Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

I have written blog posts (Goose Bumps and The iPad Question) before about our A/T program.  For those who don’t know… A/T stands for assistive technology or adaptive technology.  LDAWE is fortunate that we have contracts with both of our local English school boards to provide A/T training to students with disabilities who receive technology for use in the classroom to help them access the curriculum.  The name of the Ministry of Education funding used to purchase this equipment is call SEA (Special Equipment Amount).

The good news is that both of our school boards are fairly progressive when is comes to issuing SEA Claim Equipment.  For example:

  • They issue equipment (and lots of it… more about that later).  I have heard that some school boards around the province still hardly issue any A/T equipment to students who would benefit from it.
  • They are innovative.  Instead of just issuing laptops like they have in the past, both school boards are now experimenting with new types of equipment, such as iPads and Chromebooks.
  • They invest in training.  The equipment is only beneficial to the student, if they know how to use it.
  • They are willing to change.  When given feedback that current policies around issuing SEA Claim Equipment are not working, they make adjustments to the policies and procedures to make it work.

Laptops, iPads, and Chromebooks

All of that being said… I’m feeling a little bit like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz this year.  The first full year that we provided A/T training was the 2009/2010 school year. That year we had 5 A/T Trainers on staff and we provided training to 129 students. This year, due to some changes in one of the Board’s policies, we have already received referrals for 486 students to receive training (and it’s only November). We started off the school year with 9 A/T Trainers, 1 A/T Training Scheduler, and myself as the coordinator of the program. Since the change in policy, we’ve hired 7 more A/T Trainers. I have also been busy creating new lesson plans for the new types of devices that are being issued. Also, both school boards are looking into adding classroom training as well.

Please be patient as LDAWE and the school boards work through these changes. All of these changes are great news for students with learning disabilities and ADHD in Windsor and Essex County.  I look forward to a day when all students can access the curriculum regardless of ability and without fear of judgement.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!However, with that being said, I must admit that I’ve had more than a couple dreams about A/T lately…

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!!

Scary Week at LDAWE Summer Camp

Week 2 of our Summer Enrichment Camps are in the books… and what an exciting (and scary) week it was!  The Campers at both sites have been sharing their thoughts, feelings, and activities throughout the week on our Twitter feed and on our Facebook page.

Week 2 in Windsor: Eco-Explorers

During the week, the campers practiced their literacy, math, and adaptive technology skills using the computers, iPads, Smart Board, and playing various games. They went on nature walks, researched their favourite animals, learned about fossils, took pictures with some scary animals (i.e. snacks and spiders), and at the end of the week they put all of their accomplishments into a scrapbook.

Learning about Nature

 

Scary Animal Photoshoot

 

Eco-Explorer Scrapbooks

The theme for next week’s Summer Enrichment Camp in Windsor is the Amazing Race World Challenge.

 

Week 2 in Windsor: Lights, Camera, Action!

During the week, the campers practiced their literacy, math, and adaptive technology skills using the computers, iPads, Smart Board and playing various games.  They practiced their persuasion skills by making a commercial for the item of their choice (See Sample 1 and Sample 2).  They also got to practice their creative writing and acting skills by making movie trailers using iMovie on the iPad.  Scary movies were a hit, with 3 out of the 4 movie trailers having a scary theme.  On the last day, the campers got to watch a movie while eating popcorn.

Lights, Camera, Action

The theme for next week’s Summer Enrichment Camp in Essex is the Wacky World of Science.

For more information about our programs, check out our website at www.ldawe.ca.

The iPad

As I open the door he launches himself out of the chair, his fists are clenched and his voice is unusually harsh.

“Did you and Dad buy me an iPad?”

I stop in my tracks and ponder his question. Why would he think we got him an iPad and even more importantly, why would that make him mad.

“No we didn’t. Why?” I ask. His hands are no longer clenched and he flings himself back into the chair, a loud sigh follows.

“Because there is one in my class with my name on it”

Finally I know what has happened. The Psychological Assessment we had done privately and then shared with the school said that to access the Ministry of Education curriculum that he would need technology. Obviously the school board opted for an iPad. Which I think is very cool and forward thinking of them. But at the moment I have a very unhappy boy on my hands. So we talk. We talk about people needing glasses, braces, wheelchairs, canes and how all those things help people to do everyday things they otherwise can’t do. I emphasize that iPad’s are considered cool and that many kids will actually be envious of him. And in the end I tell him that the truth is no matter how he feels he has to use the iPad, that using it will help him especially as he gets older.

He listens to it all and I can tell he’s taking it in but nothing can make him happy about being different.

A week later he comes home and tells me how his teacher took him aside and had him dictate a story to him while he typed on his iPad. The teacher told him it was one of the best stories ever. He beamed with pride. That same night he spent most of his time on his iPad. Hopefully from here on out its all good news about assistive technology.

The iPad Question

At LDA Windsor – Essex County we are very lucky to have a contract with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) and the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) to provide training to students who receive adaptive technology equipment through a Special Equipment Amount (SEA) Claim.

In one of my past blog posts, Goose Bumps, I discussed how much I love introducing people with learning disabilities to adaptive technology (A/T).

However, the A/T field, just like technology in general, is quickly changing and evolving.  Instead of using the typical laptops with a variety of A/T software installed, School Boards across the province of Ontario are trying alternatives, such as iPads and Chromebooks.
Students using computersIt is a very sad truth that many students were refusing to use their laptops.  Many of them sat in closets, collecting dust.  There are many reasons why…

  1. Many students are embarrassed to use their laptop because they do not want to appear different then their peers.
  2. Many of the laptops are very slow, especially when starting up.
  3. Some of the A/T software can be difficult to learn how to use.  Students may stop using the laptop because they forget how to use software.

Here in Windsor-Essex, one of our school boards has switched to using iPads with students approved for SEA Claim equipment instead of laptops.  I must admit, at first I was very hesitant.  Could the iPad compare to what the existing A/T field offered?  However, after several months of seeing the students use iPads instead of laptops, I’ve been convinced.

To answer my first question, “Could the iPad compare to what the existing A/T field offered?”  The answer at this point is – No, but it is getting better every day.  The apps that are available are great, and very beneficial for students with learning disabilities and ADHD.

The big downside to using iPads is that you cannot use more than one app at a time.  With the current laptop technology, you could use multiple A/T software programs at one time.  On the iPads, the students have to be able to transfer their work from one app to the next.  Being able to print completed work is also another area of difficulty.

Students using iPadsOn the other hand, students LOVE their iPads.  They want to use them, they are excited to use them, and their classmates want to partner with them, because they want to have the opportunity to use the iPad too.  As we saw with the laptops, this is half the battle.  The students we are training are using their iPads, and as a result the level of their work is increasing.  At the end of the day, this is exactly what we want to see.

Have you tried using the iPad with students with learning disabilities and ADHD?  What do you think?  Do you prefer traditional A/T on the laptop or the iPad better?

Technology before anyone is ready

My oldest son is in Grade 10. He received his first computer in the fourth grade. I’m not sure what kind of training his teachers received. I know that I asked and received an hour with the technology person who walked me through a hard copy printout of the one computer program he was using – Kurzweil.  At the end of our one hour I wasn’t sure I really understood it all but I was too shy or embarrassed (maybe both) to say that what would really help me would be to see it in action.  I figured I would just wait and get our copy at home and just try it out to learn the functions. It took us months to get the school to agree to send the program home for us to download it onto our home computer. By that time our son was able to walk us through the program. But he used it very rarely in class and I would be the first to admit that he was not great at typing so the computer was limited in what it could do for him if he couldn’t input.

Grade 5 was a wonderful technology year – the EA or teacher scanned in every work sheet or test into his computer and we saw great amounts of output as a result. But it was limited to Kurzweil – it seemed to me that there must be more programs that would be useful. Seems strange to buy a laptop for a student and then limit them to just one program. I occasionally asked but did not really get more answers.

Grade 6 through 10 his use of the computer fluctuated and he never really got back to the level they were at in the 5th grade.  Add to that frequent breakdowns of his computer and/or scanner and printer and his technology use is sporadic at best.

I believe technology is a wonderful tool that can open up doors that otherwise remain closed for our children with learning disabilities. But to do so, there needs to be adequate training of teachers, support staff, student and parents. There needs to be a commitment from staff that it is going to be utilized to its fullest and it needs to be taught to the student that this is the same as someone needing a cane or a pair of glasses. With the introduction of iPads, iPods and other handheld devices I believe that technology in the classroom will soon be the norm rather than the exception. I look forward to this as my youngest moves closer to having technology to access the curriculum.

Goose Bumps

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is teaching people with learning disabilities how to use assistive technology (also known as adaptive technology or even A/T).  Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, assistive technology is any item, device, or product that can help someone with a disability do something that they otherwise would not be able to do.  Assistive technology can be something as simple and common place as a cane and eye glasses to something more complex such as assistive software and speech generating devices such as that used by Stephen Hawking.

TechnologyThere are many different types of assistive technology software available that can benefit people with various types of learning disabiliities.  These can include:

The most important thing to know is that it is critical to find the right software program for each specific person.  Since every person with a learning disability has different strengths and weaknesses, there is no one-size-fits-all assistive technology software solution for people with learning disabilities.  I have been very fortunate to help many people with learning disabilities in finding their “right fit.”

I have trained children, youth, and adults with learning disabilities how to use assistive technology.   What I most often see is parents dragging their kids into the LDAWE office to see me regarding assistive technology.  Typically, the child is in the 10-14 year old age bracket.  They often come in with a huge chip on their shoulder, slouch down in their chair, and give me an evil glare.  To be honest, I don’t blame them.  By the time they’re seeing me, their parents have probably brought them to several programs, got them a  tutor for extra help, brought them to counselling, or maybe even tried some experimental solutions to “cure” the problem.  I can tell that they think this is going to just be another place where their parents bring them to try to “fix” them.

The first thing I ask the person is, “What do you struggle the most with?  Reading?  Writing?  Spelling?…”  Based on their answer, I decide which assistive technology software program to show them first.  If at all possible, I want them to see that this program can make a huge difference in their life right away.  I can always tell when I’ve found the right fit.  Especially for the kids that walk in with the huge chip on their shoulder.  The first thing that happens, is they sit up straight in their chair.  Then they actually start leaning towards the computer, clicking buttons, and asking me what else it can do.  Finally, they will look at their parents, smile, point at the computer, and say “did you see that?”  It’s a great feeling to be able to watch that moment happen.

Kids using TechnologyI had the opportunity to work with Alison, who was in grade 4 at the time.  Her Mom actually brought her to me a couple times at the beginning of the school day, because she felt this was more important than anything her daughter was trying (unsuccessfully) to learn at school.  Alison told me that she had problems with reading and writing, but that by far her biggest concern was reading.  I showed her how to use Kurzweil 3000.  I explained that she’d be able to scan her books, worksheets, quizzes, and tests into Kurzweil and it would read all of the text aloud for her.  I then began showing her how to use all of Kurzweil’s features.  After a while, Alison looked at me and said, “I can do this!”  I replied that yes, I know she can… she told me, “No, you don’t understand… I can go to highschool now.”  That’s when it hit me.  At the young age of 9 or 10 years old Alison had figured out that she was so far behind and with no viable way of catching up, that she would never be able to complete high school.  I took a deep breathe (trust me, I needed one) and told Alison that she was right, with the help of the technology, she’d be able to successfully go to high school and even beyound that if she wanted to.

But Alison wasn’t done with her insights yet.  She began to ask me questions, “Can I scan in chapter books?”  I told her yes.  “Even long books?”  I told her that they might take her a while to scan, but yes… she could scan any book that she wanted.  She started bouncing up and down in her chair and looked at her Mom and said, “Now I can read Twilight on my own without you having to read it to me.  I can be just like my friends!”

And there they were… goose bumps running up and down my arms.  What a great reminder from such a young student regarding what assistive technology is really all about…  It helps put people with disabilities on an even playing field with everyone else.