NEWPORT NEWS -- From the playroom to the classroom, digital devices and downloadable textbooks are revolutionizing the classroom experience.
In Ms. Theriault's fourth grade class at Hilton Elementary School in Newport News, pencils and paper were out of sight during a recent lesson on inferred communication. Each student used an iPad to follow the lesson plan.
Moments later, students took quizzes that were instantly graded. In addition, the teacher was able to offer one-on-one feedback to children through instant messaging.
Hilton Elementary principal Barbara Nagel encourages the use of technology, but says no device can replace a good teacher.
"You can have the greatest tool in the world, but if you don't balance it with an innovative teacher who goes above and beyond, the best technology out there won't make a bit of difference," said Nagel.
Hilton Elementary received 25 iPads two years ago through a city sponsored grant program. Remarkably, not one device has been damaged or destroyed.
Fourth-grader Cheynie Singleton understands the value of the devices.
"I was kinda nervous because they are really expensive. I was nervous that one of them was going to go missing, and we would lose the privilege," said Singleton.
If you don't know how to use Apple's iPad, just ask a digital native for help.
Children who aren't old enough to string words together to form a sentence are pointing and swiping their way around the internet on digital devices.
A recent study conducted by Common Sense Media found that 38 percent of kids under the age of two have used a mobile device. Two years ago, only 10 percent of toddlers had used a mobile device.
Devices such as iPads, Kindles, and Nooks cost between $150 and $500 dollars. Advanced iPads can cost up to $900.
When it comes to content, there's a wide range of prices. Some downloads are free and others cost just a few dollars less than the printed versions of text books.
Dr. Dorothy L.R. Jones from the School of Business at Norfolk State University says it's only a matter of time and money before education is fully digitized in America. Dr. Jones says technology will level the playing field for young people who don't have access to the nation's finest libraries.
"When you are talking about eBooks, you can have thousands of books that you can take with you anywhere," said Jones.
Cheryl Ward of the Endependence Center in Norfolk is an advocate for children with special needs. She says digital devices help remove obstacles to learning.
A recent study showed eReaders significantly improved speed and understanding for those who are dyslexic.
"If you are a child with dyslexia for example, some of them [devices] have custom features where you can pull up the main idea of a paragraph and put that over [to one side], and the child focuses on this instead of being distracted by the whole page of text," said Ward.
As children continue to struggle with reading, writing and science, 103 schools across Hampton Roads did not meet the requirements for full accreditation this year. Education experts with an eye on the future say digital technology can bring the nation's youth up to academic speed.
"It [digital devices] provides access that is not there in any other way. Because the internet has an abundance of information, it is available to anyone who is willing to click and look for it," said Dr. Jones.