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 explores student thinking skill exercise and development when engaged in collaborative learning using digital tablet devices within project, problem and inquiry-based curriculum designs. Data will be collected from junior and upper primary modern learning environment (MLE) classrooms in which small teams of teachers collaborately plan, teach and assess.


The first six months of this project will explore evidence of student computational thinking processes while engaged in basic programming activities using a range of apps and specifically developed websites. These include Scratch, Scratch Jnr, CargoBot, Hopscotch and Tynker. Data collection will focus on evaluating evidence of students’ computational skills such as problem formulation, abstraction, parallelisation and algorithmic thinking. The second six months will explore student problem solving skill and strategy development while using online science resources and apps within inquiry-based topics, likely located in the physical and material world strands of the science curriculum.

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 will be gathered and analysed, to provide greater insights to inform pedagogical and technological decisions.

What we plan to do

Data will be collected using a purpose-built display recorder app embedded in a set of iPads students will use within mathematics and science topics as part of their normal learning programme. These data will be analysed using Studiocode analysis software for evidence of computational skill exercise and development, and how students working in pairs collaborate to solve problems presented by programming and simulation tasks. Excerpts of data will be shared with students to explore in greater depth reasons for their decision-making.

Our partners

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