All across the country special needs students are using iPads to tap into a whole new learning experience.

At Belle View Elementary School in Fairfax County, Steven Moshuris, 7, a second-grader who has autism, is using an iPad to communicate to his teachers that he is hungry, and would like pizza and chicken nuggets for lunch.

Special needs students are using iPads in Jennifer Sherman’s 11th-grade English class at the Lab School of Washington, a private school for students with learning disabilities. They are dissecting T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” this spring, using an iPad app that provides notes on the text, editing notes from Ezra Pound, video interviews with scholars and interpretive readings.

At Charles Carroll Middle School in Prince George’s County, special needs students are using iPads in one of Joy Long’s seventh-grade science classes.

Special needs students are using iPads to make a video call to a math teacher in another room for a refresher on how to find the average distance a toy car traveled in five trials. Seventy percent of the students in that class have a learning disability.

Two years after Apple introduced the iPad, the tablet is becoming increasingly popular with educators of students with special needs, especially learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders.

Special needs students are using iPads, which cost between $300 and $800, and other tablets to improve communication, reading and math skills, to virtually dissect animals or to take notes.

Results, they say, are promising.

“I feel like it’s a much more powerful day” for students, said Katherine Schantz, head of the Lab School, which has about 100 iPads for approximately 350 students. “We’ve reduced the number of minutes that are spent in frustration.”

Special needs students are using iPads at Herndon’s private Auburn School for students with social and communication difficulties. The “kids enjoy being able to sit in a beanbag or walk around,” said Linnea Nelson, head of the school.“The portability of a tablet allows that. They’re also not having to look over a computer at a teacher or their peers while they are having a discussion, so using a tablet doesn’t impede eye contact.”

With touch screens instead of pen and paper or a point-and-click mouse, tablets can be much easier to use by students with fine motor difficulties. They also help disorganized students by consolidating calendars, memos and notes all in one device.

Bryce Ballard, 13, a ninth-grader at Auburn School, has found his Samsung Galaxy helpful in taking notes and keeping track of assignments.

“I can’t even read my own handwriting,” Ballard said. “That doesn’t help the whole note-taking process. [The tablet] promotes great learning for me and helps keep me interested.”

Educators also think special needs students are using iPads because they are excited about using something that is a hip piece of technology, so that interests them more than traditional learning methods.

“The iPads are engaging because there’s instant feedback,” said Jennifer Durham, the elementary curriculum coordinator at Lab School. “It’s easy to operate, it can read to them if they need it to read to them, you can make it bigger, you can make it smaller.”

Continue Reading this article about special needs students are using iPads by Mari-Jane Williams of the Washington Post.


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