Exploring student thinking and problem solving in iPad-supported learning environments

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Waikato
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2015
Project end date: 
March 2017
Principal investigator(s): 
Assoc. Professor. Garry Falloon
Research team members: 
Mike Malcolm, Tonia Fenemor, Lissa Mangino and Sjann McDivitt
Research partners: 
Leamington Primary School, Cambridge

Project description

This project explored student thinking, problem solving and collaboration when using digital tablets (iPads) for a range of conventional curriculum-related purposes, and in project, problem and inquiry-based learning programmes. Three separate studies were completed in this project. They were

  • investigating how students used their devices to collaborate on learning tasks in the classroom and beyond, which device features and functions they considered assisted in this process, and how these were used;
  • exploring the nature of thinking skills students applied when using computational apps to solve learning problems embedded in mathematics curriculum; and
  • analysing how students combined procedural and conceptual scaffolds within apps with practical ‘hands on’ work to learn basic science concepts.

Data were collected in junior and middle/upper primary innovative learning environments (ILEs) at Leamington Primary School in Cambridge, where small teams of teachers collaboratively planned, taught and assessed.

Why is this research important?

Developing computational skills is increasingly being viewed as a core component of curricula worldwide. This is evidenced by their inclusion as components of national and state schemes in the UK, Australia and elsewhere. However, evidence of if and how students develop these skills through basic programming activities involving apps and dedicated websites is scarce. The same applies to students engaged learning using virtual science simulations and experiences. Using a unique data capture method, evidence of the development of such strategies and skills was gathered and analysed, to provide greater insights to inform pedagogical and technological decisions.

What we did

The three studies used similar methods to gather highly authentic data recording the strategies and practices of students as they used their devices within their normal daily classroom activities. A set of iPads supplied by the university were equipped with a display and audio capture app that recorded all student interaction with the apps and others they worked with, irrespective of their location in the classrooms. These data were downloaded and analysed against different coding frameworks using Studiocode video analysis software. Display data were supplemented with student interviews, focus groups and informal observations.


Our partners

Leesa Mangino, Margaret Lelieveld, Paula Hale and Tonia Fenemor, Leamington Primary School, Cambridge


Falloon, G. W. (2017, March 16–17). Using apps as digital scaffolds for science learning in the primary school. Paper presented at the New Perspectives in Science Education Conference. Florence, Italy.

Falloon, G.W. (2017). Using apps as digital scaffolds for science learning in the primary school. In the New Perspectives in Science Education proceedings (pp. 254–260). Florence, Italy: Science in Education.

Falloon, G. W. (in review). Using apps to scaffold science learning in primary classrooms: Design, pedagogical and curriculum considerations. Journal of Science Education and Technology.

Falloon, G. W. (2016). iPads, apps and student thinking skill development. In N. Kurcikova & G.W. Falloon (Eds.), Apps, technology and younger learners: International evidence for teaching (pp. 224–239). Milton Park, England: Routledge.

Falloon, G. W. (2016). Researching students across spaces and places: Capturing digital data ‘on the go’. International Journal of Research and Method in Education, Special issue: eResearch, 1–16. Retrieved from        http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1743727X.2016.1219983

Falloon, G. W. (2016). An analysis of young students’ thinking when completing basic coding tasks using Scratch Jnr. on the iPad. Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning, 1–18. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcal.12155/epdf

Falloon, G. W., Fenemor, T., & Hales, P. (2016). Learning mathematical concepts and building thinking skills through coding: Experiences from the junior primary school. SET Research Information for Teachers, 1. Retrieved from        http://www.nzcer.org.nz/system/files/2016_1_008_0.pdf

Falloon, G. W. (2016, December 8). Coding and thinking skill development in the primary school.  Paper presented at Createworld 2016. Griffith University, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Falloon, G. W. (2016, November 16). Using digital scaffolds for learning science in the primary school. Paper presented at TEMS Spring Seminar Series. University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Falloon G. W., Mangino, L., Lelieveld, M., Fenemor, T., & Hale, P. (2016, October 7). Building thinking and mathematics capabilities through coding in the primary school. Paper presented at the ULEARN 16 Annual Educators’ Conference. Energy Events Centre, Rotorua, New Zealand.

Falloon, G. W. (2015). What’s the difference? Learning collaboratively using iPads in conventional classrooms. Computers & Education, 84, 62–77.

Falloon, G. W., Mangino, L., & Lelieveld, M. (2015, June 18). Exploring student thinking in iPad-supported learning environments. Paper presented at Digital Learning Symposium. The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand.

Falloon, G. W. (2015, July 6–8). Building computational thinking through programming in K-6 education: A New Zealand Experience. Paper presented at EDULEARN ’15. Barcelona, Spain.

Falloon, G. W. (2015). Building computational thinking through programming in K-6 education: A New Zealand Experience. In the EDULEARN ’15. proceedings (pp. 882–892). Barcelona, Spain: EDULEARN.