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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“I think people will like it. I really don’t know anybody in high school [who] 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.”
Districts are varied in their policies on how they police students’ use.
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.
“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.
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.