Children Need More Than Apps in the Classroom

marie-merouze-80By Marie Mérouze
CEO/Founder of Marbotic

Our teachers are no strangers to technology with laptops, tablets and projection devices infiltrating the classroom. As technology is increasingly relied on in the classroom, teachers and students are as connected as ever to digital devices. It’s been proven that this digital connectivity is one of our most valuable resources in providing high-quality learning experiences for students.

When employed in the right manner, edtech applications can facilitate interactivity, content personalization, immediate feedback, and motivation for students of all ages. Thus, a large majority of teachers confirm that ed tech in the classroom allows for a more hands-on learning experience.

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With the current abundance of tablets and smartphones, kids today are constantly inundated with apps and how to use them. A recent report suggests that kids are using apps for at least three hours or more each day, which totals six and a half weeks per year. 

While the benefits of digital apps are great in number, they should never completely replace tried and true teaching methods. Teachers must be just as engaged and involved with students when using educational technology, keeping in mind that apps are best used as a complement to traditional methods. By relying exclusively on apps, their students will miss out on several activities that are critical to their development.

Learning Through Manipulation of Physical Objects

In her research, Maria Montessori, renowned educator, found that students can better understand abstract concepts, such as symbols or numbers, by playing with physical objects. If instructors rely solely on apps in their lessons, they interfere with material learning. However, when apps are used in tandem with interactive, physical toys, students benefit from both technology-based instruction and physical interaction.

Physical objects provide the kind of discovery and sensory learning that apps cannot. While children can read about architectural engineering on a tablet screen, their comprehension of the concept won’t increase until they’ve been given the opportunity to create their own structures with physical objects. When physical toys are involved, younger children in particular can imagine stories as they build. Even if the story imagined isn’t directly related to the lesson at hand, manipulating objects boosts creativity and understanding more than touching or reading a screen ever could.

Reiteration and Reinforcement

Once kids learn a specific concept, it must be reinforced through exercises and sample problems. As a means to reinforce learning, apps can be very useful, especially when they’re combined with traditional teaching methods. Since apps are plentiful and versatile, they can provide multiple learning activities for the same lesson, including games that make learning fun.

Apps can also be used to evaluate learning, helping teachers determine whether students have mastered a concept or need more instruction. Teachers should use caution, however, because some apps can be too directive. For example, when students solve a problem or answer a question, they move on to the next. This might seem like the ideal result, but this sort of drilling practice could also dry up children’s imagination and limit the amount of insight teachers might gain about their thought processes. In order to encourage creative problem solving, it’s best to choose apps designed for open-ended and extended responses.

Human Contact

The most important part of learning that students would miss out on with solely app-based learning is human contact. Learning goes beyond just engaging the brain. It includes social skills that employ the use of head and heart. It’s been shown that students have better concentration and are more responsive when taught by a human being.

The child’s brain is most receptive to learning with teacher-student and student-student social interaction. In group settings, teachers can use apps to enhance learning and foster socialization and cooperation. For students, it’s much more satisfying to be told by a teacher that they did a great job than to see a score on a tablet.

While digital apps can’t replace classic teaching methods or the human connection, they are fun additions to lesson plans. The importance of human contact, concept reiteration, and manipulating physical objects should never be downplayed by educators. When apps are used in the classroom, it’s important for teachers to remember that the best apps are just one piece of the instructional puzzle – they need all of the pieces for the whole picture to make sense.

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Marie Merouze is the founder and CEO of Marbotic, an IoT startup focusing on the creation of connected devices for children. Marbotic has two flagship products: Smart Letters and Smart Numbers. Marie was previously an ed tech consultant for BeTomorrow, a company focused on the innovation of connected products for the web and mobile. Marie has a Masters in Engineering from Ecole Centrale Paris, an engineering graduate institution.

One Response

  1. While these conclusions certainly apply in our current 2D world, the future with VR, AR, and haptic devices may be quite different. Can much more advanced technology turn apps into powerful learning tools that challenge traditional hands-on learning?

    Moving to older children (grades 3 and up), we have found that in some circumstances, online learning exceeds hands-on learning.

    Too often, hands-on lessons in classrooms, even at the college level, are poorly planned, have questionable pedagogy, and are not adequately supervised. Sometimes, they are just ways to fill time without any real learning. Sometimes, they are just verification exercises in which students are told what to expect before starting, taking all of the interest from the activity.

    Most students just follow along with whatever trash teachers make them do because they have learned, at an early age, to go along in order to get along — and get a decent grade.

    Hands-on for hands-on’s sake just wastes time and resources. No lesson, whether hands-on or not, should be done “just because.”

    I have been forced by standards from states or even the College Board, to create lessons that I feel are of very limited value. I work hard to add in enough content and concepts to have even those few lessons be truly worthwhile learning experiences. I hate the idea of producing learning units that have no real learning, just memorization or connect the dots.

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