The South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) is finding innovative ways to motivate and engage its students by using the latest in instructional technology.
Brent Kaulback, the SSDEC’s assistant superintendent, said investing in technology is crucial in the learning and development of students today.
“From a region-wide perspective, technology is something we’ve really made a priority,” he said. “We made a move to acquire more iPads because there are so many beneficial applications for different aspects of education.”
All three SSDEC schools in Hay River have been using iPads for the past year. One of the schools even has a mobile iPad lab, which is a cart that can go from classroom to classroom as needed.
Kaulback said two different groups use the iPads in Hay River schools. The first group consists of students who have special needs, such as autism or Asperger’s syndrome, and the second group is comprised of aboriginal language instructors.
Anna Cunningham is a program support teacher at Diamond Jenness Secondary School (DJSS). She began using iPads to help students in need back in May. She had no experience with the tablet before then, and no prior knowledge of its incredible potential.
“I spent a week researching the best applications for kids,” she said. “I had a student with autism, so I uploaded a variety of applications, ranging from arts to math to social and life skills.”
Cunningham was skeptical at first. Why place a child with autism in front of a gadget when you actually want them to become better at social interaction, she wondered.
“Instead of forcing the iPad component onto her individual education plan, we let her explore it,” she said of the student. “The results were incredible. She was completely independent with it and we had no idea she could open applications, close them, and she was very willing to share her success with us. It not only gave her independence, but enjoyment, too.”
Cunningham realized the iPad could be used to get to know her student better. She discovered that every morning, the student would open the piano application – despite the fact that she had never used the piano in the school – and play the same song.
“Obviously, she got something out of it, and it was an eye-opener for us. We saw a side of her we wouldn’t have seen without the use of the iPad,” Cunningham said.
The DJSS teacher also uses an iPad with a student for speech purposes. A special dictation application supports this student’s academic studies, and always makes for an interesting ice-breaker.
“It’s an instant communication topic between students who, perhaps, couldn’t bond together before,” Cunningham said.
Kaulback said aboriginal language instructors will be using the iPad and language applications shortly, and developing an online program that students and parents will be able to use to learn various dialects.
Another impressive piece of technology that will soon be in every DJSS classroom is the SMART Board, an interactive whiteboard with multiple capabilities.
SSDEC schools have been using them for two years now, and have updated to newer models of the board.
“They are really beneficial for all kinds of learning because they are so interactive,” Kaulback said. “It opens the world of the Internet to the entire class at once. It’s a new way of learning that’s engaging and teachers can integrate pictures, text and audio into their lesson plans.”
Aboriginal language instructors also use it to assess students. Using wireless ‘clickers’, or even their smart phones, students can participate in exercises and exams while teachers can see who is keeping up and who isn’t. This could only be done on an individual basis before.
Gerard Carroll, a teacher at DJSS, demonstrated how they work in his classroom.
Carroll said his students really appreciate the technology and there is significantly less distraction in the classroom.
“You can download lesson plans from a website and share them with colleagues, and many of them are customizable, too,” he said.
Kaulback said it’s important to keep up with the times, and offer students the best tools to succeed. “It’s challenging to keep pace with the all changes – both in terms of infrastructure and support – but we’re trying.”