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WV classrooms using more technology

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In today's classrooms, you might not find as many textbooks.

Instead, you may see students swiping their fingers across the screens of tiny tablets, interacting on a Smart Board or researching the Internet using a laptop.

Classrooms in the 21st century are moving onward and upward, thanks to new technologies.

"A lot of schools are innovating," said Jedd Flowers, director of communications for Cabell County Schools.

In that school system, grants have allowed Enslow Middle School to purchase some type of iPad for each student. Barboursville Middle School features an iPad lab with 20 iPads and 10 Mac computers. Using Smart Boards, teachers in Cabell County can access a multitude of lessons online, allowing students to be more interactive.

"I think we've rounded the bend," said Jeff Smith, director of assessment and curriculum with Cabell County Schools. "Overall, we're constantly seeing new and innovative method for teaching."

In Kanawha County, Riverside High School English teacher Christina Phalen has implemented innovative methods in her classroom. After attending a training session over the summer, she realized how her advanced placement students could benefit from using the Kindle, an e-reader developed by Amazon.

"When I picked up the AP literature course and I went to our libraries section, there wasn't a lot of selection," she said. "I thought to buy a class set of paperback books — $250. I thought, 'Wow, a paperback book, it doesn't last, even with the best of students.' They don't last."

Many of the classic books Phalen's students read are free on Amazon. The special, classroom-specific Kindles cost $60 each and were purchased using grant money.

Phalen's students aren't the only ones at Riverside using tablets in the classroom. The civics teacher also attended an AP training course and realized what he could do using an iPad. He's requested a class set of iPads, and Phalen said school administration has been quick to support increased technology in the classroom.

"Thankfully we have an administration that backs us up," she said. "With the Kindles, with my AP kids, its really a test. They want to see is it worth it, and if it is, moving it to the honors kids and other classrooms. Here at Riverside, we have sustained silent reading for 10 minutes every day. Everyone stops and reads. It's our goal to have two or three Kindles in every classroom so students can just pick it up and start reading."

Although technology can be helpful, school officials need to be careful to make sure students are using the technology correctly and receiving the right information. Brenda Williams is the executive director of the West Virginia Department of Education's Office of Technology. She said the use of technology has changed a lot over the years, but using technology just do to it isn't beneficial to the students.

"Just because we can surf the Internet doesn't mean we'll get down to quality learning," she said. "We also have more and more students now understanding how to use the technology tools for distance learning, online learning. We have more teachers who understand how to use those tools to better address personalized learning for each student. We also have other specialized teachers, special education, who learn to use adaptive technology. We have to step back and think what is our educational need and how do we harness the technology?"

She also pointed out that tablets, while valuable, don't have the same use as laptops.

"The tablets, those are really peripheral pieces of equipment," she said. "They're not as powerful as a laptop, a mini notebook or other devices."

Back in Cabell County, Lenora Richardson, the director of curriculum, said the school system is looking to adopt textbooks that also include a digital component.

"We can almost go paperless," she said.

"We're looking at the possibility of a blended type of adoption where we get the hard copies and some online versions," she said. "The students can go on there, answer questions, email those directly to their teacher from the Internet and take their tests online."

Jourdan Penix, one of Phalen's AP literature students, said she thinks there may be a time when textbooks don't exist.

"I feel like in the future, we'll do away with textbooks in general," she said. "We're relying on technology for everything."