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Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Tyler Kassahn, Kayla Davidson, Rebecca Huus, Morgan Parks and Alexandra Lubitz read and listen to a chapter of their electronic textbooks.

A successful experiment: PHS science department is first to use electronic textbooks

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Perham High School science teacher Shawn Stafke and his freshmen and sophomore students have been conducting an experiment with electronic textbooks.

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By all accounts, it's been a successful one.

Thanks to the school's new iPads, electronic textbooks are an option for the first time. After four months of research, Stafke and his students have determined electronic textbooks to be the way to go.

"It's not your standard textbook," Stafke said in an interview last week.

As students flip through the electronic texts, they can interact with different portions of the chapters. There are video links, for example, which "explain things a little better," freshman Morgan Parks said.

Electronic textbooks also allow students to double click on words they don't know, and will connect them to a page of definitions. They also have a function that allows students to listen to the text, instead of read it.

Freshman Tanner Neyens said he likes the fact that once the book is downloaded to his iPad, he can read it without Internet access.

So far, Stafke is one of the only teachers in the school utilizing this electronic textbook option, but he thinks more teachers will pick up on it.

Stafke downloaded a free version of a textbook from a company called CK-12. Once downloaded, he went through each chapter and edited it to fit his specific curriculum and standards. Stafke added his own documents, photos, notes and videos right into the textbook, making the document a one-stop source for his students.

However, Stafke admitted that staying ahead of the class in terms of curriculum has been a challenge. He's been preparing chapters as he needs them, spending an estimated two hours every night on that alone.

Stafke said PHS teachers learned how to utilize electronic textbooks in training last summer, but weren't given significant time to put their own books together.

"It's an immense amount of work" the first year, he said.

Despite the large time commitment for preparation, Stafke said there are a lot of plusses about having the whole book online. For the first time ever, kids can 'write' in their book as well as highlight. This wasn't an option before with paper textbooks, because one book had to last six years.

Another benefit is, "there is nothing I do in my class that kids can't access," Stafke said. He encourages students who are absent to log onto 549 Online and stay with the class instead of falling behind.

When iPads first were discussed last year, Stafke was sure it was "the latest fad." It wasn't until he began his own research that he discovered all the educational benefits to iPads. And now that he's begun implementing them in his classroom, he knows it was the right choice.

In addition to electronic references, Stafke has grown to love an app called Doceri. Doceri connects his iPad to his MacBook, which then projects the screen image onto an Apple TV.

This app allows Stafke to write on the board, stop and start videos, and flip through pages of a Powerpoint presentation from anywhere in the classroom. He can wander up and down the aisles or stand in the back, and write on the board at the same time.

Some labs are easier now, too, with the iPads' video capabilities. Students recently videotaped themselves making mechanical waves, then counted the wave frequency while watching the video in slow motion. This increased accuracy, instead of trying to count the waves as they go.

Even their science tests, now taken on the iPads, are animated this year. A recent quiz on wave frequency actually had moving examples of waves for students to identify, instead of "trying to find an image that shows the idea," like they had to do in the past, Stafke said.

The benefits of iPads to the science department have grown throughout the year, students and teachers have said, as they discover more ways to utilize different aspects of them.

And of course, as the kids quickly pointed out, an iPad is a lot lighter to carry than a big textbook.

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