Kellenberg Memorial High School is shown on March 14, 2013...

Kellenberg Memorial High School is shown on March 14, 2013 in Uniondale. Credit: Tara Conry

A growing number of schools are issuing iPads to students, but Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale has taken it a step further. Teachers have created their own electronic textbooks for use on the tablets.

For the first time, the Catholic college prep school in Uniondale distributed iPads in September to its 600 freshmen.

"It's been a positive step. I think the level of engagement is high," said Ken Frank, an English and computer teacher who was one of the main architects of the switch.

Education experts say the move is unusual.

May be unique on LI

Roberto Joseph, director of Hofstra University's master's program in technology for learning, didn't know of any school districts on Long Island that have written their own digital textbooks.

"As far as I can tell, they are at the forefront," said Joseph, who works with districts throughout Long Island. "It's definitely something new."

Justin Reich of Boston-based EdTech Teacher, a group that helps train teachers nationwide in technology, said a school writing its own digital texts was unusual, although not unprecedented.

He cited a group in California that helps run charter schools, Leadership Public Schools, that has written e-textbooks for students learning English as a Second Language and other subjects.

But Reich, a research fellow at Harvard University, said it is more common for an individual teacher to write his or her own textbook, rather than have an entire school or district do so.

"This is a very exciting innovation where teachers are designing materials that can very precisely meet the needs and interests of their students," Reich said. "We've never before lived in a time where teachers have so much access to so many different online learning resources."

Kellenberg explored the possibility of moving to iPads for several years, said Brother Kenneth Hoagland, the principal. When the school decided to make the move this year with incoming students, the staff realized that creating their own digital texts also made sense, he said.

Courses using e-textbooks include Scripture, World History, Algebra, Earth Science and foreign languages, such as Latin, French and Spanish.

Kellenberg does not follow the Common Core curriculum or administer New York State Regents examinations to its students. Instead, it follows its own curriculum and administers its own tests, Hoagland said.

Almost all of the commercially developed digital textbooks that are coming out today are pegged to the Common Core curriculum, he said.

No Common Core

"We're a classical curriculum that definitely works," he said. "We don't see any reason to change our curriculum just because the state" is doing so.

Since January, teachers have worked on devising their own digital texts, he said. For some subjects, the transition wasn't difficult. In math, for example, many teachers had been posting an increasing amount of material on the Internet, where students would access it.

Frank said the switch to digital texts makes it easier to revise lessons and offer special features, such as "pull-up" links where students can, for instance, hear an audio version of the Greek classic "Antigone" by Sophocles. Another link allows students to hear Robert Frost reciting some of his own poetry.

Tablets not free

Kellenberg in essence sells the iPads to students, with families paying another $200 a year.

After graduation, students keep the tablets, filled with all of their texts, notes and homework. Firewalls prevent students from accessing inappropriate or noneducational websites.

Next year, both the freshman and sophomore classes will be issued tablets, the school said. Kellenberg is also weighing whether to use the devices in its adjoining sixth-to-eighth-grade Latin School.

Alana Walsh, 14, a freshman from East Northport, is a fan of the technology.

"I can keep myself more organized," she said. "I don't have to have a lot of books with me. I just have this."

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