Students from different geographic regions communicate socially, but also to help each other achieve the common goal of succeeding at Algebra 1.
When asked what tech tools students would like to use in learning science and math, their reply was no surprise: "They said they wanted something that would utilize social networking technology -- something portable. Overwhelmingly, they wanted to use a smart phone," said Project K-Nect founder and director Shawn Gross about his interview with Washington, D.C. area- kids five years ago.
"Students told us that the subject matter was too abstract, there wasn't enough [real-world] application, that they were having difficulty with the instructional methods. They thought technology might be a way to change that," says Gross.
With that directive in mind, Project K-Nect's social-media-based curriculum combines project and collaborative learning with new media learning for the 3,000 high schoolers in three states who currently participate.
The initial goal of the nonprofit -- launched in North Carolina in 2007 with the support of Qualcomm's Wireless Reach Initiative and other organizations and now also in place in Ohio and Virginia -- was to increase student performance in STEM subjects, particularly in low-income areas. The requirement, therefore, for Project K-Nect's participating schools, is that at least 50 percent of the student body qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Do smart phones help low-income, at-risk student populations learn math? Yes, most definitely, says Gross. The majority of participating students scored 20 percent higher on standardized tests than their peers in the same school and 30 to 40 percent higher than students in the district and state after a single year. (Click here to see a full research report on the program in Onslow County, North Carolina).