Auburn’s iPads deserve chance to prove worth

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Anyone who doubts the potential for iPads to engage young minds in learning has probably not yet tried one.

But even test-driving an iPad2 at the local Best Buy is unlikely to demonstrate the full learning potential of the light, slim computers.

That’s why we hope the Auburn School Department can raise enough money — outside of its municipal tax allotment — to fully implement the devices at the kindergarten level.

About 80 students and 20 teachers have now received their first iPad2s for a short pilot program.

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If that goes well, the district hopes to buy 225 more so all kindergarten students and teachers will have them by next fall.

That total cost to fully implement the program would be about $200,000.

Predictably, taxpayers choked on that number when it was first announced in the midst of a rancorous school budget debate last month

Later the district decided to proceed with the program without relying on taxpayer money.

District officials and School Committee members predict that math, reading and writing test scores will jump as a result.

One School Committee member, Tom Kendall, predicted the number of students doing grade-level work will jump from about 60 percent to 90 percent by 2014.

That would be remarkable and would probably end any debate about the effectiveness of the new technology.

The real potential of the new devices is three-fold, in our view.

First, the number of creative learning applications for the devices is already large and growing by leaps and bounds. The programs engage children through voice, music, sound effects, animation and colorful graphics to teach basic skills to students — something impossible for a teacher at a blackboard to replicate.

Second, they can let a roomful of young learners proceed at their own pace. Children can back up if they miss something or move forward quickly if new subjects come easily.

Finally, children get immediate feedback. If an answer is wrong, they know so immediately. If it is correct, they get immediate reinforcement, which is the most effective kind.

The devices will not take the place of teachers. Nor will they substitute for the critical lessons children learn about socializing and dealing with others in kindergarten.

Those things still need to happen.

But this is not 1981 and it’s not 1951. Young people are simply wired differently and learning differently than their parents and grandparents, and their futures will look far, far different.

Schools must continue to adapt and change, using the latest and best technology students need to grow and develop.

The iPads are an ambitious move in a bold, new direction. We hope Auburn can prove their effectiveness.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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