Algebra and the iPad

By Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

T.H.E. Journal has an article by David Nagel, “California Schools Pilot iPad Algebra Curriculum” (8 Sep. 2010), about a textbook publisher running an experimental effort using 400 iPads in four California school districts .

The publisher’s CEO trumpets that this “signals the beginning of a new era in curriculum development, where the goal is not just providing world-class content, but also delivering it in a variety of ways so that students and teachers can individualize the learning experience. We believe this pilot will provide the nation with a glimpse into the future of education.”

Maybe. Delving a bit more deeply into the article, you find that the iPad apps “provide feedback on practice questions, allow students to take notes and save them for later use, give students access to video-based lessons, and provide guided instruction. It also offers tracking tools focused on student comprehension, as well as real-time reporting tools for teachers.”

Now, I may be a tad conservative or naïve about all of this, but it appears to me that most teachers already have these things in place. I don’t see how putting it on an iPad makes such a difference. Perhaps, it frees up teachers to do other things. Maybe it allows novice teachers to do a better job. Neither suggests the rhetoric of California’s Secretary of Education, Bonnie Reiss, where she’s quoted regarding helping to “transform education” in a 21st century economy.

Aside from wondering what’s so special about January 1, 2000 (or 2001 depending on how you count centuries), I don’t see the transformation here. You could convince me that it’s a step in that direction, especially when the organization doing the stepping is a book publisher, usually quite a conservative group.

Until students poke the computer (or iPad) and cause something unique to happen, it’s still much like automating a textbook. Does feedback on practice questions seem new? That was happening hundreds of years ago. Students have been taking notes and saving them for centuries too. They’ve even been taking notes on iPhones lately. If video-based lessons are available on the Internet, students don’t have to have a new app to reach them. What about “guided instruction?” Textbooks can even do that, and teachers do it better. When teachers grade tests, they get excellent real-time reporting.

On this latter point, it really is important that when students do stuff on computers teachers have immediate access to it and to summaries of what’s been done. But that’s nothing new.

So, there’s lots of hyperbole here. The real news, in my opinion, is a commitment by textbook publishers to doing something, anything, with the brave new world of lightweight, interactive, Internet-connected technology. We all can hope that more is coming and that it will represent real change and not just the words of change.

One Response

  1. […] Więcej: Algebra and the iPad « Educational Technology and Change Journal […]

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