5. iPads help turbo-charge the digital textbook revolution.

Thanks largely to the popularity of Apple’s iPad tablet, several hundred more schools this year moved away from textbooks in favor of an all-digital curriculum.

In September, Apple said it knew of at least 600 school districts that have implemented one-to-one computing programs with the devices—with nearly two-thirds of those launching their programs since July. And new programs are being announced on a regular basis. In late August, Kentucky’s education commissioner and the superintendent of schools in Woodford County, Ky., said that Woodford County High would become the state’s first public high school to give each of its 1,250 students an iPad.

At Burlington High School in suburban Boston, principal Patrick Larkin calls the $500 iPads a better long-term investment than textbooks, though he said the school still would use traditional texts in some courses.

New Jersey’s Edison Township School District in May said it would become the first district in the state to implement an entirely iPad-based Algebra 1 curriculum. The district is piloting the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) Fuse: Algebra 1 application with 60 students this fall, said Richard O’Malley, Edison Township School District’s superintendent.

The iPad application gives students step-by-step animated instruction, instant feedback on practice questions, the ability to write, record, and save notes, and access to more than 400 video tutorials. Teachers can monitor performance via Wi-Fi, with real-time, student-specific feedback.

HMH Fuse is currently being piloted in California as well, where teachers are reporting dramatic gains in student engagement, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt says.

In Fresno Unified School District, where 100 students at Kings Canyon and Sequoia middle schools are part of a four-district pilot program, the results have been promising, spokeswoman Susan Bedi said.

“The iPads have created excitement about learning algebra, which indicates that students are more engaged in the classroom,” she said, “and that will equate to higher achievement.”

The iPads generally cost districts between $500 and $600, depending on what accessories and service plans are purchased. By comparison, Brookfield High School 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.

Educators say the sleek, flat tablet computers offer a variety of benefits. 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 schools, some experts watching the trend warn that schools 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.

“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,” Warschauer added, “but they have some benefits—and that’s why so many people outside of schools are using them so much.”

See also:

Schools see rising scores with iPads

Five ways readers are using iPads in the classroom

New Jersey district plans iPad-only algebra course

West Virginia asks counties to plan for electronic textbooks

Many U.S. schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

Textbook-free schools share experiences, insights