Here is an update on what has happened in Auburn, Maine since the school committee approved $200,000 to purchase iPads for kindergarten teachers and nearly 300 five year-olds. From the Bangor News, May 2, 2011: “Auburn Residents Blast iPads-for-Kindergarten Program.”
From Connecticut, I received an email from a parent whose district is considering iPads for eighth graders. She gave me permission to quote her email.
“I am a public school parent in Stamford (CT) …. I have pasted below an email I sent to my district’s Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent …. I thought you might be interested in the message I sent. (I guess we’re really behind the times, starting in 8th grade). (Staples High is in an affluent neighboring district, Westport).
‘Dear Josh and Winnie:
I read in today’s paper that the schools are considering piloting iPads for 8th graders. At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, I must ask, to what end?
Are we piloting this to prepare our students to use technology? Having been saved from many panicked moments of Excel or other computer disasters by a 10, 14 or 16 year old, I must tell you (if you don’t already know) that these kids are way ahead of us at being prepared with technology.
Are we trying to engage students? Yes, gadgets may at first fascinate students, but I have a drawer full of Nintendos and other fascinating electronic toys that captured my kids’ attention for a few months, only to collect dust for several years thereafter. It is not technology that is going to engage our students on a lasting basis. Rather, it is deep and challenging content. What our children need are not more gadgets to help them instantaneously switch topics or constantly refocus their attention. To the contrary, I believe that children need to develop some old fashioned patience and discipline. They need to sit with a difficult text or concept. They need to write longer papers, rather than the 5 paragraph essay.
Are we trying to make school more and more student directed? To a point, student empowerment is good. However, I see a disturbing trend toward eliminating the contribution of the most powerful tool in our classroom- the teacher. Teachers have the potential to force our children to reach intellectually- to think of questions or perspectives that they cannot come up with on their own, or in a book club, or in a scripted curriculum or lesson. To give you just one example, in my son’s 5th grade class, they were learning about equilateral triangles. Later on in the day, in their social studies book, they came upon a triangle with the three branches of government written at each point. The teacher said “Hey look- an equilateral triangle- what does that mean again?” When the children answered, she said “Ok translate that to government- what do you think that means?” For this type of reaching across disciplines to see the world in a new way, we need teachers, not clickers on computers, not iPads and not classrooms run by students.
While I admit I envy the ability of my friends with iPads to distract their kids with the device when convenient, when it comes to school, I am more apt to envy my friends whose kids go to Staples High, where they have one English teacher whose sole job it is to support teachers of all disciplines to integrate writing into their courses. I wish we could devote any extra resources to human support for teaching….
Thanks as always,
The parent also pointed out to me that Auburn (ME) and Stamford (CT) are buying high-tech devices while cutting the budget. She has hit a nerve. Other places are doing the same. See here, here, and here.
Another comment from “Pete” (April 27, 2011) had this to say about iPad apps.
“I am deeply concerned that folks are uncritically accepting ipads without looking at alternative tablets nor focusing on the quality of the apps that may be used. I am not impressed with the ipad apps out there now but I am hopeful that goods ones will eventually be developed. For now the ipad is not a good tool for schools to use, as it has too many bugs to be worked out….”
Pete is correct about apps as the crucial piece to iPads. Few apps, for example, are designed by reading specialists who know the principles of reading and have taught the skills to hundreds of children who not only learned to decode but fell in love with reading. One I do know about comes from Dr. Selma Wassermann, an emerita professor who had taught children to read for many years. She designed an animated, engaging app (vetted and now sold by Apple’s iTunes store) that grabs children interest while helping them to learn to read. The first one is out and called “The My Word! Reader: Are Bees Smart, or What?” Here’s to smart apps for kids.
Thanks to all those who sent me emails and comments on this post about iPads.