AUBURN, Maine — City schools are rolling out iPads to half of the kindergarten students this week.

At Washburn Elementary School, Jessica Prue’s class got their tablet computers Wednesday.

“The iPads, they are very special and we’re very, very, very lucky that we get to use them this year, because you are some of the only kindergartners anywhere that get to try them out at school,” Prue said to her class.

Confident that the iPads will help close learning gaps among kindergarten students, the Auburn School Committee voted in April to give every kindergartner an iPad 2 this year. Despite opposition from some taxpayers, half of the kindergarten students are getting them this week and next; the other half in mid-November.

The staggered rollout is designed to generate data, by comparing how students learn with and without iPads. Officials hope the data will attract grant money to pay for iPads next year and the years after that, they said. The $240,000 for iPads this year came from last year’s school budget.

Before the 5-year-olds in Prue’s class got to use the computers Wednesday, she went over the rules.

“How do you think we should hold it? Should I hold it like this?” she asked, dangling a machine with her fingers.

“No!” her students said.

Everyone must use two hands to hold an iPad, Prue said.

Other rules: Use “walking feet” when carrying an iPad; always use the iPad while it is in the middle of your desk and never leave your iPad on the floor and walk away.

“Is it a good idea to have any snacks or drinks near an iPad?” the teacher asked.

No, said a boy named Brandon. “It could explode.”

It won’t explode, Prue said, but snacks and drinks could ruin the machines. “We need to have clean hands when using iPads. We don’t want sticky stuff all over the iPads.”

Prue passed around her iPad and each child practiced holding it with their fingers on the start button, thumbs on the top.

The teacher next handed out tablets to the students, whose pictures were taken with their iPads. Their pictures would be their desktops so they could easily identify their machines, K-6 technology coach Carol Miller said.

As Miller and Prue helped students learn about their iPads, other students explored number and word games, listened to stories and played with pictures. One boy played a game in which he counted aloud with the iPad the number of balloons, then the number of cars, on his screen. He matched the correct totals on the bottom.

Prue said she would use the iPads for literacy and math, to help students who are at different levels. “I have one student who is reading. Some are learning how to write their name.”

She’ll use applications to create an individual lesson for each child. “The one who doesn’t know letters and names, we’ll focus on that,” she said. “The one who is reading, we can find apps to work with that.”

Prue said she would limit her students’ iPad use to 20 minutes at a time. The tablets won’t replace traditional kindergarten lessons, she said. “It’s just another tool.” But a powerful one, she said.

“I had a few students who used them last year in my class,” she said. “The learning they took away from using them was phenomenal. They went from knowing only a few letters to knowing almost all of them in just a matter of weeks. I really think they’re going to make a huge difference.”

The iPads won’t go home with students until policies are developed, all kindergarten students have used them in class and all parents have met with educators about them.

It could be next spring before they go home, Superintendent Katy Grondin said Wednesday.

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