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Grace Christian transitioning to digital textbooks

Jun. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Grace Christian School has invested in broadband infrastructure during the past two years in preparation for a major transition during the upcoming school year. When students return in August, about 60 percent of those in seventh through 12th grades will be using an iPad 2 for all of their core classes.

"We live in a digital society," said the school's administrator, Pastor Dan Brokke. "They'll use technology the rest of their lives. This is where we're going and the device we are going to use."

He said the iPad 2 and the availability of digital curriculum combine to make a very attractive option for student learning. Among the highlights is that students can take notes and highlight text, which can be synced with two other computers and a mobile device, so they can continue their work in other locations.

The option was given to all parents and students in middle and high school, with 72 of 117 opting to pay an additional textbook fee of $100 for the upcoming school year.

That includes David Michael, the executive director of Huntington Area Habitat for Humanity, whose two children attend Grace Christian. He said he thinks it is the right move and hopes to see the school go only to digital textbooks.

"I think Grace Christian School has done a really good job making technological advances during the years our son has been there," Michael said. "I think this is the next logical step in the process."

Those who don't use an iPad 2 next year will still have access to the paperback book containing the same text. English teacher Jeremy Watts said he doesn't think students using the textbooks will be left behind, though there will be constant evaluation throughout the year.

"I think it's just a great opportunity," said Watts, who is spearheading the initiative. "Students are digital natives, and I think it opens up new areas of learning for them."

Grace Christian also is working to make sure this is not a failed experiment by providing additional professional development for teachers to help them understand the best ways to integrate the iPad into lessons. The school also is providing each teacher with an iPad.

Brokke said teachers already have been working to integrate technology into the classroom, particularly in the upper grades. Among the different online resources they use is www.turnitin.com, an online writing program where students upload writing assignments. The program identifies grammatical mistakes and plagiarism and keeps a portfolio.

Students also have school email addresses and they've been encouraged to bring laptops to class for school work.

"Every time you move into something new in education, there are things to work through," Brokke said. "But technology is vital. We want to teach our kids to be good digital citizens and be prepared for the digital world."

Students also seem to be excited about the new venture, though Fope Olajide said she is a little apprehensive about it.

"I'm so used to textbooks, but I'm excited as well," said Olajide, who will be a junior. "But I'm worried cause if you lose the iPad, you lose everything."

Overall, though, she agreed that it is a good move for the school and its students.

"I think it's a good step forward," she said. "Technology is advancing fast, so it's a good idea that schools are taking advantage of this."

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