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Felix Adamo / The Californian

iPads in Scott Lockhart's East high freshman algebra class are charged and ready for the day's lesson.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Cesar Bayona and other East high freshmen use iPads in class for their lessons.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Scott Lockhart's East high freshman algebra class uses iPads in their daily lessons.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

East Bakersfield High math instructor Scott Lockhart helps freshman Cesar Bayona with a problem on his iPad.

Bill Cosby once famously joked that his father said when he was a child, he "walked to school 4 o'clock every morning with no shoes on, uphill, both ways, in five feet of snow!"

One day, a new generation of adults may be able to tell whining children that when they were little, they walked to school with heavy backpacks full of books, and the youngsters will gasp.

All over the country, and here in Kern County, thick, heavy textbooks are going by the wayside, replaced by electronic tablets such as iPads.

Some schools are going all out. Garces Memorial High School will supply every one of its more than 600 students with a tablet next fall.

Others are experimenting with pilot programs. The Kern High School District has distributed 200 tablets to math classes at five schools. The Bakersfield City School District is using nearly 50 tablets in two programs. One is for English-as-a-Second Language teachers and their students, and the other is for special education students.

"We used to have some large, proprietary machines for kids who had trouble manipulating a keyboard, but the iPads have replaced those very expensive machines and we're trying to see if we can get the same results with them," said BCSD spokesman Steve Gabbitas.

Other cities incorporating tablets into the classroom include Chicago, San Diego and McAllen, Texas.

The iPad has been a blockbuster for Apple since it was introduced in 2010, inspiring rival manufacturers to offer small, lightweight computers of their own.

Schools saw the potential almost immediately. A digital e-book is often less expensive than a hardcover textbook, and can be easily updated. Plus, tablets offer interactivity and 3D graphics that traditional books don't.

Teachers can even create their own books and control who has access to them, publishing for just one class or offering the material to anyone who wants it.

East Bakersfield High School has been using tablets in a math class for about 10 weeks, and so far teacher Scott Lockhart is glad to have them.

The novelty of the devices makes students more excited about learning, he said.

"I notice they're a lot more engaged," Lockhart said. "And the research opportunities at their fingertips are really useful."

One challenge, though, is keeping students focused on the curriculum rather than wandering into cyberspace to watch the latest viral video.

"Keeping them on task gets difficult at times, but they're usually pretty good about it," Lockhart said.

His students generally like the tablets.

Taric Wade, 14, said it's easier to take notes.

"You can use different colors to highlight key terms," he said. "It makes algebra more fun. I wish all my classes had them."

Cesar Bayona, 15, is grateful that tablets are light and compact.

"You don't have to carry a bunch of heavy books here and there," he said. "And other people can't draw all over them and ruin them."

Miguel Garcia, 14, just laments that he doesn't get to take the device home. It's a problem when notes are trapped on a tablet at school, so he takes paper notes, too, so he can access them when he's doing homework away from school.

For schools, one big hurdle is the cost of the infrastructure, which includes installing Wi-Fi, ongoing network maintenance and support, training and, of course, the devices themselves. Apple's educational rate for the iPad starts at $399.

Private school Garces is building the cost of all that into its tuition, but "some very generous contributors" are softening the blow, said President John Fanucchi.

Garces views the acquisition as an investment because graduates need to be prepared for the technology they will inevitably encounter in college and the workforce, the school said.

"Our students will benefit from their exposure to this," Fanucchi said. "We want our students to be not only up on it but on the cutting edge."

Traditional textbook publishers aren't necessarily upset about the trend. Some have entered into deals to produce digital versions of popular titles, and the market for physical books isn't going away any time soon.

"Every school district is in a different place in terms of their technology and infrastructure," said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers School Division.

The U.S. Department of Education doesn't track precisely how many schools have switched to tablets, but encourages schools to use them if they can.

"The various professional tools greatly enhance the ability to teach, and students have access to so much more information," said Karen Cator, director of the department's Office of Educational Technology. "The world today is interacting."