The rapid development of online tools and technologies has resulted in ongoing advancement in the field of special education. This a record of my odyssey on educational technology for special needs: SPED TECH… the next frontier.
These are the stories of a courageous teacher whose mission is to serve those who will serve. To seek out new ways to innovate. To boldly go where all teachers should go.
Any of you hear Captain Kirk’s or Picard’s voice when you read this? Anyone hear the annoying female voice that sang in the background of the Original series?
Got your attention? Good.
I transported down to the world of Special Education (SPED) when I stepped into my first classroom. I was 19 and hired to teach Tanakh at a local Jewish supplementary school. I had the content knowledge, thanks to my day school education. And, I thought I could teach because I was good with kids (eye roll).
I landed on the world of Special Education my first day when I discovered that among my student body were: a student with Muscular Dystrophy, a student with cochlear ear plants, a student diagnosed with ADHD, and three students with Dyslexia.
What was I to do?
At the time, I did what Tony Horton (exercise guru) touts — I did my best and forgot the rest. I learned to use an FM system as well as a visual identification chart. I also learned about enlarging print and using colors to code words.
With three years of teaching religious school under my belt, I applied for a job at the Walker Home and School. This was (and is) the NEXT GENERATION of schools in SPED. It is a school for children who have both severe learning needs and behavioral issues. Basically, it’s one step before hospitalization. It is here where I learned about behavior plans, IEPs, how to teach students using laptops for spelling, writing, and the Kurzweil 3000- a state of the art computer program that, like on the Starship Enterprise, spoke to you. View the following video to see how the Kurzweil 3000 can help special needs students tackle reading.
Though the Kurzweil 3000 voice is not Majel Barret’s (the voice of the Star Trek computer), it enables students with all types of learning disabilities to access texts(travel in time to the year 2017, and it is used to help students access all written media online).
My next mission was at a Jewish day school south of Boston. For 15 years, I witnessed the acceptance of students with special needs into Jewish day schools along with the evolution of technology.
By the end of my mission, every student had a Chromebook. Kindergarteners had tablets. Classrooms had Smart Boards. The following video demonstrates not only how a SMART Table can help special needs students, but also a method of using it that enriches mainstream students by having them help the SPED learners.
(Smart board/table exercises created by students for students with moderate to severe special needs)
Students were accessing curricula and skill sets. For example, a student with Dyslexia had texts read out loud using a Chromebook with the App Google ReadandWrite. Another student with dysgraphia used a program on a SmartBoard to identify Hebrew letters and compose sentences.
Students accessed the curricula. All students.
Logically, it made sense given all the technology that was available — Google Apps, Videos. Logic dictated that the strategies employed in all classrooms originated from Special Education.
(Chromebooks and Smartboards used in an inclusion classroom)
We were a fleet of star teachers at this school.
Teacher’s Log: Earthdate August 1, 2014. I landed on the planet Hebrew College. There was plenty of life as we know it.
I was hired to not only use my expertise running the middle school component of the supplementary school but also teach the professors to incorporate technology into their practice.
From using the school’s LMS (Learning Management System), Schoology, to Google Docs to VoiceThread, faculty embarked on the shuttle of edtech integration. During my four-year mission, faculty have transported their students to new worlds of understanding through the aid of technology. For example, using VoiceThread allows students with auditory processing issues to see the text in addition to hearing the text. All of this technology has enabled the College to service a broader range of students with learning disabilities (ADHD, Dyslexia, Auditory Processing, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and more). For example, the following videos demonstrate how Voicethread can be used not only to engage special needs students in mainstream collaborative learning activities, but also to develop alternative assessment activities that are more reflective of their achievement.
(Hebrew College’s LMS, Schoology, has capabilities to create accommodations and modifications for students with Special Needs)
(VoiceThread – virtual collaborative storyboard)
Teacher’s Log: supplemental. I find myself exploring the unique space stations of edtech companies. As an educator, I am sought for my expertise in pedagogy and application of technology.
As an educator, I am excited to explore what these stations have to offer. I am learning much about how they view their tool from a business perspective. Yet, they have the same mission as all educators — to serve all those who shall serve and aid teachers to boldly go where all teachers should.
Nees((adding closed captioning to videos – required by ADA)
My journey has not ended. As Captain of the U.S.S. SPEDTECH, I continue to explore new opportunities to combine both passions of Special Education and Technology. As a parent of two beautiful, bright children with special needs, I know that as technology advances, they will be able to reach their dreams. As a professor and Director of Student Support at Hebrew College, I see how students who were once struggling and thought to have their tenure cut short now continue their missions successfully. For example, a rabbinical student who was diagnosed with Dyslexia is using enlarged texts and audio recording software to improve his reading of Aramaic. Another student who has executive function disorder now writes cohesive critical analysis papers using online graphic organizers from ReadWriteThink.
I look forward to new frontiers and will boldly go where all teachers should go (no, not the teachers lounge!).
This article was written by Ariel Margolis, Director of Hebrew College’s Makor, Director of Online Learning and Adjunct Lecturer in special education at the Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education