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February 1, 2015

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In turnabout, teachers give students Apples, hope iPads boost test scores


Paul Takahashi

Silverado High School freshman Angelica Panes, 15, receives a new iPad 2 as her 34-year-old mother Mary Grace Gonzales watches on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. The Clark County School District launched a pilot program using an iPad application to teach algebra to students at four schools during the 2011-12 school year. There will be 1,150 students using the algebra application on the iPad, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The iPads with software cost the School District $790,050.

CCSD iPad Pilot Program

Stacks of iPad 2 tablets line the tables as students wait in the distribution lines at Silverado High School on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. Launch slideshow »

CCSD iPad Pilot Program

The Clark County School District launched a pilot program using an iPad application to teach algebra to students at four schools during the 2011-12 school year. There will be 1,150 students using the algebra application on the iPad, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The iPads with software cost the School District $790,050.

Paper textbooks might soon go the way of the slide rule and typewriter as the Clark County School District launches a $790,050 iPad program, the largest of its kind in the nation.

Instead of receiving hefty books, about 1,150 Las Vegas middle and high school students were given thin, iPad 2 tablets, each loaded with an interactive textbook application for their Algebra 1 classes.

Four schools are part of the one-year pilot program rolling out this week: Silverado High School, Silvestri and Leavitt Middle Schools and the Academy for Individualized Study — a school for non-traditional students, such as Cirque du Soleil performers.

The trial program is costing the School District $687 per iPad, which includes the Fuse Algebra 1 textbook application developed by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The application is more than just a digital textbook. It is interactive, engaging students with touch-tap lessons and video tutorials, and has note-taking capabilities, said Josef Blumenfeld, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“These are no e-books, or repurposed digital versions of textbooks,” he said. “These are reimagined, interactive books — the real benefit being we can now deliver truly personalized instruction. We’ve tried to craft something that 20 years from now will be the norm.”

The $49 Fuse application allows users to learn at their own pace, Blumenfeld said. If students miss a class, they can tap into about 400 video tutorials led by textbook author Edward Burger, a math professor at Williams College in Massachusetts.

“Videos allow for anywhere, anytime instruction,” Blumenfeld said. “For students who might have missed class or didn’t understand the lesson, you can push a button and have it explained again and again. You have a teacher available anytime, anywhere.”


In a society driven more than ever by digital technology, the iPad program is another way schools are trying to keep up with the times, said Jhone Ebert, the school district’s chief technology officer.

Click to enlarge photo

Silverado High School freshman Catherine Rodriguez, 14, receives a new iPad 2 as her 43-year-old mother Mary Young watches on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. The Clark County School District launched a pilot program using an iPad application to teach algebra to students at four schools during the 2011-12 school year. There will be 1,150 students using the algebra application on the iPad, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The iPads with software cost the School District $790,050.

“We’re focused on students and making sure they have 21st century technology,” she said. “We shouldn’t be asking them to power down when they come into the school building.”

It’s a bold move by the cash-strapped district, which came under fire last year after purchasing $1 million worth of iPads for administrators. The school district faces a $56 million budget shortfall, which it plans to plug with concessions from its four employee unions.

District officials say it’s too early to tell if the pilot program will be cost-efficient or deliver higher test scores.

Technology is just one of many factors that affect test results. A New York Times article published earlier this month, however, called into question the billions of dollars school districts are spending nationwide on technology without much proof it improves test scores or student achievement.

The Times looked at the Kyrene School District in Arizona, where classrooms boast laptops, interactive “smart-boards” and educational software. The district had invested about $33 million in technology since 2005, but test scores in reading and math remained stagnant since then, according to the article.

The Clark County School District is slowly adopting these technologies, filling classrooms with “smart-boards” and digital projectors. The district will finish installing Wi-Fi in all 356 schools by December, which will allow for mobile devices — such as iPads — to be used in classrooms.

The new technologies are being implemented using leftover funds from a 1998 construction bond. It’s all done in hopes of raising Clark County’s test scores and graduation rates, which are some of the lowest in the country.

It’s a gamble, but one district officials think they can win.

“There’s always a fear of something new,” Ebert said. “We need to get over that fear. It’s our hope that all of these students (in the iPad program) will be successful.”


This year, Clark County joins the Edison Township School District in northern New Jersey in implementing the iPad textbook program run by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Click to enlarge photo

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Josef Blumenfeld holds an iPad 2 loaded with the "Fuse" Algebra 1 interactive textbook at Silverado High School on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. The Clark County School District launched a pilot program using an iPad application to teach algebra to students at four schools during the 2011-12 school year. There will be 1,150 students using the algebra application on the iPad, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The iPads with software cost the School District $790,050.

Last year, the textbook publisher launched smaller iPad programs in California’s Fresno, Long Beach, Riverside and San Francisco school districts. The company is still crunching the data from those trials, but the preliminary results show major student improvement, Blumenfeld said.

Test scores in Riverside, Calif., jumped 30 percentage points, from 60 percent to 90 percent proficiency in math, he said. A smaller iPad program in some of Chicago’s elementary schools also resulted in improvement, Ebert said.

Clark County and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will study the effectiveness of the pilot iPad program in Las Vegas. The district hopes to have mid-year results in February and full results by July, said Eric Johnson, the district's director of K-12 mathematics and instructional technology.

While district officials acknowledge the technology is still largely unproven, they insist Clark County is not just jumping on the school-technology bandwagon without good reason.

“We’re not focused on having the latest and greatest,” Ebert said. “We’re focused on, ‘Is this a tool that will help our students achieve?’”

Indeed, Algebra 1 is one of the most-failed courses in the School District, Ebert said. All Nevada 10th graders are tested on the freshman-level math subject before they can graduate.

Only half of the students in Clark County passed the math section of the High School Proficiency Exam on their first try last year. A quarter of students won’t pass the math section by their senior year and, as a result, will fail to graduate.

This year, the district has identified about 9,000 seniors who haven’t passed the proficiency exam. They are at risk of dropping out, Ebert said.

“We can’t continue to let this happen,” she said. “Our students deserve to be successful. If it takes this technology to get them engaged, we’re going to try it.”

Johnson agreed: “If we keep saying no to technology, we’ll be left behind.”


About 500 excited Silverado students and their parents waited in long lines in the school cafeteria Tuesday night to receive their iPads. Silverado is the only high school piloting the iPad program this year, beating out 30 other schools for the distinction.

Click to enlarge photo

Stacks of iPad 2 tablets line the tables at Silverado High School on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011. The Clark County School District launched a pilot program using an iPad application to teach algebra to students at four schools during the 2011-12 school year. There will be 1,150 students using the algebra application on the iPad, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The iPads with software cost the School District $790,050.

Silverado Principal Kim Grytdahl watched as eager students fawned over their new “textbooks.” Grytdahl started his career as a math teacher 21 years ago.

“At the time, the technology we used (in math class) was a graphing calculator,” he said. “Today, these kids have the privilege to learn math in a new, innovative way...I wish I were a student again.”

Before receiving the iPads, parents and students had to sign waivers acknowledging they are on the hook should the tablets break.

Grytdahl recommended students purchase iPad cases to protect the $638 devices. (Students won’t have to pay the $49 algebra textbook license should the iPads break; the seven-year licenses are transferrable.)

Each iPad is equipped with a locator application, which uses Wi-Fi signals to pinpoint its location should they go missing.

Only the Fuse algebra application and a few key tools are loaded onto the devices. At school, students are blocked from inappropriate sites via firewalls. The App Store, where iPad users can purchase games and other applications, is locked on the device, but school officials are looking at opening the online store in the future.

Freshman Catherine Rodriguez, 14, flashed a big smile as she received her new iPad. Math isn’t her strongest subject; she hopes the new technology will help her, she said.

Passing math is a big concern for Rodriguez’s mother, who took three years to pass pre-algebra, she said.

“They’re giving students five times the tools I had growing up,” Mary Young, 43, said. “If I had these tools, I might have done better in school.”

For sophomore Adam Barba, 16, and his father, Troy, the new iPads are a promising development at school. While the Barbas were excited about the “textbook of the future,” they wondered what they were giving up for the new-fangled gadgets.

Adam’s choir class was on the chopping block earlier this year as the district contemplated budget cuts, Troy Barba, 41, said. It was saved when the state allocated additional funding to the School District.

“I’m worried this is going to take away from the arts,” he said. “I know (iPads) are the wave of the future, but without art programs and other extracurriculars, kids are missing out.”

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  1. There is a lack of money in the school district to pay for teachers yet students are given a piece of equipment more costly than a textbook to replace a textbook. What good is this lovely toy if they don't have a teacher?

  2. Another brilliant idea from a school district that has no clue how to manage money. $800,000 could go to much needed teachers who have the ability to inspire students to learn. What a waste of money!

  3. Isn't it funny, for the past how many years have we listened that there is no money for "books" in our schools..yet, in the last year alone nearly two million dollars has been found for Ipads. What is wrong here? Please...tell me. (I will bet you my last dollar, that mom and daughter have cell phones and text back and forth..and the ipad will not improve the reading skills.) Don't take me wrong, I am for the Ipad and the ability it offers, but I will hope that it has limitations...can only have applications for "school work", nothing else.

  4. This is a great idea and it is definitely the way of the future, however:
    1) Now is the not the right time to spend this kind of money for this purpose - as VegasInsider mentioned this money could have been used for a much better purpose.
    2) These will only be beneficial if they are locked down to ONLY approved applications. Otherwise, Facebook just picked up a lot more web traffic from Las Vegas during school hours.

  5. I think given the money problems we are having this is the type of thing we should be asking parents to pay for. I think it is the wave of the future to use technology to learn, but having children cost money and if you have children and you want them to use an ipad in school the you need to pay for it. The children who cannot afford an ipad would be issued one that the school retains ownership of.

  6. can i ask my boss if i can have an ipad to improve my IPO?

    i mean cmon!

  7. Chunky says:

    Sounds like a good start to a more progressive and modern approach to textbooks.

    However, at $686.95 per unit with software that is a fairly high cost. It would be interesting to know the cost of the hardware vs software.

    As for Facebook usage, the kids don't need an iPad for that plus FB isn't the social media of choice for school age kids.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  8. Could the Sun write an article detailing the Algebra test that so many students cannot pass? Give us 10 or 20 sample questions and explain the test to us so we can make an informed decision on the validity of this test.
    I hear so much about it yet I do not know if the failure rate shows the test is unreasonable or is indicative of how poorly educated our local kids are.

  9. I'd rather see $800,000 of taxpayer money go to paying for teacher salaries (so we can hire and retain talented people to inspire and effectively teach the students) and then require or encourage students to purchase iPads or other technology that will be used (and kept by the student). I have kids in school and would rather pay money directly towards technology for my own kids than to pay taxes to give iPads to someone else's kids.

    I'm all for innovating in the way our students learn, but let's make sure we remember that top-notch teachers will make a FAR greater impact on the quality of education and on the character of our young people than any piece of technology.

  10. Classic Apple marketing strategy: trick schools into marketing their overpriced, planned-obsolete products, kinda like digital candy and soda machines.

  11. Giving the kids iPads will certainly boost their "Angry Birds" scores.

  12. Another nonsense program created by some bureaucrat trying to keep his/her job. Problem is that everything in education today is 'political', and some 'program'. Always running forward but never getting anywhere. You can't blame computers or the lack of computers on abysmal graduation rates.

  13. Latest Apple promotional tagline, "Teach your kids math... yeah we have an App for that." Let's just have an Ipad application teach our kids English and Reading as well. I wonder what happens when the students have to return the IPad, and they mysteriously disappear. Let's see the School District explain that one.

  14. Are you kidding me? Is this some kind of a joke? They spent almost $800,000 to give these kids iPads with one text book loaded on to them. What happened to the way we all learned, with books, teachers writing on the chalkboard and taking notes. How many of those iPads will make it back to the school district at the end of the school year? What a waste of money.

  15. All the teachers crying and MISREPRESENTING FUNDING SHORTAGES IN CCSD--Nevada is 34th in state support to schools plus all the LSST from sales tax that does NOT go through the general fund--we are well ABOVE AVERAGE IN FUNDING K-12. CCSD teachers are SO OVERPAID compared to national averages and Nevada is a LOW COST OF LIVING AREA--housing costs are way down, utilities are moderate when you consider mild winters.... Oh yes we are LAST OR NEAR LAST IN RESULTS from these highly paid, motivated teachers. WE ARE NOT GETTING what we pay for.

  16. For a fleeing moment these students felt the love to think that their education is worthwhile, that they are actually being upgraded into the twenty first century. The simple lessons learned using Tech devises (i-pad) is not a loss to crayons; moreover, stonecutting is not as fashionable a method as it once was, this is only the tip of the Tech-iceberg our future movers and shakers will use in their adult lives.

    I find it entertaining when, as world traveler, I see older generations confronted by technology, they have this look about them, as to say- someone help me! I have failed to grow along with the rest of the world. What is just as hilarious, when the adult must turn to their offspring for help? Don't get me stated, I remember the first TV-remotes that only turned our TV set ON or OFF, imagine had our R&D-world stopped there, where would we be today.

    Kudos to CCSD for taking one small step for students and one giant leap for Nevada, may the rest of the state soon follow and help lead the way forward. America's future is inexorably our young people's heritage; give them all the available tools possible for US to succeed, don't set them up for failure out of spite.

  17. wow this is a disaster! def the money should goto the teachers... how many of these kids do u think will trade in there ipad for some caasssh?

  18. It'd make more sense if they replaced ALL the textbooks & supplemental reading books with iPads, not just Algebra. Schools spend a horrendous amount of money on text books of often dubious accurcay or currency, which could easily be replaced by electronically updated iPads. Include built-in tutorials, and the only real issue is care & accountability -- so how about a $400 refundable damage & loss deposit + $100 non-refundable user fee for each (adjusted based on family income)?

  19. Waste of money and a gimmick, more cheezy marketing from Apple to milk the taxpayers on an overprice piece of Icrap. Put the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and study.

  20. It's amazing how closed minded people commenting in this section are. This is a PILOT program but the potential with this technology is amazing. We can hire 20 more incompetent teachers with that money but the point here is to test new technologies, to move forward not do try more of the same. What you guys don't realize is that this iPad can one day have all the textbooks of a student in digital format. That means that instead of the district buying on average around 4 to 5 textbooks each costing a $100.00, all those textbooks can be loaded into ONE iPad.

  21. @advancing, true, but I want decent students to get Ipads, not ones that will destroy it or potentially "lose" them.

  22. those iPads will probably prove more effective than 20 additional teachers. The way people learn has been changed by technology. What will you say if the test scores improve?

  23. I find this to be a great idea. If the CCSD were to do this for all courses in all high schools they would save a lot of money in the long run. Physical textbooks cost a small fortune, but can be used for a long time. If we rent, or buy the textbooks for the iPad or other tablets we will be much better off.
    For instance, if we rent the eText we can upgrade all schools to the newer version in the same year.
    While I personally love using physical textbooks I would take the hit due to the amount of money we can save.

  24. CCSD should have gotten in on the HP Touchpad fire sale for $99.00 or $149.00. That would have been a real cost effective move on their end.

  25. From a cost standpoint this makes no sense whatsoever. Even if ALL textbooks were replaced and loaded onto a single iPad for each student the licensing fees would still be greater than the cost of the books from what I can tell.

    How many years can an iPad be used for? Is the lifespan of an iPad going to be greater than a book?

    The interactive nature, having a virtual teacher on-call, is the only good thing about this, but even as a pilot program I don't see where this is justified.

    The money could have bought a LOT more sorely needed books and supplies for these students.

    More than anything else, this smells the same as Apple's marketing ploy of putting an Apple II in schools for free to hook the kids as they grew up.

  26. What a way to spend my tax dollars....

  27. Chunky says:

    He thinks it's funny how some commenters are so quick to bash technology when technology is what let's them post here to begin with.

    We could all go back to sending handwritten or typed letters to the editor!

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  28. Thanks, "Advancing" and "Gunslinger".
    I also applaud CCSD for striving to prepare our Nevada students for a future that will require a much greater immersion into technology. Our students at Mountain View Christian Schools in Las Vegas have been using iPads since August of this year. Along with the academics, we're training them to become responsible technological citizens. Our nation needs innovators with character and integrity to lead the way.

  29. BrianJ

    You can see the semester exams and parallel constructed practice exams in Pre Alg, Alg I, Alg II, and Geo on the RPDP website; Look under the Math tab.

    You can also view the videos that go with each question on each of the exams. Hopefully students and parents will view these in preparation for the exams.

  30. This article generated much attention. I am very curious about the true potential of the iPad and other mobile devices in the education.

    My biggest concern is training for the device. In the effort to prepare and provide students with innovative technology, we fail to prepare teachers to support and lead the way with these devices.

    I am sure there is a plan for that.

  31. I'm torn with this. I think having the kids use technology to learn is a great idea...BUT they also need to learn things the old-fashioned way so they know how to use their brains, instead of just touching a screen. If it keeps the kids motivated, good, but more has to be done to "teach" these kids.

    PS Will there be an app for "Learning English"????

  32. Technology is a GREAT TOOL.

    But, students should be REQUIRED to demonstrate that they can do these skills or objectives without the use of technology. REASON: IF the power and communication paths are OUT, due to a local/state/national/global emergency. It is a security and safety issue and concern. There MUST be a balanced approach in utilizing technology and blending it with traditional educational means.

    We must keep moving forward with current trends and technology in order to prepare our students for a future that we really are unsure of. We must give them tools and skill sets so that they can be able to function and compete. To do less, is to fail them. It is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to learn it and stay current. They OWN their education for life. May it be one that they can be proud of!