennett, 2008). There has been relatively little experimental research conducted inclassroom settings for subject area such as mathematics. This study shed some highlightsfrom elementary students‟ own point of views. Two experimental researches conductedin elementary school classrooms revealed that handheld computer could be a positivepotential learning tool to increase students‟ engagement and enhance students‟mathematical learning.Motivation and Collaboration Through the teachers‟ and the researchers‟ observation and interviews, additionalphenomena of students‟ handheld computers usages were found. Students tended tocollaboration when they used handhelds. Students could easily beam data to partners,thereby enhancing rapport with fellow students and the teacher, and promoting students‟social skills. This benefited students in creating a student-centered learning environmentas active learners. Result from the SRI International‟s Center for Technology in Learning surveyamong 100 teachers indicated that handhelds were an effective instructional tool (Joyner,2003). The qualitative data from the current study demonstrate positive indications thathandheld computers could facilitate students‟ mathematics comprehension from thestudents‟ points of view. The quantitative data show the handheld computers provide newlearning opportunities and the emerging media facilitate students‟ learning engagements.Epilogue Handheld computers are becoming more common place in K-12 classrooms(van‟t Hooft, 2003). Educators and designers might consider making a fundamentalchange from the occasional use computer lab to systemically use embedded mobiledevices in the classroom. Handheld computers will continue to have great potentialimpact on learning in K-12 schools (Hooft, Diaz, & Swan, 2004). More research isrecommended to explore handheld technology utilizations in other subject areas, such aslanguage arts, social science and science.
NATIONAL FORUM OF TEACHER EDUCATION JOURNAL10____________________________________________________________________________________ ReferencesAdiguzel, T., Vannest, K., & Zellner, R. (2009). The use and efficacy of handheld computers for school-based data collection: A literature review. Computers in Schools, 26(3), 187-206.Bennett, R. K. (2008). Formative assessment in elementary mathematics: A preservice teacher action research project. In K. McFerrin et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2008 (pp. 4525-4534). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.Chen, J., Whittinghill, D., & Kadlowec, J. A. (2010). Classes that click: Fast, rich feedback to enhance student learning and satisfaction. Journal of Engineering Education, 99(2), 159-168.Cheung, W. S., & Hew, K. F. (2009). A review of research methodologies used in studies on mobile handheld devices in K-12 and higher education settings. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(2), 153-183.Corlett, D., Sharples, M., Bull, S., & Chan, T. (2005). Evaluation of a mobile learning organizer for university students. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 21(3), 162-170.Computer & Education. (2009). Introducing pocket PC in schools: Attitudes and beliefs in the first year. Computer & Education, 52(2), 470-480.Cronbach, L. J. (1951). Coefficient alpha and the internal structure of tests. Psychometrika, 16, 297-334.eSchoolNews. (2011). eSchoolNews. January, 2007. Retrieved from http://eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/hhc/Goh, T., & Kinshuk. (2006). Getting ready for mobile learning – Adaptation perspective. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 15(2), 175-198.Goldman, S. V., Pea, R., Maldonado, H., Martin, L., While, T., & the WILD TEAM (2004). Functioning in the wireless classroom. In J. Roschelle, T-W. Chan, Kinshuk, & S. J. H. Yang (Eds.), Proceedings of the 2nd IEEE International Workshop on Wireless and Mobile Technologies in Education (WMTE 2004). Mobile Support for Learning Communities. Taoyuan, Taiwan.Hooft, M. V., Diaz, S., & Swan, K. (2004). Examining the potential of handheld computers: Findings from the Ohio PEP project. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 30(4), 295-311.International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). National educational Technology Standards (NETS.S) and Performance Indicators for Students. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/nets-for-students.aspxJoyner, A. (2003, September). A foothold for handhelds. American School Board Journal, 42-44.Kadel, R. (2005). The time is right to embrace PDAs in the classroom. Learning & Leading with Technology, 33(1), 36-37.Naismith, L., Lonsdale, P., Vavoula, G., & Sharples, M. (2010). Literature review in mobile technologies and learning. Retrieved from http://www.futurelab.org.uk/research/reviews/reviews_11_and12/11_01.htm
YIXIN ZHANG________________________________________________________________________________11Penuel, W. R., Tatar, D. G., & Roschelle, J. (2004). The role of research on contexts of teaching practice in informing the design of handheld learning technologies. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 30(4), 353-370.Powers, R. A., Allison, D. E., & Grassl, R. M. (2005). A study of the use of a handheld computer algebra system in discrete mathematics. International Journal for Technology in Mathematics Education, 12(3), 103-113.Ramaswami, R. (2008). Fill „er up. T.H.E. Journal, 35(5), 32-38.Roschelle, J., Rafanan, K., Bhchi, B, Estrella, G., Penuel, B, Nussbaum, M., et al. (2010). Scaffolding group explanation and feedback with handheld technology: Impact on students‟ mathematics learning. Education Tech Research Dev. 58, 399-419.Schmidt, K. (2010). Mathematics education with a handheld CAS – The students‟ perspective. International Journal for Technology in Mathematics Education, 17(2), 105-110.Segall, N., Doolen, T. L., & Porter, J. D. (2005). A usability comparison of PDA-based quizzes and paper-and pencil quizzes. Computer & Education, 45(4), 417-432.Sprinthall, R. C. (2007). Basic statistical analysis (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.van‟t Hooft, M. (2003). Practical examples of handheld use in K-12 classrooms. Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference (SITE).The National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2011, January). ARCHIVED INFORMATION. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final-factsheet.htmlWachira, P., Keengwe, J., & Onchwari, G. (2009). Personal digital assistants (PDAs) in mathematics teacher education. AACE Journal, 17(2), 113-125.Wikipedia. (2011). Quasi-experimental design. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasi-experimental_designYuen, S. C., & Yuen, P. K. (2003,April). PDAS as educational power tools. Techdirections, 14-17. Acknowledgements The researchers would like to thank classroom teachers Mrs. Michelle Lynch andMrs. Pam Lemoine for their teaching the units, providing the students tests, andassistance in data collection.BIOGRAPHICAL NOTEDr. Yixin Zhang is a professor of Educational Leadership and Instructional Technologyat McNeese State University, USA. His research interests include integratingtechnologies into content area teaching.