Wednesday, February 15, 2012

WSJ Wednesdays

The topic of textbooks has been on my mind lately, so when I saw this February 8th article in The Wall Street Journal, I knew what I would be blogging about. Katherine Boehret discusses her testing of Apple's iBooks2, a "redesigned iPad app that enhances educational textbooks." Right now they are focused on high school students, and, according to the article, cost no more than $15 each.

These enhancements include interactive materials such as: "multiple-choice questions that can be answered with taps on the screen; embedded videos; dynamic diagrams that change with touch gestures; and flash cards for studying important terms in a book."

While Boehret found a few bugs, overall the article was positive about this product. She also mentions that Apple revamped its free iTunes U app, which is now available for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. According to the article, content is free except for "in-app materials including things like textbooks or apps." Her review ends on a high positive, with her stating, "If anyone can move textbooks into a new realm with interactive, smart gestures, it's Apple." She does, however, realize the bugs need to be worked out before iBooks can fully replace physical textbooks.

Why is this topic on my mind? The Lil Diva's (10) backpack. She is in fifth grade this year and has a ton of material to lug around. On most days her backpack includes: two 5-subject notebooks, an accordion folder filled with various papers, her agenda with attached--and very full--pencil bag, her recorder, her reading glasses (in their case), at least one chapter reader, and a bagged snack. Her lunch bag doesn't even fit. I haven't weighed it yet, but I think it's probably 10 or more pounds. This doesn't even count when she has to bring a textbook home.

Part of the issue is that she doesn't have a desk this year. Her homeroom teacher believes tables make for a neater classroom, so in addition to the fact that her school has no lockers, there is also no space in her classroom to store materials. Even if she had a desk, however, I'm not sure how much it would help because most of what she brings home would need to be transported back and forth anyway. But I guess even one pound will make a difference when you're lugging your backpack to the bus stop every morning and then home again.

What we really need to do is figure out a way kids can carry less around with them. We stress the importance of healthy habits to our kids, but force them to heave a loaded bag over their shoulders at least twice a day. We alter our school lunch menus to address the increasing rate of obesity, but what consideration is given to the long-term effects of improper posture? We talk about Going Green when the majority of assignments come home on worksheets--photocopies or originals.

The cost of an iPad is a true stumbling block for school districts and parents, but can't that be weighed by the savings in textbooks, workbooks, and paper supplies? Should school districts across the country have a representative working with companies such as Apple to create viable digital alternatives to textbooks and workbooks (maybe some do)? I know there has been a push in some of the schools in our district to reduce the number of photocopies produced. What else can be done to move schools in America toward virtually paperless learning environments?


Kate Dolan said...

I've long looked forward to the day when ebooks replace printed textbooks. I first thought it could save a ton of money for college students who buy their books, but of course it would be terrific for younger students, too. I hate to see my kids leave the house with so much weight on their backs (8th and 10th grade). In the high school, no one uses lockers (the school has them but they're small and uncool so the school doesn't even bother to assign them) So the kids carry around every thing all day. Ebooks could make that much easier and the enhancements could make some subjects much more appealing.

Rebecca Camarena said...

You bring up some excellent points, especially, as I watch my own daughter, age 11, bring home as many as 4 textbooks a night. We have weighed her pack and its about 15 pounds when loaded. The issue of textbooks is still relevant when it is a world controlled by old time publishers. They make lots of money on books and from the school district. Just even to alter the material that is in the books takes years and committees for approval. I think it will be generations before we see electronic readers substituting for paper books in the classroom. The technology is there, but the culture for e-readers has not yet made it to the schools. If you also look at corporate America, the need to upgrade computers came when it was affordable and businesses would be releases behind on operating systems, but the technology is being pushed out too fast. What is valid for today is obsolete six months from now. Schools just can't keep up with the pace. What schools should do is issue two books to each student, one for school use and one for home, thus eliminating the need to carry books. That's the easiest solution for all. sorry, I've written a book.

Mayra Calvani said...

Thanks for the informative post, Cheryl. This new app sounds quite exciting for students!

Farrah Kennedy said...

This year my elementary kids (Kindergarten & 4th grade) each have i-pod touches in class for in class research and tutorial apps. (I did have to sign a waiver that should they bring them home, I would be financially responsible should anything happen to it.) The school is now in the works to get each child an i-pad for to help replace some textbooks/workbooks. (not sure if those babies would make it home but still great for them to have...) Each classroom is also now set up with smart boards which the kids all love using during class. Apparently with the new school building after being at a trailer site for the past couple of years they were also granted with loads of great technology. I'm so glad schools are recognizing the need to bring advanced technology to kids at a younger age since our technology advances daily.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for all the comments. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Farrah, I think it's great your school district embraces this technology, especially at such a young age.