Laura G

Blogging for ICT

Technology is not new in education. There has been a gradual progression in technology in education since the 1800’s, moving from children bringing any old book to school to learn form, to standardised books with the National School System, to more colourful, child friendly books in the 1900’s, to the introduction of ICT in the late 1990’s, where we had our termly trip the the big old computer at the back of the classroom, to write your story and put in WordArt. The significance of ICT in edcuation was acknowledged by the Department of Education and Science as far back as 1987, where they termed the invention of the “microcomputer….as significant as the invention of the printing press”.  iPads are just the next step, where each child has their own station to work with more frequently than once a term.

The concept of a book-less classroom is no longer a futuristic concept. One example of a school that has already successfully made the transition is Mr Mitchell’s classroom in Alaska. He speaks about how iPads are fantastic for developing independent learning. From the children’s point of view, they are so enthusiastic to work with the iPads and get work done, that they comment on how they love how “efficient” it is. Has a child ever told you that they love something about school because it makes it efficient? It is also very interactive from the point of view of interacting with the teacher, as the teacher comments on how he is not merely communicating with the children when they are in school, the children email their work and questions to him at any time of the day. This also means that “missing work” no longer exists, as there is an electronic history of everything. This doubles as a lovely collection of work for the child. Imagine having a collection of their work from junior infants to senior infants, so that they can see how far they have progressed, without having folders and folders of paper. It would also be a lovely collection for when they are leaving primary school. This also saves room in overcrowded classrooms with very little wall space.

Barry (2006) also outlines how useful ICT is in multiclass situations, catering for all differentiated class levels very easily. The iPad does this in a single sweep. Also, Mr Mitchell, along with mentioning how the iPad is fantastic for independent learning, makes an interesting comment about the ease of use of an iPad for children. When asked about “How much do you have to explicitly have to teach them about the iPad?”, he replied “Well how much to you have to teach children how to finger paint?”. This ease of use and instinctiveness, along with the research to show how the use of ICT is very helpful in a multiclass situation got me thinking about how the iPad can be used as an inclusion and integration tool in the classroom, to ensure whole class participation, regardless of level or difficulty.

The iPad, in one unit, holds many supports for a child in a mainstream classroom suffering from special educational needs, and with cut backs of SNAs, it helps the teacher to more easily cater for everyone’s needs:

    1. The fact that only one app is open on screen at any one time helps children to focus and not get distracted by other windows or tabs. It also means a clear desk, as clutter on desks can confuse and cause anxiety for children with disorders such as autism and Asperger’s.
    2. It is an excellent tool for sensory learning for children on all levels, something that is helpful with all special educational needs. It is obviously good for touch and kinaesthetic learning, and the sensitivity can be adjusted to suit the child. It is equally versatile for the other senses, as the zoom feature makes it easy for the child to see whatever they want, and make it as big as they want. Colours can also be inverted and so on to make it easier for children to read. Failing this, there is a “speak” feature on all text so that what is on screen can be read to the child, so learning is can take place through a number of modes. The volume is also easily altered for each child’s requirements.
    3. It tends to be more real life than a computer and mouse, for example, if you want something to increase in size, you pull it. It is also exact, it does exactly what you want, rather than being as jumpy as Microsoft programmes can be. This sense of control is again very calming for children with SENs such as Autism and Asperger’s. The absence of the mouse on screen also makes it easier for children to focus on the task rather than being distracted by it.
    4. Games are easily differentiated to suit the level of the individual child, and nobody knows the difference, helping the child to integrate with the class rather than stand out as being very different. This echoes Ann O’ Byrne’s message of emphasizing what the children have in common rather than what is different. As far as everyone else in the class is concerned, they are all just playing the same game on the iPad.
    5. The iPad provides instructions at all times for the children, so a child who might not understand the first time hearing instructions, or simply forgets, can easily independently go back over the instructions themselves, without feeling like they are annoying the teacher of the person sitting beside them as to what they have to do. It gives them independence, which in turn raises self-esteem.
    6. The iPad is very must a systematic, step by step process, which is favorable for a child with Down Syndrome. Things are well laid out, so there is no stress or confusion, and the child is able to follow on step by step.
    7. The “Explain Everything” app is said to be the app that will replace interactive whiteboards, and as it is, it is replacing copybooks in schools who rely heavily on iPads, but it also has a function for children who may have a physical disability which makes it difficult for them to get to the board when other children are leaving their seats. The child can take part equally in the class, but just from their place.
    8. There are fantastic apps for creating social stories, for example, “SS Stories”, so that children who suffer from anxiety or tantrums can have tailor made books to help them to prepare and get through novel situations, complete with real photographs, for example, to help them prepare for a trip to the local church. It is also fantastic for creating books for EAL children to help them to learn the language that is relevant to them.
      There are also fantastic apps for creating visual timetables for the day in school, to help children to organize themselves and know what is coming next in the day.
    9. Studies have found that children with autism who were thought to be non-verbal were merely prisoners of their minds, and once they were handed a keyboard they were able to communicate effectively. The iPad works as just such a tool, allowing everyone to communicate anytime, anywhere, with ease. It is bringing Steven Hawking technology to every single child. “Proloquo2go” is an especially effective app in this case, as seen below

  1. There are several apps to help children with social difficulties to practice with everyday things without any stress, such as looking into people’s eyes (“Look!”) or knowing how to decode a situation to smile or frown (“Smile at me”). Other apps, for example, “Too Noisy” help children with hypersensitive disorders, such as the app that tells you when you are making too much noise. This can be useful for the other children around the child to adjust their behaviour so as to not make too much noise.

However, as useful as the iPads are in classrooms, a teacher cannot become lazy and over-dependent on them to teach the children. This danger was spotted as soon as the “microcomputers” were invented and introduced into schools. iPads are

      “Neither the answer to all our educational ills nor the end of all that is great and good in our education system”
(Geoffrion, 1983)

For example, writing with your finger on an iPad cannot replace writing with a pen and paper. Neither can it replace active, experiential learning, children still need real life learning, only to be supplemented by virtual learning. The outside world should not become a strange place to children. Also, I am a firm believer in “active” learning being very much “active”, and using iPads, there is a danger that the class will become far too sedentary. It may be a coincidence, but there seems to be a positive correlation between rates of childhood obesity and use of technology in school.

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No iPad app can replace hands on, get-your-fingernails-dirty learning. It can have detrimental effects on development of motor skills, as it requires only one time of movement.  It can, however, supplement the learning. For example, it cannot replace getting out and going on a nature walk, but children can take photos of their trip, or learn more about something they come across with the iPad. But it is certainly not enough to just go on a virtual nature trail.

However, with sufficient planning, a happy balance can be made between the outstanding advantages of the iPad, and preventing lazy, sedentary teaching.

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