Touchscreen mobile games and science learning: Do preschoolers benefit from their use?

Herodotou, Christothea (2016). Touchscreen mobile games and science learning: Do preschoolers benefit from their use? In: BERA conference 2016, 13-15 Sep 2016, Leeds, UK.


The proliferation of mobile technology allows for modern forms of play, including the use of mobile games hosted on interactive screen media technologies such as smartphones and tablets. Research reveals that touch screen devices are the most popular play activity amongst children of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, overtaking more traditional forms of play. Yet, the impact of using touch screens and mobile games in early years remains relatively underexplored. What studies exist are mainly focused on examining literacy development and usage patterns. This paper will present findings from the systematic examination of the use of a mobile game by preschoolers and its impact on science learning and understanding, specifically the development of scientific reasoning skills. Engagement with science is a thorny issue within the field of education with students being disinterested in STEM topics and careers. Science teaching in early years is under-emphasized despite the critical role of early exposure to increasing comfort, engagement and long-term achievement later in school life. Little is known about the effective teaching of science in preschool years as educators are found less interested in supporting learning in those domains. The exploration of the use of touch screen devices by preschoolers sheds light on how these devices might support science learning in early years.

To examine the impact of mobile games on science learning, 50 preschoolers (aged 3-5) were asked to play the game Angry Birds for a number of consecutive days. The game features challenging physics-based gameplay, for example, knowledge of projectile motion, making observations and hypothesis testing. The interactions of preschoolers with the game were recorded. A pre/post test was used to evaluate previous subject knowledge and reasoning skills. Findings from this study detail usage patterns and their change over time, conclude on the learning effectiveness of the specific game for science understanding for different groups of children (age, low/high achievement) and comment on how preschoolers' previous subject theories about cause and effect relationships might mediate scientific thinking. Implications for early years practitioners and policy makers are discussed.

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