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School Swaps Math Textbooks For iPads 439

Posted by samzenpus
from the there-goes-the-tech-budget dept.
MexiCali59 writes "Four of California's largest school districts will be trying something new on eighth-grade algebra students this year: giving them iPads instead of textbooks. The devices come pre-loaded with a digital version of the text, allowing students to view teaching videos, receive homework assistance and input assignment all without picking up a pen or paper. If the students with iPads turn out to do improve at a faster pace than their peers as expected, the program could soon spread throughout the Golden State."
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School Swaps Math Textbooks For iPads

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  • Re:Expensive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kevinNCSU (1531307) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:03PM (#33513568)
    Between the cost of a textbook and the rate at which they become 'obsolete' for the state testing I'd imagine with an educational discount from Apple (no need to make the state pay taxes to itself and can prolly write off some of it as a donation) they probably aren't whole lot more expensive than your regular schoolbook in the long run. Course I'd be interested in knowing what the policy is for broken iPads. Do the kid's parents have to shell out the money for a new iPad? you would for a replacement book.
  • Re:Expensive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by diskofish (1037768) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:07PM (#33513612)
    Same as here in NY. School districts are bitching about the state withholding funds. In reality, they waste money on unnecessary crap like in TFA. To make the bitching even more egregious, most districts have plenty of money saved in "rainy day" type funds to cover budgets shortfalls.
  • First Line (Score:4, Interesting)

    by VTI9600 (1143169) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:12PM (#33513698)

    The first line FTFA was what got me:

    A pilot project in four California school districts will replace 400 students' eighth-grade algebra textbooks with Apple iPads in an attempt to prove the advantages of interactive digital technologies over traditional teaching methods.

    Didn't we prove that computers have educational value back in the 80's? Then, wasn't it proved a hundred more times throughout the 90's? I guess sometimes you can never have quite enough proof.

  • Re:Expensive (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cgenman (325138) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:12PM (#33513702) Homepage

    400 students for a pilot program? That doesn't sound like too much money to prove (or more likely squelch) the theory that more computers = smarter students.

    Also, I'd guess these are being provided either free or at-cost by Apple, with partner Hughton Mifflin bearing the brunt of other costs. By the wording of the article, they seem to be the ones having commissioned the study, not the other way around.

    As a side note, why is it always that "something is going bad here, so we shouldn't do anything about anything else until that is fixed." I've heard that people are starving, so why send people into space. We're at war with Russia, why do we need a civilian network. This isn't an A or B choice. When the state is broke, you have to find ways to make basic research continue to happen. Maybe the study will prove that, as I suspect, throwing money at technology is less effective than throwing money at smaller class sizes. Maybe it will show that the extra expense is worth it, especially as it can be amortized over several classes. Students cost thousands of dollars per year anyway. Or maybe there will be a little bump, and California will jump in with India's $100 tablet effort.

    Or maybe we need a giant K-12 edu-wiki, which can be drawn from by all teachers and students across the state, and across the country. Oh right, somebody stubbed a toe, so we should just go home until they feel better.

  • by FunPika (1551249) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:26PM (#33513918) Journal
    I agree with that...my teachers offer online versions of our textbooks as an alternative for doing homework for people who don't want to carry their books home...but I HATE using the online versions. It feels so much harder to get to the page I'm looking for (especially if it comes to an assignment where you will want to frequently swap between the actual section your studying and things like the glossary/index at the back of the book). Of course assuming the IPad books are stored on the IPad itself and not just being downloaded everytime it is used...it might not be as bad. Sometimes the online textbook sites were also being slow as heck to load pages for me.
  • Re:Expensive (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BobMcD (601576) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:37PM (#33514028)

    Years and years of experience with consumer electronics.

    Or is the iPad made of magical pixie dust and will therefore not be subject to industry norms? I can see Jobs now, "Profit be damned! There will be only one iPad, and no one will ever want to upgrade it, EVER!"

    Yeah, no.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @04:40PM (#33514070)

    Much as I dislike them, why not a Kindle loaded with text books. That would be much much less than iPads and less likely to be used for other purposes (like watching YouTube during class).

    1. Color is extensively used in modern textbooks.
    2. Textbooks are incorporating more software and multimedia.

    I had the opportunity to work with a textbook publisher regarding the software bundled with a chemistry textbook. This software included chemical diagramming (2D - for reports and such) and 3D model building and visualization. We also had a few movies illustrating some basic principles. All of this could easily be done on an iPad and be bundled with the textbook. Not so for today's Kindle. I hope future Kindle's offer color and touch to make such things feasible.

  • by Sonny Yatsen (603655) * on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @05:01PM (#33514364) Journal

    to be fair, it does let you use your finger.....

    you can write with it, erase with it, etc all just like a pen.

    It just doesn't feel natural to me. Rather than feeling like writing with a pen, it feels like I'm writing with finger paints.

  • by DrNico (691592) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @05:02PM (#33514374)
    Why on earth would they be expected to "improve at a faster pace than their peers"? Does reading off a screen somehow enter and remain in your brain better than a printed page? The only 'advantage' over the printed page in the project would appear that they get to watch videos on the iPads. But passively watching a video is unlikely to improve outcomes.
    I predict they'll actually do worse than the other students. The iPad is an environment full of distractions and passive consumption of media. The students will spend most of their time mucking about with apps like the rest of us.
  • Re:Expensive (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @07:30PM (#33515604)

    It sometimes gets even crazier. In a Government contract we once came in under budget. Our company actually returned money to the Government at the end of the year. Hooooo boy was that a bad move. The director of the program on the Government side got crap for not having properly allocated his money, the Government manager got crap for having planned incorrectly, my group got crap from my company for leaving money on the table we could have turned into profit, and the business development guy got crap for having over-sold the contract. No one's going to make that mistake again. We get allocated money we find a way to spend it.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @08:21PM (#33515938) Homepage

    This is a pilot program, Houghton Mifflin and/or Apple are probably subsidizing it.

    This may be partly a reaction to California's Free Digital Textbook Initiative [bbc.co.uk]. I went to a symposium about the FDTI last summer (more about that symposium here [theassayer.org]. The people interested enough to come were an odd-bedfellows mixture of free-information enthusiasts, commercial textbook companies, and computer hardware companies. The ones with a really, really strong pecuniary motive for participating are the hardware companies. This is a gigantic potential gold mine for them. From the point of view of the book publishers, it was clear that they were about as enthusiastic about it as they would be about a skunk at a bridal shower, and the only reason they were there was to gauge how horrible the threat was.

    This pilot program would then represent the perfect confluence of interests between the publishers and the hardware companies. Once you get rid of the pesky idea of having the textbooks become free, it becomes a wonderful potential gravy train for all of them.

    A pilot program is designed to measure the effectiveness of the device and the costs. It is plausible that a reusable digital device loaded with numerous textbooks could be less expensive than the corresponding set of paper textbooks. Also keep in mind that today's $500 iPad will probably be around $250 in a couple of years. and those are retail prices not educational institution prices.

    Not so sure about this. My kid just started high school, and she had IIRC 30 lb of books. Since she sometimes walks to and from school, we bought her her own copies of some of her books to keep at home. They were actually surprisingly inexpensive, especially compared to the exploitative cost of college-level textbooks.

    But computer companies have a long-established practice of being willing to lose money in order to get impressionable K-12 kids used to their hardware and software, on the theory that the kids will then be loyal customers after they grow up. Apple has done this using educational discounts on their hardware. MS did it in their early history by winking at piracy. Amazon has of course been losing money hand over fist on the Kindle in order to build market share.

  • Re:Expensive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tftp (111690) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @08:56PM (#33516166) Homepage

    I believe the GP was saying that nobody should be forced to study things that go against the grain of his nature. That rarely helps.

    Why should mechanics read Shakespeare? Because communication is important

    I don't know what Shakespeare or other classics you were reading, but art of clear communication is not exactly the primary goal of fiction literature. Quite opposite, a lot of writing depends on things that are not said, on things that the reader completes in his head and acts out internally, as if he were one of the actors in that scene. Fiction books are written not to educate (that would be textbooks) - fiction is written first & foremost to entertain. Very few authors want write clearly (like Mark Twain; and compare to his well known critique of Cooper.)

    And here comes another problem - the age of the reader. Shakespeare wrote his plays for adult audiences. Leo Tolstoy wrote his "War and Peace" for an adult, even bilingual audience. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote his "Crime and Punishment" for an [initially] sane, adult reader. I'm sure you can add tons of books like that that are part of school courses in various countries. Invariably these books are far more complex than what a 12- or 14-year old student is ready for. This causes boredom and other problems.

    When I was in school (which was quite a while ago) I hated literature classes the most. Not "language" classes as such - those were easy; but classes that asked you to read a book and then answer questions that are not answered in the book. For example let's take that "War and Peace." A general walks the field before the battle. Then he comes close to a tree and stands still for 10-15 minutes. Question: what did he think about during this time? I don't recall what was the officially blessed answer to that, but my answer would have been simply "Insufficient data." You can answer this question (probably incorrectly anyway) only by trying to relive these hours *as* the protagonist. But a school student can't relive a life of a 40-year old man who was a filthy rich, married aristocrat, with friends and enemies in high places.

    Are there books that are more suitable for children? Most certainly so. Just to name a big name, Andre Norton has quite a few books written specifically for children, and even more in the genre of fiction. Children can associate themselves with protagonists of those books. Good and evil are easy to see, and often the hero is a young boy (or a girl, in Norton's case.) But those books are not studied. Instead, some heavyweight adult fiction that can easily hurt an adult's head is selected. (Dostoevsky is a great example in this department.)

    So you were saying something about communication? There is precious little of that in those books. Implied inferences rule. "Martin's hand accidentally touched Kate's, and both felt a spark of electricity." I say, get proper antistatic gear before you put your hands where they don't belong :-) This is not the stuff that a school student should be personally familiar with, and that's just a fictitious example. In real books (like "Anna Karenina") the action unfolds about the marital conflict in a family of an aristocrat. Yes, that's the stuff a 14-year old pimple-faced boy knows all about, especially the part where the man *doesn't want* the woman.

  • Re:Expensive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Americano (920576) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @09:52PM (#33516558)

    So you were saying something about communication? There is precious little of that in those books. Implied inferences rule.

    You realize that "implied inferences" and "understanding body language" and "nonverbal communication" are a major part of how we communicate, as human beings, right? So tell me again why learning empathy, understanding how to infer things, picking up on and interpreting nonverbal cues, and so on aren't skills that can be taught in books where "Implied inferences rule"?

    The post I was responding to wasn't saying "Don't read Shakespeare, read Andre Norton." The post I was responding to was saying, "Don't read Shakespeare, learn how to be a better mechanic" -- in other words, we should skip things that are "non-essential" to the trade we've decided a kid has the most aptitude for, and simply focus on making them the best cog we possibly can.

    My basic response to that is: By studying Shakespeare (or, for sake of the overly literal-minded, WHICHEVER author you feel is appropriate literature for a high schooler), one becomes a better person, and by as an incidental benefit, a better mechanic. Though for what it's worth, I think you vastly underestimate the mental capacity of high schoolers by claiming that they need "easy to see" depictions of good and evil, and heroes they can easily identify with, and that they can't handle the challenge of stepping outside their own experiences to imagine what someone else's life might be like. Sure, they may still need guidance, but a 15, 16, 17, 18 year old high schooler is capable of handling "difficult" topics, even if they have no direct experience of those topics.

    But a school student can't relive a life of a 40-year old man who was a filthy rich, married aristocrat, with friends and enemies in high places.

    It's called imagination, or empathy. You may not get it right, but you'd be surprised at how much a student *can* get right. Shit, 5 year olds play cops and robbers all the time, and invent all kinds of imaginary games and scenarios. It's what they do. Should we stifle that because they might not "get it right"? It's part of the learning process to project, and if you go off-course, the teacher should be there to help guide you back on track, and discuss with you where you went off course, and how. As I said, I think you're underestimating the imaginative ability of young people.

  • by CrankinOut (629561) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:18PM (#33517050)

    Private schools are not necessarily rich, but it is true that there's an economic selection going on. The $20,100 per student comes from some parent paying that out of after-tax dollars, and some of those tax dollars went to public education and therefore not expended by the public education on their child. In essence, the parents are selecting a higher expenditure on their child's education. The benefits of private education can be (1) more highly qualified, experienced, and motivated teachers, (2) students for whom their parents and teachers have higher expectations and involvement in their performance, (3) smaller class sizes and less distractions, and (4) more resources for education. If a student doesn't want an education, they are dismissed from private school, and their slot taken by someone on the waiting list who ( and whose parents) does want that education.

    In public schools, non-performers become disciplinary problems which take away from teaching and learning, but the public school has to retain them and deal with them.

    I was fortunate to go to a great public school system, and my school district had tracks for students with different abilities-- the more academically inclined got the teachers who were more academic, and the less academically inclined got the more discipline-oriented teachers and more supportive educational process. Sadly, in an effort to provide "equal education to all students," many school systems believe that stratification by ability is discriminatory and therefore have eliminated tracking. As a result, the brighter students are slowed down, and the slower students are frustrated or embarrassed, in stead of enabling challenge for the academic, and support for the lesser academic.

    Equal opportunity and identical treatment are not the same thing, and fails to recognize the different needs of individuals. The equal opportunity is to provide stratified educational tracts that challenge and don't frustrate every student.

  • Re:Expensive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by copponex (13876) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:39PM (#33517158) Homepage

    Its been shown time and time again that people will donate when they believe they are actually making a difference, and private groups would be able to use decision making to give support to people who actually need it unlike the government.

    Pure horseshit. Call my bluff and link to a peer reviewed study.

    There's a reason roads aren't private, and power is regulated, and water is a public utility. That reason is because you cannot trust a corporation with needs, unless those needs can be plentifully produced and naturally lend themselves to real competition. That means MP3 players and apples need very little regulation, because it's pretty easy to tell what these things are, what they are made of, and what purpose they serve.

    Hell, when the founding fathers were talking about what the government should run, the latest technology at that time - the post and road systems - was something they all wanted folded into the government. The reason is because under government supervision it could be properly accounted for and equitably distributed across America, and not subject to the whims of aristocracy or price gouging by private entities. That cheap, reliable, price-regulated infrastructure is the bedrock of all modern economies. The intelligence and capability of the workforce is a vital part of that infrastructure, and shouldn't be left to chance by some entity who is only concerned with that quarter's profit return instead of the well being of American society for the long haul.

    You want a place where money rules and weak government is powerless to regulate commerce? Pick just about any place in Africa and see how you like the income distribution there. You'll quickly learn that it's pretty tough to have a middle class when the majority of your population can't read or write. But hey, the market said they should just dig in the dirt and have all of their natural resources sold out from under them and funneled into the hands of the tiniest sliver of their upper class. And if the market did it, it's got to be right.

    Right?

    Government programs benefit those who game the system rather than people who actually might need it. Private programs can deny people which makes it a whole lot easier to give help to those who need it.

    Your ideas on economics are fatally childish and unrealistic, unless you have no problem with old women dying in hospital parking lots for lack of kidney dialysis, or a vast population of uneducated and unskilled workers roaming the slums, or kids selling their bodies for their daily bread if they happen to be unlucky enough to be an orphan. Those are all realities right now across the undeveloped world. And true, some of it is due to government corruption, but that just shows you how important a strong and legitimate government is to the well-being of a society.

    If all of this libertarian horseshit were true, than the weak states across the world would be drowning in money and happiness. They are not.

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