Teachers say iPads allow students to learn at their own pace. (William DeShazer/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Educators from across the United States and as far away as Chile will be in Auburn, Maine, this week to learn how kindergarten students are using iPads for reading and math.

From Nov. 16 through Nov. 18, the Auburn School Department is hosting educators in a sold-out Leveraging Learning: The iPad in Primary Grades Institute. It’s the first national conference examining the educational benefits of the iPad tablet computer, School Committee member Thomas Kendall said.

The conference will be held at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn.

On opening day, keynote speakers will be former Gov. Angus King and Maine Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen. Former Auburn Superintendent Tom Morrill, who proposed that Auburn buy all of its kindergarten students iPads before he retired last year, also will tell Auburn’s story.

Bowen and King will talk about learning in the past, present, and future.

King is a big supporter of Auburn’s iPad program for all 285 kindergarten students, a $240,000 plan that has been controversial with some taxpayers. King is adamant about the advantages technology can provide for students.

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iPads take a place next to crayons in kindergarten

When he was governor 10 years ago, King pushed for legislation to give laptop computers to all public school seventh-graders in Maine—a pioneering plan, the first of its kind in the country, that many legislators initially balked at but eventually passed. Today, state taxpayers provide laptops for seventh- and eighth-graders. Most experts consider laptops a success, saying the technology enhances student learning.

Throughout Maine, about half of the state’s high school students also have laptops paid for in part by local taxpayers.

This year, Auburn is giving its kindergarten students iPad tablets in two phases: half of the classes received iPads in September, the rest will get them next month. The School Department will compare test scores to see how students with and without the technology learned.

It’s expected that those with the iPads will have learned more. Teachers have said students are more engaged and are learning their numbers and letters better with iPads. Teachers also say the technology allows students to learn at their own pace.

If the test data show the technology did, indeed, boost student learning, Auburn plans to secure grant money to pay for more iPads this fall, releasing local taxpayers from that cost.