Textbooks give way to digital curriculum
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
July 12, 2005
The march from textbooks to computerized content began to look a
little more inevitable this week as educators in Arizona and
Tennessee edged closer to the all-digital curriculum.
In Tennessee, a private partnership formed by educators, a web
designer, a lawmaker, and a history buff launched a web site to help
schools fill the gap in state history instruction left a few years
ago when Nashville ended mandatory state history courses for middle
Out West, the transition was moving even more swiftly. The Vail,
Ariz., School District announced its Vail High School in Tucson will
become the state's first all-wireless, all-laptop public school this
fall. The 350 students at the school will not have traditional
textbooks. Instead, they will use electronic and online articles as
part of more traditional teacher lesson plans.
Vail School District's decision to go with an all-electronic school
is rare. Often, cost, insecurity, ignorance, and institutional
constraints prevent schools from making the leap away from paper,
some software experts say.
"The efforts are very sporadic," said Mark Schneiderman, director of
education policy for the Software and Information Industry
Association. "A minority of communities are doing a good or very good
job, but a large number are just not there on a number of levels."
Calvin Baker, superintendent of Vail School District, said the move
to electronic materials gets teachers away from the habit of simply
marching through a textbook each year.
He noted that the AIMS (Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards)
test now makes the state standards the curriculum, not textbooks.
Arizona students will soon need to pass AIMS to graduate from high
But the move to laptops is not cheap. The laptops cost $850 each, and
the district will hand them to 350 students for the entire year. The
fast-growing district expects to have 750 students at the high school
A set of textbooks runs about $500 to $600, Baker said.
It's not clear just yet how the transition to laptops will work, he
"I'm sure there are going to be some adjustments. But we visited
other schools using laptops. And at the schools with laptops,
students were just more engaged than at non-laptop schools," he said.
Meanwhile, in Tennessee, history teachers were feeling the effects of
supply and demand. When demand for Tennessee history texts plummeted
after the state stopped requiring mandatory instruction for middle
schoolers, the supply of appropriate texts evaporated, too.
Nashville still requires bits of Tennessee history be taught to
students at all grade levels, but many teachers were lacking the
materials they need to fulfill that requirement.
"The fact is that because we don't teach it in a standard class,
textbook companies aren't producing a Tennessee textbook," said
Brenda Ables, social studies coordinator for the state education
Writer Bill Carey learned of the lack of resources and got an idea
for what might benefit the state's teachers and students--a Tennessee
history web site.
In November 2004, Carey joined forces with web designer Tim Moses and
state Rep. Rob Briley, D-Nashville, to lay the groundwork for the
Tennessee History for Kids web site. Carey began gathering
information for the site, Moses created a basic design, and Briley
promoted the site to state lawmakers.
Carey said despite what requirements are in place to ensure kids
learn their state history, most high school graduates lack even a
basic understanding of the world around them.
"I met a high school graduate at a career fair from Grundy County,
and I asked him what he knew about the Highlander School," he said.
"This was a smart kid ... but he didn't know a thing about it."
According to Tennessee History for Kids, the Highlander Folk School
was a center in Grundy County in the mid 20th-century that trained
civil-rights leaders, including Rosa Parks, and promoted labor unions
and racial equality.
Al Frascella, a spokesman for the Silver Spring, Md.-based National
Council for the Social Studies, said that ever since No Child Left
Behind was implemented, social studies has become the "stepchild of
"To do what's needed to make sure students are at par for reading and
math, there's no time for history," he said. "They've boiled all
social studies down."
Many school officials point to curriculum that uses reading
selections that incorporate history as a way to teach the subject,
but Frascella said that's mostly baloney.
"You can read about history, you can read about geography, you can
read about government, but unless the teacher knows about the
discipline, it's not really getting taught," he said.
Craig Taylor, a Cookeville, Tenn., history teacher, said part of the
problem is each grade level is required to teach a very specific
period of history, such as the time between the Revolutionary War and
the Civil War--making it hard for teachers to find proper teaching
No problem, Carey said. His web site is broken down by grade level,
with each level providing the information to meet state requirements.
The site also includes separate sections for teachers and parents.
Students also can choose to read about people such as Andrew Jackson
and places such as the Shiloh battlefield.
Carey hopes to make the site even more interactive with sound clips
such as music by B.B. King and a Tennessee trivia game. But that will
depend on funding.
Tennessee History for Kids is operating on a $100,000 budget this
year--about $50,000 is coming from state funding and the rest from
"No one thought we could do this for a million [dollars]," Carey
said. "We have some fundraising to do."
Taylor said the extra features will be worth it.
"The worst thing about history is teaching kids about dead men and
dates," he said. "Kids want something flashy."
Vail School District
Tennessee History for Kids