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Report: Middle School Students Using Smartphones More Interested in STEM

Middle school students who use mobile devices for school work are more likely to express an interest in STEM subjects, yet there's a large gap in the number of students using the devices at home and those using them in school, according to a new survey from MIT's Center for Mobile Learning at the Media Lab and the Verizon Foundation.

The "Verizon Foundation Survey on Middle School Students' Use of Mobile Technology," comprising online interviews with 1,000 students in grades 6-8 and conducted by TRU, found that 39 percent of respondents reported using smartphones to do homework and 31 percent said they used tablets for the same purpose.

Among students who reported using laptops and tablets in class, 67 percent and 55 percent, respectively, told interviewers that the devices helped them learn math and science better. "The same trend appears to exist among classroom smartphone users, but the base size is too small for comparison," according to the report.

Yet 66 percent of respondents said they were not allowed to use tablets for learning in the classroom and 88 percent reported the same regarding smartphones.

"Our research supports the fact that mobile technology can inspire and engage students today," said Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, in a prepared statement. "We need to meet children where they are and leverage their use of mobile devices to increase their interest in STEM--especially since STEM jobs are increasing at three times the rate of jobs in other fields, and the number of graduates in the U.S. earning degrees in STEM is decreasing."

Other findings of the survey include:

  • More Hispanic students, at 49 percent, and black students, at 42 percent, said they use smartphones to do homework than Caucasian students, at 36 percent;
  • Twenty-nine percent of respondents from the lowest income group (below $25,000 per year) reported using smartphones to do homework;
  • Students who told interviewers they used smartphones, tablets, or laptops in the classroom were more likely to report a strong interest in STEM subjects. They were also more likely to say they felt smart, happy, or excited about STEM subjects;
  • Students from families earning $50,000 per year or less reported not being able to use smartphones in class at a rate of 92 percent as compared to 84 percent among students from wealthier families. Similar trends held true for laptops and tablets; and
  • Among the 18 percent of students who said they used tablets in the classroom, 67 percent said use of the devices made them want to learn more.

In related news, the Verizon Foundation and the Technology Student Association have launched the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.

Open to middle and high school students in the United States, the challenge asks teams of 5-10 participants "to conceptualize a mobile application that incorporates STEM and addresses a real problem or issue in their schools or communities," according to information released by the organizations.

A total of 10 winning teams--five each from middle schools and high schools--will receive training in person from the MIT Center for Mobile Learning at the Media Lab, as well as ongoing virtual support and $10,000, in an effort to develop their projects and bring them to market. Each student on the winning teams will also receive a Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The submission deadline for the contest is January 13, 2013.

To learn more about the contest, or to submit a project, visit Visit to view the full survey results.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].