What’s the hottest “must-have” gadget? The Apple iPad tablet, which is well on its way to becoming the most popular hand-held computer ever. According to ABC News, the iPad is now taking aim at schools, gearing up to become the latest teaching tool, and eventually take the place of old-fashioned textbooks, pens and paper.

For example, this fall at the Sacramento Country Day School, every 6th grader will get a free iPad, and will use them as class and study aids, and for research, creating reports, and reading e-books. Students can also hook their iPads to a projector and share multimedia presentations with the class. At St. Catherine’s High School in Racine, Wisconsin, the plan is for all students and teachers in grades 6 thru 12 to be using iPads instead of textbooks by 2012. School administrators say the iPad is the perfect teaching tool, because it can run most of the education apps designed for the iPhone, like the flashcard app iFlipr, and Mathomatic – which solves algebraic equations and shows you step-by-step how to find the solution.

However, some educators say the $500 iPad just isn’t worth it. It isn’t just a question of buying the hardware. It’s buying the software and apps to run it, keeping the tablets repaired, and replacing lost or stolen equipment. Since iPads can only run one program at a time – unlike computers – the schools can’t install monitoring software, which means teachers won’t be able to keep kids from surfing the Internet in class.

Dr. Larry Cuban is professor emeritus of education at Stanford University. He says that kids do need to know how to use computers and working on them doesn’t detract from learning, but it’s more crucial for them to learn how to think logically, write clearly, and grasp the fundamentals of mathematics. They can do that much better with pencil and paper, and face-to-face interactions with teachers and other students.

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