AUBURN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The Auburn School District made national headlines last April, when the school board voted to give every one of its Kindergarteners an iPad. The $200,000 buy was seen by some as forward-thinking and by others as a huge waste of cash.
After a year of using the devices, Auburn's kindergarten teachers are believers. One even did her Master's thesis on how the iPads helped her students learn math. Amy Heimerl is presenting her findings at the Advantage 2014 iPad conference in Auburn this week.
Heimerl felt like the iPads were making a difference when she set out to do her research last year, but she wanted to prove it. She collected data on some specific math skills from the 11 students of hers whose parents were willing to sign a release. Once she looked at her findings, she was surprised by just how much the iPads seemed to help.
"For, across the board, every student to have made some sort of gain -- you want that to happen, but when it does, you go, 'Wow!'"
Heimerl found the devices were particularly strong at teaching pattern recognition. And in both Heimerl's research and in the research done by the Auburn school district, there's also a pattern. So far, Auburn students using iPads appear to be improving just about all of their math and literacy scores on standardized tests.
Heimerl believes that the tablet computers work because they're so easily customized to each student. "And so one particular machine, one iPad, can reach every single one of my students with a touch of a button," she said.
Heimerl thinks students really seem to respond to the rewards for success built into the apps. And, she says, the iPad frees her up to work with students one on one. She knows that when the other students are on their computers, they're on task.
Heimerl warns, though, that the iPad doesn't replace teachers or many traditional teaching methods. She said, "Kids still need to be using Play-Doh. They still need to be building with blocks. They still need to be doing paper/pencil tasks. They still need to be doing all those traditional things that parents say, "When I went to school..." -- yes, we still do those things."
Heimerl is now working with Auburn's other Kindergarten teachers to find ways the iPad can be used more creatively, helping kids create their own books, for instance.
The Auburn School District also is doing some deeper research to see if the iPads are more effective over the long term. This is the second full year that the district has given iPads to its Kindergarteners, and the first year that first graders are using them.