Rock Hill schools say digital textbooks help students succeed

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comFebruary 7, 2014 

Belleview Elementary fourth-graders Kimora Crosby, Alyssa Rollings, Landis Beck and Koriahna Douglas work in a group with their digital textbooks.

JEFF SOCHKO — SPECIAL TO THE HERALD Buy Photo

Ask any middle school student in Rock Hill to show you a science textbook, and they’re not likely to pull out the heavy, bound book most people remember from their days in school. These new textbooks don’t bear the scribbles and scratches of students who held it before, and they don’t weigh enough to tip over an average-sized kid.

But these textbooks contain a lot more information, cater to many learning styles and offer teachers more ways to reach their students.

These textbooks are digital, and they’re fully contained on each student’s iPad.

The use of digital textbooks created by Discovery Education began in Rock Hill last spring, associate superintendent for instruction and accountability Harriet Jaworowski said. A handful of fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms started using them to see how they worked.

“Right away, we realized some significant gains,” Jaworowski said.

Rob Warren, regional director of Discovery Education, recently showed school board members that these “techbooks” can help student achievement in a short span of time.

Students in Rock Hill who used techbooks scored an average of six points higher on the science PASS test than students who didn’t use them. Students who used techbooks also were more likely to score “exemplary” than those who did not.

At Belleview Elementary, where techbooks were first implemented, 90 percent of students passed the science PASS test.

By October, the district had put the science techbooks in every fourth- and fifth-grade classroom, Jaworowski said, and as of January, every sixth- through eighth-grade classroom had them, too.

In Meredith Horton’s fourth-grade class at Belleview, students use their techbooks to study hurricanes. In small groups, students read an article, watched a video, made a presentation and played with an interactive tool that let them manufacture their own hurricane by adjusting wind, water and air.

You can draw in the “book” and not worry about ruining it, said student Omar Mayers. He likes the techbook’s games and interactive glossary, which lets students tap on a word to see the definition instantly, instead of having to look it up in the back of the book.

“Their understanding (of the subject matter) is much more concrete,” Horton said. “They’re much more engaged.”

Down the hall in Kathi Ross’s fifth-grade classroom, students use their techbooks to learn about land formations – deserts, mountains and plains.

Techbooks let her students personalize their own learning and cater to their own preferences, Ross said.

“We use it a lot in science because it lets them see it and use it instead of just reading it out of a book,” she said.

That doesn’t mean classroom experiments with actual materials have gone by the wayside, Jaworowski and Ross said. Like traditional textbooks, techbooks are just one piece of the instructional puzzle.

“It saves time, and you can actually see more,” student Leeanna Reeves said.

Unlike traditional textbooks, which have a few pages of information for each topic, techbooks are nearly unlimited in the amount of information available, Horton said.

There are plenty of other benefits of using techbooks, Jaworowski said. They update themselves, so there’s no need to replace them regularly, like traditional textbooks. They can also be translated into Spanish so parents can help their children with homework if they don’t speak English well.

Even parents who do speak English can use techbooks to better understand material to help their children, Ross said.

And the iPad is much lighter than a heavy textbook, student Kaitlyn Coye said, so her bookbag weighs a lot less.

Moving forward, the district is expanding its use of techbooks, Jaworowski said. They’ve already started using them in high school biology, in ninth-grade world geography and in sixth-grade world history.

And that could be just the beginning.

“This spring, Discovery Education has asked us to beta test their math (techbooks) in sixth- through eighth-grade and perhaps fourth and fifth,” Jaworowski said. “Our teachers will use it and give the company feedback.”

In Horton’s class, Omar is ready to use his iPad for as much as possible, and he’d welcome using more techbooks.

“I like it because it’s technology,” he said, “and technology has changed everything.”

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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