New iPads help Waynesboro students learn

December 17, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Chelsea Ruleman, right, reacts to getting a word wrong while playing a learning game on an Apple iPad Wednesday at Mowrey Elementary School. Fellow student Morgan Brindle starts her turn.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — As 6-year-old Hannah Wetzel signed and spoke a full sentence, tears dripped down her personal care assistant's cheeks.

"This is a sink," Hannah said with guidance from her teacher and an iPad program.

Hannah, who has Down syndrome, was a nonverbal student a year ago.

When her lesson was over Wednesday morning, Hannah launched herself into her emotional personal care assistant's waiting arms for a hug.

"I'm so proud of you, girlfriend," Denise Urbanek said as Hannah was wrapped around her neck.

Hannah is one of the students using Waynesboro Area School District's new iPads. The district used federal stimulus funding to buy 77 of the tablet computers for students with special needs or reading struggles.

"There are lots of wonderful things I'm trying," said Laura Richardson, a special education teacher at Mowrey Elementary School.

District officials continue to prepare the devices and distribute them to classrooms. Jean Purnell, director of special education, said iPad applications are available for all grade levels.

"You can actually virtually dissect a frog on one of these," she said.

One of Richardson's favorite tools is an American Sign Language dictionary that allows students such as Hannah to see short video clips of someone signing a word correctly.

Another program allows the user to pick various symbols and tiles from the screen to build sentences. Richardson and Purnell demonstrated how an autistic child with problems communicating could select "I" "want" "apples."

At least one program even has a button the student can select during lessons to indicate he or she needs to use the bathroom.

A representative from Apple led two training sessions for Waynesboro's teachers, Purnell said. Applications for the devices typically range from no cost to $20, she said.

The district purchased the iPads, cases and care plans for about $500 each.

Mowrey Elementary School reading teacher Kathy Egolf started using iPad programs with her kindergartners.

"We're finding a lot of applications for alphabet, beginning sounds and sight words," she said.

Second-graders Morgan Brindle, Chelsea Ruleman and Callin Kauffman demonstrated the word games they enjoy playing. Morgan and Chelsea said they especially enjoy a version of tic-tac-toe.

"You get to take turns with a friend," Morgan said.

The game asked them questions such as "Which of these words has a different beginning sound than the others?" Morgan and Chelsea were presented with "girl," "gem" and "gift."

Purnell said she has heard of other schools using iPads, but she has not talked to any educators from other areas who do.

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