ComArtSci and WKAR Pioneer Tablet-Based Research Project

This story was inspired by an article on MSUToday

Can tablets help kindergartners learn math? That's the question the new Playtime Pad Research Project will study in the Lansing School District.

Born out of a collaboration between the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, WKAR Public Media, PBS, the College of Education and the Lansing School District, the project will study the effectiveness of tablet-based learning on early childhood math literacy. By the end of December, all kindergartners in the district - more than 1,000 - will receive a PBS KIDS Playtime Pad.

Educational Games and Math Apps

The pads used in the study - one of the largest of its kind - include preloaded PBS KIDS educational game apps, but are also customized to include a special math game study app, designed by PBS KIDS software developers, in consultation with MSU early childhood education researchers. The app includes a mix of math games.

On November 13, kindergarteners at Lansing’s Kendon Elementary received the first batch of Playtime Pads, which are 7-inch android tablets, available at retailers. 


From Left: ComArtSci's Dean Prabu David, WKAR's Susi Elkins and College of Education Dean Robert Floden

“We are honored to be working with the Lansing School District on this exciting outreach program and tablet-based learning study,” said Susi Elkins, general manager at WKAR Public Media, which is housed in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “This project brings quality PBS educational games and programming from the PBS KIDS Playtime Pad to Lansing kindergartners through new technology that children love, and allows us to strengthen the community connection between MSU, WKAR and the Lansing schools.”

One of a Kind Study

Amy Parks, associate professor of teacher education, and Laura Tortorelli, assistant professor of teacher education, will lead the research. They will collect anonymous data from the app, from periodic surveys of parents and teachers and from LSD’s AIMSWEB testing program. 

The study is unique because widely available PBS KIDS math apps will be tested for effectiveness, Parks said. Most studies of this kind are based on specially designed applications rather than what is publicly available. 



“Our goal is to see what teachers choose to do with the tablets and look at the impact on student learning,” Parks said. “We expect there will be variation in how engaging various applications are, as well as variation in the extent to which these applications impact learning. We also expect applications will impact different kids in different ways.” 

In addition to the research component of the project, the partnership gives teachers, parents and students access to the latest technology and PBS KIDS digital learning tools.

The Lansing School District has identified a need for good research in this age group and in an urban district like Lansing to help teachers make learning more effective and fun for kids, said superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul.

“This is really going to be an exciting partnership and adventure thanks to our friends at WKAR and Michigan State University,” Caamal Canul said. “The young students will get to explore the world on the Playtime Pads and the researchers will know more about how children use technology to learn.”

A Long-Lasting Partnership

The Lansing School District is the largest public school district in mid-Michigan, with 17 elementary schools.




“This project is about partnerships,” said Prabu David, dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “MSU, WKAR, Lansing schools and PBS KIDS have come together to empower our students, families and teachers by introducing a new technology in the classroom. I’m excited about the possibilities these tablets offer for instruction and research.”

Funding for the project is provided by the National Science Foundation, the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, WKAR Public Media, Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at MSU and the Lansing Rotary Foundation.

View more photos from the day