AUBURN — The School Department's second annual iPads in schools conference this week has sold out and has a waiting list.
Leveraging Learning: the iPad in Primary Grades Institute will be held Nov. 14-16 at the Hilton Garden Inn. It will show teachers and administrators how Auburn schools have used iPads in kindergarten and first grade classrooms.
The School Department made national news in 2011 when the School Committee decided that all kindergarten students needed iPads to boost learning. Auburn was among the first public school departments in the nation to give kindergartners iPads.
Early test scores indicate the iPads, combined with new teaching strategies focused to individual student needs, are improving learning, Auburn educators say. This year all kindergarten and first-grade students got iPads.
Registration for the conference opened in August and was soon filled, Mike Muir, Multiple Pathways Leader for the Auburn School Department, said. “We're surprised how quickly we filled. We extended the size to accommodate more people.”
There are 140 people registered, up from 110 last year. About 60 percent are from Maine, Muir said, and the rest from other states and countries, including an international school in Okinawa, Japan.
There's high interest in iPad computer tablets in elementary schools for several reasons, Auburn Schools Superintendent Katy Grondin said. “People are seeing the power of the iPad as an instructional tool.”
Other school districts are buying iPads for young students, and the conference “is an opportunity to hear our lessons learned, what's gone well, so they don't make the same errors,” she said.
Lessons the School Department has learned, she said, include that when teachers have expectations of students, even those as young as 5 years old, “rise to that.”
Many worried that kindergarten students would lose or break iPads, but that hasn't been a problem, and so far students are not taking them home, she said.
Secondly, giving iPads to students needs to be coordinated with professional development for teachers, Grondin said. “A tool alone cannot make the difference, it has to be teachers' use of that tool,” she said.
And iPads boost the ease of individualizing lessons to students, which helps schools create mass customized learning for students, Muir said.
The conference will be a profit-maker for the Auburn School Department. To attend the three-day conference costs $400 a person, plus $25 to visit a classroom to see iPads in use. Grondin expects the department to make $8,000, and will put that money into the iPad program, she said.
The seminar is bringing money to the local economy, Grondin said. Many go to local restaurants to enjoy lobster, or to Wallingford's orchard for apples. Wednesday night there'll be a reception at Museum L-A.
“It's a way to get people out in our community and understand our cultural roots,” she said.