AUBURN — When a big change in education is being introduced, whether it’s iPads or a new way of teaching, leaders often don’t do a good enough job of explaining it to constituents, a speaker told educators at Wednesday’s iPad conference.

The three-day conference, “The Leveraging Learning Institute,” is hosted by the Auburn School Department and will continue Thursday and Friday. It attracted educators from throughout Maine and the country to the Hilton Garden Inn to learn about using iPads to boost student lessons.

The keynote speaker was Yellow Light Breen, chief strategic officer at Bangor Savings Bank. Breen worked with Gov. Angus King’s administration in 2000 to launch the laptop computer program for seventh-graders.

Breen said 13 years ago he and other laptop supporters thought unleashing the power of technology to expand lessons beyond school walls was a no-brainer. But there was not widespread support for the idea.

“The turning point was the second it stopped being a technical initiative and became a learning initiative,” he said. That happened, in part, after King hit the road, going around the state showing chambers of commerce and other groups how a laptop could, for example, teach about the Civil War more powerfully than books.

At the heart of any big change is communication, Breen said. School administrators are sometimes out of step with their communities. “As leaders in education, we’re just not that good sometimes about communicating what we’re doing, without jargon.”

When launching change, more needs to be done than sending out fliers and scheduling a community meeting, “because the same-old people come,” Breen said. The campaign must go where people are.

“And just when we think we’ve communicated enough, we have to communicate more,” he said. “It is a relentless, constant challenge. We see that in our own company.”

Breen praised school districts for the job they’re doing, but said more needs to be done.

He applauded Auburn schools for “sticking their necks out” and being the first to implement one-on-one iPads for elementary students. The portable computer is one of the most powerful pieces of equipment ever created, he said.

While he spoke from the front of the conference room, a team of Auburn Middle School students was at the back of the room, tweeting what was happening.

Breen dismissed criticism of public education as being lousy; in fact, it’s advanced, he said. In 1920, entry-level college students took algebra I and geometry. “Now we’re doing that with sixth-graders.”

One thing that worries him about public education, he said, “isn’t consequences for schools performing badly; it’s that there are so few consequences for performing great.”

Celebrating what’s done right “is an accelerant in the culture you’re trying to create,” he said.

Public education needs to prepare future workers who are not just smart and hardworking, but are innovators, who have life experience and apply lessons to real situations, Breen said. Software will be written for machines to do the easier, repetitive tasks. Humans will have to solve complex problems, he said.

Welcoming educators at the conference, Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin said three years ago the iPads came first, “the vision for customized learning came second.”

Now the iPad is a tool to help prepare students for the world they’ll face, she said. In the next several days, “you’ll hear that a lot,” Grondin said.

First-grade teachers Mary Merrill and Karen DeCarolis said they are attending to learn about teaching with iPads.

At her Crescent Park Elementary School in Bethel this year, Merrill’s first-grade class has one iPad for 14 students; next year it will be one for each.

“We’ve already learned about some neat apps,” Merrill said during a virtual tour of an Auburn classroom Wednesday morning.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.