LEWISTON — Following a similar decision in Auburn, the Lewiston School Department will give tablet computers instead of laptops to seventh- and eighth-graders.

The School Committee voted 8-1 Monday night to give Apple iPads to middle school students. Donald D’Auteuil, the City Council representative on the board, cast the lone vote against iPads, preferring laptops.

The bottom line was educationally, schools we visited and people we talked to, it’s a better tool for learning,” Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said Tuesday. “Look what’s happening in industry and the workplace. There’s a movement to touch-screen interface (instead of keyboards).”

Once Webster decided to recommend tablets instead of laptops, Apple was the obvious choice, he said. “The iPad is so much cheaper than the Hewlett-Packard tablet” and comes with educational apps. The iPad will cost $217 per student for one year. The Hewlett-Packard tablet was more than $300, Webster said.

Gov. Paul LePage recommended schools opt for Windows-based Hewlett-Packard laptops instead of Apple laptops, but LePage allowed school districts several other choices. If their choices were more expensive than the HP laptops, schools had to pay the difference.

Because the state pays for computers for seventh- and eighth-graders (assuming that money stays in the state budget not yet approved by lawmakers), Lewiston will not save money by going with the less-expensive iPads; the savings will stay with the state. But, Lewiston will not have to spend $20,000.

Last month, Webster recommended to the School Committee it go with Apple laptops instead of HP laptops. Apple laptops would have cost Lewiston $20,000.

While the School Committee mulled its choices, Webster had second thoughts. “I became concerned I was making a mistake,” he said. He pulled his laptop recommendation and polled superintendents who gave him glowing reports on iPads.

He and other educators visited four schools where students use iPads: Cape Elizabeth High School, Sanford High School, Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft and Edward Little High School in Auburn. That city now provides iPads to grades K-1 and is proposing to give iPads to second-graders this fall. Auburn plans to provide iPads instead of laptops to students in grades seven through 12.

Talking to teachers, students, administrators and businesspeople, Webster returned from the visits “feeling we’re going to be doing our students the best by going the tablet route.”

He noticed a generational divide with iPads versus laptops.

Younger students were by far the most enthusiastic,” he said. Freshmen and sophomores often preferred iPads; high school juniors and seniors sometimes preferred laptops, Webster said.

Think about how fast technology is changing,” he said. “The iPad has only been out for about five years. That freshman in high school has a different perspective than a senior.

While most adults prefer writing on laptops, not iPads, Webster said writing on an iPad is second nature to younger students. “This is a generational thing. Students growing up in today’s world want that touch screen. They’re typing away on smartphones. To do it on an iPad has become second nature.”

Edward Little student Jake Bazinet, who is a student representative on the school committee, said students have mixed reviews on getting iPads this fall.

Some are excited, and some are worried about using the iPad, Bazinet said. “Those who are worried think that typing and research will be an issue due to the touch screen.” Others fear typing long essays will be more difficult on the iPad, he said.

Bazinet said he can’t wait for the iPads. “It will be easier to use and much more portable than the original laptop.” Many students are curious to see what the iPads bring to education, he said.

At Cape Elizabeth High School, Webster was told the school ordered 400 iPad keyboards. Four have been used. Even so, Lewiston Middle School will get one keyboard for every 15 students.

Students will get iPads with protective sleeves and cases. Middle-school teachers will get new Apple laptops and iPad Minis.

Unlike Auburn, Lewiston High School does not provide one computer for each student. And there is no plan to give iPads to high school students, Webster said.

The 800 or so old laptops used by middle-school students will be refurbished and given to elementary school students, Webster said.

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