Instead of lugging around a backpack full of books, Sophia Barnes' backpack includes her lunch, a stylus, a pencil -- and an iPad.

The 12-year-old sixth-grader is just one student at New Albany Intermediate School who is using iPads for classes this school year.

She said she likes that the iPad is environmentally friendly and saves paper, and having textbooks and notes in one place on the iPad also makes studying easier.

The iPads that 1,140 students in grades 4 to 6 were assigned in August have helped teachers provide more differentiated instruction and engaged learning, said intermediate school principal Katie Nowak.

The technology is part of a larger initiative to incorporate tablets into the district's curriculum.

By the 2022-23 school year, almost all students in the district will be assigned an iPad, said director of technology Michael Voss.

The cost to complete that plan will be close to $1.3 million, and the iPads will cost close to $400,000 annually to maintain, he said.

The district has about 5,000 students, according to district spokesman Patrick Gallaway. Students in kindergarten and prekindergarten would not be assigned iPads, according to a chart Gallaway provided.

After all students in grades 1 to 12 have their iPads, the plan is for fourth-graders and younger students to keep their iPads at school, but fifth-graders and older students will be able to take them home, Gallaway said.

But that plan could change, he said.

"It is flexible as we learn more about the use of devices, responsibility of students, etc.," Gallaway said. "I would say the take-home plan will constantly be revisited as we progress forward."

The plan is to replace the devices every four years, Voss said.

Students would keep their assigned iPads for a period of three years, according to the chart.

"We will evaluate the iPads in carts in grades 1 to 4 after four years to see if they can be used one more year," he said. "If they can, this would save us some money in the long run."

When the next school year starts, students entering grades 3, 4, 8 and 9 are expected to receive their assigned iPads, according to the chart. Second-graders would be phased in the following school year and first-graders would be added the 2021-22 school year, according to the chart.

Only 15 out of the more than 1,100 devices issued this school year have needed to be replaced thus far, Voss said.

A $35 charge has been built in to the annual school fees that families pay to allow for the replacement or repair of a damaged iPad, for up to two accidents, Gallaway said.

The tablet computers have a variety of applications for classwork.

For example, students use an application on the iPads to take pictures of organisms on campus to collaborate via the app with scientists who help them identify what is in their photos, Nowak said.

Another app can be used in math classes for interactive graphing to help students understand how to solve problems, she said.

Students also may use the tablets to create multimedia presentations, Nowak said.

Eve Zaczepinski, a 12-year-old sixth-grader, said in November, students in her science class used the Adobe Spark Page app on the iPad to create a digital magazine that included images and facts they found online about the nervous system.

Though students in grades 5 and 6 are able to take home their tablet computers to do homework, fourth-graders keep their iPads at school, Nowak said.

Fifth- and sixth-graders also took their tablets home over winter break, but district leaders still are determining whether they would allow it over summer break, she said.

Jenny Shoaf, a math and pre-algebra teacher at the intermediate school, said the iPads have given students new ways to visualize and manipulate data while providing new opportunities to share their work.

"Whether they are building science or math graphs digitally, or using text-to-speech to check their writing or grammar in social studies or writing, there are so many resources that truly transform their ability to express their growth and understanding," Shoaf said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah