"That's how students are learning these days," Desmarais says. "It's just part of who we are in 2012."
CUSHING ACADEMY: DIY HIGH TECH
While Apple cranks out ever-smaller computing devices for personal use, Cushing Academy is expanding tablet technology in the other direction — building giant machines modeled after the iPad, specifically designed for group participation.
Expensive high-tech white boards inspired Cushing faculty member Grant Geske to make supersize, interactive tablet tables for his chemistry classroom. During lessons students can lean over giant glass touch screens, using electronic pens to manipulate 3D compounds.
Cushing Academy, a private boarding school in Ashburnham, hopped on the high-tech bandwagon a while back, establishing an electronic library in 2009 with hundreds of eReaders and electronic resources to replace the "majority of the library's 20,000 printed books."
This year, every department will receive one of Geske's iClass Tables. It's only his second year working at Cushing.
Geske says he doesn't believe in standardized testing, and adds that he consults for a company working to develop a better platform for student assessment. "They actually like to call me the educational anarchist," he says.
Geske's even tested apps for frog-dissection on his tables. "It's not like dissecting a real frog," says Geske — but it's close, and not as wasteful. "Unless they're wunderkind and meant to be a doctor at the age of three, everybody hacks up their first dissection."
The goal of the iClass Table was an affordable classroom tool educators could build themselves, for $300 to $400. Geske even made an instructional video posted on YouTube. He says he doesn't think the future of the education system can change unless it's open source.
"The only way we're gonna change the culture that exists, is by letting people have access to knowledge," Geske says. "If you're closing that knowledge down, you're doing everybody a huge disservice. . . . You're stifling creativity, you're stifling innovation. I mean, like, that's what Communists do."
DRURY HIGH SCHOOL: TOO SOON?
Even though there's a major sports apparel Web site selling iPad skins emblazoned with Drury High's Blue Devil mascot, Drury students won't be receiving school-assigned iPads anytime soon.
This public school in the Berkshires first purchased iPads in 2010, using leftover grant funding for 12 tablets just months after Apple introduced them to the public. Small, portable, and more affordable than laptops, Drury's iPads were bought to help ensure computer access for students using online programs to earn credit during summer break.
But, according to administration, the iPads failed to meet expectations. "When it comes down to it, students still need laptops," says Tim Callahan, director of technology for North Adams Public Schools and dean of curriculum at Drury High School. Callahan says the tablets were "almost completely useless" with Drury High's virtual learning application.
Rather than using textbook funding to put iPads in students' hands, Drury maintains shared laptop carts and invests in computer lab upgrades. What killed the iPads in Drury High? Callahan says he's still waiting on a better app for their virtual learning software, but stresses the hardware demands of new online standardized PARCC testing (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers), set to affect Massachusetts schools in 2015.