Stressed Out Students

Stress and the Brain

Stress inhibits learning – it’s a fact supported by neuroscience.

But, as a teacher, you didn’t need the research to tell you that did you?

Your classroom experience backs up the science. Here’s why and what you can do about it…

 

STRESS AND LEARNING

 

Stress and Learning

Have you ever tried to focus in a meeting, sit for a test or concentrate on reading a book when you are feeling upset, angry or stressed out? Did you notice what happened?

 

Naturally, you would have found it extremely difficult to focus or concentrate on the task at hand while you were feeling stressed out. It’s a fact. Research demonstrates that stress inhibits concentration and is detrimental to learning.

 

In response to fear, stress or a perceived threat in the environment, the brain releases two hormones – cortisol and adrenaline. This activates the blood vessels and the heart for lifesaving ‘flight or fight’ action.

 

If a human being is in ‘danger’, there is no need for learning or thoughtfulness. All that is needed is to get the heck out of there! To stop and think could endanger your life and therefore, Mother Nature has designed our physiology to respond appropriately, instinctively – all the brain’s energy is diverted into self-protection and survival mode.

 

This was a great evolutionary advantage when our ancestors needed to escape a lion or fight a rival tribe! However, in our modern classrooms, these stress hormones, are getting in the way of effective learning. Cortisol and adrenaline actually turn off the parts of the b

rain that allow us to focus attention, understand ideas, commit information to memory and reason critically. Stressed out students are not learning effectively. It’s as simple as that.

 

STATISTICS

evaluate stress

Now, our students are not fighting lions nor protecting their clans but nevertheless, they are experiencing modern day stress. The following statistics, from Youthbeyondblue[i], paint quite a shocking picture of the inner world of our young people here in Australia and give us an idea of the numbers of students whose learning is impaired by stress:

 

  • One in four young Australians currently has a mental health condition
  • Suicide is the biggest killer of young Australians and accounts for the deaths of more young people than car accidents
  • One in sixteen young Australians is currently experiencing depression.
  • One in six young Australians is currently experiencing an anxiety
  • The top three issues that young people are most concerned about are coping with stress, school or study problems.
  • A quarter of young Australians say they are unhappy with their lives. In 2013, almost one in four young people (24.3%) said they were sad, very sad or not happy when asked to report how happy they were with their life as a whole.

These are sobering statistics that is for sure!

 

It seems pretty clear that given the effects of stress on the brain’s ability to learn, it is foolish to attempt to teach anything at all until we have addressed the emotional well being and mental health of our students.

 

STRESS BUSTING STRATEGIES

 

Reduce stress

The good news is that once recognized, stress can be dealt with and transformed. Extensive studies show that the optimal mental state for learning is relaxed alertness. This means that our students need to feel safe, calm and balanced emotionally in order to learn effectively.

 

Sadly, there are some students in your classroom whose learning is compromised by stress, worry or anxiety.

 

Children are not born with practical coping skills. Some students will be better at coping than others. For those not coping well, it is an essential part of our job as educators to help our students deal with the stressors in their lives. Developing the mind is important, learning is important and yet it won’t happen if we ignore the emotional well being of our students. We have a moral and ethical obligation to help young people cope with stress, anxiety and to develop their emotional well being, to give them practical strategies to support their learning and their journey through life.

 

Here are some ideas:

 

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558Simple relaxation exercises with abdominal breathing or heart breathing techniques can work wonders for students. Breath work is relaxing and helps to balance the autonomic nervous system, bringing a student out of ‘flight or fight’ mode and back into a state of calm and balance within the nervous system. Chemicals like dopamine are also released within the body and this helps to activate the brain for optimal learning.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558Breathing techniques can also teach students the skill of staying in the present moment. Sometimes anxiety is caused when the mind wanders off into future possibilities and worrying about things that have not even happened yet. Deep breathing can help a student to come back to the present moment and just manage the next small step, rather than feeling lost in the overwhelm of a bigger picture.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558If a student is in overwhelm, teach them how to break things down. For example, teach them how to break a large task down into smaller, more attainable tasks. Although this might seem simple to us as adults, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to a young person.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558If a student reaches out to you and wishes to talk, one of the best gifts you can give them is to simply be present with them and provide a listening ear. Just being able to talk to an adult who cares can alleviate a lot of the stress a young person might be feeling. Studies show that students at risk who are supported by one adult outside the family unit are less likely to harm themselves.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558Teach young people about the importance of what they put into their bodies and how it can affect their mental health. There is a considerable amount of research being shared now about gut health and psychology – particularly in relation to ADHD, autism, aspergers and other issues affecting many of our students. Questions about healthful, regular eating are not only relevant but important in the classroom. Filling up with junk like sugar and fast foods means that the body and mind are not going to perform efficiently.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558For anxious students, particularly those in Year 11 and 12, check on the amounts of caffeine being consumed. Caffeine can heighten feelings of agitation and anxiety. And it’s also important to make sure the body is sufficiently hydrated – are they drinking enough water? Water intake will affect brain function and given that the body is 75% water, it’s actually a very important factor to consider.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558Exercise can be a wonderful way for students to deal with stress. There is nothing better than blowing off steam by running, playing footy or a good session with a punching bag!

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558Teach students how to articulate feelings and speak up for themselves. For example, “I feel angry when you yell at me” or simply, “Please stop yelling.” Compassionate communication is important to avoid a tendency to ‘stuff things down’ inside the body – which can result in blow-ups.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558Negative self-talk can be a factor that affects young people. Help your students to become aware of how they speak to themselves in their minds. Are they kind to themselves? Are they patient and considerate of themselves as they would be to a friend? Or are they hard on themselves and self-critical? Once a person is aware of their own self-talk and how it is affecting them, it can be transformed into more positive ways of thinking. The field of Positive Psychology has wonderful tools for this.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558Taking a break from stressful situations can also help. Engaging in activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, doing something creative like drawing or writing, or even spending time with a pet can reduce stress. These kinds of activities will also produce dopamine, important for well-being and learning.

light-bulb-with-brain-and-blots-inside-creativity-symbol-Download-Royalty-free-Vector-File-EPS-71558Making connections with friends and building a network of supportive friends who can help the student cope or just be there as a listening ear in times of trouble.

 

Join Louise Gilbert to learn more at her TTA workshop, “Transformational Teaching Tactics – A 5 Step System for Quality Teaching with Effective Learning Outcomes” on March 20th 2015.

 louise gilbert

 

[1] http://www.youthbeyondblue.com/footer/stats-and-facts

9 keys to success

Student Climbing Books Shows Education

‘Success does not just happen.’

We need to work hard to attain it, with focus and persistence, when others may give up. Some habits support this; others can stand in the way. Below are 9 habits to help you attain success.

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1. Work hard, organise and prioritise Hard work will get the results with the formula: ‘your input will equal your output.’ . There are no short cuts. Write a daily ‘To Do’ list that you mark off as you complete each task. As additional responsibilities develop, include it in your list. Prioritise your tasks according to time deadlines and importance. Ask yourself: ‘what is the best use of my time now?’ This will focus your actions to become strategic, rather than haphazard, and bring you closer to achieving your goal.

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2. Don’t procrastinate When we put things off, the task list grows as additional responsibilities require attention. As Nike claims: ‘Just do it’ to free yourself to new situations and to tasks that come up. This will avoid a bottleneck that will see you struggle to cope.

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3. Overcome obstacles, flexible approach The path to work often includes difficulties and unexpected obstacles. Rather than focus on these, take a solution approach to overcome or minimise problems. It will encourage creative thinking, a lateral approach, and positive behaviour. As the situation changes, a flexible approach enables us to modify the original plan with thinking and behaviour that accommodates new circumstances.

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4. Maintain stress and manage conflict During the course of work, we face stress and conflict that we need to manage. Place stress and conflict in perspective, view the issues objectively and recognise our responsibility in the part. We do not complain, blame others, or make excuses. Rather, we view conflict as a challenge to address, learn from and ‘move on’ with added learning to apply to a new situation.

arrow 95. Apply a positive approach Our approach to completing the task can assist us to do the best we can, or bring out frustration and a negative attitude. A positive approach to work, people and life will help focus on the good aspects of any situation. It will motivate us, help to establish good relationships, a positive work environment, and values that support our job, learning, and an innovative approach.

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6. Respect relationships at work and home We drop our ego, and are sensitive to the rights and needs of others. Successful relationships are based on understanding and how we communicate. Often, the same message can be said in a tactful and positive way that shows empathy and kindness.

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7. Be resilient With difficult times, many people struggle and give up. Rather than walk away, look at the challenge to accomplish. Zig Ziggler’s approach: ‘When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you do not change your decision to get there.’ Keep going and persevere, even when you want to give up. These are the stepping stones to success.

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8. Encourage healthy life habits Engage in healthy behaviours for living a healthy lifestyle. Healthy habits include: eating healthy food, exercising, having sufficient sleep, and modifying consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. Create a work/life balance with time for work, family and friends. It will avoid workholism and the resulting burnout. In its place will be time for our personal selves to enjoy with family and friends, hobbies, exercise, or time to ‘be.’

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9. Personal commitment Commit to being the best person you can, work on shortcomings, and develop skills. Take time to review your work with a constructive eye. Appreciate your outcomes, the effort, and your learning, but also areas that can be improved. Look at the reasons, and take action. This is part of a professional repertoire, to keep learning and growing to attain wisdom and higher level behaviour. Lifelong learning supports professional development through undertaking training courses, mentoring, coaching and informal learning to propel us to greater heights in our personal and professional life.

Refine your attributes both personally and professionally. Keep learning and growing. Adopt a healthy lifestyle to bring out the best in you. My life motto: ‘Enjoy the process.’

‘Make positive choices in your life.

Leah Shmerling is the Director and Principal Consultant of Crown Coaching and Training, and is a Certified Retirement Coach. She has over 30 years experience in career development, life coaching, education and training. Leah holds a Master in Professional Education and Training, Graduate Diploma in Career Development, a number of Diploma qualifications in Vocational Educational Training, and Certificates in Life Coaching, Mediation Skills, and Psychodrama. Leah is a professional member of the Career Development Association Australia (CDAA).Leah is a professional member of Australian Career Professionals International (ACPi-Aus). She has international accreditation and is Board Certified as a Career Management Fellow with the Institute of Career Certification. Contact details for Leah Shmerling:
leahshmerling@crowncoaching.com.au
www.crowncoaching.com.au

Check out Leah’s Cert IV Online courses. These courses are available to any industry not just educators.

 

Visual Schedules using the iPad

There are numerous benefits to using Visual Schedules (VS) with individuals with Autism and there is also significant research supporting their use for individuals on the Autism Spectrum (AS).  A Visual Schedule can be the key to increasing independence and managing anxiety for students with Autism. This can make a huge difference to the child and in turn diminish meltdowns, anxious behaviour and foster positive growth. 

Individuals with Autism have problems coping with unstructured time and also have difficulty understanding and then following verbal instruction, therefore a VS can provide both structure and visual cues that they can follow (Van Bourgondien et al., 2003).

 

Advantages to Using a Visual Schedule

The advantages to using a VS with individuals on the AS include (Mesibov et al., 2005):

  • Utilizing the individual’s visual strengths, therefore providing a receptive communication system to increase understanding;
  • Helping the individual to learn new things, accept new challenges and broaden their interests;
  • Providing tools that allow the individual to use skills in a variety of settings;
  • Increasing the individual’s flexibility and ability to orient within the world;
  • Assisting the individual to remain calm and reduce inappropriate behaviours; and
  • Developing independence and resulting self-esteem.

Creating a Visual Timetable Using the iPad

The iPad is the perfect vehicle for creating a visual timetable.  You can use any of the writing apps such as Keynote or Pages to create a visual timetable.  keynotepages

Visual timetable (Click here to be taken to an example of a Visual Schedule created on the iPad).

To create this VS I used Keynote and Keynote’s animation capabilities to add and take away from the schedule. This also means the schedule can be moveable and interactive. You can make these as simple or complicated as you like.

The great thing about Keynote is that you can design your Visual Schedule to suit your students.

You can also use Pages to create Visual Schedules and you can also make this creation interactive and dynamic, using Pages tools.

There are many other apps that you can use to create Visual Schedules.

I like Popplet or Grafio.

poppletgrafio

These are actually Mindmapping apps, but can easily be utilized for VS.  See the Popplet example below:

popplet App for Autism Spectrum

I like Grafio as well as it has a lot more elements than most Mindmapping apps.  One aspect that I really like is that each element in your Mindmap has audio capabilities, making this an extremely powerful app for students on the Spectrum. So if we look at the example below, each of my pictures can have audio attached, providing students with audio visual support. This can be really beneficial for student in Secondary School. We often forget that older students need visual supports as well.

grafio App for Autism Spectrum

Here is another alternative. Each element can have a voice over, so the child knows what you expect from them.

Grafio App for Autism Spectrum

There are many, many apps out there such as First Then Visual Schedule.First then

This app is designed specifically for making VS. While I like the ease of use, I prefer to have the versatility to create my own designs and schedules using Apps listed above.

Overall, I believe the iPad is a unique device in that you can use the technology to easily and quickly create audio, visual, interactive and dynamic Visual Schedules.

 

Designing your Visual Schedule

  1. What do you want your VS to do (What behaviour do you want to address?)
  2. How should your VS look? What icons will you use? (Consider what form of information would consistently be most meaningful to the student).
  3. How long is your schedule and how will it be presented? (Some of your students may be more successful with one piece of information at a time, while others may be able to cope with a short sequence of activities or up to a full day. Some students can cope with a VS displayed at the front of the classroom, some will need the VS to sit at their desk).
  4. Can your schedule be continually manipulated? (Using the iPad means that you can easily interchange your icons on a daily basis, or you can duplicate for other students).
  5. Are the icons/pictures age appropriate?
  6. Do you need audio as a prompt for the visual icon?
  7. Introduce the schedule to your students so that they know what you expect of them.
  8. Regularly update.

References

Davies, C. (2008). Using visual schedules: A guide for parents. The Reporter, 14(1), 18-22.

Massey, G. & Wheeler, J. (2000). Acquisition and generalization of activity schedules and their effects on task engagement in a young child with autism in an inclusive preschool classroom. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 35, 326-335.

Mesibov, G., Browder, D., & Kirkland, C. (2002). Using individualized schedules as a component of positive behavior support for students with developmental disabilities. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 25, 58-72.

Van Bourgondien, M., Reichle, N. & Schopler, E. (2003). Effects of a model treatment approach on adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 131-140.

 

by Karen Barley (GradDipEd, Posgrad DipEd, Med (SpEd) )

Karen is an Australian teacher with over 20 years’ experience in both mainstream and special education. Her interest in Autism and how to provide better educational opportunities for her students led her to iPads. Karen conducts professional development for teachers in Australia and the USA, works as an Autism Consultant and conducts a number of online courses on iPads in Education, Autism Awareness, and 21st Century Education. She can be contacted through her website: www.projectautismaustralia.com

Check out Karen’s workshops on the TTA website

Download the PDF of this article

MYTHS ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION.. BUSTED!

As a sustainability educator, it has been interesting to watch schools make the transition to the new Australian Curriculum which requires the teaching of sustainability as a cross-curriculum priority. Some schools have embraced sustainability in many forms – implementing programs as part of infrastructure, daily operations, curriculum, student leadership programs and community celebrations. However, others have found it challenging to engage with sustainability – and this is often due to a range of perceived barriers including a lack of support, training and confidence, as well as limited time and funding.

Transport Sustainability Audit - Warburton PS
Transport Audit – Warburton PS

I’ve also realised that one of the biggest obstacles is actually misunderstanding about sustainability education. Here are some common myths I’ve encountered and some ideas on how to overcome them…

Myth: Sustainability is a curriculum ‘add on’.

Some schools view sustainability as something that is in direct competition with other educational demands. They couldn’t be more wrong. Traditionally, sustainability was taught by Science and Geography teachers, but there are entry points within all key learning areas which achieve learning and teaching outcomes. On the Australian Curriculum website, ACARA uses a leaf symbol to indicate content that lends itself to the theme of sustainability. This shouldn’t, however, limit what is explored in the classroom. Writing persuasive texts? Choose a local environmental issue to debate. Exploring volume in Maths? Measure the volume of your bins and calculate how full they are when collected. Analysing financial markets in Economics and Business? Investigate the impact of climate change on business costs, revenues and profitability.

port fairy community sustainability program
Port fairy community program

Myth: Sustainability is all sad faces and bad news.

There is a general misconception that sustainability education is all about doom and gloom. In fact, the opposite can be true. Sustainability education helps develop capabilities, skills and knowledge for 21st century learners in positive and engaging ways. It supports students to expand their critical thinking, refection and evaluation skills. It encourages optimism, hope and resilience. It allows students to connect to nature, which boosts physical health and mental well-being. It provides an opportunity for students to act in ways that contribute to a prosperous, sustainable and socially just society. The not-so-great news about our natural environment can easily be balanced by empowering young people take meaningful action in their personal lives and community.

Myth: Sustainability drains a school’s budget.

Quite the opposite. The school budget often benefits when students embark on school sustainability projects. This alone is not a reason to embed sustainability in the curriculum but it is definitely an added bonus. Significant funds can be saved on utility bills such as water, electricity, gas and schools will benefit through lower paper and waste collection fees. In turn, this money can be channeled into other important projects around the school.

Myth: There isn’t enough support out there.

Never fear, Cool Australia is here! Along with our partners, we offer a suite of FREE to access resources – written by teachers, for teachers – that cater for a range of learning areas, year levels and student needs. We also offer a range of online professional development webinars, workshops and courses.

cool australia logo

Find out more on the Cool Australia website: coolaustralia.org and see the courses offered o help you integrate sustainability into your curriculum check out  TTA’s website: tta.edu.au

We need to start busting these myths so that schools are energised to implement this valuable cross-curricular (and planetary) priority. Teaching young people about sustainability has never been more important. My advice is to start with the ‘easy wins’, find where the interest and passion lies within your colleagues and students and build your sustainability education program from the ground up.

Kirsty Costa, Professional Development and E-Learning Manager at Cool Australia

Autism and iPads- Setting up parameters Part 1

I’m sure you’ve read all the hype about how an iPad can assist your students on the Spectrum.

There is significant research out there celebrating the use of iPads in the Autism Community. Then you have well known people, such as Temple Grandin.

suggesting in a number of interviews that iPads can play a huge role in successful learning for children who have Autism.
You may have heard about Carly Fleischmann and how technology literally opened up a world of communication for her.


and you just have to go to YouTube, Autism Communities and the many parent blogs out there to find applaud for tablet technology and the benefit for children with learning differences.

While I concur as I’ve spent the last five years researching, trialing, experimenting and designing programs using iPad and apps for all students, but especially for those on the Spectrum, I also believe that the last five years has taught us hugely about how we should implement and integrate this technology. I am extremely concerned by some of the stories I hear from teachers on how the device is being used and how the technology is being set up. We have to be clear, iPads are individual, personalised technology. They are not meant to be used as a fill in or a reward, because then you are missing the real benefit of it’s use and they shouldn’t be used for ‘iPad’ sessions, like we used to have ‘computer’ time.

Technology is now an assimilated, instilled part of everyday life. Technology is also quickly becoming as integral as pen and paper was in the past. We use technology to tell the time, read the news, write a note, send a message, research answers, do our banking, book a ticket, navigate a route and so on. As integral as technology is to daily life; we need to treat technology in the same way in education. Timetabling technology as a unique part of curriculum is a thing of the PAST!

Consequently, I came up with the following guidelines. Some are simply questions you should ask yourself and ask your school and some are some parameters that you can set with your students. I’m sure you could come up with some extra points that suit your particular clientele, but this will at least provide you with a starting point.

Also, most of these points I’ve written with the child who has Autism in mind, but you can easily relate this to the neurotypical child as well.
AutismHow will you use the iPad?

1:1 iPad use is the most appropriate or viable way to deploy iPads into the classroom for students on the Spectrum. This gives each student ownership over their iPad; all of their work is stored on the one iPad; and the iPad is readily available when students need to use it. This avoids all kinds of confusion for the student who has Autism and also means they open up a screen that is familiar and personalized for them. Not doing this would be similar to handing a child with Autism a different ‘workbook’ each day.

AutismSecurity Issues

Ensure iPads are all set up to prevent students from accessing sites, videos or apps that are not appropriate for them. The iPad has extremely good security options inbuilt into the iPad’s settings. You can set the iPad to only be able to access G rated apps, music, videos and other content. You can also prevent students from accessing the iTunes and App Store.

This is vital for students on the Spectrum because they are extremely ‘tech’ savvy and while we need security for the iPad, we also need to make available sites like YouTube that are normally restricted for students. Being able to restrict the content by setting age and ratings limits, means students can still watch age and education appropriate content. YouTube is an invaluable resource and I think shutting it off altogether cuts off access to some really great educational videos.

AutismSelecting Apps

Having a core list of apps really helps. When I first started out on this journey, I had too many apps. It was overwhelming for me to try to learn how to use them and then teach the students how to use them. I now, think it is wiser to start with a few apps….get to know how to use them and how to use them in your classroom. Then you can add apps as you go. Be clear about what you want to do with the apps and this helps you to narrow the selection further.

AutismMake sure you know how the apps work

I suggest using the apps and playing with all the settings. Go through each step of the app and know how it works. Can the app be adjusted and differentiated in the settings section? Is there a way to make the app easier, or harder? Think about how you can use these apps in an educational context for your students and how you can integrate the technology into your lessons.

Taking courses on iPad use can help you to navigate your way through the minefield of apps and get some idea of what apps to use. Go to www.tta.edu.au for courses on how to use iPads in the classroom.

Go to Vimeo, Teacher Tube and other teacher educational sites for reviews on how to use apps. Additionally there are lots of videos made by educators on how to use certain apps in the classroom. This is a fantastic resource and one I highly recommend.


AutismAllocate the iPad for educational use only.

One of the very early decisions I made was to only have educationally based apps on the iPad….this did include educational games….but I left all other games off the device at the very early stage of iPad deployment into my classroom.

I believe this is a vital decision to make because I think children have plenty of opportunities to play games using various other technologies like the Nintendo DS, Wii, Xbox, Computer games etc. Keeping the iPad as an educational tool ensures that students will view the technology from this perspective.

The iPad should not be used as a ‘fill in’ or for ‘rewards’ – if the technology is being used this way, then it is not being used effectively and more importantly is not being utilized to create the best possible educational outcomes for your students.

AutismThe device cannot do the work for you or replace you as a teacher

You have to drive its use and be at the control panel. You decide what apps to use, how to use them and how you connect them to your overall curriculum and lesson plans. You will need to differentiate the use of the iPad and apps to suit your students who have Autism.

It is NOT enough to just had a child the device without some preparation and instruction, let alone determining how the device will best assist each student’s learning outcomes. The iPad is essentially an educational tool and it will only be as effective as the teacher who is overseeing its use.

AutismFinally a couple of words on setting up parameters for using device for students who are on the Spectrum

All children, and especially those who are on the Autism Spectrum need firm guidelines and parameters for using iPads both at home and the classroom. If we do this from the very start, then this will become a part of what is expected. We all know that developing routines and structures are extremely important, so it makes sense to introduce the iPad with some routine and structure.

Karen Barley

Part 2 coming in the next few days:

 Introduce the iPad as a Personal Learning Studio