AUBURN — The Auburn School Department’s iPad conference makes money for the School Department, attracts economic development and puts Auburn schools on the map, organizers say.

The Auburn School Committee on Wednesday heard a preview of this year’s “Learning Leverage Institute,” the fourth-annual iPad conference, set for Nov. 12 to 14 at the Hilton Garden Inn.

The three-day conference can accept a maximum of 140 people. As of Wednesday, 138 had registered, said Mike Muir, the school department’s multiple pathways director.

The School Department has considered making the conference larger, but that would mean moving it to Augusta or Portland. They want to keep it here. “This is an Auburn event,” Muir said.

Most attendees are from Maine, including Aroostook County, Bethel, Sabattus and Oakland. Some are from Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina and New York. One person will attend from Japan and 13 from Sweden.

Most are teachers, but administrators and technical support staff will also attend.

Auburn’s first iPad conference was held in 2011, the same year the school department made national headlines, and attracted local criticism, for giving an iPad to each kindergarten student. Auburn has since expanded one-on-one iPads to other lower grades.

And now, iPads in the classroom are flourishing nationally in all grades. Many Maine middle and high schools now use iPads instead of laptops.

In 2011, “tablets were new,” Muir said. “We were one of the first districts to give one-on-one iPads to kindergartners.” The first conference successfully answered questions from educators on good ways to use iPads, Muir said.

Auburn’s annual conference is different from others offered in the country in that the Auburn conference is hosted by a School Department, with support from Apple, which lends technical support and helps with event planning.

Teachers who use iPads in the classroom lead sessions showing other teachers how to use iPads, Muir said.

Classroom teachers have worked hard to pioneer best practices for iPads. When they present at the conference, “it gives them a boost,” Muir said. “It says, ‘You’re valued, important.’ I see a big benefit in being able to recognize staff.”

And the conference is profitable. In the first year, registration revenue was $39,000, expenses were $28,000; the profit about $10,500. In 2012 the profit was about $16,000, and in 2013 the profit was $18,000.

“All of our profit goes straight back into the program,” Muir said. “It’s helping our program move forward.”

The annual conference helps the local economy, Muir said. Each year those attending spend between $25,000 to $28,000 on lodging. “That’s quite an injection into the community,” Muir said. “That’s not counting area shopping and dining.”

This year’s agenda includes four keynote speakers. Those attending early will watch a virtual classroom of teachers and kindergartners using iPads in a Fairview Elementary School classroom. A reception will be held Nov. 13 at Museum L-A, Muir said, inviting School Committee members to attend.

The committee liked what Muir shared.

“We’re a leader and no one can catch us,” member Tom Kendall said. “We’ve been doing this longer than anyone else. I don’t want us to lose sight of that.” 

He added, “Bringing our teachers into it, relating real experience has been one of the most important aspects.”

School Committee member Bonnie Hayes said she asked for an iPad conference report because she wasn’t sure what went on. “It’s not a balloon festival. It’s something different. It speaks highly of our system” and is important, she said.

Too often Auburn schools aren’t noted for good things, Hayes said. “To all of our naysayers who four or five years ago said, ‘Oh, my God! iPads! Laptops!’ (Now) we’re being recognized nationally and globally on this.”

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