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In Auburn, Maine, around 300 kindergarteners are going to get their very own iPads this fall, courtesy of the Auburn school system. The kids will use them to practice their ABCs, their counting and they'll all get to take their iPad 2s home and do homework on screen.
“It is an experiment,” says Ellen Wartella, PhD, a professor at Northwestern University who researches the effect of media on children. “I can see how schools might want to experiment with this type of technology. IPads are very easy to use – even for kindergarteners -- and engaging, so if they are used in pedagogically-sound ways, they could enhance the child's engagement with learning.” Which is to say -- they can make learning the usual stuff more fun. And kids who are having fun, are more likely to want to keep at it.
As Wartella points out though, no one really knows the effects of iPads in classroom, but we know computers have been used for years. While a Auburn is a rare case at the moment, technology companies are actively getting into the game -- an “education development executive” from Apple was reportedly at the Auburn School Committee meeting promoting the iPad 2, giving demonstrations on all the ways teachers can use it in the classroom. Maine has always been ahead of the curve in this way. In 2002, they were the first state to equip all seventh and eighth graders with laptops.
Most experts agree that computers can’t replace teachers. So in this particular case, without any proven benefit, is the school district being a bit reckless in their spending or just increadibly forward thinking? The iPad 2s will cost $200,000, and the school's superintendent says he’ll try to get the funds from grants and donations. If he doesn’t, he’ll use cash from the budget. The district is hoping for a 5 percent budget hike, which would come from higher property taxes, in a May 10 referendum. Some parents and educators in the city told the local newspaper they think the kids are too young for the iPad, saying they might break it and that it’s just too expensive a “toy.”