GOLDENS BRIDGE, N.Y. – Last year Allison Emig, a special education teacher at Increase Miller Elementary School, got an iPad for Christmas. Little did she know at the time, the device would help her discover a new, more effective way to reach her students and increase their learning.
Of course, Emig had little knowledge on how to operate her new iPad, so she turned to those she knew were experts in the area: her kids.
As her children taught her how to use the technology, Emig began to realize how she could use the iPad in her classroom.
In most elementary classrooms, some students struggle with learning, others perform well beyond grade-level expectations, and the rest fit somewhere in between. Within each of those categories of students, individuals learn in a variety of ways and have different interests. To meet the needs of a diverse student population, many teachers differentiate instruction from one student to the next. The iPad helps do that.
“The most amazing thing it can do is differentiation of instruction,” she told the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education during a recent presentation. “And it can show [a student’s] progress compared to other [teaching] methodologies.”
Emig says the school's iPads, which were purchased with grant money, help make classroom time more efficient, and the students are more enthusiastic about learning.
“My students are very eager to come to the classroom,” she said. “We track throughout the week how much they are learning. The kids are learning faster than they ever have before.”
Emig said a variety of iPad apps are used in the classroom – such as the Magnetic Letters app, which helps students with their spelling.
The device can also be loaded with a library of books. The student can circle words within the text of the books as directed by the teacher to improve spelling and reading comprehension.
“I can tell them, ‘Find the word “antenna,” ’ and they circle it,” Emig said. “It’s an awesome way to teach; I love it.”
All of the students’ lessons and activities can be stored in the Dropbox app, including their workbooks and subject folders.
“When the student is done with the assignment, she can email it to me. I can make comments on it and send it back to the student and communicate with the parents,” Emig said. “We are trying to get rid of all the paper.”
Increase Miller student Kaycie Rooney helped Emig demonstrate to the school board how the iPad has helped her with her lessons, showing off her prowess with the various apps.
“You can see how fluid Kaycie has become,” Emig told the board. “She moves seamlessly in and out of the apps.”
Emig said that if a student does well, he or she is given a two-minute break to play a game on the iPad – but even those games are educational.
Connie Hayes, director of special services for the school district, said the iPad initiative has raised the bar for the special ed program.
“It’s how we go from being a good program to a great program,” she said. “But that doesn’t happen without a fabulous dedicated staff. They are all outside-the-box creative.”