Monthly Archives: April 2011

Rumors of our Locking Kindergarteners in Closets with iPads are Greatly Exaggerated

Well, we’ve created quite a furor…

Ever since we (Auburn School District, Auburn ME) announced that we planned on giving iPads to kindergarteners, we’ve been pummeled by folks who think we’re wasting our money, and damaging our students.

Diane Ravach has tweeted that “Kindergarten kids should be playing with blocks, sand, water, butterflies, musical instruments, not doing it all virtually.”

Tech director friends (friends!) have used innuendo to imply that what we are doing is developmentally inappropriate and that there are reasons that other folks haven’t done it first (as if the fact that the technology is new and growing isn’t sufficient explanation…). They have asked over and over, “are you working with any early childhood specialists?” Well, who do you think tested the idea?
I have wanted in the worst way to find an old motorcycle helmet, duck tape an iPad to it, put it on a 5-year-old’s head and take a picture, then post it with the caption: our new iPad cases have arrived!

What’s wrong with people!? (At least the gal who cuts my hair had the decency to ask, “Is that a good idea?” before making up her mind. Imagine that! Asking questions before pronouncing judgement!)

Let me set the record straight.

#1 – This is an early learning initiative, not an iPad initiative. Given our primary grades literacy rates, and the number of students who receive remedial services, we need to do something, and something big, if we want to impact kids. This initiative includes multiple components:

  • The best possible educator
  • Personalized and targeted instruction
  • Powerful instructional materials including those both on and off the iPad
  • Frequent assessment
  • Maine Literacy Partnership (University of Maine)
  • Special Ed Partnership (University of Maine at Farmington)
  • A restructuring of the K-3 classroom to encourage the individual student along their learning path while increasing their exposure to activities that build strong social skills and foster motor skill development

#2 – iPads will only be used when it is the best possible instructional approach. No duct taping kids hands to iPads until they learn the kindergarten curriculum, no automating instruction so we don’t need teachers, no locking kids in closets so the only way they can learn and the only thing they experience is the iPad. We have great teachers. They are identifying when students should be doing conventional kindergarten activities, like playing in the sand box, chasing each other around the playground, being read to, or playing pretend and dress up, and when there are electronic instructional materials that are better at helping kindergarteners learn. J. M. Holland acknowledges in his blog, the Emergent Learner, that there are aspects of the iPad interface that would make it superior for SOME early learner activities: “For example, learning to recognize letters, produce and recognize letter sounds, memorize and produce simple patterns, comparing sets of images, iPads would be very good at this.” I hope you noticed from #1 above, that the TEACHER is and always will be our number 1 intervention!

#3 – We’re doing this because the apps work! Folks have suggested that we’re doing this initiative because we can or just because of the iPads. First, I’m surprised at how little people think of our professional abilities. Second, they have clearly never worked a large-scale school initiative before (and we have) if they think that any gadget-based initiative or “just because we can” initiative lasts any longer than a few headline cycles. There’s only one reason to do an initiative: we have reason to believe it will improve student learning. And we do. One of our literacy interventionists had struggled with reaching a handful of reluctant kindergarten learners. She finally thought she’d try out some apps on her personal iPad, and quickly students made gains, moving from “Below Basic” in their assessments, to “Beyond the Standard.” Even when she returned them them to the regular classroom (discontinued services), they maintained their gains. That seems a pretty strong argument to give iPads a try.

#4 – This strategy is cost effective. Know the definition of “insanity”? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. One of Auburn’s city councilors is insisting that students learn with pencil and paper, not iPads. But that’s insanity. For over a decade, we have been spending heavily on literacy and numeracy interventions and our results have flatlined. In fact, we need to try bold measures, such as iPads, because pencil and paper isn’t working for too many of our kids. Numerous kids enter kindergarten without the skills we often assume students should have (knowing their letters and numbers, for example). The gap just starts getting larger. Special education costs and costs for other remedial interventions just get larger through the grades and through the years, the ultimate cost being those society has to pay when a student drops out of high school… A new report points out, “Studies have shown that every dollar spent on high-quality early education programs for at-risk children can save as much as $16 in future costs to society, such as remedial education and crime.” Besides, Auburn is a frugal district. At just over $7800, Auburn’s per pupil expenditure is at least 10% less than any of it’s peer districts. The annual cost of this initiative (which will be funded through grants and donations), spread over 4 years, is less than 2% of our per pupil expenditure. Sounds like a smart investment to me.

So, instead of freaking out about this initiative, let’s ask good questions about what Auburn is actually planning on doing and have good conversations about early childhood education…

My Reaction to Initial Response to the Kindergarten IPad Program

There seems to have been tons of comment and commentary from our announcement that we plan to give kindergarten students iPads next fall. I wrote a little about it in my latest post (about it being a waste of money), and I intend to post soon about some of the misconceptions about the project.

But I need to step away from educator mode for just a minute and share my initial response (read “vent”!).

First off, WOW! I can’t believe the number of responses (and, yes, I’m responding mostly to the negative responses) expressing strong opinions with very little to no background information. They just see “iPads for kindergarteners” and go off.

I have to admit that this is quite frustrating to me. There is almost no demonstration of Stephen Covey’s “seek first to understand” and I’m amazed at the assumptions people seem to be making.

It is hard to see that people assume we are doing this because of the gadget (which we aren’t), or because “we can” (which we aren’t), instead of because we’ve had success working with students this way (which we have).

It is also frustrating to realize that so many people assume our early childhood literacy specialists don’t understand developmentally appropriate use of learning aids, rather than ask the question, “Wow, if they’re doing this, they must have some interesting results and experiences; I wonder what those are?”

So, thanks for the chance to vent, and I’ll get back to reflecting on our exciting early childhood initiative and sharing information and resources.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Folks Who Think Our Program is a Waste of Money Might be Right

In looking over comments on my Facebook post, comments on online newspaper articles, emails to school board members, and statements at city council meetings, it is clear that one opinion held by numerous people is that we’re wasting our money by giving kindergarteners iPads next fall.

And they might be right.

Remember, their understanding of school, and especially primary school, is based on what they experienced as students and as parents of young children. And they are right. If we were going to continue to do school the same way we always have (meaning using the iPads to do what we have always done) then we definitely will be wasting our money.

Remember the definition of “insanity”? It is, “Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” And frankly, if we were going to use the iPads to do the “same thing,” we clearly could use much less expensive resources.

But this project, like Auburn’s other projects, are about doing things differently, so we have some hope of different results.

We perceive the public school system as being broken. In Auburn, our primary literacy rate is around 60%. We have one of the highest dropout rates in the state. And our kids are bored in school and attendance rates are low.

This doesn’t mean we have bad teachers. In fact, we have great teachers. They continue to do amazing work with the kids that thrive in a traditional school setting. But a traditional school setting is not sufficient for meeting all our needs anymore.

It’s the school system that is broken, because we essentially have the same school system we had in 1890, and yet the rest of the world has (of course!) changed. To fix the school system, educators must respond creatively to at least three of the major changes in the larger society: technology, jobs, and kids.

Technology has changed how all of us (including young children) work, find information, learn, communicate, and socialize. Pay phones have all but disappeared (as have video rental stores, and cable TV fears it is next!). Skype means grandparents are staying in closer touch with grand children. People come to their doctors with a wealth of information from the web (let’s hope at least some is from reliable sources, such as Web MD!). And Facebook has connected people to long forgotten friends.

Jobs have changed. They require different skills. Skills that our traditional schools aren’t good at teaching. Proctor and Gamble has a plant in Auburn, and a P&G employee recently told a group of educators and community members that they have a hard time filling positions, because the schools aren’t teaching the right skills. They’re teaching students facts and skills, but P&G needs learning and problem solving. They don’t want to hired an electrician. They want to hire someone they can train to be an electrician for this project, but then train to be something else for the next project. And if we want students to learn how to learn and problem solve then we cannot afford to start anywhere other than the beginning of our educational system: early childhood education.

Kids have changed. Schools, families, and religious institutions used to have pretty much a monopoly on what and when young people learned. Today, young people learn what they are interested in learning, when they’re interested in learning it, and how they learn best. When schools ignore this and try to teach kids what, when, and how they want to, we run the risk of students slowly and quietly starting to believe that, even if school is required, it may be irrelevant.

If we want to succeed with more students, then we need to do some things differently. And the iPad is a good tool for doing things differently. Its easy of use, large selection of developmentally appropriate apps, immediate feedback, and engaging interface make it a great learning aid for teachers to customize learning and engage young learners.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Coverage of Auburn’s Kindergarten iPad Program Announcement

Here are links to some of the coverage of Auburn’s kindergarten iPad project.

Maine’s Chanel 6 did a nice piece on the initiative. Their video includes a video that our literacy interventionist created and was part of what we showed the school board last week.

Auburn Kindergarten Students set to get iPads

The Sun Journal is Auburn’s local paper. They’ve published several articles so far:

All Auburn kindergarten students getting iPads this fall

Opinions divided over iPads for Auburn kindergartners

Pros, cons of iPads for kindergartners discussed at budget workshop

My Favorite Headline so far is from TUAW:

The Coolest Kindergarten Ever – iPad 2s for Everyone

Cult of Mac posted this:

Should Kindergarteners have iPads

Electronista News had this:

Maine school district buys iPad 2s for every kindergartner

And this from isn’t about our program, but another district that is using iPads with young students:

iPad puts tech in schools

iPads to Come to Auburn Kindergarden Classrooms

I just started a terrific job in Auburn School District helping the high school develop multiple approaches to learning for all students.

Well, one of the reasons that this is such a great job is that the high school isn’t the only place in this district working to change school so more students can succeed.

Tonight, a team of Auburn educators presented to the school board their plan to roll out iPads to all kindergardeners next fall, starting with five pilot classrooms this spring.

Mauri Dufour, a literacy interventionist working with primary students, discovered this year that her students, even the youngest, could make quick gains working with her personal iPad, even taking slow starters quickly go the “Exceeds the Standard” level.

The board even had a surprise visit from Governor Angus King, who reminded us that not only do students need the same modern tools for learning that they see outside of school, and commended us for the bold move, but also reminded us that a decade ago, he had come to Auburn Middle School to kick off the Maine Learning Technologyy Initiative, the first (and still only) statewide learning with laptop intitiative.

Auburn is fortunate to have a school board, superintendent, and principals that have a strong vision for engaging each student with personalized learning.

The five pilot classrooms will work to explore possibilities, identify helpful apps, and bring to light the unanticipated successes and challenges of using modern learning tools with modern youngsters, while providing their fellow kindergarden teachers a place to visit in anticipation of all kindergarden teachers and students having access to iPads next fall.

We anticipate this being a game changer for our young learners!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad