Auburn report: iPads help kindergartners learn

AUBURN — Kindergartner David Hall worked on math on his iPad Wednesday morning.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Mia Burgess, left, shows Rebecca Noone something on her iPad in Susan Lemeshow's kindergarten class at Sherwood Heights Elementary School on Wednesday.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Keegan Olcott works on a counting application on an iPad in Susan Lemeshow's kindergarten class Wednesday morning.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Lily Waisanen works on an iPad in Susan Lemeshow's kindergarten class Wednesday morning.

Playing “Feed the Hippos Hot Peppers,” the Sherwood Heights Elementary pupil counted aloud as his fingers moved peppers into a hippo's mouth.

Early test results of kindergarten pupils like David who used iPads for nine weeks last fall — compared to kindergartners who did not — show the iPads pupils did better, according to an Auburn School Department report released Wednesday.

In 9 of the 10 areas of testing around pre-reading skills, the group of 129 students with iPads made slightly larger gains than the 137 students without. Testing included listening and comprehension, identifying letters, reading, vocabulary and identifying letter sounds.

Only one area, however, was statistically higher: recognizing sounds and writing letters. In that test, students were dictated words. They had to translate the sounds into letters and write the words. Kindergartners with iPads gained 13.72 points, compared to an 11.58-point gain for students who didn't have iPads. That difference is significant, said Mike Muir, the Multiple Pathways leader for Auburn schools.

Damian Bebell of Boston College, who worked with Auburn on the research, told the Auburn School Committee on Wednesday night, “In every measure we examined, the iPad students were outperforming the comparison students. When looking at short-term literacy gains, we're definitely seeing the data trending toward favoring the iPad students.”

Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin said the results were exciting.

“We're pleased with such a short window of using iPads as instructional tools,” Grondin said. “We are seeing it's making an impact in learning.”

Last year, Auburn made national headlines and created controversy among some taxpayers when it gave kindergarten students iPads. Half of the students got iPads in September, the other half in December. The goal was to do research comparing the two groups to see what difference the iPads made.

More complete research will follow over longer periods, including comparing this year's kindergarten achievements to last year's.

Another next step is to seek grant money to pay for more iPads to expand their use in Auburn schools.

Grondin said she would propose in the 2012-13 budget buying another round of iPads for next year's kindergartners. Auburn spent about $230,000 last year on the tablet computers, which cost $500 each. If approved, both kindergartners and first-graders would have iPads next year.

School Committee member Bonnie Hayes cautioned that that is far from a given. “With our finances, you better get a grant, and a good one,” Hayes said.

Several members questioned whether the iPads could be shared next year. Grondin said it would not be the same kind of program, that the iPads are customized to individual students, much like cellphones.

With the research it has done, the School Department hopes to get grant money to pay for the iPads, which was one reason for giving them to half of the students and comparing achievement. Muir said a grant committee is working with former Gov. Angus King, who has generously agreed to look over Auburn's cases for grants.

The testing Auburn did was a high standard of research grant givers “look for to fund you or not, Muir said. “This can open up funding for us.” The data could also come in handy as the Maine Department of Education explores how to expand digital learning throughout Maine, and as other schools look to Auburn to learn about iPads, Muir said.

Teachers are excited about the iPads, committee members were told.

Sherwood Heights Elementary School kindergarten teacher Susan Lemeshow called the iPads “one of the most powerful teaching tools I've ever used. … I can put her on one book, her on a different level book,” she said of two girls in her class.

Pupils are doing the same lesson, “but at the level they need,” she said. “Students are constantly doing the skills we want them to do. They are going to learn words in a way some of them might not have ever learned.”

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Mike Lachance's picture

Cant afford to fix EL and yet

Cant afford to fix EL and yet spending half a million dollars on ipads that kids do NOT need is ok?

Charlotte Morin's picture

Pop 'em in front of a good educational tv show...

for an hour for reading and an hour for math and they'd probably make the same gains for less money....just being the Devil's Advocate.

Jason Theriault's picture

It's a shame.

It's a shame to see what benefit the ipads can have knowing that it is a one year project. I mean, I don't see them being able to pull a rabbit out of their hat this year.

I do think we can get ipads into the schools, but it would take some planning, such as replacing textbooks with ipads and cutting down on supplies used, ect....

But I don't see that happening.

Robert McQueeney's picture

I pads

This is an expensive program. That much goes without saying. But what of the benefits? I used to draw plans by hand. Nowadays, I can not ever see doing it without a CAD program on my PC. I can identify with the benefits of computers helping out. The question is, can the town afford to do this? Right now, in this depressed economy? Can it not wait a few years for things to turn around? Many of us are putting off purchases until we can afford them. I'm not saying we shouldn't, I am asking if this is a good time where we can actually afford this.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

Good questions. The iPads are

Good questions.

The iPads are already bought and paid for. The real question, will be, is this device something that could begin to replace books and various supplies down greatly reducing the cost of acquiring and maintaining that inventory? Auburn is too small of a study to answer that, but it's one of the things to evaluate. The other significant question is one raised by Education Commissioner Bowen, that of meeting his challenge for creating an education anywhere/everywhere system. While there are certain academic activities which may be best delivered in the traditional four walls of a classroom, there is a tremendous amount of potential for education outside of a classroom environment which we do not captitalize on. While I would not suggest we might not need the expense of building and maintaining traditional school buildings down the road, whether we need the size and costs associated with building and maintaining those physical plants, that's another consideration.

Jason Theriault's picture

baby steps man.

You can't change education overnight. While I agree that the current system is outdated and needs re-examination, I think that communication is key to education, and that the very best form of communication is face to face. I don't think you can replace that with technology.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

I agree communication is key

I agree communication is key Jason. Though I have more concerns with contemporary "face to face" encounters, I know in Lewiston my son attends Geiger where i have nothing but high praise for his teachers, much of the face to face (in classroom of 25 kids) is dealing with behavior, and as a classroom size expands I don't know that our current assumptions of face to face are particularly effective. My observation of the use of iPads and my own use in teaching in Adult Ed actually expands face to face time by boiling down/through all the other distractions (pulling out different books, finding that elusive #2 pencil, etc, etc) so in class I'm more focused on teaching. It also gives me more opportunity as students grapple with a task outside of the classroom to help them in that moment without eating into time - in other words I find it allows me to indeed teach outside of the classroom as an individual learner grapples with, say how to set up their mailbox, or shut off apps running in the background of their iPad e.g.

Jason Theriault's picture

I think adult ed is in a

I think adult ed is in a different category in that the people in adult ed and their voluntarily, where as with kids it is compensatory. I think the biggest advantage that iPods can bring is a more customized, interactive education. By customizing the educations to progress instead of goals, you will lose less students. And the interactivity of the lessons will keep active minds involved.

And iDevices are fantastic for having such a shallow learning curve. My son started using them when he was like 2½. He’s learning to read now(4¾ years old) , but can navigate a iPad without issue. Heck, he asked us for Christmas for angry bird slippers. I said “I don’t know if they make them.” He then navigated to the Angry birds store and showed me. WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO READ.

However, I think it’s all for naught, as I doubt they can get the money to keep this going. I would love if they could figure a way to do this, and as a Auburn taxpayer, I would be willing to pay the increase to fund it because I think the results even took me a little off guard. But it isn’t going to happen.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

Yes adult ed is a different

Yes adult ed is a different story, adults learn differently than children. Though even children have significant differences in learning style and intelligences, which our current education system in the US and Maine is rather poor at exploiting the full potential of - this has been my concern for many years as a hinderence to our educational system, Harvard's Howard Gartner has done considerable research into multiple intelligences an area which is still largely ignored in how we evaluate students, teachers and schools effectiveness. I'm not certain, with the cost of bricks and mortar schools we can afford to only recognize education which happens there. The pre reading ability you describe (navigating the iPad/Internet symbols) is actually a part of developing literacy, this is related to the theory behind helping children learn language first through sign language.

And I agree, if my son (9 years) goes on about Angry Birds much longer, Angry Bird this and that, their not going to be the only ones who get angry.

Robert McQueeney's picture

Since the Ipads are bought

Since the Ipads are bought and paid for, they should certainly be used. I only see good coming out of that. Sure there may be some surfing and virus stuff, but I'll wager there are safeguards involved here. I guess the next question is can we afford to expand such a program today?

JOHN PAINTER's picture

Yes Bob you can actually turn

Yes Bob you can actually turn off Safari (the web browser), and lock that app away from kids and replace it with an app such as Mobicip which is a secure child safe browser. Alternatively, it's also very easy to limit the iPad, at least at school and home to a MiFi system wich is a wireless intranet one can completely control the content on -this is not internet but certainly could help a child learn how to use the internet.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

This is certainly encouraging

This is certainly encouraging information;
“In every measure we examined, the iPad students were outperforming the comparison students. When looking at short-term literacy gains, we're definitely seeing the data trending toward favoring the iPad students.”
though, I would caution, just beginning of evaluating the role of iPads and similar devices in education.

Having worked with iPhones (repairs, training, writing for iPhone Life magazine) since they came out and now iPads (teaching a Lewiston Adult Ed class on them) it's fairly clear to me that the nature of the touchscreen interface and interplay with audio and accelerometer in the devices makes them much more dynamic than a typical laptop, or cell phone, etc. An example of how I've observed the devices help improve literacy is with dynamic books like Ocean House Media's Jack in the Bean Stalk which allows a child to read or will read to them, and help pronounce words. In short, while I believe it is best for a parent (or other involved adult) to read to a child, in those instances when it's not possible, the iPad (and iPhone, iPod Touch) can take over the role, thus extending the reading experience critical to gaining literacy skills.

I think the L/A area children, and Maine can prosper by leveraging the additional time and attention to education the iPad can offer. I think the real potential however lays further down the road in secondary and post secondary education. I can personally vouch for the exceptional ability of the Biostatistics app which clearly outdoes SPSS (for anyone concerned with statistics) in both its portability and ease of use.


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