Friday, October 28, 2011

Opening Doors

Join us at the Technology Open House Saturday morning for more information and  inspiring stories like this one.
--Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

I just came back from an Edina Education Fund Board meeting, where we got an update on one of the Innovation Grants we awarded last year. Nichole Krier, Assistive Technology Specialist for the Edina Schools Special Services Department, filled us in on a pilot project using iPads for students who access our Special Services programs, including English learners and students with IEPs or 504 plans. This particular Innovation Grant provided seven iPads to teachers in several schools.

The idea of the grant was to test how iPads might make a difference for this particular group of students, and the preliminary results show that this technology is not only helping them learn, but in fact dramatically improving the quality of life for many of these students.

You might be rolling your eyes right now. I’ve already written here about how an iPad helped my son (and me) navigate the first few weeks of middle school, and so I am probably coming across as a technology-crazed iPad fanatic. An Apple stockholder? No. In fact, for the past decade, I have been officially labeled the meanest mom in the world because our television set (a hand-me-down) is 25 years old (I’m not kidding), and I have so strictly limited my kids’ screen time that on several occasions they have been unable to participate in conversations with their peers (cue the glares).

So I'm not a big fan of technology for technology's sake. But Nichole’s presentation about how this technology can be used effectively was pretty eye-opening. iPads have amazing potential for all students, but especially for this group. One $599 iPad (plus a few of the 140,000 apps currently available to customize it, many of them free) can now perform the tasks that in the past a student might have needed several very expensive and single-function technology devices to perform. (One simple text-to-speech device, for example, costs $3,000-$4000.) All iPads come loaded with software that can turn the text on screen to audio, zoom in to make text very large, show text white on black, or provide closed captions for students with visual or hearing challenges.  iPads are portable, so students who have difficulty learning in their seats can work with them on the floor, under the table, behind the fan…anywhere. iPads are socially acceptable, so it’s actually cool to be seen with one. And if you’re not reading the same book as everyone else, no one will ever know. You’re just another kid, doing your work.

Nichole shared one story of one student that I just can’t get out of my mind. This student has no verbal language, and it has been difficult for his teachers to figure out how to know what he really knows. This elementary student has been working with an iPad from this grant, and in just a few short weeks, the student has amazed his teachers, showing how much has been locked inside him until now—including spelling words.

The success story sends chills down my spine. My family is intimately familiar with Edina's Special Services department. This could so easily be my child, and in some small sense, is my child, our child. I am so grateful to be part of a school system that wraps its arms around all of its students. I am grateful for teachers and professionals like Nichole who are constantly learning, growing, evolving, and for a generous community that works to keep innovation and possibility alive.

Cheryl Gunness

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