After some careful evaluation of how the $3000 AUD should be spent, the following items were purchased:
- 4x iPad mini 32gb with screen protector and STM cases
- 1x Toshiba i5 Processor Laptop with Windows 8 and touch-screen
- Microsoft Office 2013
- 1x LEAP Motion Controller
- $100 worth of Apps from iTunes
Initially I was going to go with the full sized iPad 4 16gb model, but after trialling a colleague's iPad mini on a number of occasions I decided that the mini was a more suitable device. This also meant that I was able to get 32gb of storage, which was far more advantageous in a setting where visuals are very important and internet connectivity is not readily available.
Setting up numerous iPads is something I am very familiar with, so I left the creation of an iTunes account and purchasing of apps for when I arrived in Brazil. The apps purchased were based on what I knew worked for my students at Jackson School and some careful research into apps that are available for students with hearing impairments. I also made sure that there were plenty of creative apps that would allow the creation of lesson materials and resources such as with Explain Everything, Book Creator, Popplet, and the now free iWorks suite. There are so many amazing apps out there (as we all know), however, many of them are only available in English. I understand that there's a lot of extra investment involved in translating apps for multiple languages, but there are so many kids worldwide who are missing out on their potential educational benefits.
During the week of the 24th of September I met up with Maria Helena Pereira, teacher of students with hearing impairments and other disabilities on the island of Itaparica, Bahia, Brasil. At the inception of the fundraiser, Helena was working full-time at one school with a class of students with hearing impairments. Sadly, but also somewhat fortunately, she lost 2 days of her work at the school with these students due to budget cuts. Being the skilled teacher that she is, Helena picked up the lost days of work at another special education school, Centro de Atendimento Educational Especial (CAEE), Vicente Goncalves de Silva. I think it's wonderful that this tech gear is now being made available to more students, despite Helena having lost some of her working hours at her original school.
Throughout the 4 days I had set aside to work with Helena I was able to visit the 2 schools she works at, which both have a unique and equally wonderful group of staff and students. Each evening on the island was spent training Helena on how to use the new equipment, apps, management software and general troubleshooting. I must express my sincerest appreciation towards my wife for taking time with Helena and utilising her own knowledge of iPads to explain just how much is possible with the device in her native language of Brazilian Portuguese. If you've ever lead Professional Development (PD) on tech in a normal setting, then you can imagine just how much harder it is to get your point across when translating your thoughts into another language.
The first school we visited was CAEE Vicente Goncalves de Silva. This was the mixed special needs school that Helena recently started working at. This school caters to a wide age group of students, from kids as young 6 to adults who wouldn't have any other support communities or groups to attend otherwise. It was a very humble setting that clearly had some absolutely wonderful members of staff working with the relatively limited resources they had. The staff and students were all extremely welcoming and the completely open and honest curiosity of the students further solidified why I enjoy working in special needs education.
Helena has been teaching this class of students for around 8 years and has several of her original students still with her in the class. Helena learned the Brasilian system of sign language, LIBRAS (LIngua BRAsileira de Sinais), because she had a pre-existing hearing impairment, which meant she may one day have to use sign language as a form of communication in her daily life. Before Helena's arrival, there was no sign language teacher in Itaparica, so students with hearing impairments had very little support. Now, as still the only teacher of sign language on the island inhabited by around 23,000 people, many students and families depend upon her skills as an educator.
I introduced the students to the iPad and set them off in some apps. Like the time spent at CAEE, I wanted the kids to take control and independence with the devices, and that's exactly what happened. Initially the kids started on some apps from Shiny Things like Quick Math and Match Blitz, whilst others went on to make video clips and trailers in iMovie. I also made sure that all the kids got to experience the LEAP Motion and work with an awesome app called Sortee, something that has tremendous potential as an assistive educational tool.
After about an hour together it was time for the students and I to part ways. In that short time I got to see just how much these devices can potentially help these kids, particularly when lead by a great teacher like Helena. The companionship that was demonstrated between the students was tremendous and the support that older students gave their younger peers was simply wonderful.
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After realising how much more can be done when iPads have internet access, Helena sought to get WiFi-enabled modems for her schools. During my last day with Helena, we spent an afternoon with family back in Salvador where I got to demonstrate all the extra features that WiFi access can provide iPads with. The use of visuals is paramount in her work with students with hearing impairments, so upon realising how easy it was to get pictures from Google to make eBooks in Book Creator, Helena was convinced about the importance of gaining WiFi access at her schools. I also showed Helena how easy it was to transfer data between iPads using AirDrop and Google Drive. These two features are also a tremendous help as it allows her to create copies of documents and materials for her students.
Aside from the benefits that have been gained from WiFi access now being available in one of the schools, CAEE, Helena's students have begun taking the lead in tutoring roles for their younger peers. My favourite book that Helena recently shared with me was an Alphabet Manual of Brazilian sign language. You can check out the book in this link.
Something that really stood out when I went to both of the schools was the absence of extra assistance from different therapists, such as physical therapists and speech pathologists. In first world countries we are often (not always) lucky to have these great people working with our kids from a young age or within our schools. It's only when they're not present that you see their positive impact from a different perspective. Kids who should have better fine-motor skills or be much further along in their speech development simply weren't. It is for this reason that I also believe technology has a far greater impact and potential to improve these kids' education and lives. Something like the LEAP Motion now allows kids to practice coordination activities using their hands in real-time. Numerous apps on the iPad can be bought for a great price that will help various other deficits in these kids' abilities. Take care of your therapists, they're doing a great job.
The team at AssistiveWare were awesome enough to donate a copy of Proloquo2go and Pictello for the 2013 fundraiser even though they're not applicable yet in Brazil. Proloquo2go is set to be made available with Portuguese voices in 2014. In the future I would like to investigate which families would be able to provide a safe environment or setting for their child to have their own iPod Touch that has Proloquo2go installed on it so they can finally have a voice when they're around others who don't know sign language. More kids deserve to have powerful, life-assisting apps like Proloquo2go or other Augmented or Alternative Communication (AAC) tools.
I will continue to follow up on the current project and provide Helena with the best support I can across our world. Judging by the numerous eBooks I have been receiving I think everything is going just fine.
I am still in awe of the support that people demonstrated throughout this fundraiser. From the big supporters right through to the little supporters, the good friends who helped out and the people who I've never met, my guitar shredding buds, and to the kids in school with barely a few cents that helped out. You all made a difference!
All you wonderful PayPal donators