When author Tony Wagner visited Maine this summer to speak at the University of Maine, he lamented that there’s not much research and development to speak of in public education.
Facing constant pressure to improve standardized test scores in math and reading, our public schools have found there’s little room and little money (and often not much political will) to experiment with new approaches to education that might engage students who haven’t traditionally succeeded in the classroom.
But Auburn’s public schools have overcome those odds.
This fall, the city has purchased enough iPads for all of its kindergarten students and teachers. The school district has loaded each tablet device with fun, educational, age-appropriate apps designed to help young children learn how to read, write, add and subtract. Auburn’s primary grade teachers are participating in training not only to familiarize themselves with the devices, but to learn how to integrate them effectively into their instruction. And the district is at work on a plan to allow kindergarten students to take their iPads home and involve their families in iPad-driven learning.
As Auburn implements each stage of its initiative, there are plans to evaluate how deploying iPads in the classroom has made a difference in student learning. The city hopes that by using an effective instructional tool in the early grades, fewer students will require expensive special education services later on.
Last week, I visited Auburn to attend a conference focused on the use of iPads in the early grades. (Auburn plans ultimately to integrate iPads into the first, second and third grades as well.) Educators from Maine were joined by educators from 10 states — and even some from overseas — interested in learning how the iPad initiative is going in Auburn and picking up the best practices for using the iPad in their classrooms back home.
Just by taking a risk in hopes of engaging students and helping more be successful, Auburn’s schools have created a buzz. Educators across the world are keeping an eye on Auburn to see if its investment will pay off. I’m thrilled to see a school district in Maine try something out that has the potential to make a significant difference in student learning.
Many are asking how Auburn’s schools can afford to purchase iPads for their students at a time when funds are limited. Ask the educators in Auburn, and they’ll tell you it’s an investment they can’t afford not to make.