Apple's iPad Joins the 6th Grade: A Novelty or the Next Big Idea?

It's the must-have tech gadget of the moment, coveted by the biggest names in Hollywood, media, politics and finance.

But this fall, the Apple iPad will find itself in smaller hands.

As educators across the country try to keep pace with technology, Apple's new tablet will be boarding the school bus and carried into to classroom -- the latest teaching tool for schools willing to foot the bill.

But even though it's touted as the next big thing by some educators, others say the high-tech iPad just might not be ready to replace old-fashioned textbooks, pens and paper.

Stephen Repsher, headmaster of the private Sacramento Country Day School in California, said that come fall, every sixth grader in his middle school will be given an iPad, at no extra cost to their parents.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of educational apps for the iPad," he said. "We found that there are so many [that] we felt there was a tremendous opportunity to bridge the gap between the traditional pen and paper and textbook and laptop."

Headmaster: iPad Is 'Another Tool in the Quiver of Tools' Teachers Use

Using capital funds, he said the school administration agreed to purchase the devices for each of the 40 rising 6th graders. (The iPads start at $499, but he said the school received a $30 discount per unit.) If all goes well, they'll roll it out to the older grades as well.

Students will use the sleek tablets to develop reports, conduct research, read e-books and study. For example, using a flash card application, they could study for tests. They could also hook up the iPad to a projector and easily share a multimedia presentation with the class, he said.

"It's just another tool in the quiver of tools that educators use to help children understand and learn and develop critical skills as they move toward college," he said.

In Racine, Wisc., St. Catherine's High School also plans to give each of its sixth and seventh graders an iPad when its new middle school opens this fall. If all goes according to plan, all students and teachers in grades 6-12 will use iPads instead of textbooks by 2012.

Does Research Support the iPad's Potential?

"We want all our teachers to realize that this is our future," said Christopher Olley, the school's president. "We have asked each teacher to come up with a way to improve their [use of] technology from now to 2012."

To cover the expense of the iPads, Olley said parents will pay a $400 technology fee instead of the $300 to $600 they would previously have spent on books. He said the school will help financially-strapped families with the costs.

But some educators say it's not worth it.

"There is no research to show that using one to one laptops – and I would then extend it to iPads – changes how teachers teach or increases student achievement," said Larry Cuban, education professor emeritus at Stanford University, adding that programs that assign one laptop to each school child have been around for more than a decade.

"There is clearly a novelty effect," he said. "If teachers tend to use them in traditional ways of instruction then it will wear off in months. If teachers use them creatively… then that novelty will wear off very slowly."

But Cuban said that the creative approach is uncommon.

He also said that while some schools may be prepared cover the upfront price of the new technology, they might not be anticipating other costs down the road.

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