In the past, teachers have managed to educate students using only a blackboard and a few pieces of chalk. Over the last several years, however, educators have begun to integrate technology into the classrooms. At Stuyvesant, teachers use NYLearns and eChalk to assign homework, assistant principals apply for grants through the Internet to buy microscopes for research, and the number of interactive SMART Boards in schools is on the rise.
This year, Stuyvesant will be using the Amazon Kindle, an electronic reader, in its classrooms as part of a pilot project including Amazon, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), the City University of New York (CUNY), and the Department of Education (DOE). The purpose of the project is to study how replacing textbooks with electronic books affects students.
CUNY representative Burt Sacks contacted Teitel earlier in the school year to inform him that IBM had proposed that CUNY use e-readers in classrooms. Sacks asked if Stuyvesant would be willing to be a test group.
“The main goal is to see what technology we can really use in the classroom. As an extra gift, we might be able to get rid of textbooks,” Principal Stanley Teitel said.
At a meeting between Teitel and members of IBM, CUNY, and the DOE on Friday, September 24, four freshmen students, Benjamin Attal, Corey Brown, Ruihan Zhao, and Alexandra Gruzinova, were asked to look at many different e-readers, including Barnes and Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad, Google’s Entourage, and Amazon’s Kindle. The students, who were randomly selected by their social studies teachers, did not receive Kindles as part of the pilot project. “The Kindle seemed like the most obvious choice, because it was both interactive and easy to use,” Brown said. “It was the only one that looked like a real page, and it lets you take notes and highlight important information. We wanted to be able to feel like we were looking at a real textbook,” he said.
In an introductory training presentation on Thursday, February 3, 100 freshmen were presented with Kindles, which they will use solely for the spring term. Each e-reader contains textbooks from Living Environment, Global Studies, and Geometry classes. While students are not permitted to purchase additional texts for the Kindles, they are able to download free material such as historical documents, research papers, and games using the Kindle’s Internet access.
The 100 students randomly selected by Assistant Principal Technology Edward Wong are either from Dr. Daniel Pilloff’s Living Environment class, Brenda Garcia’s Global History class, or May Herrera’s Geometry class. The assistant principals of the Mathematics, Social Studies, and Biology Departments selected these classes for the project.
Assistant Principal Mathematics Maryann Ferrara said she selected Herrera, because “I needed a teacher with exactly three geometry classes, so I started from there. I thought that since this was her first year here, she wouldn’t be attached to one specific textbook and she wouldn’t mind trying a new [electronic] textbook,” Ferrara said.
“One benefit of having Kindles is that students can take out their Kindles during class and do problems from the textbook [on the Kindle]. It’s nice to have a textbook in class, because math classes don’t usually use them in class,” Herrera said. “[One] difficulty is that the textbook [on the Kindle] is different from the other textbook [used last term]. The old textbook had a variety of problems at different levels, and had many higher-level [math] problems. This textbook just has many basic problems.”
Assistant Principal Biology Elizabeth Fong picked Pilloff, because “he is very versatile with electronic handheld devices,” she said. “He is very cooperative and has a practical, in-depth knowledge about computers and electronics.”
“I’m having the students use the Kindles much more than I’ve ever had past classes use textbooks, because the textbooks were simply too heavy to ask students to bring to class everyday,” Pilloff said. He has set up a New York Times Web page for the Kindles so his students can download, read, and discuss articles. “Where the Kindle really shines is in offering improved data availability, not only because it can be carried around easily and thus read on the bus and subway, but also because it can access the Internet,” he said.
Garcia was chosen to use the Kindles in her class, because she uses many primary sources and documents in her classroom that could be downloaded with the Kindle. However, the new textbooks have caused complications for Garcia, because she usually uses the textbook, MacDougal’s Patterns of Interaction, in the classroom. However, the Kindles only contain Glencoe’s World History: Modern Times. The book, Patterns of Interaction, was available electronically, but the publisher was not willing to work with Kindle on the project.
“There is great potential for the class and it is a good idea, but I haven’t had time to gather materials and convert them,” Garcia said. “There is a wealth of documents and handouts for me to use that are available, but they have not been edited for students and thus I have few opportunities to use them.”
Students are ambivalent about the introduction of Kindles into the classroom.
Freshman Tiffany Oei, who received a Kindle this term, said, “Kindles are often a hassle to use, because it’s really hard to go through different sections, but they’re still worth it, because they’re so much easier and lighter to take to class.”
“The more advanced technology will help me form better learning habits and study techniques,” said freshman Robert Melamed, who also received a Kindle.
While Kindles are now used in over 10,000 universities, Stuyvesant High School is the first public high school in the country to test them in the classroom.
“If this is the way we’re going, I would envision that you would get a brand new [Kindle] as a freshman and you would keep the device for four years,” Teitel said. He also mentioned that using Kindles would help conserve paper. “Now, we’re going to be able to send documents to the students.”
While IBM financed the initial costs for the devices and cases, it is questionable whether this school can afford to continue replacing textbooks with e-readers. Each Kindle costs approximately $380, and each electronic textbook costs about $70. “I can’t afford to really pay a tremendous amount of money, because I still have to buy the Kindles,” Teitel said. “When I buy the textbooks, I get four or five years out of that book. I can’t afford to pay [for] eight hundred electronic books each year,” he said.
Ultimately, the main goals for the Kindle pilot project are to make classrooms environmentally friendly and to incorporate technology into the public school system. “We’re going green,” Teitel said, “and we’re making it easy for students, because if all your textbooks are carried in your Kindle, you can use them anywhere.”