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.

Technology that can change learning

My final blog,

I’ve used technology to create some videos, along with some helpful links. Technology has really been my wings in learning to fly free of my disabilities. There are so many great programs out there that no matter who you are, there’s an answer out there for you.

I think the first step to knowing what technology is right for you is to understand what needs you have and where do you excel.  Both through learning styles and types of intelligences, we can create a better undrestanding of ourselves.

VARK is a site that asses learning styles.  I subscribe to the VARK theory rather than the traditional Visual-Oral-Kinesthetic theory because it distinguishes differences between reading and visual and is a lot more intensive.  The acronym stands for Visual, Aural/Oral, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic.  I would suggest completing the questionnaire and reading up on the descriptions of the various learning styles.  If you find that you are more visual, than programs like Prezi, and SmartIdeas may be better suited to your abilities.  If you find that you are lower in the Reading/Writing learning styles than you may benefit from using programs like Premier.

Multiple Intelligences:  Here is a test to determine where you are likely to find the best skills.  When students struggle in subject/intelligence areas, they tend to lose motivation to complete tasks.  Knowing that a student mayy struggle with a certain subject area, teachers, parents, and students themselves can use technology to make studying easier and more enjoyable.

Once you have an idea of how you learn and you strengths, here are some programs that may help.  Each link will redirect you to a short video that walksthrough some of the functions of the program and how they may benefit your student.

Smart Ideas and Inspiration are brain storming/mapping software programs that help students with studying and writing.  These programs draw on visual learning.

Premier and Kurweil3000 are reading programs.  Both programs allow students to scan in text books, have them read back to them, create study notes, and even create MP3s of the scanned documents.  Premier has a few more tools, such as word predictor, word processor that reads back your work to you, and a summarizer.  It also has a lower price point.  For this point, I have focused mainly on the Premier software.  Both of these programs support aural learning.

Google Drive, Google Forms, and Google Sites are all part of Google’s version of “Office.”  They are all cloud based and allow for collaboration, revision histories, and strong communication venues for parents and students.  You can truly spend days trying to figure out all the possibilities that the Google suite can offer learning.  This suite focuses on Visual, Aural/Oral (you can dictate text through Google speech), and Reading/Writing.

Prezi is another free program that runs off of the cloud.  Prezi is a presentation alternative that many student prefer.  It is very visual and interactive, focusing on the Kinesthetic and Visual learning.

Now, some of these programs are free to use (Prezi, Google drive, Google forms, Google sites) while others can cost as little as $50 to as much as $3000.  It can’t be expect that every parent will be able to afford such luxuries and as such the government provides programs to increase accessibility to these programs.

IPRC is a program that is used at the primary and secondary levels.  Once a student is formally diagnosed, recommendations are made by a panel ofeducators, psychologists, and parents on which resources will be available for the student to use.  Being informed, parents can advocate for the proper technology so that their students can find the most success.  Often students may be assigned a personal computer along with access to many of these programs.

The Bursary for Students With a Disability (BSWD) is not advertised as well as it should be.  This program is available at the post-secondary level.  Students must report to the schools’  centre for students with a disability and request a form.  They usually are then given an appointment with a councillor to help fill out the information.  They will need a final approval from the councillor, and often the councillor will insist on an updated diagnosis.  The BSWD will cover for various resources up to $15,000 a year (from what I can remember.)  In the past, I have received approval for a video recorder, voice recorder, laptop, desktop, Kurzweil3000, Inspiration, a printer, and a scanner.  Approval is based off of financial (must qualify for OSAP) and educational needs.  Not everyone will get a new computer, however, this program is still something everyone should look into.

These bursaries are great for evening out the educational playing fields.  As teachers continue to adapt to DI, technology allows students to find success without having to wait for teachers to understand their personal needs.  By being informed, educated, and prepared, both students and parents alike will have the necessary tools to advocate for a strong and fair educational program.

As my blogging comes to an end, my work for students with disabilities continues.  I have been and will continue working as an advisor and tutor to many students with disabilities along with my daily work as a teacher.  I encourage any and all parents with any other questions regarding my personal experience, or my professional opinion to tweet me @followmrcasey.

Cheers,

Matt Wachna

(aka Mr. Casey)

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?

Assistive Technology: A Remediation Tool

Technology 7I have wanted to write a blog about the use of Assisitive Technology (A/T) as a remediation tool for some time now.  Many teachers and parents of children with Learning Disabilities agree that Assisitive
Technology is a great tool to compensate for a child’s learning deficits but many do not understand the role of A/T as a tool in the remediation process.  Classic remediation tools are very important especially in the early years and students can make significant learning gains with these strategies.  The question I am asked the most by many of my fellow educators and parents alike is “How does Assistive Technology help the student learn to read and write?”  While many of us understand how A/T can help compensate for learning deficits we may not be familiar with how to use Assisitive Technology as a remediation tool.

My colleague Alicea Fleming and I spent some time researching how Assistive Technology was being used as a remediation tool for reading and writing.  We presented our findings at the 2012 Laubach Literacy Conference at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.  Our suggestions for using Assistive Technology as a remediation tool for reading and writing follow.

Using A/T to improve Phonological/Phonemic Awareness

Learners can utilize text-to-speech technology to read small text selections aloud. Then, phonological awareness tasks can be practiced with the help of a tutor (Phoneme: Detection, Isolation, Completion, Blending, Deletion, Segmentation, Reversal and Manipulation).

Using A/T to improve Decoding Skills

1) Digital Texts (e.g. audio books, e-books) can be used to help improve decoding skills: Provides Multi-modal (Visual and auditory involvement) input to the student (multi-sensory) and allows students to add content/notes to the text, modify the text, and use other tools (such as a dictionary and text to speech software).

2) Text-to-Speech Software: Reads text aloud, allows students to control voice and pace and allows students to listen for main ideas and important details.

Using A/T to improve Fluency

Use Digital Text and/or Text-to-Speech Software: Reads text aloud and models fluent reading, allows for echo reading, allows for choral reading, and allows students to listen for main ideas and important details.

Using A/T to improve Comprehension

Use Digital Text and/or Text-to-Speech Software: Built-in highlighters allow for paragraph shrinking, reads challenging words that they would otherwise need to guess or skip and provides visual reinforcement (multimodal learning) for students who have auditory processing difficulties.  It also allows for repeated exposure
to new words. Technology 6

Using A/T to improve Writing Skills

1) Speech Recognition/Speech-to-Text Software: Dictate thoughts and information into various programs, allows students to focus cognitive energy on the ideas they would like to express (without using excess resources on spelling).

2) Word Prediction Software: Can be used to assist with typing thoughts and information into various programs, and is good for students with some phonemic
awareness.

3) Graphic Organizer Software: Can be used for developing pre-writing strategies (brainstorm webs, writing models, timelines, flow charts, etc…)

Assistive Technology software is not a replacement for a teacher or tutor. However, it can offer invaluable assistance to both teachers and students by providing opportunities for drill and reinforcement as well as providing opportunities for students to practice reading skills independently.

You can find our presentation from the 2012 Laubach Literacy Conference here: Assistive Technology: A Tool for Literacy Success 

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.