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Math going digital in Henry

Officials creating flexbooks for updated curriculum

McDONOUGH — School officials call it “digitizing” textbooks.

They are looking for a different type of math tool apart from traditional textbooks in Henry County Schools, which is moving increasingly away from bulky hardbacks to interactive, e-reader devices and tablets.

Aaryn Schmuhl is assistant superintendent for learning and leadership services. He said the district is pursuing customized teaching tools called flexbooks, in which experts pick lessons that align with the state’s new Common Core Georgia Performance Standards curriculum.

Schmuhl said a committee of K-12 teachers participated in a math textbook adoption trial this past year. The group reviewed state-approved textbook materials available for school boards to adopt.

“It’s clear that there are a lot of missing alignments there,” he said.

The committee decided the textbooks were not fully-aligned with the new curriculum and focused funding on developing local “flexbooks.”

Officials are pouring money instead into purchasing tablets and other mobile computing devices in their math classrooms.

Schmuhl said textbooks are less current than digital tools as they become less relevant to how educators teach a curriculum with each year that passes.

“Over the course of one math textbook adoption process,” he continued, “we’ve had three curriculum changes (within the last decade).”

He said classroom tools have to keep pace with new teaching methods and technology students are familiar with.

“Students tend to gravitate more to technology,” he said.

Schmuhl added that using locally-designed flexbooks is a more modern approach to teaching with a cheaper price tag.

“Textbooks are becoming increasingly expensive,” he said.

The district spent $2.1 million on math textbooks over the past five years. But the use of hardbacks has diminished even in that time.

Schumhl said a little more than one-tenth of the district’s 2008-09 allotment was spent on math textbooks this past year. About $781,810 was spent on textbooks in 2008-09 compared to $94,787 spent in 2012-13.

He said it is more cost-efficient to pursue supplemental resources through flexbooks, video tutorials and other Internet tools. He said education software providers such as Edgenuity, formerly e2020, will help bridge the gap from hardback textbooks to more digital curriculum.

Experts are developing the flexbooks this summer to complement the Common Core curriculum, which will eventually role out to students in third through 10th grades.

The cost is a one-time fee of $5,000 for developing the curriculum, according to district documents. The district will pay $101,000 to purchase a digital device for each math classroom in grades six through 10.

The long-term plan is to have devices with mobile media carts in math classes at all grade levels.

Schmuhl said that, in pilot programs this past year, students were receptive to the increased use of new technology in the classroom.

“The concern is mostly from parents wanting textbooks so they can help their children,” he said. Parents will be able to get virtual tutoring through the district’s website at www.henry.k12.ga.us.