iPads Add Another Tool to Practitioners’ Toolboxes

Student with iPad

A student traces letters in his name using the iPad app “Touch & Write” with reinforcement of tripod grasp by using a thicker stylus to write.

Earlier this year, over 200 Heartland AEA staff members, most who work directly with children and schools, received an iPad from the Agency to enhance the services they provide.

When they received their new gadgets, Jean Britsch, an occupational therapist, and Morgan Stone, a school social worker, both from Heartland AEA’s Indianola office, were novices at operating them. They were a bit trepidacious going in, but Britsch was “totally excited” and Stone was “totally jazzed” to receive their iPads and get to work learning how to use them.

This fall Stone has been helping preschool programs in her area with the Gold Standards, which are standards that preschool programs need to meet. She has used her iPad as a data collection tool, taking photos and videos to demonstrate how the preschool is meeting the standards, showing such things as students demonstrating their skills in play, fine motor and communication.

One of the main ways Britsch uses her iPad with students is to work on promoting handwriting skills, for those in preschool to first grade. “We work on tracing, how to hold a pencil by using the stylus, pointing with an index finger and isolating the index finger,” she said. “It’s just another strategy that I use. It isn’t replacing paper and pencil.”

Britsch worked with a student in kindergarten who has Down syndrome, who was refusing to participate in a paper and pencil class drawing activity. Britsch got out her iPad and asked the student if he wanted to try it. Sure enough, he got none of the strokes using paper and pencil and half of them using the iPad. “Oh my gosh,” she said. Since then he has also used the iPad to work on communication, color identification and early math and literacy skills.

Karla Soccaras, a speech-language pathologist from the Indianola office, has been using her iPad with students with various disabilities, from birth to age 5. “There is an app that allows students who are not able to speak to make a choice between desired items. I take a picture of their favorite items, program the app with voice to name the items and then present the iPad with the two pictures as a choice. The student can then touch the item they prefer. I also use the iPad for articulation of speech sounds—recording the students so they can get immediate feedback of their sounds while involving them in an interesting game.”

All three have favorite apps at the moment. Britsch uses an app called “Color Drops” that’s an interactive children’s animated draw and paint game. “Very detailed drawings can be made, but kids can also draw the simplest lines and shapes, thus practicing their technique,” she said. “I can save albums of the children’s work, thus recording their skills to see how they have made progress.”

Stone uses the “Story Creator” app, which is a way to share stories incorporating photos, videos and text. “I use it as a way to show kids what is expected of them,” Stone said. “Such as how to sit in a group setting, how to listen, sit down and put your hands in your lap.” Right now Socarras likes “Feed the Animals,” which is a simple activity to feed animals and “First Phrases,” which helps students build language skills.

Britsch and Stone both collaborate with their discipline colleagues to find useful apps and get tips about using them. “We do app days in early childhood, Stone said. “We do a lot of sharing.” Britsch noted that using apps is a trial and error process. You can download an app that you think you will love, but it can turn out to be a dud.

Another plus of Heatland AEA staff having iPads and becoming familiar with apps is that they can help advise both teachers and parents about which apps are most helpful with individual students in the instance that there is an iPad in a student’s home.

Direct service staff have also found the iPad to help them be more efficient in their jobs, such as being able to dictate service notes, schedule appointments and meetings and take notes with ease.

Britsch, Stone and Socarras are in agreement that most students are immediately drawn to the iPads. “The sounds and colors of the iPad are very intriguing, as are its simplicity,” Socarras said. “Most of my students watch me a few times and then become more proficient than I am at using some of the apps!”

Aside from the positives the iPads have brought to students, they have also helped staff stay up-to-date on the latest technology. “Staying current with technology and helping our students to access technology are essential pieces of our work at Heartland,” Socarras said. “The iPad is an efficient tool for work productivity, for motivation with students and for promoting communication for students whom are non-verbal.”

“Technology isn’t something that’s going away,” Stone said. “We need to learn how to use it well with kids so they can use it as well.”

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