Teaching children in self-contained special education classes (JLD and ILD) presents its challenges due to radically different learning styles and different achievement levels. Traditional teaching methods are not always effective due to their learning difficulties and learning styles. Differentiated instruction is key to reaching these learners. Many students benefit from visual and tactile experiences. Most are enthusiastically immersed in technology and digital pursuits in their daily home life. We wanted to harness that strong interest and engage their learning process and focus their attention towards higher academic achievement, independence and leadership opportunities. Our goal was to learn how to enhance student learning through engaging and relevant digital tools such as iPads and appropriate applications. These technology-related life skills are crucial in our technology-driven world. We wanted to expand our traditional teaching mindset to include innovative and current technology and methodology.
Professional Learning Goals
- learn and plan programs collaboratively that encourage self-directed, interactive and independent student learning rather than traditional teaching methods
- explore the possibilities iPads offer to educators to increase the engagement and learning of special-needs students
- identify relevant apps and learning activities for our special education students
- develop a unit that integrates individual and interactive technology in the classroom and in the curriculum.
- learn to integrate iPads with existing technology and software (e.g., Read&Write Gold, Ladibug document camera, Smart Boards)
- share relevant strategies, units and apps with colleagues
Activities and Resources
A large part of our activities included searching for, exploring and evaluating suitable apps for special education students. Many apps were too simplistic for the targeted age group or the written material was too difficult to read for the ability level of our students. We finally decided to focus on creating an inquiry unit of planning and carrying out a trip using public transportation since it allowed us to use both iPad apps and Internet resources to find and record information.
These are some of the resources we used for this unit:
- iPads and laptops
- software/apps (Safari, Goggle Maps, iPhoto, iMovie, Book Creator, Read&Write Gold)
- websites – TTC.ca, iTunes Store, Pinterest
- delays in receiving iPads, so we could not explore/find suitable apps for students
- helping students understand that the iPad is an educational tool and not a toy
- monitoring and limiting accessibility to appropriate apps and sites
- finding suitable apps for special education students (high interest/low vocabulary)
- consistent Wi-Fi connectivity is an ongoing and frequent issue within our school
Enhancing Student Learning and Development
- iPads will allow the students to learn in a manner that is addressing their unique learning style
- due to student’s keen interest in technology at home, iPads will increase student engagement in learning both at home and school
- integration of interactive technology will allow the opportunity for students to become self-directed learners
- as a result of our demonstration class model, our students will become more confident and independent learners
We have shared our experience and unit with other staff members through division meetings, informal demonstrations and sharing the unit through the teacher share folder. Since we are all new to using this type of technology in the classroom, we knew that there would be a learning curve for all of us and that there would be a lot of refinement necessary in our approach and mindset to teaching with iPads. We also needed to strictly set ground rules with students so that the technology was used effectively so that it would truly become a learning tool and not just a drill or game. We feel that the unit we designed could be adapted to children in grades 2 to 8. Obviously, the scope, complexity and some of the resources would change depending on the age and ability of the students (e.g., Grade 8 students could plan and budget a humanitarian trip using websites such as Expedia and to learn budgeting using Excel).
We felt that our project was a success, but we also felt that we had just barely started to learn about integrating iPads in a classroom setting. We feel that we still have a huge amount to learn and that we still have some large challenges in our future, but we are excited about the prospect and challenge of learning more.
There was a great deal of frustration on the teachers’ part about the lack of quality apps suitable for junior- and intermediate-aged special education students. Changing the mindset of educationally disassociated students about the proper classroom use of iPads was another hurdle to overcome.
In the end, the students showed much more engagement and interest in researching and learning using iPads. The quality of their work improved, their confidence increased and the students developed some appreciation for using iPads as learning tools.
I believe we would have liked to have observed a class (of similar age and ability) that is using iPads in their classroom.
A support page for my presentations about iPads for teaching and learning and tons of links to information from others.
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