iPads Hitting the Classroom: Will It Improve Grades?

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A recently unveiled pilot project in four California school districts replaces an 800-page eighth-grade algebra textbooks with Apple iPads for 400 randomly-selected, lucky students. Their progress will be tracked and compared against that of their classmates using traditional textbooks. The goal: prove the advantages of interactive technology over traditional books.

Students with iPads will have access to more than 400 instructional videos, and allows students to take audio or text notes and do assignments on the device itself. There is also a homework coach and animated instructions on how to complete assignments. The project is being subsidized by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in partnership with California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss. The affected districts include Long Beach Unified School District, Riverside Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District and San Francisco Unified School District. "This is a seminal moment. It marks the fundamental shift from print delivery of curriculum to digital," said John Sipe, vice president of K-12 sales at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. He went on to say that the videos allow teachers to focus on individual instruction, and that this first-of-its kind pilot program will have preliminary results by January.

Apple is clearly keen on the idea of using the iPad for educational purposes. And this isn't the first time schools are toying with the iPad. The North Adams public schools in Massachusetts introduced iPads into classes this year in hopes of improving grades for those students who have struggled in the past year.

According to Amy Meehan, principal of Drury High School, "It's designed for those students who failed a class by a few points." Massachusetts awarded the city $184,384 to purchase 16 iPads being shared by 1,100 students who are most at risk of not graduating on time.

Whether or not either project will be successful has yet to be seen. Will dis-engaged, tech obsessed kids benefit from this approach or simply use it to tune out and play Angry Birds all day? Will the cost of this technology outweigh the benefits in some regions? And if so, will it simply widen the digital divide between poor and wealthy districts? The only thing we can say for sure is that we definitely wish we had had this opportunity when we were growing up.

Author Bio
Anna Attkisson
Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor
A lover of lists and deadlines, Anna Attkisson covers apps, social networking, tablets, chromebooks and accessories. She loves each of her devices equally, including the phablet, three tablets, three laptops and desktop. She joined the Laptop Mag staff in 2007, after working at Time Inc. Content Solutions where she created custom publications for companies from American Express to National Parks Foundation.
Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor on
Add a comment
  • aaliyah Says:

    noooooooooooooooo hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllllllllllllpppppppppppppppp no help

  • Jim Deibele Says:

    "$184,384 to purchase 16 iPads"

    Wow, really? $11,524 each? I'll sell them to schools for only $10,000.

    Some fact-checking, please.

  • Martin Hill Says:

    I think you've been blinded by your over-exposure to the old failed form factor of tablet PCs. Simply parroting the tired old mantra that the iPad is only a consumption device is foolish considering the plethora of creative and educational apps available.

    The fact that you seem incapable of imagining the amazing possibilities that multi-touch, dragging and dropping of components in a mathematical formula or chart (to address your own area of expertise) only demonstrates your sad lack of vision.

    Apple's own iWork apps are a beautiful example of feature-rich, powerful content creation and manipulation apps at their best.


  • aftermath Says:

    No. (And that is why in journalism, you're discouraged from using a question in your headline.)

    A REAL tablet would.

    I've been involved in computers and math education for a long time. I provide some free math tutoring in my area. I have several tablet PCs for my professional use, and over the years I've ended up accumulating more tablet PCs than any single person should ever have. Instead of selling them, I lone them to the students that I'm helping out.

    Students don't need a different "content consumption platform" to change their math learning. Books are fine. They do need better teachers, I've also found that students DO RESPOND POSITIVELY to a better "content creation platform". The iPad isn't that.

    Imagine what your writing life would be like if you went back to a typewriter or pencil and paper for ALL of your writing responsibilities. This is what we ask math students to do. Making the transition from pencil and paper to a tablet PC is like the difference between creating/editing/managing a document manually versus using word processing software and a computer. Once students jump on a tablet PC with a real active digitizer, all of the administrative details of solving math problems dissolve much in the same way that all of the administrative details of writing text dissolve when you leave behind the typewriter. There are suddenly no limits to what they can try or change, and their thinking transforms accordingly.

    The ridiculous thing is that this is a PR stunt. This is a district trying to justify its future importance. Teachers know that tablet PCs are great for education. They're also expensive because they're computers and not low-grade consumer electronics devices you buy at the mall. However, "iPad" is a buzz word. Parents, who know nothing about tablet computering, hear that and think "My school is really innovating with technology." Nothing can be further from the truth. The reality is that this is something that the district can point to next time it's in a funding crisis, looking to justify more money, or getting condemned for poor student performance. It's sad to play politics like this with technology considering that there ARE real solutions out there that DO help students, but districts are unwilling to provide those resources because the uninformed public won't understand how they're valuable or different than media hyped toys.

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