Textbook-free schools share experiences, insights

Arizona's Vail School District, one of the first districts in the nation to move to an all-digital curriculum, used its textbook money to buy laptops—forcing the teachers to learn how to instruct differently.

Nearly one year after a pilot program that put Virginia’s fourth, seventh, and ninth grade social studies curriculum on an iPad, Virginia state officials say they have learned much from the implementation.

The program, which is a collaboration between education publishing giant Pearson and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), was spawned from VDOE’s “Beyond Textbooks” initiative, which encourages schools to “explore the potential of wireless technology and digital textbooks to enhance teaching and learning.”

Now a year into the program, many challenges and benefits have emerged.…Read More

Many U.S. schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

A Burlington High student checks out her new iPad as her mother looks on. (AP)

For incoming freshmen at western Connecticut’s suburban Brookfield High School, hefting a backpack weighed down with textbooks is about to give way to tapping out notes and flipping electronic pages on a glossy iPad tablet computer.

A few hours away, every student at Burlington High School near Boston also will start the year with new school-issued iPads, each loaded with electronic textbooks and other online resources in place of traditional bulky texts.

While iPads have rocketed to popularity on many college campuses since Apple Inc. introduced the device in spring 2010, many public secondary schools this fall will move away from textbooks in favor of the lightweight tablet computers.…Read More

Maine laptop program offers lessons in ed-tech implementation

Maine became the first state to implement a 1-to-1 laptop program.

Nine years after it became the first state in the nation to initiate a 1-to-1 laptop program in its schools, Maine continues to innovate with technology and has hired technology integrators to help its schools move forward. Jeff Mao, director of learning technology for the state’s education department, recently reflected on the groundbreaking program and its lessons learned with eSchool News.

“What we are doing [is] relatively bleeding edge. … There isn’t a book to read, there isn’t really a manual that says this is how you do it … but you are kind of creating it on the fly, and from that perspective there’s a lot of invention,” said Mao.

Mao said the biggest adjustment for the state and its school districts, which began the program in 2002, was not the machines themselves but the human element.…Read More

The school that gives kids their own iPads

A private school in Scotland has given sleek new iPads to every single one of its pupils to use in class this year and to even take home, Forbes reports. It’s the brainchild of Fraser Speirs, the IT director of Cedars School of Excellence in Greenock, who wanted to solve the problem of the school’s computer lab, which had 12 desktops and 12 laptops, constantly being overbooked. First, he thought of giving everyone iPod Touches, but that wouldn’t have allowed them to do serious work like writing essays. Then the iPad was launched, and it now takes care of 99 percent of the work the students need to do. Wrapped in a smart carry case, the students carry their iPads with them into math class, science, and art—and the teachers download the appropriate apps that allow the kids to draw on the touch screen, look at graphs, or go online. As far as Speirs knows, no other school in the U.K., much less the world, is deploying iPads to all its students in this way…

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More students need a laptop computer for the classroom

Back-to-school supplies for middle school students used to mean pens, notebooks, maybe a new backpack. But for a growing number of families, the list now includes a laptop computer, USA Today reports. “We would never send our own kids to pediatricians that were practicing medicine from the ’70s or ’80s,” says Mark Hess, principal of Sarah Banks Middle School in Wixom, Mich. “Why would we send our kids to schools that are practicing instructional techniques that are decades old? If we did that, it’d be educational malpractice.” A districtwide laptop program in the Walled Lake, Mich., Consolidated School District starts in the sixth grade and incorporates technology in math, science, English, and history lessons. Parents of sixth-graders have the option to buy a $784 laptop and enroll their child in the program; those kids are placed in a classroom where all students have their own laptops. Those not in the program have access to 7,000 district-leased laptops that teachers share on rolling carts. The 500 sixth-graders in Walled Lake’s laptop classrooms use their computers for most of the school day. They revise papers, solve math problems, and even take tests and quizzes on the computer. Students also use interactive whiteboards and electronic clickers to key in answers, like on a game show. “It’s just another tool for learning,” Hess says. Though they were a novelty a decade ago, “in 2010, laptops should just be commonplace.”

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District in webcam spying lawsuit adopts new laptop-tracking policies

Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion School District has adopted a new set of policies to govern the use and tracking of student laptops and other technology, its latest step to get past the furor of remote webcam monitoring, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The measures, passed unanimously by the school board at its monthly meeting Aug. 16, spell out in detail when, how, and for what reasons school officials can access or monitor the laptops they will give to each of the district’s nearly 2,300 high school students next month. The measures require students and their parents to acknowledge the policies and consent in writing to any tracking, or give them an option not to participate in the laptop program. They also mandate expanded training about privacy and technology for teachers and staff and will include information sessions for parents. The new policies, recommended by a task force of students, parents, administrators, and community members, met one of the provisions of a federal court injunction signed in May by U.S. District Judge Jan E. DuBois. Besides banning any unauthorized webcam monitoring, the judge ordered the district to enact expansive, transparent policies before the school year opens in September…

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Early take on India’s $35 tablet: ‘Fairly impressive’

For readers who want to see the much-talked-about prototype of India’s $35 tablet computer in moving color, a gadget show on Indian television just featured an exclusive hands-on demonstration that could help dissipate some of the skepticism about the device, CNET reports. “Everybody actually said, ‘It cannot happen, a $35 tablet,’ and not only does it exist, it works and it works brilliantly,” said Rajiv Makhni, co-host of the show “Gadget Guru,” who took the computer through its paces with show cohort Vikram Chandra. The two then discussed all aspects of the gadget with Kapil Sibal, the country’s Minister for Human Resource Development, who officially unveiled the super-cheap touch-screen device. Aimed at the country’s students, it’s being called India’s answer to Nicholas Negroponte’s famed One Laptop Per Child computer. While originally presented as a Linux device, the prototype on the show runs on Android (and handles the operating system “fairly smoothly,” the surprised Gurus say). It has a virtual keyboard, camera, full video capability, Wi-Fi for browsing that the Gurus found to be “simple and quick,” an eReader, and 2GB RAM. They say the touch screen is a bit slow to respond. All in all, though, they call it a “fairly impressive little package,” particularly for the price, and a game changer for India and possibly beyond…

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Study questions digital-divide efforts

Technology can have a detrimental effect on student performance if not coupled with educational programs. Copyright: Nevit Dilmen.
Technology can have a detrimental effect on student performance if not coupled with educational programs. Copyright: Nevit Dilmen.

Two researchers at Duke University have published a draft study that raises questions about the academic value of giving students home computers and broadband internet access. Their study has led to a flurry of media coverage, with some reports trumpeting the study’s findings as evidence that efforts to close the digital divide are counterproductive. But is that what their research really says?

The study, “Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement,” is the work of researchers Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. It was published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research as a working paper that was not peer-reviewed.

The study examined the reading and math test scores of more than 500,000 North Carolina public school students in grades five through eight from 2000-05. It sought to determine if differential access to computer technology at home compounds the educational disparities among students from various socio-economic backgrounds, and whether government provision of computers to middle school students would reduce those disparities.…Read More

One Laptop Per Child to add multi-touch screen to future XO-1.75 laptop

The nonprofit organization One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) on July 8 said it is adding a multi-touch screen to its upcoming XO-1.75 laptop and is modifying software to take advantage of the new hardware, PC World reports. The low-cost XO-1.75 with a touch-sensitive 8.9-inch screen will start shipping next year. The laptop will run on an Arm processor and is the successor to the current XO-1.5 laptop, which runs on a Via x86 processor. OLPC also will add a multi-touch screen on the next-generation XO-3 tablet, which is due to ship in 2012. Customers could be interested in buying XO-1.75 laptops as low-power replacements to existing XO-1 machines, which don’t have touch capabilities, said Chris Ball, lead software engineer for OLPC, in an eMail. However, OLPC will also sell less-expensive XO-1.75 machines without touch screens, he said. OLPC wants to use the XO-1.75 laptops as a platform to test and develop appropriate touch interfaces for the next-generation XO-3 tablets, he said. The XO laptops are designed for kids in primary schools, and touch capabilities could reduce the need to use a mouse to move or manipulate images or to scroll through documents. The XO-1.75 will include a physical keyboard, but the XO-3 tablet design will include only an on-screen keyboard…

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