The push for technology in the classroom is not a new initiative. In the past, there have have been many attempts to incorporate technology in the classroom. In some cases, school districts did not have funding to support technology, while other schools with technology and resources do not have the personnel and the know-how to implement it effectively. In some cases, teachers are not provided with the support needed to successfully integrate technology into their classrooms. In today’s ever-changing world, technology has found its way into every facet of our lives. The internet, mobile devices, YouTube videos, social networking, and ipads all comprise the world our students are living and learning in. As educators, we must be able to embed this technology into our practices and allow our children to benefit from these technological advances. Although this may seem like a difficult venture, it isn’t! The reality is that most kids do not need instruction on how to operate a computer, we instead need to focus on learning how to teach content with and through technology.
Teachers need to understand how technology can benefit student learning. Technology can allow a teacher to access each and every child’s individual learning style while providing a platform where students can work at their own pace. Technology can help teachers balance the limited instruction time by providing activities, project-based learning, and one-on-one coaching and peer support all while making learning interactive and fun. Well-employed use of technology in the classroom can allow teachers to tailor learning to students’ individual needs while freeing up classroom time, leaving teachers more time for projects, one-on-one coaching, and more creative activities.
Click here to see an example of “liberated learning” with technology.
Before we can begin to explore technologies in our classroom we need to have a clear understanding of exactly what technology is and what it can look like in each of our unique classrooms. It is important for us to remember that technology can be anything from a simple device such as a magnifying glass or a pack of sticky notes to a complex device such as a computerized communication system. Technology is the making, usage, and knowledge of tools, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or serve some purpose. Technology can include any piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase or maintain the functional capabilities of a child in an educational setting. The implementation of technology, no matter how complex, can help students access materials in a variety of ways thereby increasing understanding. Technology can help eliminate barriers and provide scaffolding that can help students work at their maximum potential.
Although technology is a necessary component in every classroom, its presence in the special education setting can have a tremendous impact. Students who are classified as Special Education have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The goals of the IEP can be but are not limited to study skills, reading, math, writing, daily living, and career and transition goals. Technology is an impressive tool for teachers students in meeting their individual planned goals. Technology will help motivate your entire classroom while making learning more relevant to the entire classroom community.
High Tech Options
The flip cam has been one of the most beneficial and inexpensive purchases I have ever made as a teacher. We have used the camera not only to film holiday celebrations, field trips, and class plays but to also record step by step procedural videos of some of our daily classroom routines. For instance, many children forget what partner reading should look and sound like, rather than having to explain these routines to children a teacher might make a catalog of these videos and keep them on the desktop of the classroom computer for a quick visual explanation. I have recorded directions for properly using centers in our classroom, the quick video will show a child how to use the materials in the art center as well as illustrate what they need to do to close/clean up a center when they are done. Some children may find book shopping a very hard process, they are unsure of how to choose a “just right book” and can watch as a classmate demonstrates choosing a book, taking a book walk to see if they are able to read the words on the pages or if the pictures are of interest to them. I have also found the flip camera to be very useful with students who may not be able to generate a written story but are able to deliver it orally. The child can be recorded telling the story and can use the playback, and pause features to then pen the story from their oral telling.
Flip cameras can be a great low-cost way to integrate technology into every discipline in your classroom. Flip cameras are simple to use and can be used by both teacher and student. Flip cameras provided teachers with the ability to freeze-frames and save individual photos as well as record videos. Teachers can digitally catalog demonstrations of solving math problems from the board or using manipulatives. These can also be used to record digital step-by-step demonstrations on how to use centers in the classroom. A teacher can have students model what good reading partners look like or even how a process might look during a visit to the art or math center. Some other uses can include:
- Digitally recording a field trip
- Have student’s record a book review
- Reenact part of a story or a poem
- Film a prediction of a book ending
- Interviews with family or staff members for digital storytelling
- Create commercials
- Demonstrate safety procedures or lab experiment in Science
- Act out a historical event or capture a speech in Social Studies
- Demonstration of Science experiments or projects
- Film activities or games played during P.E
- Film students as they role-play for character education
- Film tape of the lesson or student interaction for professional development
- Film podcast for every reason
Not all students learn the same way, we have students at varying skill levels and some may not be able to write a story, but they can orally deliver one. Digital recorders can also aid English-language learners; they can use the device to practice pronunciation or make recordings of phrases or words.
Audacity is a free, easy-to-use and multilingual computer program. It is an audio editor and recorder for Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. You can use Audacity to record live audio or convert tapes and vinyl records into recordings.
Electronic Text-to-Speech Dictionary and Thesaurus
An electronic text-to-speak dictionary and thesaurus is a great resource. It can be beneficial to auditory learners, slow processors (need repetition), and struggling readers. Students type in the word and the mechanism will provide the correct spelling and/or the definition of that word. This technology is an excellent assist when working with students that have articulation difficulties; they can play the word repeatedly and have a model of the correct pronunciation.
Students with learning disabilities may have difficulty reading printed words, but not recognizing spoken words. A reading pen enables users to scan, hear the text, and have word definitions read aloud with the product’s integrated text-to-speech mechanism.
One of the most talked-about classroom necessities has become the ever-popular smartboard. A smartboard is a presentation device that interfaces with a computer. The computer images are displayed on the board by a projector, where the teacher/student can manipulate images and text. Software applications can then be controlled from both the computer and the board. Teachers have the ability to add notations, or emphasis by using a pen and or highlighter. A finger can be used as a mouse; the interaction is not just limited to the person at the board but can also involve another user at the computer. Once completed, documents, notes, and illustrations can then be saved, emailed or printed.
The integration of students with or without learning disabilities can be a daunting task. With the use of a smart board in your classroom, all students have the opportunity to be included as active participants in learning academic content while ensuring them opportunities to form social relationships, practice turn-taking, and form friendships with peers.
I recently got a smartboard installed in my classroom and it is great! The smartboard is a great way to project and display web pages, worksheets and conduct interactive lessons while keeping students highly motivated and engaged.
As a teacher in a 12:1 classroom, I must identify each of my students’ strengths and weaknesses and come up with innovative ways to facilitate their learning through the use of conventional methods as well as ones that incorporate project-based learning and technology. One avenue I explored was the use of iPads. Check out this resource on using iPads inside the classroom.
Student Experiences with iPads
Here are the experiences of three of my students when given the opportunity to use iPads:
Tony is a second-grade student who struggles with writing. He finds it difficult to generate ideas that he may want to write about and also has an orthopedic impairment, which makes it difficult to hold a pencil for an extended period of time without discomfort. During writing, I allowed Tony to use image-based websites to get a visual starting point of something he would like to write about. When he found the images, we would save them in our photo library. Next, Tony used an iPad app that allowed him to make a book. He could add text and images using his finger. Tony loved this process and soon became independent in using the iPad. Once he completed the story, we were able to email the completed piece and print each page of his book.
Watching Tony complete this process permitted me to assess his ability to choose appropriate pictures that went along with the genre we were focusing on while noting his improved attitude toward writing when he was able to type instead of use paper and pencil. I began to see an increase in his usage of high-frequency words and improved punctuation. Tony began to manipulate font size when he wanted to use “an excited or very angry voice.” The use of this technology became so second nature to Tony that he automatically would grab the iPad when he was being pulled for physical therapy services. He actually began to teach his service providers how to use it!
Abdul is another student in my classroom who I introduced the iPad to during writing. Abdul enjoyed using the iPad to gather facts about his favorite animals and sports stats but did not enjoy using the iPad for his initial writing pieces. I noticed that Abdul, who generally finishes his writing pieces before the majority of his classmates, was taking a very long time to complete assignments. While observing Abdul it was easy to see why. Each time he made a spelling or grammatical error Abdul was unable to continue his writing, the “red squiggly line” (that indicates a grammatical error in a word processing app) made him anxious and was making his writing experience difficult. When I asked Abdul if he would rather use pencil and paper to complete his assignments, he was undecided. Abdul liked the look of the typed pages but didn’t like to see each mistake he made highlighted. During a conference, Abdul and I decided that he would continue to write his stories on paper and use the iPad only when he was revising a piece. This strategy worked out great for Abdul. It took the pressure off so he was able to complete his assignments in a timely fashion and would opt to only use the iPad for pieces he was revising and publishing. His finished product would have the “neat and nice” appearance that he wanted.
Stevie is a sophisticated writer: He uses the dictionary when he is unsure of the correct spelling of a word and is a fantastic artist. Stevie’s illustrations look as if they came straight out of published children’s books. When first introduced to the iPad, Stevie was excited and curious about all of the features. After about a week of using the iPad during writing, Stevie opted to return to the conventional pen and paper. “It’s cool but I don’t want it. I’ll use the computer during center time,” he said when asked why he didn’t want to continue using the iPad.
When I dug a little deeper, he explained to me that “the story looks fake when I write it on the iPad.” Stevie explained that he liked to write his words because he can “make all the letters good.” He also expressed that the iPad didn’t let him add the details in his pictures that he liked: “I can’t make the worm in the bird’s mouth small enough, then it doesn’t look right and messes up my story.”
When I showed Stevie that he could manipulate the drawing tool, he still wasn’t sold. He explained that he relies on pictures when he reads books. “So my pictures have to be nice and look right,” he explained. “So all my friends can use them if they don’t know the word.” WOW! After listening to such a logical answer I did not try to persuade him any further.
iPads: Benefits and Useful Apps
The use of iPads can provide all children the ability to develop communication skills, build vocabulary and write without the conventional methods of pen and paper. iPads can also be beneficial to children who receive services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech and language therapy. Children can use low-cost apps to create digital stories, which can include their individual drawing, clip art, or personal photos. The iPad has apps useful for children with autism, developmental disability, learning disability, emotional disability or other health impairments. The following apps would meet IEP goals for students classified as autistic and developmentally disabled. A common goal for students who are on the Autism Spectrum is to gain proficiency in their ability to answer questions that begin with, “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “Why” and “How.”
One great app that can support this goal is Super Why, which is a fully interactive app that has four different apps built into one. There is an auditory listening component as well as opportunities to follow directions. It can be beneficial to students who need assistance with staying on task.
Proloquo2go is another app that is tailored to students who have difficulty communicating. The app contains pre-set pictures that students select to convey their messages. The display is set up as a communication board or book, thus making it easy for students to respond to a peer or an adult.
Once teachers acclimate themselves with the ease and benefits of the iPad, students and teachers have armed themselves with a tool that can help make the education process fun and lets students feel good about using technology to support their individual needs and learning styles. This technology can spark engagement while providing a clear demonstration to the student of the how, process, and procedure rather than just supplying them with one avenue to reach the right or wrong answer.
Depending on grade and skill level, writing goals may range from pre-schematic scribbles to being able to write a simple sentence or detailed paragraph–through the use of a keyboard and/or an assistive technology device. The iPad can be used to provide writing apps or “note-taking” apps. PaperDesk allows handwriting or a microphone to record and write text with different colors. Students can also import pictures to their work.
Some apps that can provide support in meeting math goals are, Telling Time HD which provides the opportunity to read a digital or analog clock while providing telling time to the minute. Jungle Coins is an app that allows the teacher to set levels for the student, including activities which include making change, comparing change, counting change, and identifying coins.
Identifying sight words is a key component in students gaining reading fluency. Some apps that support this are Word Wall HD, which is comprised of four activities in a game format. Students are provided with the opportunity to create their own word wall. Another is Kids Learn Sight Words which allows students to record the word, write the word, and use it in a sentence. When working with goals which include inference. “Reading for Detail” and “Reading for Inferences” provide students with a short paragraph and require them to answer questions. The answers are recorded on a bingo card, making the app both fun and engaging. The skill level can be selected to meet the individual needs of the students.
The following is a list of low tech options for use in the classroom:
- Slant boards
- Book holders
- Enlarged print
- Sticky notes
- Tactile enhancements
- Teacher/student-created books
- Pictorial directions
Getting Money for Technology
Many teachers in my school have had projects funded through Donors Choose. One teacher has a listening center which helped her students who were struggling with getting through independent reading time. Another received a fully stocked art center, including rolls of butcher paper, paint, stencils, glue, collage materials, and an easel. A third teacher received a full leveled library which allowed her children to frequently book shop for new books.
Receiving donors choose items is exciting not only for you, the classroom teacher, but for your students as well. When that box arrives it feels like Christmas morning. The experience of Donors Choose is also a great way for your children to see the positive generosity of people who want to see our children succeed and are willing to give unselfishly to a group of children that they have and may never meet.
Once your project is funded writing thank you notes from each of your students allows them the opportunity to practice their writing skills, and is also a great time to integrate some technology into your classroom. One idea might be to have your children video chat with the person who funded their project or even shoot some digital footage of the children using the materials. Email the video to the individual/s who helped to fund your wish!
Another way to get technology for your classroom can be through the process of grant writing. Here is a great resource on grant writing for teachers.