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How One School is Ditching Books and Embracing iPads

Tossing the textbooks: Many a student and teacher dreams about it.

Andrea Hernandez has done it.

Hernandez, a teacher at Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, Fla., is not using texts with her fourth- and fifth-grade language arts students. Starting this year, there are only apps.

“I don’t really think textbooks are necessary for language arts,” Hernandez said. “We have a classroom library, we have blogs, we have a spelling program. I’m overflowing with ways to teach vocabulary.”

A school in Florida is switching from textbooks to iPads.

On top of that, Hernandez will be able to personalize learning for her students as the school year continues.

“Kids are independently working. I’m looking at their writing and their work. Through doing that, I see where spelling is an issue, where grammar is issue, where vocabulary is an issue and I’m able to help them where they need help,” Hernandez said. “I want to see growth in all of those areas.”

With textbooks, she said, things were different.

“It’s this idea that I covered the material and that’s good enough. But if you covered the material and they didn’t learn it, is that good enough?” Hernandez asked.

Watching the students write on classroom blogs and moving beyond lectures, reading and tests helps Hernandez catch areas that need special focus.

“Learning is just not an exact science. Really nothing is, when you are dealing with individuals,” Hernandez said. “My students were all born in the same 365-day span. But that doesn’t make them the same. Some are really literate. And some wouldn’t read a book if it wasn’t imposed on them.”

How They Moved Beyond Textbooks

Ditching textbooks doesn’t happen overnight. Hernandez spent a year as the school’s technology leader, working with a team of teachers and school leaders planning the iPad one-to-one launch.

Hernandez’s favorite part of the plan involved shifting responsibility for the technology. Because she teaches at private school where parents where already buying texts each year, the iPad team was able to make a deal with parents.

“We took the plunge and asked the parents to purchase the iPads. It was a big deal, but we promised to not go over $50 in paid apps,” Hernandez said.

The long-term goal is that if these students use their iPads instead of textbooks though the eighth grade, tablets will prove more affordable than buying books over that time, Hernandez said.

Since students own the iPads, they are responsible for updating them. And they learn a degree of responsibility, Hernandez said, because they are expected to bring their tablets charged and ready to go each day.

Before the start of this school year, students shared a cart of 20 iPads throughout the entire school. Each one had to be updated, maintained and synced by the school.

“We were spending so much time trying to keep up with the updating and stuff,” Hernandez said. “The management of the iPads was really a nightmare.”

But that’s a thing of the past now that all students have iPads.

Getting Teachers to Go Along

Another big part of the plan involved teachers letting go. They have to accept that things will go wrong, Hernandez said.

“I’m very comfortable with that. That’s the key. If someone is interested in trying this in the classroom, you have to get comfortable with that. It’s going to happen,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how prepared you are. Something could come up that didn’t happen when you went through it.”

She jokes with her students that mistakes are her super power — it’s how she learns.

“That’s the big difference between the old-school teacher, when you were the expert,” Hernandez said.

If her students figure out an app or solve a problem before she can, she lets them show the class what they did. Hernandez lets them teach.

“Teaching can be letting go and letting them guide us,” she said.

Teaching for the Tablet

With the right attitude and responsibility for the iPads dealt with, Hernandez was ready to begin the school year.

She started off spending time teaching the classes each app. All of the students worked on the same assignments in the same way.

By the end of the year, that will shift. She’ll tell students what she wants them to do — tell me about a book or work with vocabulary words — and then leave it up to the students to decide how to fulfill their mission. (Will a blog post, a video, a slide show or a photo work best? Should we create a game?)

This, Hernandez said, would allow the students to think about what works for their own learning and development.

“I want them to become aware of how they learn best and then learn how to put that into action,” she said.

Want to see how the year without textbooks works out? Follow Hernandez’s blog at and her Twitter handle @edtechworkshop. Want to see her students’ blogs? They are at and


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