By Karin Olsen
Providing access to technology in the classroom is rapidly becoming the standard in American education. Nowhere is this trend more impactful than in schools teaching students who learn differently. Two years ago the Winston School, which specializes in teaching students with such learning differences as autism, Asperger’s, ADHD and dysgraphia, embarked on a three-year plan to incorporate technology into the classroom.
For nearly 25 years the school (www.thewinstonschool.com) has steadily built a reputation for teaching students in ways each individual can learn and not the other way around. A technology committee made up of staff members with diverse specialties and classroom needs sought to expand capabilities for students who often turn to the school when traditional educational avenues have failed them.
The technology team consisting of headmaster Mike Peterson, dean of students and director of counseling Dr. Norm Severe, assistant head of school Mary Sterling-Torretti, and science teacher Ernie Hartt devised the plan that launched last year with 20 iPads for classroom use.
When fellow teachers and students connected the devices to TVs and tapped into a vast number of applications, the technology committee realized the small sampling of iPads made a significant impact. The success prompted the decision this year by the Board of Directors to provide iPads in the classrooms for all teachers and students one year ahead of schedule.
According to Severe, the program is transforming every class at the school with each class customizing how the iPads are used. “Classes use applications for writing, reading, and science as well as word processing programs and presentation software. Google has been a favorite in many classes, especially in history where teachers are doing timeline work.” he said.
He said the assistive devices are particularly helpful for those who struggle to pay attention in class or write and have difficulty with note taking and problem solving. “Students with dysgraphia find the dictation software helps them become more at ease and struggle less. It really breaks down the barriers.”
First-year Winston student Grant Anthony previously attended a large public school and said he experienced the benefits of Winston and the technology tools immediately. The 17-year-old University City junior with attention deficit disorder said the combination of smaller class sizes and access to his own iPad transformed his high school experience.
“At Winston I feel like I can crack down and work more. The school is a lot smaller so it’s harder to get distracted and into conversations with other students. I have ADD it’s been a bit of a problem, but at Winston I’ve been able to get past it. The iPads are awesome, too and since Winston updated the Internet we can do all the research we want with the high-speed access.
“For math I can write in a formula with a graph and it will show what it looks like. In biology I’ll have questions, but if I don’t want to interrupt the class I can Google and find the answer in about a minute. At my other school we used laptops, but the servers couldn’t handle all of them. Each laptop was assigned to two kids. It didn’t work out very well.”
Anthony, who also participates in the school’s highly acclaimed arts program as a base player for the school’s blues band as well as his long-time group The Weekend Warriors, also said he regularly uses his iPad to access ultimateguitar.com for learning music.
Fellow Winston junior and blues band member Nicolai Spiegelberg said he also finds the iPad a big help in class. “I do all my research and write on the iPad now. I don’t even use a computer anymore. Last year I used the iPad mostly in biology and English to research and write my papers. And I’ve become more interested in math – I like to use the 10 Ultimate tab in there.”
Spiegelberg said the device is also good for organizing. “I actually haven’t even used a computer since I started using the iPad. It’s so convenient. It’s like a piece of paper. I pull it out of my backpack and research something. I have my whole life on this thing and it’s helped me be more organized. I can even get text books on the iPad so now my backpack is much lighter.”
Winston School headmaster Mike Peterson shares Dr. Severe’s and the students’ positive assessment and enthusiasm. “The iPads have helped stimulate interest and sense of adventure for all subjects and it’s exciting to walk around to the classes and see how the devices are adding to our students’ learning experiences.”
Peterson said the groundwork has been laid to expand the program. “Prior to this school year, we increased and improved our infrastructure network to support the large number of iPads with high-speed internet and strengthened our wireless backbone system to handle the high traffic.
“Along the way,” he said, “We have been sorting through thousands of education apps, many of which are free or low-cost and the staff regularly shares their findings in staff meetings. Our next step is to facilitate Winston teachers visiting other schools to learn about other methods of tech integration and share what has worked for Winston.”
The Winston School is a college preparatory program which offers hope and success for children with learning differences in grades 4 through 12. The school is located at 215 Ninth St., Del Mar, Calif., 92014. Visit www.thewinstonschool.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the school at 858-259-8155.