My small district is looking to purchase e-readers for all of our 4th grade students. Our new text is available through PDFs and we want to test out going digital. So exciting!
Does anyone have suggestions for an e-reader? We are looking at the obvious Kindle and Nook, but are open to any other good ones out there. The reader must have the ability to download PDF files, web browsing is a plus but not a must, and our budget is around $200 a piece.
I appreciate any ideas or feedback!
The reason I ask is because if you are aiming to read PDFs, you can view those on pretty much anything -- such as a netbook. True, these cost a little more -- we purchased 30 Acer Aspire One netbooks for my elementary school computer classes, at around $250 each.
But the difference in capability is huge... you get to use it as an e-reader... in addition to Microsoft Office, web browsing, games (online/Flash-based, over network, or traditional installed ones) or even advanced applications like Google Earth and Google SketchUp (3D CAD design)
Because it allows room for growth and we could do all of the above for only $50-$100 more than an e-Reader (and for much less than the cost of an iPad or full-sized laptop), we went with these machines and haven't been let down. We use them for everything I mentioned (grades K-6) as well as Rosetta Stone and Typing Master Online (touch-type keyboarding instruction)
For what it's worth, I attended a conference session conducted by the New Tech Network ( www.newtechnetwork.org ), a foundation that consults with districts around the country to build "New Tech" schools such as New Tech High here in Napa, California. They said that things like remote clickers, e-readers, iPods/iPads, and interactive whiteboards (like SMART boards) may seem nice, but the absolute most important thing schools need to do is get a computer in front of each kid ... those other things are just "extras" or icing on the cake, and should not be a high priority.
If you had the funding, I would also recommend asking for a set of Nintendo DSi devices. These could function not only as gaming devices, but also as Internet-enabled communication and collaboration tools. For more ideas on how to use these in the classroom, read my recent blog post: http://itcboisestate.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/nintendods_classroom/
I would NOT recommend a Windows-based netbook. These devices seem relatively inexpensive, but lack the touch-screen functionality and durability of an Apple device. I would argue for the long-term sustainability and features available on the iPad, to support the extra initial expense in purchasing these devices. If your student already have to purchase books, for instance, you might consider suggesting your school subsidize the purchase of personal technology devices and let each student actually own their devices. Although the Nook and other eReader devices provide convenient ways to download and view books, that is basically all that they do. Go for something that will provide more than eReader functionality and let the students experiment with the devices. They will teach you even more ways of using them.
However, to make completely unsupported (or downright false) claims, to me that is not acceptable from a person of authority in an EDTECH academic role:
1) "Windows-based netbook lacks the durability of an Apple device." Would you care to quote an unbiased source or factual study to show this? If you look at Consumer Reports, several Windows-based brands of portable computers actually rank above Apple in terms of reliability. According to Consumer Reports, Apple reliability actually ranks LOWER than both Toshiba and Acer (17% rate of repairs or serious problems for Apple; 15% rate for Toshiba and Acer -- significantly higher for low-quality brands like Dell. Although this is a fairly insignificant difference, one thing can certainly be concluded: this data does not show Apple products being more reliable than all Windows-based counterparts.)
In addition, what can be said of the long-term durability of either netbooks iPads? Netbooks came about in late 2007, so they've been around a total of a little over 2 years... and they are still going strong. iPads have been around for pretty much exactly a year. So the best that can be said about iPads is that they last for a year. There is really no conclusive evidence of how long either a netbook or an iPad lasts. However, we can say this: average lifespan of a PC laptop (which is the basis for netbook) is about 4 years before need of repair. Average lifespan of an iPod (which is the basis for iPad) is about 4 years before needing repair. Which implies they are probably equally durable, though neither you nor I nor anyone else can make a definitive claim to the matter, because there simply hasn't been time or evidence to show when either of these devices start breaking down. However, one fact that can be stated is: you can buy your own backup batteries for the netbook ($30); when the battery goes out on the iPad, it must be returned to Apple for a $99 replacement.
2) "...will of course function as a computer" False. An iPad is not a computer. It functions like an iPod touch. While there is a place and a purpose for that, it is misleading to say it will "function as a computer" -- you have to plug it into a (real) computer just to get it to work! While iPad has a lot of functionality and can do a lot of the same things as a computer, this does not mean it is the same thing. I think the blog TechSling puts it best: "The iPad, however, is not a personal computer. It is a portable entertainment device and should be primarily used for this purpose. There are so many things to enjoy and creating spread sheets and word documents is certainly not one of them. Take for example, the thousands of apps available for download - games, music, 3D-videos and lots more. Its almost like having your PSP, MP3 and DVD players all merged into one device that can also be used to write emails, notes, spread sheets and so on."
This says nothing of the fact that it does not support some of the most common platforms for Rich Internet Applications, such as Java and Flash. To underscore what a big deal this is, take a look at these Web2.0/21st Century Tools, most of which are free online apps useful to students and teachers. The vast majority of these online apps use Java or Flash, and therefore are completely inaccessible on an iPad. Many similar apps can be found as Apple Apps -- but why spend all that money when they are already abundant and free on the Internet?
3) "Lack of touch screen" -- this is true, most netbooks do not have a touch-screen (however, there are tablet netbooks or "netvertibles" for about $400). What I would like to know is: what is the necessity or even benefit of the touch-screen in a 4th grade classroom? There is a well-documented need for capabilities like: internet research, keyboarding/word processing (hence the value of a keyboard), spreadsheets, etc. In fact, these skills are part of many states' content standards. But what functionality, for education, does the touch-screen improve? I can think of valuable uses for small children (primary grades) and I have also seen great innovative programs in music (virtual keyboards and electronic music studios), but aside from that...?
According to a poll on CNET, most users preferred netbooks over iPad, and the ones who preferred iPad gave these as some of the primary reasons: (1) Google Maps with GPS -- cool for field trips, but is GPS going to be handy in the classroom? (2) better for entertainment (music/videos) -- but are we in the business of entertaining, or educating? (3) controlled app environment -- although there are many cool apps, the price for purchasing them can really add up, and it fails to mention all of the great (and often free) identical Flash-based rich internet applications available online (but not available to iPad, due to lack of Flash), as I pointed out above.
This post is not intended to start a debate or to be biased in one way or another -- there are pros and cons to each choice. But I do think that decision-making, especially in institutions such as education (in which large purchases will affect a large number of people) should be based on facts, not opinions or sales pitches.
I just wanted to comment on a few points.
False. An iPad is not a computer. It functions like an iPod touch. While there is a place and a purpose for that, it is misleading to say it will "function as a computer."
It could be my perspective is skewed because I grew up using the Commodore 64, Apple IIe, and later DOS, but I can tell you that the iPad, iPhone, and most PDAs are SO much more computer than any of the computers that I had in school. Even during my high school and college years, I would have certainly preferred an iPad over any of them.
One can easily buy a keyboard for the iPad and use it for most applications that a laptop would be used for in the classroom. Even an iPhone with a keyboard meets many of those needs. With the iPad/iPhone, however, you can pick the screen up and leave the keyboard behind.
To be clear, I personally prefer the netbook over the iPad and the droid over the iPhone for different reasons. But I think the professor's description was spot on; I don't see how the iPad can be classified as anything other than a computer.
What I would like to know is: what is the necessity or even benefit of the touch-screen in a 4th grade classroom?...But what functionality, for education, does the touch-screen improve?
The touch screen provides enhanced portability by providing point-and-click functionality while it is being carried. This would be very difficult with a netbook. How it is exploited depends largely on the creativity of the instructor, but a few things come to mind:
- Students could carry and view the iPads on field trips, and those trips could be augmented with instructional videos and activities.
- Along the same lines, students would be able to easily carry and use their computers during instructional activities that that require them to move between multiple stations in the classroom.
- iPads have multi-touch (up to 11 points), while the netbook only has one pointer for the mouse/touchpad. This makes multi-user activities MUCH easier because students can sit around an iPad resting flat on a table. I had a chance to play some multiplayer games at PAX this year on an iPad, and it was fantastic.
To address Ashleigh's question: if you are constrained to a $200 budget, consider looking through the variety of Andriod-based tablet devices out there over a simple eReader. If you can convince the school to spend a little more OR if your school's infrastructure is built around Apple machines, then consider the iPad.
1) Re: computer.
Yes, I should have specified this further. Technically, a computer is a calculator that can run stored programs. That means a whole world of devices are "computers", such as Nintendo DS game systems, cell phones (even ones that aren't smartphones), and even TI calculators. Then again, all of these devices work as stand-alone devices and do not list a Mac or PC in as required in their specs like the iPad does; anything that has to be plugged into a computer tends to be referred to as a computer "peripheral" device.
2) Regarding your suggestions for beneficial uses:
a) "Students could carry and view the iPads on field trips, and those trips could be augmented with instructional videos and activities."
I agree that a touch-screen mobile device would be a good solution for field trips... you could stream down content about certain locations, architecture, history, animals, etc. You could even have GPS-enabled tours that do this automatically based on location. Very cool. However, does being good for field trips mean it would be a wise overall, every-day purchase? At my school, each student goes on an average of 2 field trips per year. The other 190 or so days are spent in a classroom. At the high school level, this is even lower -- many of the students do not go on field trips at all. Secondly, wouldn't an iPod Touch work just as well (or better, as far as mobility is concerned) for this purpose? And it would be half the price. I think the best way to think of these "field trip devices" would be that, since it is rare that a whole school takes a field trip on the same day (I've never seen it happen in my 9 years of teaching grades K-9 at 5 different schools), you could simply have a "field trip kit" of digital devices that could be checked out for the day.
b) "Along the same lines, students would be able to easily carry and use their computers during instructional activities that that require them to move between multiple stations in the classroom."
This is true, but a moot point because the exact same thing can be done with netbooks.
c) "iPads have multi-touch (up to 11 points), while the netbook only has one pointer for the mouse/touchpad. This makes multi-user activities MUCH easier because students can sit around an iPad resting flat on a table."
Why does this make multi-user activities much easier? I'm under the assumption that if you are using a portable device -- be it iPad, laptop, or netbook -- then you probably also have wi-fi access. If that is the case, and you have a one-to-one ratio of devices for students, then students can easily interact in "multi-user activities" simply by using their own device and having the action sent to the other devices through the network, showing up on their screens as well. Although 3-4 people touching a screen at the same time might be "cool" (and let's be honest, on the size of an iPad it would be tough to have more than 2 doing it simultaneously, and certainly no more than 3 or 4), it's really irrelevant when you can have real-time network or internet-enabled collaboration like we already have. If you want to talk about preparing kids for the "real world" or business world of the future, which do you think is more likely: people will do synchronous/asynchronous collaborating using individual devices via networks/internet, or 4 coworkers will be standing around an 8 inch screen touching it at the same time?
3) The Future
"it addresses the larger issues of teaching them to use Tablet PC's in the future. With all of the convertible netbooks and Windows 7 tablets we are seeing (like the Archos 9), those could very well be the future of portable computers."
Tablets may or may not be the future of computers. Are you aware that touch-screen computers and the concept of tablet PCs have been around since the 1970's? (see http://www.osnews.com/story/22739/A_Short_History_of_the_Tablet_Computer and http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bltouch.htm)
So why is it that they never caught on until the Apple ad wizards pushed the idea into the public? The current craze could be just as much about marketing and hype as it is about anything else. Or it could legitimately be the way of the future. [Usually, things tend to stick if and only if they efficiently meet a real need. As a consumer/content-delivery tool, tablets may fit this bill. As a productivity/production tool, I'm not so sure...]
We don't know, but what we do know are present needs and near future (ie. what is currently in the pipeline), and for that reason anything that is future-looking still also needs to be backward-compatible. This is where the iPad is insufficient. It's looking to a future where we do not need to connect digital cameras to computers in any way. That is not currently the case; we need USB ports or storage media slots for transfer (unless you use cell phone cameras, but this is not what true pros/producers use). Apple assumed moving away from a keyboard would be fine, and maybe in the future it will be, but right now there is such a demand for it that Apple had to come out with one as a plug-in device anyway. Clearly people still find them useful.
Here's something to consider: why is the keyboard in QWERTY format with the letters all scrambled up? Is it because it is the logical thing to so? No, it's because devices need to be backward-compatible or people won't accept them. Typewriters had to be designed to actually slow people down or the metal keys would jam into each other. Hence the QWERTY design, spreading apart the spacing of letters frequently used together. The electronic word processor could have strayed from this, but needed to be compatible with what people already knew. And so on when that evolved into the personal computer. Even today many keyboard-less (touch-screen) alphabetic inputs use the same layout!
And this applies to existing content/services as well. People claim Flash is unnecessary or bad and all of the existing rich internet applications made with it will end up as versions of Apple Apps anyway. This is doubtful, due to the resources that have already been invested. But let's say for the sake of argument that it is true. A search on Google reveals that there are over 96,000,000 websites with .swf (flash) files embedded. This is almost 100 million sites that students would not be able to access! Even if it starts to migrate to "app" format, this represents 10+ years of development, and so you can expect another many years (maybe a decade) of work before we get to that place. Is it worth making a financial gamble on a 6-month old device -- a prototype, really -- for an infrastructure that likely won't be in place until a decade into the future?
Anyway, I know this discussion is old and my post here doesn't help the original poster, but these are things I think people should consider and keep in the conversation before making institutional purchasing decisions. Right now my district is having similar considerations, but they haven't done their homework and don't realize that 90% of the educational tools we use would show up as little blue legos if we tried to use them on iPads. Most of them are free, and many do not currently have an app (even rarer to find a free app) that could replace them. Here is a brief list, just a tiny sampling of what would be accessible via netbooks (less than $300 each) and not accessible via a tablet (>$500):
ReadWriteThink.org (free) - Lessons for teachers (tablet-accessible) and interactive activities for students (requires Flash) by the National Council of Teachers of English
Starfall.com (free) - Early literacy practice and interactive eBooks for primary grades
BAM.gov (free) - Body and Mind by the CDC to teach kids about disease, nutrition, exercise, and safety
MyPyramid.gov (free) - USDA's website includes nutrition activities for kids
NetSmartz.org (free) - Internet safety, ethics, and cyberbullying games, media, and activities by the Boys & Girls Clubs and Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Villainy, Inc. (free) - A fun and whimsical problem-based learning game for intermediate math skills, provided by Maryland Public Television
FOSSWeb (free) - Activities and games for UC Berkeley's Full Option Science System inquiry-based curriculum
Math by Design (free) - Problem-based learning of math skills applied to landscaping and architecture problems in a simulation game
Architect Studio 3D (free) - This interactive 3D simulation by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust teaches the basics of architectural design concepts by letting students design a house
CalAcademy.org (free) - Interactive activities by the California Academy of Science
PhET (free) - Science simulations provided by the University of Colorado, Boulder
Packetville / Packet Riders (free) - Online games by Cisco that teach the hardware and concepts of how networks and the internet work, as well as introducing social issues and cool career possibilities to kids
Google SketchUp (free) - 3D CAD design software
ExploreLearning.com - Online science and math simulation gizmos
Lexia - Reading intervention and assessment
Reading Assistant - Reading coach program by Scientific Learning uses ASR-enabled (automatic speech recognition) ebooks to assess student fluency and assist students with pronunciation and vocabulary.
HSP Math ThinkCentral - HSP curriculum support games and interventions
EducationCity.com - standards-based games and activities in math, language arts, science, and ESL for grades K-6
StudyIsland.com - practice and assessment tool in standards and standardized testing with games to motivate kids
BrainPop.com - Brief instructional Flash animations about a variety of educational subjects and topics
Lego Mindstorms - Robotics kits to learn engineering and programming skills
I will just say this... I got a Nook for Christmas and I love it. It is very user friendly and that is a very important point considering that fourth graders will be using it. You want something that they will be able to navigate without having to ask the teacher all the time.
Those are just my thoughts, I am a third grade teacher so I know all the questions that get asked when the kids can't figure out something.
It hits your $200 price point, runs on Android, and has a nice size.
Presumably you'll want licensed content on there, too, which means you'll need a way to use the DRM'ed books. That's our major hang-up right now. Most of the publishers have set the books to expire at an unreasonable time, such as 2 weeks, or a month after purchase or licensing. It's unrealistic that an entire district would have to keep relicensing the same books every few weeks, since they're used all throughout the year. The Adobe Content Server can generate DRM'ed EPUBs for you, however, which might be a viable solution, though so far the publishers have been unwilling to compromise with us.