The Debate over iPads in Education

This week (specifically on Jan. 4th, 2011), the NY Times came out with an article embracing the iPad called “Math Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad.”

Most quotable and applicable to our Room 5 needs in this article was this statement by the author, “school leaders say the iPad is not just a cool new toy but rather a powerful and versatile tool with a multitude of applications, including thousands with educational uses.”

Immediately following, “A Pointed Response to the NYT Article on iPads in Schools” was posted by the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory.

This response began by stating that “if you change the technology but not the method of learning, then you are throwing bad money after bad practice... The downside is that it is not a classroom learning tool unless you restructure the classroom.   By that I mean, there is no benefit in giving kids iPads in school if you don’t change school.”

Sure. Points taken.  iPads are incredible, but are toys if not used properly… But ARE THEY?

In Room 5, we are currently using the iPads (that we received with a generous grant from the BBH Schools Foundation) in many different ways and for many different reasons.

If you’ve been following along, you know that Room 5 individualizes for every student.  So, its easy to say that every one of my 8 students has already used the iPad with a different purpose.

Here are some of the ways we’ve used the iPad:

1. A student with autism who is fully included in the “regular” classroom got upset in class.  He came to Room 5 for some cool off time.  As he jumped on the trampoline, he continued to cry.  I lured him to the table with the iPad and started to play Toy Story 3 Memory with him.  10 minutes later, he was ready to go back to class.  In those 10 minutes, I engaged this student with autism in turn taking, practicing the words ‘my turn’ and ‘your turn,’ and in tons of language as we named the characters from Toy Story 3 and used social game playing language such as “good job” and “way to go.”

2. A student with both autism and Down syndrome is pretty difficult to motivate sometimes.  A simple photo of the iPad in a “First-Then” schedule helps.  This student knows, “First I do my work, Then I get the iPad.”  Without the promise of the iPad, we got maybe 3 sight words receptively identified  in a 15 minute time period.  With the iPad yesterday, we got 40 words receptively identified in a 15 min. time period.  15 minutes of work then 5 minutes on the iPad where fun and musical programs are work in disguise!

3. I sit next to the student using the iPad.  It happens, but infrequently, that I leave a student alone with the iPad.  I sit next to them, prompting for language and other skills.  ALL of my students need practice with more social language and more vocabulary.  The iPad is helping with that.

4.  A student with autism who is nonverbal but loves to type and spells many things correctly or phonetically is currently using the iPad as a communication device with the App called “Speak It”.  While the iPad costs $499 (give or take the cost of the communication App you want), another communication device from a company like PRC might cost close to $7400!  I could buy 14 iPads for the cost of one Vantage Lite.  (Sure, there are arguments to be made here about durability, customization, etc. and we recognize that. )

5.   Multi-modal teaching.  As a special educator, I know that I need to teach using all of the multiple intelligences and all of the modalities (visual, auditory, tactile, etc., etc.).  The iPad is just one more tool in our arsenal of strategies.  Here’s an example: With my Kindergarten students, we are currently working on ‘beginning sounds.’  First, we look at objects that all start with one sound.  These are fun little toys and we name each of them verbally and feel and touch each object, then trace the beginning letter with our finger and make the sound.  Next, we look at pictures of objects to practice beginning sounds.  The pictures are first paired with the written word, then appear just as picture icons.  We practice saying the word and making the beginning sound.  Next, we move on to 3 or 4 pictures and point to the picture that starts with the verbally given sound.  THEN, we can introduce Apps on the iPad like “Word Magic.”  Word Magic shows a picture and the remaining letters of the word and asks the user to receptively touch the correct beginning letter out of a choice of 4.  It even provides it’s own positive reinforcer if the user answers correctly and says things like “Try again” if the user guesses wrong.  It ALSO gives a score on the side saying how many the user got correct on the first try and how many were incorrect.  Hello data collection!  Just in beginning sounds lessons alone, we’ve reached the auditory learner, the visual learner, the kinesthetic learner, the intrapersonal learner, the 21st Century learner!

5. Apps that promote more language AND are motivational are exactly what we look for in any “tool” or “strategy” in special education.  Apps like “Sentence Builder” and “Monkey Preschool Lunchbox” do just that.  (I’ll be writing a post about the Apps that we commonly use most in Room 5 soon.)

Now.  You might be thinking that I am using expensive toys to motivate my students.  You might be thinking that I could do the same with the computers we already have, a musical keyboard, an exciting new book, or even the promise of recess (that costs nothing at all).  And sure, you may be right.  (Although eventually we hope to get into more advanced uses of the iPad like blogging and tweeting from different school locations and reading chapter books in Apps like “Kindle for iPad.”)

But, consider this.  My students, those with moderate to intensive disabilities, are living in a world where they will constantly be struggling to compensate for their difficulties and come up with new strategies to deal with life’s challenges.

Aside from the fine motor, decoding, encoding, math computation, math reasoning, musical, and art skills that they can acquire from the iPad and it’s Apps, why not arm them with more “21st Century Skills?”

The tech world and society are moving towards the “touch screen,” scrolling pages, hand held devices, social media, and digital literacy.  Why not move ALL our students along as well?

The possibilities here are endless.

And we’ll keep writing about them and sharing our experiences.

OUR possibilities are endless.




Comments are closed.