A school without books

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
UNITED STATES

America's first textbook-free state school has opened its doors.

The only pages at Empire High School in Vail, Arizona, are on the Apple iBook laptop computers issued free to all 340 inaugural students.

"We're not anti-book," said Calvin Baker, superintendent of Vail Unified School District."We want students to read - it's just the textbooks we're trying to replace."

Rather than paper-based instructional material, students will use online resources, including subscription-based educational websites, digital versions of textbooks and free Internet services. Teachers instruct students in online research skills and how to distinguish reliable information from dross.

Instead of turning in an exercise book, students will email homework to a digital "drop-box" that automatically checks it against other students'

work and thousands of websites to catch plagiarism.

Teachers can beam web pages and PowerPoint presentations from their laptops on to classroom projection screens.

The computers give staff "a high degree of control, rather than having to look at the world through the portal of a six-year-old textbook," Mr Baker said.

They also promote pupil engagement, he said. "Students have an affinity with laptops. At lunchtime, 70 to 80 per cent of kids are working and playing on them. That doesn't happen with textbooks."

Mr Baker said staff at the new school, which will eventually serve 750 students, underwent intensive training and were handpicked for their commitment to the all-digital approach.

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