Auburn considers expanding school iPad program

Posted March 14, 2013, at 9:42 a.m.

AUBURN, Maine — Teachers and school technology leaders told School Committee members Wednesday that the city’s iPad initiative has been a rousing success and they urged the committee to keep the technology coming.

But some committee members questioned the cost.

Every Auburn kindergartner received an Apple iPad last year and every first-grader got one this year. The program, unique for putting tablet computers into the hands of very young children, has drawn notoriety and controversy.

Multiple Pathways Leader Mike Muir told School Committee members Wednesday evening that the iPads seem to be meeting at least one big goal: improved learning. Since getting their iPads, he said, kindergartners and first-graders have shown improvement in some key areas, including writing and reading by kindergartners and working with numbers and measurement by first-graders.

“We have more students become proficient than we have in previous years,” Muir said. “Teachers with the iPads are having more success.”

Several teachers lauded the tablets for allowing children to work on specific skills individually, to get instant feedback from educational games, to track their progress and to feel like they’re playing when they’re learning.

But some committee members questioned the cost of the iPads and the proposal to buy them for second-graders. To add iPads, Auburn would spend about $109,000 each year for a two-year lease of the machines, cases and accessories. Auburn would own the tablets at the end of the two years, with no additional payment.

At least a couple of committee members questioned why students couldn’t share iPads.

“Is that something that we teach, partnership? Teamwork?” asked committee member Tracey Levesque.

But teachers in the audience said sharing would make it impossible to track an individual student’s progress because the iPads and learning apps can’t be configured for multiple users. They also said that while the iPads may be used only for 30 to 45 minutes a day, that time is not always planned and part of the machines’ success is that students can grab them at the spur of the moment to practice a skill, take photos or show the teacher something they’ve learned. That would be lost, they said, if students had to share.

“It’s kind of the idea of which is really more expensive, the $100 solution that does what’s expected or the $50 solution that doesn’t?” Muir said. “I may be overstepping my bounds, but I really wanted to say that’s what the research and our experience is showing us with this. I think it’s responsible to explore it as an option, but the pattern has not been, in places that shared, one that works out to be effective.”

While teachers and technology leaders urged committee members to continue growing the iPad initiative, they also encouraged them to keep technology going at the high school.

The state is now negotiating its latest contract for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. That program puts leased computers in the hands of every Maine seventh- and eighth-grader and allows high schools to buy in for their students.

Auburn participates in the middle-school program and opted in for high-schoolers four years ago. As the state negotiates a new contract and looks to get new laptops or tablets into the schools, Auburn has the option of buying the current laptops for $47 each. Muir said the school system could buy 1,000 of its 1,800 machines, sell 400 to pay for the purchase and have 600 machines for younger students to use — possibly instead of iPads.

But while Muir brought up that idea, he didn’t back it. He and the school system’s technology director said the machines are old and breaking down after four years. They don’t run the programs teachers want and educators say touch screens, not keyboards, are better for very young children.

Although they are working on next year’s budget, at least one School Committee member advocated putting off a decision until the state makes its new contract for the Maine Learning Technology Initiative program at the end of March. That contract could be for iPads instead of laptops.

And if so, Auburn might be able to buy into it for the younger grades.

“I don’t think we can make a decision on that until they have a contract,” committee member Bonnie Hayes said. “Everything, to me, hinges on that contract and how we’re going to pay for this all.”

She suggested the school system look into getting more financial help from the company with the most to gain from Auburn’s iPad plan: Apple.

“We’re so into Apple and we do these great things with Apple and promote Apple and we use Apple,” she said. “Then show me some money, honey. Show me some money, Apple.”

 

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