Are digital textbooks worth it?

Three Years of Discovery
Rock Hill Schools in South Carolina ran its first pilot of the Discovery Education Science Techbook in grades K-5 during the 2012-2013 school year using the district’s iRock program to provide in-school iPads (families can take out an insurance policy to bring them home). The district expanded to Discovery Education’s Social Studies Techbook in all middle school classrooms in 2013 and recently added math.

Gail Steffensen, who teaches fourth grade at Mount Holly Elementary in Rock Hill Schools, is in her third year of using the techbook. The curricular abundance, which includes experiments and games, allows her to let advanced students work on something additional, and she uses those resources to fill-in missing background information for other students. Like Schmalacker, she is a fan of the quick access to definitions for unfamiliar vocabulary, and she has found that audio paired with text can boost comprehension and skills for new readers.

And her students, she says, are also notably more engaged with iPads than worksheets, a bit of anecdotal evidence that seems to support a recent study by Merola Research conducted at the district, which found that 21 percent of fourth-grade students using the Science Techbook scored at or above the exemplary level on the Science PASS, compared to only 15 percent of students who weren’t using these resources..

Rock Hill elementary schools do not yet have a comprehensive set of digital resources for social studies, so Steffensen recently spent many hours vetting twenty videos for a unit on the trade triangle of slavery. In the future, she would like access to a comprehensive curriculum in all subjects that would gather grade appropriate videos, photos, and documents, but, she adds, she would continue to watch, read and listen to anything before bringing it into her classroom.

Of course, “there are times when something crashes and it doesn’t work,” she says, but adds that she’s not solely reliant on the digital books for her lessons. “Teachers always have to have a backup plan.”

Mary Axelson is a contributing writer for eSchool News.

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