Steve Piazza knows what a school textbook will look like 10 years or so down
"It won't look like anything," said Piazza, who has given the question some thought.
Piazza, Clarke County's teacher of the year, guides students through economics and government classes at Classic City High School, but for years before that he was a library media specialist, finding videos, books, articles, photos and other digital resources to add to teachers' lessons.
Tomorrow's students will still read books, but the actual texts they read are more likely to be in cyberspace than on paper, though, according to Piazza and other educators who say digital and the so-called virtual classroom are a big part of the future, all the way up to State Schools Superintendent John Barge and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
And the texts will include video, sound, animations and other features besides static text and pictures, most freely available over the Internet, said Derrick Maxwell, the principal at Whit Davis Elementary School, where every fifth-grader now has a small computer called a netbook to work with.
"We're kind of moving in that direction as whole in education," said Piazza.
The Clarke County School District recently made a big move in that direction in the first stages of a plan to distribute thousands of netbooks to public schools across the county.
The goal is have one of the $300 netbooks per two students in each school, with an eventual goal of a netbook or other digital device for every student who can use one, according to Ryan Berens, the school district's newly hired instructional technology coordinator.
And with the netbooks, the students, guided by their teachers, will have access to a whole world of educational materials, Maxwell said.
"YouTube has a ton of educational video," he said.
Principals and teachers are using different formulas for distributing the netbooks from school to school, Berens said.
At Whit Davis Elementary School, for example, every fifth-grader has a netbook, which means fewer for children to share in fourth and lower grades. The fourth-graders will get their turn next year.
School officials plan for children to be able to take the netbooks home, much as children have always taken home school books. But administrators still haven't worked out those details, Maxwell said.
Netbooks and blackboards that can link to the Internet aren't necessarily the ultimate answer, Berens said.
"I don't think it's going to be considered a textbook in 10 years," Berens said. "It's a series of digital learning places, where you go to get the information that previously would have been in a textbook."
Technology will change in the future, but the little netbooks can be a big jump forward for the school district, Maxwell said.
One digital device can hold a thousand texts, he said.
The digital world, Maxwell believes, is changing the job of teaching.
With a staggering choice of noncopyrighted materials already available online to help teach science, math and other subjects, Piazza said teachers can more closely tailor instruction to individual students.
But teachers also are having to learn what resources are out there and how to use them, Maxwell added.
School administrators also hope netbooks using low-cost or freely available software will be less expensive than a more traditional paper-and-pencil approach.
"Our ultimate goal, I guess, is to kind of phase out paper textbooks. We will be using texts, but most will be digital texts," Berens said. "I don't think that it's possible to do it entirely, but our goal is to move as much away from it as possible."
But the main reason to go digital is not because it could save money, but because that's how today's children learn, Berens said.
"In the current model of education, we're not engaging kids in the arena where they like to be engaged. They like gaming and finding things out on their own," Berens said.
Whit Davis fifth-grader Matthew Dow is down with that.
"It's awesome," said Matthew, who was using a new netbook to study math Friday morning. "You get to learn online, and you don't have to write it down."
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