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iPads Hitting the Classroom: Will It Improve Grades?

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.

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.