AUBURN — He waited for his cue.
After Auburn Superintendent Tom Morrill introduced five Auburn kindergarten teachers who next month will pilot iPad 2s in their classrooms, Morrill said, “Lucius, if you’d like to come out here.”
Auburn’s iPad 2 ambassador, kindergarten student Lucius Rice, 6, bounded forward wearing a “Washburn Pride” sweatshirt. He began using an iPad 2 to learn his letters in October.
Morrill kept talking to reporters in a press conference called Tuesday to show how the first school department in Maine will begin giving iPad 2s to all kindergarten students this fall in an effort to boost learning.
“What it’s about is young people having in their hands a tool that will customize and accelerate their learning,” Morrill said. “Lucius has been fortunate. He’s shown us what this tool can do.”
“Yep,” Lucius said, nodding his head, his hands on his hips.
Morrill asked Lucius if he’d like to say a few words.
“It’s an iPad,” Lucius said. “It makes you learn. Kindergarten students that did not get an iPad, that’s quite a shame. But they’re going to get one soon.”
With cameras dogging him, the boy passed out iPads 2s to the pilot teachers, Sue LaRue of Washburn, Kelly McCarthy of Fairview, Amy Heimerl of Park Avenue, Laurie Gerard and Joanna Wallingford of Sherwood Heights.
Lucius turned one on and began playing an alphabet game in which he “drove” a school bus by holding and turning the computer tablet.
“I’m trying to get letters,” he said.
He then helped Washburn teacher Sue LaRue play.
“Start driving. Press this, look for the right letters, in here,” he coached. “You’ve got to turn. Press this and you’ll go fast. There you go! Keep driving.”
The game, he said, “is teaching me words. You have to get letters to make words.”
In May, the Auburn School Department will buy 100 iPad 2s for 80 students and 20 teachers.
This fall, Auburn schools will purchase another 225 so that all 285 kindergarten students, and dozens of teachers, will have them. The iPad 2s will also be used by intervention and special education teachers.
The iPads will cost a total of $200,000. Officials hope to pay for them with grant money. If they fail to get grant money, the tablets will be bought with money from the school budget. That cost would be an annual one; kindergarten students are to get iPad 2s every fall.
Morrill said he had received feedback from Auburn taxpayers both excited and unhappy about the iPad 2 rollout. He also had received calls from educators in Maine, outside Maine and outside the country, including from New Zealand and Turkey.
With the iPad 2s, elementary-grade test scores will grow, Auburn School Committee member Tom Kendall said. By 2014, students doing grade-level work in math, reading and writing will jump from the current 60 and 63 percent to 90 percent, Kendall said. “That’s what this project pilot has been about.”
Youngsters will not be able to use the iPads without supervision, Morrill said. Steps will be taken to guarantee students will be safe and won’t be exposed to anything inappropriate.
“We’ll make sure 100 percent in classrooms we’ll have control of what’s going on,” he said.
Kindergartners will be able to pick up an iPad 2 and turn it on, but they will be able to use only programs downloaded by educators, said Peter Robinson, who heads technology and learning for the Auburn School Department. They won’t be able to go to places like Skype or Facebook, he said.
Sherwood Heights teacher Laurie Gerard said she was excited about using the iPad 2 with students next month. It will allow her to better individualize lessons. One student might work on sounds and words, another on letters. It will help some learn to write by tracing numbers on the screen, since holding a pencil is difficult for some 5-year-olds.
“But we’re not going to get rid of the pencil and paper and scissors,” she said. “This is just another way to meet the kids’ needs.”
Lots of things about kindergarten won’t change, Morrill said. They won’t be using the iPad 2 all day. “They’re still going to sing together, do finger painting.”