iPads and Autism: My Experience and App Recommendations for Teaching Kids with Developmental Differences

By Derek May on September 25, 2012   /   Angry Birds apps for disabilities Aspergers aspergers Autism autism Conversation Builder Developmental Differences Developmental Disabilities Easy Board EdApps EdTech Education Apps elearning iBallz iPad iPadEd Language Forest mlearning Nancy Barth Nancy Barth Tutoring Picture AAC Pocket Lexi Question Builder Scrabble Sosh Sound Literacy Sound Note SoundNote Stories2Learn Storyist Technology in Education The Magic Thief Tozzle Wood Puzzle    /   0 Comments

When my kids gave me an iPad for Christmas in 2010, I was really jazzed about my new toy.  I could take photos and videos, play music and Angry Birds. My grandson could use it for watching videos and playing simple learning games.  I could use it to teach my nephew (now 22), who has autism, how to play Scrabble.

At the time, I had no idea what a wonderful tool it would be for teaching and learning for kids with Autism/Asperger’s and similar developmental differences.  After just a few weeks, though, I started reading blog posts by parents of kids on the spectrum describing the amazing stuff happening as their kids started using iPads. Yes, they were learning new skills, but even more surprising, they were becoming more engaged with their parents and siblings.  Teachers were noticing the same things.

One teacher friend of mine uses the iPad and the app Sound Literacy to work on word-building with her students. Before, they would get frustrated trying to move small tiles around to make words.  With Sound Literacy, the tiles stayed in place and they could focus on spelling rather than picking up dropped tiles.  For younger children, apps like Tozzle and Wood Puzzle allow them to develop visual-motor and visual-perceptual skills while minimizing the need for fine motor expertise. No more spilled puzzles all over the floor! 

Speech, language, and social skills are important areas to work on for kids on the autism spectrum.  This is one place where the iPad really shines.  Apps such as Conversation Builder and Question Builder provide opportunities for the back-and-forth communication that is so important.  With Pocket Lexi and Language Forest, specific language needs can be targeted.

One of the most significant advances is the use of communication boards for those who are nonverbal.  I used to create communication books and social stories for my students. Having unending possibilities at your fingertips with the iPad is just an incredible improvement.  Most of these apps can be customized. Stories2Learn helps the parent or teacher create child-specific social stories, including using your own pictures and recording your own words. Others, such as Easy Board and Picture AAC use predetermined picture cards to create communication boards. Sosh is an amazing app for older teens and young adults that helps develop coping skills in different situations (and much more).

Over the course of several months, my nephew progressed from needing help with choosing every word in Scrabble to beating me in some games.  In addition to improving his spelling, he started using the dictionary.com app to find out the meanings of words I played.  I noticed him using some of those words in texts that he sent me.

When he wanted to tell me the stories he had locked in his head, I discovered apps like Sound Note and Storyist (more on that in a future post).  He had been struggling for months to master math facts, particularly division.  Operation Math came out and he took off.  He loved the spy mission theme, the subtle word plays, and winning badges.  He actually passed eight levels of division without any help from me.

Being able to read books on the iPad is another advantage.  As we progressed through one, The Magic Thief, he was able to use the highlight feature to mark similes and metaphors (of which there are an abundance in this series!).   If we wanted to, he could have also used the note-taking feature to type short comments about what he was reading.  I had a couple of Walter Mitty stories in a book, and after reading those, he used my iPad to find an animated video of one.  We could have used the computer, but the iPad was handier!

From the ABCs to spelling, from pointing to pictures to holding conversations, from reading books to writing them, the iPad is turning out to be “all that jazz” and more for kids on the autism spectrum, their families, and their teachers.  It certainly went beyond my wildest dreams back on that Christmas day in 2010. 

Nancy Barth is a retired special education teacher.  She tutors children and adults with autism and dyslexia in the Fresno area and also remotely via Skype. To learn more and join the discussion, visit her blog where you can find posts about iPad apps, reading, writing, handwriting, math, processing disorders, social skills, organizational skills and more.

Be the first to know about new offerings, specials, and other fun stuff: Sign up for “The Spark” on her blog and you’ll get a complimentary copy of the eBook "The Wonderful World of Apps for Educators of All Levels."

Many thanks to Nancy for guest posting!  Keep in touch with iBallz for more tips on tablet education - Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter

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5 Amazingly Versatile FREE Apps to Download for Your Classroom Now (With Video Demos!)

By Derek May on September 11, 2012   /   Creation Apps EdApps Edmodo EdTech Educreations elearning flipclass free apps free creation apps free education apps iBallz iPad iPadEd iPads in the Classroom mlearning Nearpod Prezi Technology in Education Toontastic    /   0 Comments

1. Nearpod - Free (with subscription-based access) - Nearpod is a combination student/teacher app that allows you to turn your lessons into interactive multimedia presentations (think interactive powerpoint lessons in the student's hands) and is an amazing way to engage your students further while lecturing in class.  Besides having a copy of the lesson presentation in their lap, Nearpod lets teachers include polls, multiple choice and extended response questions, pictures for students to draw on, and gives the option of immediate individual feedback from teachers for each students' work.  Check out the video below to get a better idea of what this awesome app can do.


2. Prezi - Free - Prezi is a cloud-based presentation app that allows you to create visually engaging presentations on a single zoomable canvas.  Prezi is a great tool to give over to your students to make an energetic presentation that forces them to think about the content their presenting in a new and energetic out-of-the-box way.  There's tons of bell and whistles with Prezi that students can dive into and there's a definite "wow" factor for students viewing presentation in this new format.  Take a look at the video below to get a feel for what a zoomable single canvas presentation can look like and click here if you want to see a Prezi on the app's use as an education tool.

3. Edmodo - Free - Meet students where they live by turning your classroom into an online social networking community.   With Edmodo you can create a Facebook-like stream where you can post topics/questions/surveys for your class that your students can comment, respond, and vote on.  You can also post assignments and due dates and have students submit their work (and access their grades) and post additional videos or resources for students who want to delve into a topic further.

4. Educreations - Free - Educreations is an easy to use video tutorial creator app that's great for making dynamic video lessons for teachers to share with their students.  Instructors can make multipage lessons, import images and move or resize them while recording, and narrate the entire thing all along the way.  Educreations hosts the videos on their own site (great if your school block YouTube) and you can share the videos with a select group of students (or embed them on your blog/Facebook/Twitter) or publicly with the Educreations community.  This app is also great for having students create tutorial videos for each other!

5. Toontastic - Free for one background/theme- Turn your lesson or your students' presentations into a cartoon with this fun, free app.  This app is a great way for students to summarize a novel they've just completed, show their understanding of a historical event they're studying, or share stories of their own creation.

Keep in touch with iBallz for more tips on tablet educationLike us on Facebook and Follow Us on Twitter

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10 Things You Need To Know About Bringing iPads into Your Classroom: Tips for iPad Deployment

By Derek May on September 04, 2012   /   Apple Configurator Creation Apps Edmodo EdTech Educreations free apps free creation apps free education apps iBallz iPad iPad Deployment iPad Roll Out iPad Rollout iPad Settings iPads in the Classroom Prezi Restriction Settings Technology in Education Volume Purchasing Program    /   1 Comment

The grants been granted and you're approved to bring iPads into your classroom.  Now what?  Here's 10 tips you need to know about bringing iPads into your classroom!

1. iPads alone won't improve your students' classroom experience or academic achievement 

New technology is only half of the journey to taking student learning to the next level.  The best way to use iPads in a classroom isn't to fit the new technology into the "I have always taught it this way" curriculum, but to rethink the curriculum entirely, redefining your lessons and practice with the new technology in mind.  What are the goals you have for you and your students with the use of iPads?  What can you do in your classroom with these devices that you wouldn't be able to do otherwise?  Keep the answer to these questions in mind as you rethink the way you teach everything, devising new lessons and an entirely new practice.

2. It is the Teacher's responsibility to keep the iPad's usage constructive in the classroom

Make sure there is structure and oversight from you as the teacher to keep iPad usage constructive and not a distraction – this means setting restrictions in the settings, setting rules in the classroom, and applying certain organization within the iPad, such as grouping apps by usage.  It's important that it is clear to the students when the devices are to be used and when screens are to go dark and often a verbal cue (like "screens dark now") is helpful for letting students know when it's time to put the device aside.

3. Password protect, and set settings carefully to have the most control over the device when in students hands

Turn on Passcode Lock in the General menu within Settings.  Next turn Restrictions to On in the same menu and go into Restrictions and turn off Deleting Apps and In-App Purchases, as well as Multiplayer Games and Adding Friends within the Game Center section on the same page.  The latter two is to keep strangers from reaching out to students from the Game Center app.  You can also choose media ratings for Movies, Apps, Music, etc on the Restrictions page.

4. Set-up both Find my iPhone and Find my Friends app for each device to keep track of iPads

Find My iPhone and Find My Friends are essential tools for keeping track of your classroom iPads and should set-up as soon as possible!  Find My iPhone tracks individual devices and allows you to remotely display a message or play a sound on a missing iPad and Find My Friends lets you track all of your classroom devices on a map in realtime!  Both Apps are free will you give you a serious leg up when it comes to keeping track of your iPads.

5. Invest in Only Free Apps in the beginning

It's tempting to load your new iPads up with tons of apps, but it's best to get going with the iPads and test the waters so you have a better idea of the best Apps that will help you use the iPads best in YOUR classroom.

6. Creation Apps > Content Apps

Content apps (apps that have built in content for the students to learn from) are limited and have a hard line standard of what the student can learn from them.  While they are great up to that limit (and there are many excellent ones to choose from), your time and budget is much better spent on open-ended Creation apps, that allow your students to process and present information that they input in new and exciting ways.  We will delve further into Creation apps in a later blog post, but for now check out free apps Educreations, Prezi, and Edmodo to get a feel for what a Creation app is.

7. Many useful Apps come with the iPad right out of the box!

Since we're on the subject of apps, there are a number of great apps that come with the iPad right out of the box.  Reminders (simple reminders and to-do lists), iBooks (and excellent ebook reader with features like search, highlighting, note taking, and bookmarking), Newsstand (a newspaper and magazine app which stores and organizes periodicals), and the Calendar app are extremely useful and should not be forgotten!

8. Purchase Apps through Apple's Volume Purchase Program

This program allows Educational Institutions to purchase apps and books  in volume and distribute them to students, teachers, etc.  Enrolling in the program will also allow you to purchase apps tax-exempt (if your institution is tax-exempt) and access special bulk pricing offers from app developers.

9. Use Apple Configurator to manage your fleet of iPads and keep the data student specific

Apple Configurator is a free app that will help you update, back-up, and install apps on a small fleet of iPads.  This app will save you from the time-killing headache of downloading apps individually on each device and the app is also a great way to synch data on the device with individual user profiles so that students can access all of their data regardless if they're using the same iPad from day to day.

10. Don't forget to budget for headphones, Apps, Charging Carts, and iBallz!

Classroom iPads need accessories to get the job done.  Once you get your new iPads you are going to need a charging cart, headphones, and iBallz to keep your tablets safe from spills and drops!  Don't forget to include those expenses as you budget for your new learning tools.

Bonus tip!

Bringing in new technology to your school classroom is going to be a process of trial and error.  If something doesn’t work, change it up – don’t be afraid to try new lessons and new practices and don't be afraid to ditch them if you don't feel they're working!  Get feedback from your students on their experiences with the iPad and keep refining your new practice as you get the feel for all the possibilities this exciting technology can bring to learning!

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iBallz at ISTE conference in San Diego

By Alex Marketing for iBallz on August 02, 2012   /   Camper DEN Discovery Education Network iBallz ISTE ISTE 2012 San Diego Snowcones Technology in Education    /   0 Comments

We had a blast exhibiting at this year's ISTE conference - it was great to meet all the forward thinking educators in attendance from around the world.  We carted out the big blue iBallz trailer and were dropping iPads and serving snowcones right out of the camper in the convention center!


The conference was a huge success - almost a thousand people came by the booth, many sent by an early morning presenter who sang the praises of iBallz from the ISTE podium!  We also spotted iBallz on a few booths throughout the convention center :)


It wasn't all hard work in San Diego!  We spent a super fun evening in Old Town
San Diego with the Discovery Education Network, who generously
let us into their club for the night :)

And we even got in a little beach time, before heading back on the dusty trail.

Thanks to ISTE and everyone else for a fun-filled couple of days - can't wait 'til next year!

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