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Many US schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

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Many US schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — For incoming freshmen at western

Connecticut’s suburban Brookfield High School, hefting a backpack

weighed down with textbooks is about to give way to tapping out

notes and flipping electronic pages on a glossy iPad tablet

computer.

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A few hours away, every student at Burlington High School near

Boston will also start the year with new school-issued iPads, each

loaded with electronic textbooks and other online resources in

place of traditional bulky texts.

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While iPads have rocketed to popularity on many college campuses

since Apple Inc. introduced the device in spring 2010, many public

secondary schools this fall will move away from textbooks in favor

of the lightweight tablet computers.

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Apple officials say they know of more than 600 districts that have

launched what are called “one-to-one” programs, in which at least

one classroom of students is getting iPads for each student to use

throughout the school day.

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Nearly two-thirds of them have begun since July, according to

Apple.

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New programs are being announced on a regular basis, too. As

recently as Wednesday, Kentucky’s education commissioner and the

superintendent of schools in Woodford County, Ky., said that

Woodford County High will become the state’s first public high

school to give each of its 1,250 students an iPad.

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At Burlington High in suburban Boston, principal Patrick Larkin

calls the $500 iPads a better long-term investment than textbooks,

though he said the school will still use traditional texts in some

courses if suitable electronic programs aren’t yet

available.

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“I don’t want to generalize because I don’t want to insult people

who are working hard to make those resources,” Larkin said of

textbooks, “but they’re pretty much outdated the minute they’re

printed and certainly by the time they’re delivered. The bottom

line is that the iPads will give our kids a chance to use much more

relevant materials.”

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The trend has not been limited to wealthy suburban districts. New

York City, Chicago and many other urban districts also are buying

large numbers of iPads.

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The iPads generally cost districts between $500 and $600, depending

on what accessories and service plans are purchased.

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By comparison, Brookfield High in Connecticut estimates it spends

at least that much yearly on every student’s textbooks, not

including graphing calculators, dictionaries and other accessories

they can get on the iPads.

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Educators say the sleek, flat tablet computers offer a variety of

benefits.

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They include interactive programs to demonstrate problem-solving in

math, scratchpad features for note-taking and bookmarking, the

ability to immediately send quizzes and homework to teachers, and

the chance to view videos or tutorials on everything from important

historical events to learning foreign languages.

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They’re especially popular in special education services, for

children with autism spectrum disorders and learning disabilities,

and for those who learn best when something is explained with

visual images, not just through talking.

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Some advocates also say the interactive nature of learning on an

iPad comes naturally to many of today’s students, who’ve grown up

with electronic devices as part of their everyday world.

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But for all of the excitement surrounding the growth of iPads in

public secondary schools, some experts watching the trend warn that

the districts need to ensure they can support the wireless

infrastructure, repairs and other costs that accompany a switch to

such a tech-heavy approach.

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And even with the most modern device in hand, students still need

the basics of a solid curriculum and skilled teachers.

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“There’s a saying that the music is not in the piano and, in the

same way, the learning is not in the device,” said Mark Warschauer,

an education and informatics professor at the University of

California-Irvine whose specialties include research on the

intersection of technology and education.

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“I don’t want to oversell these things or present the idea that

these devices are miraculous, but they have some benefits and

that’s why so many people outside of schools are using them so

much,” he said.

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One such iPad devotee is 15-year-old Christian Woods, who starts

his sophomore year at Burlington, Mass., High School on a special

student support team to help about 1,000 other teens adjust to

their new tablets.

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“I think people will like it. I really don’t know anybody in high

school that wouldn’t want to get an iPad,” he said. “We’re always

using technology at home, then when you’re at school it’s

textbooks, so it’s a good way to put all of that

together.”

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Districts are varied in their policies on how they police students’

use.

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Many have filtering programs to keep students off websites that

have not been pre-approved, and some require the students to turn

in the iPads during vacation breaks and at the end of the school

year. Others hold the reins a little more loosely.

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“If we truly consider this a learning device, we don’t want to take

it away and say, `Leaning stops in the summertime.’ ” said Larkin,

the Burlington principal.

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And the nation’s domestic textbook publishing industry, accounting

for $5.5 billion in yearly sales to secondary schools, is taking

notice of the trend with its own shift in a competitive race toward

developing curriculum specifically for iPads.

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At Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for instance,

programmers scrambled to create an iPad-specific secondary school

program starting almost as soon as Apple unveiled the tablet in

spring 2010.

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The publisher’s HMH Fuse algebra program, which became available at

the start of the 2010 school year, was among the first and is a top

seller to districts. Another algebra program and a geometry

offering are coming out now.

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The HMH Fuse online app is free and gives users an idea of how it

works, and the content can be downloaded for $60. By comparison,

the publisher’s 950-page algebra text on which it was based is

almost $73 per copy, and doesn’t include the graphing calculators,

interactive videos and other features.

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For a school that would buy 300 of the textbooks for its freshman

class, for instance, the savings from using the online version

would be almost $4,000.

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Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American

Publishers’ schools division, said all of the major textbook

publishers are moving toward electronic offerings, but at least in

the short term, traditional bound textbooks are here to

stay.

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“I think one of the real key questions that will be answered over

the next several years is what sort of things work best in print

for students and what sort of things work best digitally,” Diskey

said. “I think we’re on the cusp of a whole new area of research

and comprehension about what digital learning means.”

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