TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM: Apps offer opportunity

Thirteen-year-old Marc Goldbach

Thirteen-year-old Marc Goldbach

Part 2 of 3

Interactive tablets like the iPad provide flexible platform to reach students

Until recently, whenever Marc Goldbach craved pretzels he was unable to clearly communicate what he wanted.

The Grade 7 student – who has Down syndrome – spoke in two-word sentences and his teachers were having difficulty developing his linguistic skills.

“He needs good repetition and consistency, which you don’t always get with a person, to help with his speech,” says Alex Lemon, a resource room teacher at Arbutus middle school.

Tech-savvy Lemon scoured Apple’s online app store to find a downloadable program that could provide Marc with the tools suited to his needs. He found Tap to Talk, an augmentative and alternative communication device that has helped the 13-year-old improve his communication skills.

Marc pulls out an iPad and navigates through the menu to find his app. At the push of a few touch-screen buttons, the young teen is quickly repeating the words exactly as they sound through the device’s speakers.

“Pretzels,” the iPad voice speaks when Marc presses the image of the snack food.

“Can I have pretzels please?” Marc asks.

Arbutus embraced the new technology when it was released last May, and teachers have since been experimenting with a number of programs to explore the potential the tablet computer has as an educational tool.

“These are the sorts of things kids use every day at home,” says principal Janine Roy. “Technology’s becoming the vehicle for 21st-century learning. It’s not the endpoint, but it’s a tool in how we’re going to get there.”

One of the biggest downsides right now is that classes are limited by what’s available in the app store. Lemon hopes to see developers greatly expand the educational market within five years so there are programs for all sorts of specialized learning.

In the meantime the school has Tim Pelton, an associate professor of mathematics at UVic and a parent at the school, to thank for filling the void. He’s developed educational apps specifically suited for elementary and middle school students.

“We’re always looking to incorporate the most effective tools we can into helping kids learn,” he says about the apps he creates with his wife. “It was a natural medium for kids to work with, and we thought the educational applications we’re seeing out there were really quite weak. We could do better.”

What resulted is a series of games called MathTappers, geared to students in kindergarten to Grade 7, that puts their addition, multiplication, fraction and analog time-telling skills to the test.

“These are the kinds of activities you can do in the classroom to help them learn,” Pelton says. “It’s not to replace the teacher, but to support the teacher in the learning process.”

Roy says that’s key to incorporating technology in a classroom.

“It has to be both engaging for the students and beneficial to their education,” she says. “They’re making it happen because they’re excited about making it happen.”

Brett Johnson, principal at Colquitz middle school, says the biggest challenge is striking the right balance between novelty and practicality when allowing for technological changes to come in to the classroom.

“There’s lots and lots of talk about how to incorporate technology into the schools, with delicate conversations around Wi-Fi and schools looking at everything from iPads to iPods,” he says. “A lot of different institutions are looking at having to adapt to the times, but we have to be on the conservative side. We can’t make ourselves into dinosaurs (but we also have to be) responsible because we can be held accountable for what happens with these devices.”

Lemon uses two of the school’s five iPads in the special education department in a variety of ways.

By downloading audiobooks and e-books onto the device, students such as Taylor Bigrigg, 13, can keep up with novels at a slightly higher reading level because the audio component keeps him more engaged.

“I can follow the story better,” the Grade 6 student says of having just read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. “Listening to it helps get me through the reading.”

He says having the audio helps with pronunciation of difficult words and names, and it helps him follow along in the text.

“Students have such different learning styles – some learn best visually, some learn through audio,” Lemon says. “Having this interactivity lets kids take it in little chunks that suit their needs.”

It’s giving students more opportunities to explore new technology that provides the best learning tools for them, Roy says.

“Technology is really shifting things,” she says. “As educators, we’re becoming facilitators. The students are the ones coming to us showing us where they want to take their education. Getting them to that point is very exciting.”

What once

was banned …

Younger readers might have a difficult time believing calculators were once a taboo item in schools.

That early technology sparked some of the first debates about banning personal electronics in the classroom.

In subsequent decades, portable music players, video games and digital pets became fads that weren’t welcomed in most schools.

However, as items like iPods and cell phones become part of daily life for students, schools are changing their approach.

“At this school, kids are allowed to use their electronic devices with the permission of their teacher – for an educational purpose,” says Colquitz middle school principal Brett Johnson.

At Spectrum community school, students are welcome to bring laptops to class to take notes. And at Stelly’s secondary in Central Saanich, some teachers have no problems with students taking notes on their iPhone or downloading textbooks to a Kindle e-book reader.

Bans on electronics are no longer the consensus at most schools, which now stress proper use of the devices.

“There is a fairly typical pattern (when items are banned): There’s a new thing that’s a fad, you just need to watch it. Does it come to a point where it’s causing issues?” Doncaster elementary principal James Hansen says, citing Pokémon cards and Beyblades toys as recent concerns.

Just Posted

Shaelyn Sinnott of Oak Bay Volunteer Services delivers groceries for client Irene Kenny. The organization has kept up delivery of food and medication throughout all phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Oak Bay Volunteer Services)
Oak Bay volunteers keep critical services running

Duo drove between Oak Bay and Jubilee three days a week, twice a day during pandemic

Two volunteers work to sieve a sample of sand and ocean water through a filter, capturing any potential microplastics. (Courtesy of Ocean Diagnostics)
Victoria startup making waves in microplastics research

New products from Ocean Diagnostics will make research faster, more affordable

Island Savings kick-starts the Equipped to Heal campaign with $120,000. (Courtesy Victoria Hospitals Foundation)
Latest Victoria Hospitals Foundation campaign targets $1M for mental health

Goal is to outfit new 19-bed unit at Eric Martin Pavilion

Willows Beach in Oak Bay. (Black Press Media file photo)
Seven days of sun set to shine on Greater Victoria

Special weather statement warns of higher than usual temperatures

Chef Trevor Randle leads a June 21 online cooking featuring recipes – beef zesty lettuce wraps, blueberry strudel and blueberry spritzer. (Courtesy We Heart Local BC)
Free online cooking course explores B.C. blueberries and beef

Chef Trevor Randle calls them the province’s most flavourful foods

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Most Read