Kindergartners and iPads–Part 2

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,


Wendy” ‘

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.


Filed under technology use

8 responses to “Kindergartners and iPads–Part 2

  1. Bob Calder

    Two things: (1) The schools don’t plan on having the kids do anything besides “use” the little machines. Student-directed, engaged, and prepared? How about “use” as in cell phone? Take the number and cost of textbooks and it should about equal the cost of the devices. (2) The iPad, like the iPhone has a free development suite that does the difficult part of interface building for you – which makes it the most likely place that new content will appear. This week a software publishing platform was announced that allows anyone to author interactive books for the iPad. Take that in combination with the price point of the average app compared with the price point of the average vertical market piece of trash software a school district buys and you have a winning combination. I would like nothing more than to see the school software business model choke and die as it plays to the weaknesses of the way school districts purchase and steals revenue that should be spent on more worthwhile pursuits. That is not to say I want the horrid budget practices of the institutional complex of education be perpetuated! I hate that it is easier to buy 3 machines for $5,000 than 50.

  2. Larry, I wrote a blog post a few months ago about the maintenance nightmare associated with iPads. iPads make a decentralized client server network look like an efficient model. After all, who’s going to download all these apps, then download updates, and then download the next updates, etc.? The teacher? Or, are we going back to human intensive application management requiring a huge IT expenditure instead of hiring teachers? Here’s my post

  3. Sandy

    There is a distinct purpose to the purchase of an iPad or similar tablets for schools in our district–no tablet has been ruled out. The school board adopted etexts rather than print textbooks. In order to provide broader access, we began a study to see if iPads will be a good tool for etext and are now examining how we can extend the pilot for all students as we move to a 1:1 solution in the future. The advantages of etext on a tablet: annotation on the text, notetaking in the text, links to deeper content, variety of media that can be controlled by the end user such as videos and timelines. One textbook publisher has already moved in this direction and students genuinely appreciate marking up their e-textbooks making it easier for them to study. Disadvantages: the tool itself can be a distraction. The list goes on for both sides, so we are collecting all the data on this before proceeding.

    The iPad, Xoom, Touch etc etc are not going to replace good teaching. Good teaching is good teaching. I would be more concerned if delivery of content were solely from the iPad, but its not. At least not yet. Maybe you should be watching the trend toward online learning, Larry. Would greater efficiencies be reached via online learning – i.e. more students in a classroom all getting their lesson via a CMS which would have the effect of reducing the number of teachers needed in a building? Districts save money – its a lot cheaper to buy computers for students than to pay the salary and all its ancillary costs of a teacher. But what a woeful place a school would be if this market driven vision becomes a reality.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks so much for the details you provided about APS’s path toward finding hardware and software that helps teachers. And you are right that there will always be tradeoffs for the teacher and students regardless of the device. Watching online learning is a full time job.. Already “credit recovery” online instruction is replacing summer schools; the hype for online learning proceeds unabated.

  4. Pete

    We know how the story will go. The ipad will be outdated by next year. Any school that purchased ipads knows this now that the ipad 2s have come out. If the electronics and computer industry continues the way it is trying to keep up will be a loosing game for our schools. More focus needs to be placed on technology that will be useful for at least ten years, works across platforms, is rugged, and can handle apps and software that will be released over the next ten years. Ipads do not meet that demand by a long shot. In two years half the students will have better smartphones in their pockets. Might as well tell them to put the ipad in their locker and get out the smartphone. You know this better than most Larry. What astounds me is that we keep making the same mistakes.

  5. Pingback: Putting “Deep” Into Practice | The Principal of Change

  6. Steve Davis

    Online learning does not work for the students who need it the most. While true online learning is promising, the online learning programs that are being foisted upon students who need it for “credit recovery” are just glorified online test prep. Students watch a video then do multiple choice questions. Students need to be self-disciplined to make it through a self-paced course with little or no content area support. Many students who have failed challenging courses like algebra are unlikely to find success with these types of online credit recovery programs. Also, this type of online learning devalues the teaching profession. Teachers are paid as clerks (at way less than per diem rates) to register students and monitor their progress. No teaching is done since many of the classes are outside of the teacher’s credentialed subject area. True online learning should include student interaction with peers and a content-area teacher, e.g., participation in threaded discussions, and writing essays that will be read by a person not an algorithm. No need to show your work on those online math problems, Johnny. Check out how Florida is using online learning to skirt class size limits.

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