Schools Experiment With iPad Lessons

ipad at school

Looks like it won’t be long until kids will no longer have to cart around backpacks full of heavy books to and from school. According to, some lucky kids got to try out brand-new Apple iPad tablet computers instead of books last fall. Kids like Rebecca Allen’s fourth-grade class at the Rich Acres Elementary School in Martinsville, Va.

Allen said:

“It was fun watching the kids jump right in. They are so used to technology, they took to them right away.”

The distribution of these iPads is part of ambitious pilot program by the state of Virginia. The program is designed to target a generation that has grown up surrounded by computer screens and digital gadgets. Longtime print textbook publisher Pearson Education launched what it claims is the nation’s first-ever complete social studies curriculum for the iPad, in partnership with Virginia officials. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. has also joined in with a redesigned classic textbook to take advantage of the iPad.

Both publishers have been aggressively moving from paper textbooks to digital and networked products for years, but the two iPad pilot programs indicate that they’re eager to explore whether such devices are the next phase for textbooks. These iPad explorations could turn out to be crucial initiatives as school districts demand more technologically sophisticated teaching materials. Many states (like California and Virginia) are reportedly encouraging school districts to try out digital textbooks as a way to save money.

Houghton Mifflin’s own pilot iPad program was launched in September and offers an Algebra 1 app for sixth- and seventh-graders. There are 400 students currently using the app and they are able to receive feedback on practice questions, write and save notes, receive guided instruction, and access video lessons taught by Edward Burger, a Williams College mathematics professor.

Pearson’s Virginia iPad program includes electronic texts and iPad apps for seventh-grade US history and ninth-grade world history, part of a commitment by Virginia and Henry County to explore the iPad as an educational device.

Anthony Jackson, superintendent of the Henry County Public Schools:

“From what I’ve seen, the iPad is going to be a transformational platform for textbooks.”

Both publishers have already discovered that the iPad has some shortcomings when it comes to being an educational device. First of all, they are expensive ($499 retail for the least expensive unit) and they are fragile, with glass screens. Finally Apple doesn’t support Adobe’s multimedia Flash product, a format that many educational publishers have been using for years. Though with a dozen competing tablets recently launched, or about to launch, the publishers are keeping their options open.

Peter Cohen, Pearson’s chief executive for curriculum:

“Our interest is smarter books that keep kids engaged. Is learning different, better, on the iPad? That’s what we’re looking at. If it’s not the right form factor, we’ll keep looking.”

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