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Smartphones Shift STEM Learning to the Field

Students use Active Explorer to collect data on plant and insect life to build a report and share with their class.

STEM education is moving out of classrooms and onto smartphones, with a new mobile platform called Active Explorer that aims to inspire student interest in the sciences. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) partnered with Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative and mobile virtual network operator Kajeet to create the program.

With Active Explorer, educators log in on their computer and create a “quest,” asking students to collect data with the program on their smartphones. For example, a student may be told to find and document different types of flowers on school grounds or in their neighborhood. They can take pictures, record audio and video, create a map, make sketches, or write notes based on their observations. With the push of a button, they can upload data to the teacher and their own web account, and create slideshows, posters, and e-books to share with the class.

“Even though there are lots of great tools that let teachers use mobile platforms, there are none that I know of that allow teachers to decide on the content and actually build the app themselves, and decide what’s going to be in the exploration that the kids go on,” says Bob Hirshon, program director for Technology and Learning at AAAS.

The program was piloted with eight teachers and 120 students in grades 4 and 7 at four Washington D.C. schools in October. With an easy-to-use design that doesn’t require teacher training, Active Explorer is intended for after-school use, when students are most likely to make real-world connections beyond the classroom, but can also be integrated into classroom activities, like tracking a chemistry experiment by taking pictures and recording information on the phone, to be uploaded online for later use.

Though Active Explorer can be used for any subject, it was created to increase student STEM interest to keep the United States competitive in global education. Using Active Explorer is directly analogous to the work of those in STEM careers, who are increasingly using mobile platforms to collect data, Hirshon says. “It allows students to take the science and engineering and math to their own environment, and see how it relates to their lives,” he adds.

Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative seeks to bring wireless technology to underserved communities worldwide, and improve education by ensuring that students have 24/7 access to learning resources. The Active Explorer program runs on Android phones, which the school must provide, but is free to download.

For more information on Active Explorer, visit