Touched by technology
Nicki Cruickshank Photo - Jeff MacCormack, who teaches students with autism at Terry Fox Elementary School in Barrie, takes a moment to play around with an iPad, Tuesday. Six of the devices were bought for his special needs class, to help his non-verbal autistic students learn to communicate using certain programs.
Tapping into new technology has helped Jeff MacCormack's students find their voice this year.
The use of iPads in his special needs class at Terry Fox Elementary School in north-end Barrie opened a clear line of communication between the teacher and his students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
"For my students, these iPads are incredible. I can't think of an easier way for them to learn to have a conversation," said MacCormack, who has taught the ASD class for two years. "As you increase communication, their stress level goes down.
"I strongly believe this has been beneficial in the classroom for them."
The iPads and a few iPods were introduced to MacCormack's class of six students as part of a pilot project by the Simcoe County District School Board for special education programming.
MacCormack spoke Tuesday during a day-long presentation by the school board and Apple at the Springwater Township building about the benefits he's seen first-hand in using assistive technology such as the iPad in helping ASD students learn.
"We got the iPads through the doors in November and we started testing them out. From December to April was our chance to let the students use the devices and the experience was extremely positive for them," MacCormack said, adding a program called Pro-Lo-Quo was used daily to augment their communication skills.
"They were actually able to move their fingers around the tablet and use the apps. Even a toddler knows how to point and touch what they want. That's exactly what the ASD students were doing with the iPads,"?he said.
"The touch screen on the tablets are very valuable, because with Pro-Lo-Quo, they just touch the button that says 'I want' or 'a musical toy' and there's a voice that will say that, so they are able to communicate what they want," MacCormack added. "It makes their level of communication increase and most of my students are non-verbal, so it's easier than having to point at printed out words and pictures."
The technology can also be used for other educational facets such as literacy and math, social skills and scheduling by teaching staff.
MacCormack said the iPads would remain in his class until June, but after that, he wasn't sure if they'd be removed.
Connie Gray, the school board's special education technology consultant, said the devices will stay put, and she wants the pilot program to reach other schools.
"Those iPads will stay in the classroom, because they were already purchased by the board," Gray said. "I'd think the program should continue to include all schools, and my hope is we'll expand it to at least one other classroom."
Gray said she was thrilled by the program results reported by MacCormack, and added she's confident the board's special education staff made the right call by offering the pilot program.
"We had seen the results from the Toronto school board when they tried this pilot program, and we were very impressed. We wanted to integrate that into a school here," she said. "I'm totally impressed by our results at Terry Fox. It's just phenomenal to see kids using them as communication devices.
"We'll be looking at our budget now to see what we can do to purchase more (iPads)," Gray added.