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U of Iowa education faculty create iPad app to help K-12 teachers improve student behavior

University of Iowa

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IMAGE: In the Score It app, teachers and students are prompted to rate different student behaviors on a scale from zero to four. view more

Credit: Image courtesy of Allison Bruhn.

A University of Iowa special education researcher is using interactive technology to help K-12 teachers improve students' behavior and attention problems in the classroom.

UI College of Education faculty member Allison Bruhn, along with two research colleagues at Vanderbilt University and the UI's Jo Hendrickson, was recently awarded a three-year, nearly $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to further develop their self-monitoring behavior intervention app called Score It.

Score It is an iPad app that prompts students and teachers to assess students' behavior at regular intervals throughout the school day. The app has been piloted in middle schools across eastern Iowa.

Bruhn says students were taught to think about their behavior and to record it over time. Score It provides a timer that goes off every few minutes, alerting students to rate behaviors such as respectfulness on a scale from zero to four. At the same time, the teacher is completing the same procedures to evaluate the students. The app keeps track of this data, which teachers can use to provide feedback to students and to evaluate student progress. The idea is to get students who struggle with behavior problems, such as being off-task or disruptive, to be more aware of what they are doing, which should lead to improved behavior.

Bruhn says traditionally this process has been done using paper and pencil. Recording data digitally improves the experience for both students and teachers.

"Students like technology," she says. "It's cool to them and can be more discrete than using pencil and paper. Teachers like the automation; the app calculates and graphs data for them."

Kristi Emerson, at-risk coordinator and reading teacher at Mount Pleasant Community Middle School, says she had tried all sorts of techniques--rating scales, physical cues, verbal cues--to help improve one of her student's classroom behavior, but none were as effective as Score It.

"The student was really struggling with the ability to stay on task, to stay focused, to get work completed in a timely manner," Emerson says. "We set the app so the timer would go off every 10 minutes, and for whatever reason, this technology really worked. It was easy to use, it was successful, and it was quick from a time management standpoint. ... I'm curious to see where this goes in the future."

The new Department of Education grant will help enhance Score It's capabilities to interpret data and then recommend next steps to teachers, which will save teachers time and enable them to be more independent of researchers and behavior specialists.

"It's like having a live expert inside the technology," Bruhn says. "We know that the app works. We know that self-monitoring works. But the more difficult task is using data to make decisions that will maintain behavior improvements over time. Most teachers aren't trained in this; we want to make things easier for them by giving them all the tools they need right at their fingertips."

Project activities related to the grant will be carried out in elementary and middle school reading classrooms over the course of three years in local Iowa and Tennessee schools.

Bruhn says the research team plans to make Score It publicly available this summer on iTunes.

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