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New studies and pilot projects show smartphones can actually make kids smarter. Department of Education has earmarked billion in competitive school-reform grants to scale up pilot programs and evaluate best practices of all kinds.

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Gemma and Eliana belong to a generation that has never known a world without ubiquitous handheld and networked technology.“You put a kid in front of a TV, they veg out,” says Andrew Shalit, creator of the First Words app and father of a toddler son. They’re figuring out puzzles, moving things around using fine motor skills.What we try to do with the game is create a very simple universe with simple rules that kids can explore.” For children born in the past decade, the transformative potential of these new universes is just beginning to be felt.When the Singer sisters were just 6 months old, they already preferred cell phones to almost any other toy, recalls their mom, Fiona Aboud Singer: “They loved to push the buttons and see it light up.” The girls knew most of the alphabet by 18 months and are now starting to read, partly thanks to an i Phone app called First Words, which lets them move tiles along the screen to spell .They sing along with the Old Mac Donald app too, where they can move a bug-eyed cartoon sheep or rooster inside a corral, and they borrow Mom’s tablet computer and photo-editing software for a 21st-century version of finger painting.

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