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The Power of iPads in Schools – Autism, Special Education, Low-Income, and More


Sure iPads have changed the world of business.  If you work in an office, you’re more than likely to know at least one person, if not many, who uses their iPad to check email, calendar, and who uses many other apps to improve productivity.  Those same people leverage their mobile devices to improve their home productivity as well.  The interesting part is what happens when we give those iPads to our children.  

Adam Goldberg leverages the power of iPads in a revolutionary way; he uses them to enable autistic high schoolers to play in a band.  The PS 177 Technology Band is a set of autistic students, who play live and recorded music on iPads by strumming digital guitars, tapping digital drums, and pressing black and white keys on a digital piano.  They even have their own single, “4-2-4 Jam” which is available for purchase on iTunes.  The phenomenal band has been showcased on NPR, where Goldberg (Twitter: @Adam_G88) says, “..for people who can’t, and don’t have the resources, if you give them something like [the iPad] as a musical instrument you can really kind of break through barriers and teach so much of the art of the whole process of music-making. Which these guys do beautifully with that.”  Note that though it is clear the iPads open a doorway for the students to learn, it is really due to Goldberg’s passion for engaging the children in music that drives them to accomplish this success, per Leslie Schect, Director of Technology for New York City’s Department of Education.

For teachers searching for those apps that can help their special education students, the iPads in Education site lists these apps for use in that environment.  Ian Wilson (Twitter: @Ian__Wilson), the creator of the site says, “Given the current financial situation for most schools, the resource of free and affordable software on the App Store is particularly valuable.”  He discusses a project in the UK with the Lancasterian School where he found iPad apps that were the “most useful and productive for learning” for a group  of 4-5 year olds.  According to Dave Calvert, the school’s Director, “The Lancasterian Organisation now includes Lancasterian School (School for children 2-16 who have physical, complex medical and or complex communication difficulties and takes children throughout the Manchester area)”.  Their March newsletter shares a video showing their Rainbows Class and Senior 1 Class developing ICT, math, literacy and problem solving skills. 

In addition to helping medically challenged students, children in low-income areas are also getting the opportunity at “educational equity” according to a recent newsletter of the Coachella Unified School District board in California.  In April, Coachella (Twitter: @C_V_U_S_D) approved a  bill to provide an iPad to every one of their students from preschool to highschool.   Per USA Today, Coachella estimates about 90% of their students live in poverty.  In Coachella’s press release they say, “The students of CVUSD are now out of the column of the ‘Have-nots and into the Column of the Haves.’”  

Though we sometimes cringe at giving our children iPads for fear that we are robbing of them of an opportunity to learn, just like with any other tool, we can use them to benefit our children too.  That should really come as no surprise.  What does come as a hopeful surprise is that there are institutions using these devices to push the boundaries of education to places where previous technologies couldn’t take us.

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