A small school district in central Minnesota will put an iPad in the hands of every student in grades 5-12 this fall, its board decided this week.

Schools in Little Falls, Minn., are the latest -- but surely not the last -- to join districts nationwide that are adopting the iPad 2 as a take-home teaching tool.

The Little Falls school board approved the purchase of 1,450 of the tablet computers, on top of 220 that are already used by students in a pilot project.

For fifth-grade students who got iPads this year, "It just created a richer learning experience," said Superintendent Curt Tryggestad.

The iPads have allowed teachers to pre-record some lessons that their classes watch as homework, leaving more time at school for them to work with students one-on-one, Tryggestad said. When students finish assignments in class, they often go online to play educational games that build skills in math or reading.

And in one classroom where students used to go through eight spiral notebooks in a year, the kids have gone through about half of one notebook, he said.

School leaders in Little Falls have been trying for years to find the money to buy laptops or similar devices for all of their students, Tryggestad said. With the release of the cheaper iPad, "it suddenly became more of a reality," he said.

The new iPads will cost $499 apiece. With related equipment and training for teachers, the district plans to spend about $1.4 million over three years on the technology initiative.

Much of the money will come from a capital fund that would otherwise pay for textbooks, Tryggestad said. Administrators have also proposed an annual technology fee of $40 per student to help fund the program.

Like school computers, the iPads will come with filters that block inappropriate websites even when students are online at home, Tryggestad said.

The superintendent said he hasn't promised that the iPads will raise test scores. But, he added, "It stands to reason that if kids are more engaged ... and they're interested in finding out information for themselves, they're going to do better in school."

Little Falls joins districts such as Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, southwest of the Twin Cities, where the high school issued iPads to its 300 students this fall.

Administrators aim "to keep relevant in small-town America," said Principal Jeff Bertrang. Students use the iPads for everything from online research to biology classes, where some lessons use a wireless microscope that can zoom in on an image that pops up on every student's screen, Bertrang said.

Some metro-area districts are following suit. A federal grant is funding the purchase of iPads for every student at Heritage Middle School in West St. Paul. And DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis plans to provide the devices to its entire student body, about 600 students, this fall.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016