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App-etite for instruction

Pilot project lets students use devices for assignments, research

Katrina Harland is an avid reader, so the opportunity to check out a Nook e-reader instead of a book from her high school library has really lightened her load.

“It’s easier than carrying around five books in your backpack,” the 16-year-old said. She also finds that she reads longer because “you don’t realize how thick the book is” using the Nook.

In two Spokane Public Schools pilot programs, Nooks are becoming available at Shadle Park and Ferris high schools, and 150 students at the district’s Libby Center are invited to bring their own handheld devices for lessons in math, science and writing.

“We know that kids are living with these devices,” said Libby Center Principal Stephanie Heinen. “We want to integrate that into learning.”

District officials think broader use of electronics in classrooms could be inevitable. The devices, such as Android tablets and Nooks, are becoming so affordable it’s conceivable that they could replace textbooks in the not-so-distant future.

The pilot programs give district officials the chance to make sure each school’s network can handle higher traffic and that the correct Internet filters are in place.

While students are learning to use the computers as tools, they’ll also receive instruction on cybersafety during the pilot projects. Teaching students to be safe online is a “major part about allowing this,” said Jane Miller, a district technology facilitator.

At Libby Center, which houses Spokane Public Schools’ programs for gifted students, two fifth/sixth-grade classrooms, one seventh-grade class and one eighth-grade class are using the handheld computers for research, some writing applications, scientific modeling, math and physics, Heinen said. Students who don’t have access to one personally can borrow one of a dozen loaner units, she said.

Heinen added, “We’re really looking at things you can’t simulate in a classroom, but you can through a computer application.”

Shadle Park librarian Chris Hanson said the Nooks have been popular.

“One of the large groups we are reaching is kids who may not have checked out books from the library but like technology, so now they are reading,” she said.

The library has 12 Nooks that can be checked out for two weeks at a time.

“I haven’t lost one yet,” Hanson said. She is also teaching students how to load books onto their own devices.

The goal is to expand e-readers to all high school libraries soon, Miller said.

“It’s fun to learn these things, to be involved in new technology,” Hanson said. “If you want to relate to young people, you have to do it with technology.”

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