Education Lab

No textbook case: 2 Fresno schools get iPads

Eighth-grade Algebra 1 -- there's an app for that.

A new algebra iPad app will be tested in Fresno Unified and three other California school districts this school year to see whether students learn better with electronic equivalents of traditional textbooks.

Fresno Unified school trustees on Wednesday approved the agreement that will place iPads into the hands of 100 students at Kings Canyon and Sequoia middle schools. They will join 300 students in Long Beach, Riverside and San Francisco school districts who will also trade textbooks for iPads.

"This is going to sound fairly cool, because it is," said Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson.

Hanson said the new program provides an opportunity for California schools to take the lead in digital textbook innovation.

Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the education publishing company that created the program, is working with Apple -- the iPad's manufacturer -- and is subsidizing the pilot program. The students will get iPads in the next few days and will be allowed to take the portable computers home.

John Sipe, vice president of K-12 sales for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said the iPad app essentially replaces the 800-page algebra book that students would normally use.

The program is designed so students can use it for homework, note-taking, quizzes and possibly testing. The app includes tutorial videos that can help students at home and automatically lets teachers know how students are progressing. But Sipe said just how much students will use the new technology will be up to each individual district, and some districts may opt to continue using textbooks to supplement digital lessons.

Students will be allowed to use the iPads for other uses, such as surfing the Web.

Company officials believe the algebra app will lead to improved test scores and increased student interest, Sipe said.

Fresno was selected partly based on the recommendation of education officials in Sacramento because of its involvement in the state's Race to the Top application for federal education funds, Sipe said. California did not win the funds, but the state application demonstrated a willingness to use digital textbooks.

Sipe was in Southern California on Wednesday afternoon, where the company unveiled the new program with school officials from Long Beach and Riverside. He will be in Fresno today at Kings Canyon Middle School to officially launch the pilot program with Fresno Unified.

The iPad app is the first time that a complete course of study is being delivered on a mobile device, Sipe said.

At the conclusion of the yearlong pilot, Empirical Education, a Silicon Valley research company, will evaluate student academic performance and produce a report comparing the 400 iPad app students to 600 other eighth-graders in California who relied solely on textbooks.

The 100 Fresno Unified students who will participate were randomly chosen by Empirical and will be clustered in classrooms.

It's probably no coincidence the two Fresno schools are in low-income neighborhoods, said Kurt Madden, chief technology officer for Fresno Unified. "They wanted to go where it is going to be tough," where students might need the most academic assistance, Madden said.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon also have math teachers who are comfortable with technology, he said.

Fresno Unified already uses "netbooks," or miniature laptops, in the classroom. The iPad, however, is a step up, "like a textbook that comes alive," Madden said.

Students will be required to sign a pledge with Fresno Unified promising to take responsibility for the computers, which Madden said are valued at $500 to $700. He couldn't provide details on what would happen if the iPads were destroyed or lost, saying the district will have a plan to deal with it.

After the pilot program ends, Fresno Unified will get to keep about 30 of the iPads, Madden said.

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