Keystone using technology to tame challenging students
by Dennis Sharkey
Teaching special needs students can be a challenge for educators at Keystone Learning Services’ John Dewey Learning Academy, but teachers are finding ways to use technology to lessen the challenge.
The newest technology at Keystone is the use of iPads and the touch screen technology that they possess.
Students are learning things such as astronomy and geography with the devices, but they are also getting to do hands on things like dissections.
Coughlin said the devices can be used to dissect frogs, rats or just about any lab animal. She said not only does it save on lab costs but the kids seem to like it better.
“We can create classroom activities around those things,” she said. “It’s really a neat thing and they don’t have to gross out like they did when I was in high school.”
Coughlin said computers in general and not just iPads are providing tools to teach that are more effective than traditional classroom teaching. She said students who have problems paying attention to subject matter seem to be more locked in at the computer. She said it allows the students to interact more than before.
“All of a sudden they’re willing to do it just because it’s on a computer,” she said. “They’re interacting in a positive way.”
Computers have also changed the way students communicate. Coughlin said most students struggle with good handwriting, but students in today’s world are used to typing. She said students are still exposed to cursive writing but gravitate more towards typing.
“I remember the old days when you had to sit at a typewriter without looking,” she said. “Now it’s just so much a part of their lives they do it naturally.”
The computers and the technology don’t just serve as tools to make teaching easier. Coughlin said they are the tools students will be using when they leave the school and need to be competent with computers.
“When our kids leave here they need to have computing skills,” she said. “You have to stay on the cutting edge or these kids will get behind.”
At the school the students are not the only ones doing the learning. Coughlin said the iPads and other devices have also been a learning experience for teachers and administrators. She said she took home an iPad to learn the workings but had to defer to her 13-year-old son for a lesson.
“Every time you turn around there is something new,” she said. “He was exposed before I was.”
Probably the biggest tool associated with new technology and computers is the internet. Coughlin said the school is cautious about how students use the Web but said it is a valuable tool.
One stop on the internet that teachers use is You Tube. She said just about any subject matter a teacher could want to find is located there.
“It’s going to bring up something,” she said. “Somebody is going to have done something or a documentary about it.”
Some students at the school are currently learning how to run a business. Students are using the Web to research the start up and how to market products.
“The information is out there. Our kids are reading how to do it and they’re coming back with ideas,” she said.
Some challenges also face teachers when dealing with the Web such as social networking. Students are not allowed to visit sites such as Facebook or Twitter but are educated about some of the dangers associated with social networking.
“We’re trying to teach kids that when you put any information out on the internet you have just exposed yourself in many different ways,” Coughlin said. “You can’t take back what is said out there.”
She said when students are in front of a computer they are being monitored by a teacher. However, she believes the point has been driven home to students that they are not allowed to go to those sites so students don’t ask.
“Our kids know if you do certain things, you lose your computer privileges,” she said. “That’s big. They realize the cost is too high.”
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