Reporter: Sarah Bloom l Videographer: Brian Vaughan
Henry Co., VA - It's an idea that could give your kid's back and the Virginia Department of Education's budget a much-needed break. The Commonwealth is trading in some textbooks for interactive lessons on Apple iPads.
Four school divisions are taking part in this virtual textbook experiment, including some students in Henry County.
"We're learning about the five regions of Virginia," said fourth grade student, Tiffany Martin, while navigating her history lesson on the iPad.
She's working in a small team to complete a worksheet on the Coastal Plains.
"We're trying to find what is this land like," explained fellow student Gage Handy.
With the addition of 1,650 iPads to Henry County schools, answering those types of questions is truly, at the tip of students' fingers.
"If you can't find it in here, you can go to this, and zoom in and it shows you," said fourth-grader Lauryn Hodge.
Swiftly navigating through features on her iPad, she found her answer. "It says flat land near the Chesapeake Ocean in the Atlantic Bay."
The typical textbook is history for this lesson. Students have dumped the dense text, for interactive reading with supplemental videos and pictures.
"They're talking to each other about the Coastal Plains and they're talking about Jamestown and they're explaining to me what typically teachers would be teaching students," said Dr. Patricia Wright, Superintendent of Public Instruction. "That's pretty powerful!"
And in an age of get-it-now technology, state officials say reaching students means keeping up with the latest gadgets.
"We need to let the students be free to do what they know how to do but we stay on guard to make sure the content is accurate, it's valid, and it's laid out in a way that's developmentally appropriate," said Wright.
Because, these virtual textbooks aren't just lightening backpacks- students say they're making Virginia history "click."
"From a textbook you can wander off with your mind, just daydream," said Handy. "And this, you just gotta do it"
"It's real cool," agreed classmate, Grace Priddy.
Individual school systems will be responsible for Internet safety, deciding when or if students can take the devices home and how they will be used.
The state-provided iPads are mostly paid for with education and private sector funds
Henry county spent about $790,000 to purchase the additional iPads at their schools.
State officials have paid for two Henry County Classrooms to use the virtual textbooks. However, Henry County decided to purchase more iPads, extending the program to all fourth and fifth graders, plus some middle and high school students.
State Officials say they'll test the results of this pilot program, before determining whether to expand the program statewide. However, many teachers and students have said they believe in using the technology in the classroom, and that students are responding better to the interactive lessons.
State officials hope the iPads will also encourage students to continue learning on their own, as the device provides "one-stop-learning." They no longer have to find a dictionary or internet access to answer questions not answered in the immediate lesson.