Can tablets help kindergartners learn math?

November 14, 2017

Students are introduced to the new PBS Playtime Pads. UPDATE 2/4/19: WKAR TV received a national award for the Playtime Pad Research Project. The project was honored in the “Community Engagement Based on a Local Initiative” category of awards from the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA).

UPDATE 11/13/18: In year two of the Playtime Pad Research Project, 1,200 Lansing kindergartners have received a PBS KIDS Playtime Pad. All participating students will receive a PBS Kids Playtime Pad with the original Math Games App installed, and research will continue. In addition, students at Dwight Rich School of the Arts and Riddle Elementary will take part in a small study on the iRead app, compatible with the district’s literacy curriculum, to expand efforts to help kids learn to read. More information on Year 2 of the project—including an update from Associate Professor Amy Parks—can be found on

By the end of December, all kindergartners in the Lansing School District—more than 1,000—will receive a PBS KIDS Playtime Pad thanks to a partnership between PBS, Michigan State University, WKAR and the Lansing School District.

The Playtime Pad Research Project studies the effectiveness of tablet-based learning in early childhood math literacy. The pads used in the study 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 Monday, kindergartners at Lansing’s Kendon Elementary received the first batch of Playtime Pads, which are 7-inch Android tablets, available at retailers.

“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.”

Amy Parks headshot

Amy Parks

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.”

Laura Tortorelli headshot

Laura Tortorelli

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.”

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.

This story originally appeared on MSU Today.