Mineola's schools have embarked on an interesting experiment to see if they can get beyond dreary classroom convention and exploit technology to turbocharge learning. The plan is to give iPads to 80 fifth-graders, whose teachers have had the devices all summer. Superintendent Michael Nagler hopes to use the glossy tablets, which cost a total of $50,000, to teach a variety of subjects largely without notebooks and traditional textbooks.

The teachers have written a curriculum that integrates the iPads into the learning process by making use of Google Earth for geography, iBooks and Kindle for novels, and online newspapers for current events, to cite just three examples. Math apps will also be used, along with an old-fashioned math book.

It's a worthy experiment; sooner or later the digital revolution is bound to change education profoundly, and at the very least it offers the prospect of relief from the leaden textbooks that burden students physically and intellectually (and burden Mineola's taxpayers for roughly $250,000 a year).

But it's an experiment worthy of skepticism as well, since the lesson of past such efforts is that giving kids personal computers does little to boost their grades. Back in 2004, for example, researchers looking at data for 32 countries reported that teens with computers at home performed worse in math and reading.

Will tablet computing yield different results? The Mineola project may help us find out. hN