Belen students to start using iPads in and out of classrooms

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Not all the students in the Belen Consolidated Schools will be hitting the books when school starts in a few weeks. Instead, some of them will hit the iPads.

After a visit to the Hatch school district, one of two districts in the state that uses electronic textbooks, Superintendent Ron Marquez said the district decided to purchase 50 iPads for a pilot e-textbook program this year.

Marquez said of the nearly 1,100 kindergarten through 12th graders in the Hatch district, about 500 have been issued Nook e-readers.

After some analysis, Marquez said going to the digital textbooks wouldn't actually be a savings to the district. Unfortunately, textbook publishers have realized how popular the digital versions are so they have upped the prices to make them basically the same as a hard copy book, co-director of curriculum and instructor, Joann Carter said.

"When we were in Hatch, I saw excited reading and using of textbooks. Students were using their cell phones with certain restrictions for classes like advanced placement English," Marquez said. "I think they were enjoying them more than the Nooks. If we can use them positively and responsibly, why not?"

Carter said Hatch offered an incentive to motivate the students to take care of their tablets. They get to keep the devices when they graduate.

The advice of Hatch Superintendent Linda Hale was if Belen was looking into electronic equipment, then dive right in, Marquez said.

"They have kids in second grade already using them. You have to have policies, guidelines and user agreements obviously," he said.

Marquez said the district in Hatch has partnered with a Barnes and Noble representative in Las Cruces. When a publisher quotes a price, the district calls the representative and he can usually beat the price by about $10 or $15 per textbook, he said.

"Most of the textbooks are PDF files but there are a few companies with interactive materials," the superintendent said.

Marquez said there have already been conversations among staff about uses for the tablets outside the classroom.

"With the amount of traveling our student athletics do, especially now with the new district alignments, we started talking about why couldn't we, in the future have an activity bus with WiFi," he said. "When students are gone, they may be able to electronically get into class while on the bus. Several teachers already do Skype, put their lesson plans and assignments online."

Marquez said the district needs to start implementing more technology in the classrooms.

"We can't be afraid of it," he said.

Carter agreed, pointing out that students aren't afraid of technology.

"They are usually the ones showing the adults what to do," she said.

The superintendent did report one problem the program in Hatch encountered.

"Apparently, one of their second-graders cracked the system and made some purchases," Marquez said. "It was nothing illegal, but he bought way more books than he should have."