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W-F schools go digital in pilot program

Special education teachers in the Weyauwega-Fremont School District are using digital technology in their classrooms.

Last year, the district purchased 12 Livescribe Echo Smartpens and 12 iPads for the special education classrooms.

“It’s a pilot program,” said Kandi Martin, the district’s director of pupil services and curriculum.

Each of the 12 special education teachers in the district has a Smartpen and an iPad for use in the classroom.

The Smartpen is used with coded paper, explained Karin Cartwright, who is a special education teacher at W-F High School.

“When you write notes, it records audio,” she said.

A student can then go back to those notes and touch the written words with the pen. The Smartpen plays back what the teacher said at the time the notes were written down.

Martin said both the volume and speed at which the audio is played back can be adjusted for students.

The Smartpen can also be used for language translations, which is an application that the district primarily uses with its English as a Second Language students, she said.

“It’s kind of a computer at your fingertips,” Martin said.

The Smartpen has numerous applications.

“A visually impaired student can replay it and listen to it again and again,” she said. “If it didn’t sink in at class, they can go home and review.”

The speech and language application allows therapists, working with students on articulation, to give those students instant feedback, Martin said.

There are also applications for math, music and science.

The iPad is also being used in a variety of ways in the classrooms.

Students with cognitive disabilities may have a difficult time speaking and are using the device to communicate.

“A student was able to tell his mom, ‘I love you’ for the first time. It was very exciting,” said Cartwright, who also serves as the district’s webmaster and yearbook adviser.

She said students can also use the iPad to communicate immediate needs to their teachers, such as telling them they need a bathroom break.

“Kids adapt quickly,” Martin said, and Cartwright said the iPad is wireless so it can also be used as a research tool. “We have audio books on it, too,” Cartwright said.

Martin said that for students with learning disabilities or visual difficulties, the iPad can be used for graphing and for math and science calculations.

Fortunately, most of the applications were free.

Martin said the district’s overall goal is to place more of these devices into other classrooms.

Cartwright said, “They’re just amazing pieces of technology. With one device, I can help students with math, their science and their reading.”

She said the devices are portable, fast and have an unlimited capability.

“Kids like technology,” Cartwright said. “It’s just a different format. It gets them motivated.”

Her students respect the technology and are protective of it. “They’ll sit down right away and do their work, because they get to use it,” she said.

All of the iPads are coded, so that when the screen comes on, it is apparent that the iPad is for her classroom, Cartwright said.

Cartwright finds that when her students use technology, they are connecting better to what is being taught.

Martin said, “It levels the playing field for them. It’s a tool they use to supplement their instruction, to assist with the learning process.”

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