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Learning from technology

Technology grant provides results for children with autism.

OSHKOSH, WI - Many people think of an iPad as way to entertain for their own personal benefit. What most people don't realize is that devices like this are becoming a critical way to communicate for children with autism.

Jacob, a Carl Traeger student loves it when he gets the answers right when he's using an iPad. He can access a variety of math, reading, and writing activities and has opportunities to show off his skills when working with classroom friends. Photo courtesy of OASD

Click Here to see a video of iPads in use at Carl Traeger Elementary School

Children at Carl Traeger Elementary School are experiencing breakthroughs in communication and attentiveness because of this lightweight tablet computer.

Teacher Emily Dietrich says that she and other teachers have noticed major positive changes in the way children learn since these devices arrived in February.

"The iPads provide that visual input instantaneously, which is a beautiful thing because it will often decrease anxiety and frustration for the student," Dietrich says.

Picture books alone aren't enough to gain concentration of students with autism. They need constant interactive visual stimulation for their needs to be met.

"These students in particular are visual learners," Dietrich says. "When I am able to pull a picture of a horse up on the screen, that child is more likely to make a connection with the words I am saying and the picture. It is a powerful educational tool that is highly beneficial for our students."

Thanks to the Laurie Hoopman Family Fund and a $2,500 matching grant from Dealerfire, an Oshkosh-based automotive website design firm, Dietrich's students have access to seven iPads to achieve this extreme turn around.

Dietrich says that one of her students became much more enthused about reading while using the iPad. The student used the apps Read 2 Go and Bookshare to have books read to her at her reading level. Reading became more powerful for this student because the technology helped bridge a gap in learning that she previously experienced. She also had the ability to increase her comprehension of the text read to her.

"(The student) struggles to decode words, which often inhibited her ability to successfully answer comprehension questions. If she sat in her classroom during (a silent reading period) with a picture book, she would simply flip pages and not read. While using the iPad she was more motivated to listen to the story."

The children experienced a strong improvement in their math skills and comprehension as well, Dietrich says. She has seen a change in retention of multiplication facts by using the iPad apps. One of her students used finger counting and skip-counting, and drew tally marks or arrays when first introduced to multiplication. The multiplication apps have significantly changed his ability to answer these problems with certitude. By the end of the school year, he demonstrated immediate understanding with his multiplication facts and no longer relies on other strategies.

"Students with autism have brains that are programmed uniquely," Dietrich says. "It is inspiring to make a difference in their lives by using the iPad to help them succeed."

Dietrich says the access to technology has allowed her and other teachers to document progress in her special needs students. It also has allowed them to do video modeling — a recording of themselves performing the targeted behavior or skill. Those pictures are then used to create mini books to teach students the difference between expected and unexpected behaviors.

Brenna Garrison-Bruden says she has seen significant results from these iPads.

"The kids are so engaged," says Garrison-Bruden, administrator at Carl Traeger. "They've made such growth by applying what they learn from the iPads every day."

Students with autism are more engaged because there are visual images to go with what they're hearing which helps their understanding and advances their social and communication skills.

"During a lesson, we may view a BrainPop video, which is an educational video that targets specific concepts in a K-5 curriculum," Dietrich says. "The whole group lesson may be a challenge for the student to concentrate. Therefore, I have used the iPads to re-show the BrainPop video clip on the app. The students with autism are able to pause, re-watch, and take the quiz or activity at their own pace. That individualized opportunity to slow down learning to the pace of the student is a great asset of the iPads in our classroom."

Dietrich says that she believes that students with disabilities should have access to iPads or other forms of technology simply because it is an educational tool that meets the needs of the child.

For Steve Hoopman, providing the funds to purchase the iPads for Carl Traeger is another way for the Laurie Hoopman Family Fund to honor the legacy of his late wife. Laurie Hoopman worked with disabled children her whole life.

"The schools requested iPads as learning supplements," Steve Hoopman says, "and we wanted to fulfill that need by giving iPads to these autistic students. Laurie would have loved that."

The Laurie Hoopman Family Fund was started through the Oshkosh Area Education Foundation in honor of Laurie who taught at Carl Traeger for several years before she passed away in 2007.

DealerFire is owned by Laurie Hoopman's stepson Eric Hoopman. Eric says he had a deep connection to the donation because of how much it would've meant to Laurie, and his love for the digital world. Eric and Steve agree that through the Laurie Hoopman Fund and DealerFire, they hope to continue to honor Laurie's legacy.

"Seeing and experiencing this impact on a local level has inspired us at DealerFire," Eric Hoopman says. "That's why we are encouraging other tech companies in the industry looking to do some good in their communities to consider an iPad donation. Because while there's no doubt you or your company can benefit from an iPad, it's tough for the benefit to match that of the child who is communicating for the first time thanks to the device."

The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization created by and for the people of Winnebago County, Waushara County, Green Lake County and Ripon. Through charitable giving, the Community Foundation strives to make our communities thrive. For more information, please call 920-426-3993.

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