Denver Freshmen Trade in Textbooks for Tablets

In an effort to transition away from heavy paper textbooks, which quickly become outdated, Denver’s South High School has issued each of its 500 incoming freshmen a Kindle Fire tablet.

“I know when kids walk out of our doors and graduate and get ready for college, they’re not going to have textbooks,” the school’s principal, Kristin Waters, told KMGH-TV. “It will be online, it will be digital. If we’re not preparing them for that we’re doing them a disservice.”

The tablets will come loaded with software needed for the students to succeed.  Specific websites, including social media, will be blocked from use on the devices while on school grounds.  Once at home however, monitoring usage is up to parents.

The idea was first brought up by South’s Technology Coordinator Josh Henn, who believes the devices will help students better prepare for college.

“They’re going to get a differentiated education, because these devices in tandem with the online classroom format will allow for a much more individualized lesson,” said Henn.

The high school bought 600 devices at a cost of $100 each, using its previously existing technology and textbook funds.

While there is no upfront cost for the devices, if they are damaged, a $115 fee will be assessed.  Parents must sign an agreement prior to the school issuing the devices.  Stolen devices will not incur a charge.

According to Henn, replacing the tablet will be much cheaper than a full backpack of books, which could cost as much as $500.

Similar offerings are showing up across the country.

In Virginia, Arlington Public Schools is following suit by offering each of its incoming freshmen at three high schools a MacBook Air as part of a pilot program hoping to issue a laptop to every student by 2017.

District officials are hoping to use the laptops to reduce the achievement gap by giving students access to information at all times.

The district spent $1.2 million on the laptops using funds already available in their budget for computer replacement.

In Nashville, officials are taking a different approach to the idea.  Students will not be receiving a piece of technology to take home, but they won’t be lugging around heavy textbooks either, at least for history class.

The Nashville public school system will spend $1.1 million this year on digital media for history classes, and will continue to add in coming years.  Teachers will use the media for classroom instruction instead of relying on textbooks.

“The textbook should not be the primary resource for teachers,” said Jay Steele, the chief academic officer for public schools in Nashville. “It is a resource only, and it’s one of many resources.”

Instead, teachers are asking students to take notes on laptops, save documents to Google Drive, and take part in small group discussions.  One teacher even created podcasts for his students to review lessons using his iPhone.

Professional development is still a major part of the shift to new technology.  Detailed plans are needed before a school can make a major purchase like this, and teachers should be refreshed on using primary source documents.

“The devil is in the details on exactly what they are going to spend their money on,” said Fritz Fischer, a professor of history and director of history education at the University of Northern Colorado. “If all they will do is spend money on technological gadgets or some prepackaged material that a publishing company has come up with, that’s not right.”