Central York High School teacher Lisa Turner wants her 21st-century technology students to have projects that are as "relevant, realistic and now" as possible.

It's hard to get much more "relevant, realistic and now" than ninth-graders using iPads to collaborate on projects about social issues.

In one group working on environment-related issues, Tyler York, Gloria Choi, Hannah Gilhool, Mitchell Crane and Laura Fahs divvied up duties such as making a poster, website and public service announcement.

How it used to be: In the old days, such as the 2011-12

school year, this might have meant getting Apple laptops from a cart.

Every student would have had a computer -- as long as the teacher thought to reserve the cart in advance -- but they'd have to put them back once class was done, bound to the limits of classtime.

In the older days, such as before the iPad was invented, those students might have used paper and pencil for the most part to hash out ideas, with a trip to a computer lab if it wasn't being used and likely several students using one computer.

With no "apps," their online collaboration would likely be limited to emailing each other work.

Central York had different plans in store for its ninth-graders this year, though.

As part of a pilot program, all the ninth-graders got their own iPad this fall to use throughout the day.

These days: So when Tyler, Gloria, Hannah, Mitchell and Laura work on their project, it's with a new form of collaboration.

Apps allowed them to share documents, photos and more with each other with the flick of a finger, and answering questions was as easy as popping open a search engine.

Once they and the rest of the groups are done, they'll have posters with QR codes on them for students and staff schoolwide to use in order to vote on the best project. A QR code is a digital image people with smartphones can scan to send them to a specific page on the Internet.

Central York allowed students to bring digital devices to school this year, so now Turner's students' work will be observed by the entire school, not just her eyes.

It's one example of the possibilities Central teachers have been trying out during the pilot program. Central purchased 500 iPads, along with all needed accessories, including docking stations and protective covers. Freshmen can customize their iPad as they want with apps, documents and bookmarked sites.

Evaluation: Spokeswoman Julie Romig said the district will do a mid-year and then an end-of-year evaluation of the program to present to the school board, whose members will decide if they want to expand, adjust or end the program.

The money to pay for the iPads had already been earmarked in the Central budget, so taxes weren't directly affected by the $250,000 bulk purchase.

Freshmen said they are enjoying the program so far, to the envy of their older peers; ninth-graders were chosen because they are more likely to have classes with students in the same grade, district officials said.

Turner loves how having iPads for all her students gives everyone the same advantage.

"We have a lot of haves and have-nots," she said of income disparity. "Now, you don't have kids who can Google stuff and kids who can't."

And she doesn't have to "hope I can get a laptop cart" for a class the next day.

Distractions: Mitchell said it's easier to do research with the iPad, although, as he and his group noted, it also makes it easier to goof off.

Several students said there definitely was a period when the iPads were first handed out when students were downloading games and the like.

But teachers, who are able to monitor iPad use with their own software, soon started cracking down, Gloria said. Turner said she thinks the distraction element "played itself out"; Facebook and other social media are blocked, too.

"It's kinda obvious" when someone is using their iPad for something other than classwork, Hannah said. Hannah added she has some teachers who are great at finding new apps and other ways for students to use the iPad in class, while she and other students said they like the ability to download teacher presentations right to their iPad and add their own notes.

Some problems: There are drawbacks, though. When the Internet goes down, as it did one recent day, then the iPads seem a little worthless, students said. And some classes trying to use iPads don't lend themselves to tablet technology.

Also, for now, students can't take the iPads home, which makes it tough when their classwork is on the tablet and hasn't been emailed home. But district officials are considering allowing students to take the tablets home at some point this year.

Down the hall from Turner, civics teacher John Daniels had his students doing a mix of the old and the new. Adults would recognize the familiar hand-drawn maps of Pennsylvania from their days in school, as students learned about the different regions and aspects of the state. But students were learning what to draw on the map by using their iPads.

As one student struggled to figure out which regional map to use, Daniels said part of the benefit of having iPads is that students can learn how to become better at finding information online. They can also "work independently and at the same time as a team."

Daniels, though, doesn't see the tablet as the catch-all solution.

"It's just a tool. You don't have it open all the time," he said.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com