How iPad successfully enabled learners with special educational needs to awaken their creativity at Scoil Chaitrióna Senior Primary School.
Scoil Chaitrióna Senior Primary School is unique. The school, with 379 senior primary pupils, is the only one of its kind in Galway. Additional specialist teachers and specifically curated classrooms cater for children with dyslexia and wider special educational needs. This unique educational setting uses technology to enrich creativity and to provide vital access to learning for each individual pupil.
Meeting needs and expanding the classroom.
First and foremost, the school has a responsibility to provide the best solution for their unique learners. Máire Fenton explains that the school “Had children with special needs who were given a grant for assertive technology to help them with their education.” But with so much choice out there, how do you identify the most appropriate and impactful device to tackle complex needs? Finding the right solution is a responsibility that the school takes very seriously.
On top of this initial challenge, Scoil Chaitrióna strives to open learning opportunities rather than sticking to a traditional ICT room technological model. As Máire indicates “The problem with computers is that they are not portable. Primary school is very much about using the environment around you to help you learn. We needed something that would allow children to be more engaged and more instrumental in their own learning wherever they are'.
Above all, the devices had to be accessible. Not only would this accessibility aid special educational needs, but it would also ensure that the technology could be embedded into creative teaching and learning seamlessly. The school quickly assessed that tablet devices were a good fit and Máire explains that other solutions may have had a detrimental effect on learning, “The children are much more used to the touchscreen technology and often the mouse can be a barrier. We have a cohort of children in the school who really struggle with literacy, so for them, sitting in front of a laptop and expecting them to type something up is hell.” However, the school was still keen to progress typing skills if the keyboard wasn't the only option for creating text.
Overall, then, the challenge was to find a solution that would be a good investment; provide a portable platform for a more open educational experience and offer accessible features that can aid creativity rather than presenting barriers to learning. With all this in mind, only one solution fit the bill. “Definitely, for ease of access the iPad has been a preferable device for us” - Máire Fenton.
Accessible, portable, and creative technology.
Scoil Chaitrióna Senior Primary School partnered with Select to integrate two class sets of iPad with accompanying Bluetooth keyboard cases for their students. Additionally, they deployed an iPad per teacher and ensured that they could mirror each device to their interactive whiteboards with a software solution called AirServer. The entire rollout of iPad is managed digitally by Jamf school making the technicalities of downloading and pushing out apps simple. For Máire, deciding to collaborate with Select was the easiest piece of the puzzle, “We had done a little bit of shopping around, and while we may have got a comparable price somewhere else, we have found that the excellent services and the response that we're getting from Select, meant that it is very worth our while having a relationship with them. And nothing is an issue! Select has made my life easier during our whole process of getting iPad into the school”.
Purchasing the technology was straightforward and the technical installation of iPad was yet another piece of the puzzle that fell into place easily. As Máire explains “It was fabulous. Everything was brought on to site… they had everything wonderfully packaged… As ICT coordinator, it's quite rare that something lands on my lap and it's just ready to go, often there's a fair bit more work for me to do”. The devices themselves tick all the boxes for the school, enabling the children to utilise intuitive apps and accessibility features whilst still having the option to use a more traditional keyboard for typing. However, none of the creative and accessible benefits of the multi-media devices would have been fully realised without the Apple professional learning sessions built into their solution. As Máire can attest, “…It's vital… the CPD has to be done and it has to be done as a whole school… We've had much more buy-in because everyone sat down and learnt how to use iPad together…. It becomes peer tutoring after that…”. The professional learning element of the solution taught the staff how to engage the accessibility features and unlock the full potential of iPad straight out of the box. In doing so, the teaching staff can pass that power on to their learners, enabling them to follow their creative ideas through to their natural conclusions.
Enhancing creativity for everyone.
The embedment of iPad within Scoil Chaitrióna has made a positive impact across the school. Most importantly, the devices have made learning more accessible. Simplistic multi-media functions have eased day-to-day hardships for children with special educational needs. Máire explains that “For children with dyslexia, working memory is a huge issue. So even something as basic as the children taking a photo of the whiteboard and following their finger on the iPad to write their copy is fabulous”. Likewise, accessibility features built into every iPad have broken down barriers. From a learning point of view, Máire observes that “The children use speech to text a lot, to help them when they are composing a piece of written work or answering questions”. Not having to completely rely on typing skills has enabled some learners to be more literate and creative than ever before.
These tiny alterations in classroom practice have had a profound effect on the academic gaps amongst the learners. Máire explains that “It's become more of a level playing field for the children and for what they are producing, so that the child who was wonderfully able in all areas of literacy will produce something of an equal level to a child who really struggles as they can use the speech to text functionality”. In turn, the confidence levels are changing as well. Máire expands on this, “We use the screen mirroring functionality and individuals present to the whole class. Each of these children has said to me, at different stages, that there's no way that they would have presented last year as they wouldn't have felt comfortable doing it.”
The inherent flexibility and mobility of iPad have meant that technology is being used creatively across the curriculum. Máire has found that “It works so much better, having the IT in the classroom. For example, if the children are doing a science experiment, they're taking photographs of it and making keynote presentations or a short movie rather than writing it all up. It's been absolutely fabulous from the perspective of the children being creators”. As Máire goes on to explain, the technology has enabled learning outside of the classroom as well… “iPad is opening up new possibilities of where the device can be used… the children are walking around the school grounds and they're bringing the iPads with them so that they can capture things that they are studying along the way”. Learning is no longer confined to the ICT room. Or any room for that matter.
For the teachers, planning iPad into ongoing lessons has widened their educational horizons. In doing so, it has given them opportunities to make the lessons more engaging and crucially, more accessible. For example, Máire creates “Voice recordings, explaining the homework for the evening and the children record themselves reading at home on the iPad”. Without a doubt, this is a much more enjoyable and accessible approach. The teachers haven't become overwhelmed by the introduction of the new technology due to a clear vision set out from the start. Máire conveys that, “We had decided from the get-go that, as a school, we wanted people to use what was built into iPad, so we haven't really bought a huge number of apps”. This approach, combined with Apple professional learning has resulted in a new and unexpected venture as Máire details “We know that we need more iPad class sets in our school for the children to be using them more regularly. If there was anything that exceeded our expectations, it was how interested and willing teachers, of all skill levels, were happy to utilise iPad in the classroom”.
Máire Fenton – Classroom teacher, ICT coordinator, and leader of the iPad project at Scoil Chaitrióna Senior Primary School – “We will certainly be looking at getting more devices into the school and into the children's hands because that's what it's all about”..