From online courses to kid-friendly laptops and virtual teachers, technology is spreading in America's classrooms, reducing the need for textbooks, notepads, paper and in some cases even the schools themselves.
Just ask 11-year-old Jemella Chambers.
She is one of 650 students who receive an Apple laptop each day at a state-funded school in Boston. From the second row of her classroom, she taps out math assignments on animated education software that she likens to a video game.
"It's comfortable," she said of Scholastic's FASTT Math software in which she and other students compete for high scores by completing mathematical equations. "This makes me learn better. It's like playing a game," she said.
Education experts say her school, the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Boston, offers a glimpse into the future.
It has no textbooks. Students receive laptops at the start of each day, returning them at the end. Teachers and students maintain blogs. Staff and parents chat on instant messaging software. Assignments are submitted through electronic "drop boxes" on the school's Web site.
"The dog ate my homework" is no excuse here.
The experiment at Frederick began two years ago at cost of about $2 million, but last year was the first in which all 7th and 8th grade students received laptops. Classwork is done in Google's free applications like Google Docs, or Apple's iMovie and specialized educational software like FASTT Math.
"Why would we ever buy a book when we can buy a computer? Textbooks are often obsolete before they are even printed," said Debra Socia, principal of the school in Dorchester, a tough Boston district prone to crime and poor schools.
There is, however, one concession to the past: a library stocked with novels.
"It's a powerful, powerful experience," added Socia. Average attendance climbed to 94 percent from 92 percent; discipline referrals fell 30 percent. And parents are more engaged, she said. "Any family can chat online with teacher and say 'hey, we're having this problem'."
Unlike traditional schools, Frederick's students work at vastly different levels in the same classroom. Children with special needs rub shoulders with high performers. Computers track a range of aptitude levels, allowing teachers to tailor their teaching to their students' weakest areas, Socia said.
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