Using iPads with SEN Learners

August 22, 2012

From April this year my main responsibility in the new eLearning Team for Sheffield City Council has been working with the Special Schools in Sheffield. We have 7 Special Schools signed up to our service for 2012-2013, which is great news. Across these schools, there has been a lot of interest in the use of touchscreen tablets with SEN learners, as they are very accessible and have a number of uses – for example as communication aids or tools for independent exploration of cause and effect. So far we have been concentrating on the iPad, as there are many excellent (and free) apps available. In future I hope to trial some LearnPads too, which use Android as their operating system, and are more affordable.

During the summer holidays I’ve been working on two documents for our schools, as it seems that iPads are often used without much structure and purpose. The first document maps iPad apps to P Levels in ICT, so for example at P1 a student may show a simple reflex response to a music app like Magic Piano when played loudly next to them. At P4 a student can use ChoiceBoard Creator to indicate a preference, whereas at P8 they may be able to use Pic Collage to create a collage of their images with some text to present information.

The second document looks at Motor Skill Development using iPad Apps. These range from gross targeting using Pocket Pond to letter formation in ABC Phonics Animal Writing, to complex pinch and rotate gestures with multiple digits to create patterns in Somantics.

Both documents are very much works in progress, and I’m looking forwards to working with teachers and students to see how they can aid learning and development.

Using iPads with PMLD Learners

February 10, 2011

We are very fortunate to have the opportuntity (and funds) to buy new technology, such as the iPads, to trial at our partnership schools. It became clear early on that these would be great tools for supporting the students at the special schools we work with, as the large touch interface means that they are accessible to a large number of pupils with physical and learning disabilities.

The first project involved using the iPads with a class of pupils with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). Some pupils are in wheelchairs, sometimes with visual impairment and poor motor skills. Many of them needed one-to-one help with the iPads, mainly to stop them being chewed or thrown on the floor, so some kind of clamp to secure them to the table would be useful in future. Here is a list of the apps we used (we tried to use free ones where possible, or as cheap as possible):

Talking Carl £0.59 – is one of a number of “Talking” apps. It will pick up any sound through the microphone and Carl will repeat (in a higher pitched voice). Even non-verbal students enjoyed this, as he repeats any sounds.  In addition you can tickle, poke and pinch him and he reacts appropriately – which the pupils love.

Other popular talking apps inclued Talking Tom, Talking Rex and Talking Roby.

Magic Piano £0.59 – This has different modes, from a black screen where you can play notes anywhere on it, to a spiral keyboard. This was great for the visually impaired students, and those without good motor skills, and it didn’t matter where on the screen they pressed.

Other good musical apps include Shaker, iXylophone, Percussive Free, Beatwave and iSteelPan.

Pocket Pond free – I love this app, it’s so realistic and relaxing. Make ripples in the water, scare or feed the fish, add dragonflies.



Gravitarium £0.59 – Touch the screen and the stars gravitate towards the point of contact, creating fabulous patterns. This initially looked quite relaxing but not that visually exciting, but it is accompanied by music, and more importantly, the whole screen vibrates with the sound. Some pupils really liked this feeling and even put their faces on the screen to feel the vibrations better.

Other cause and effect type apps: Art of Glow (no sound, limited number of patterns at any one time), Galactica HD (similar to Gravitarium) , Tesla Toy (no sound) and I love fireworks lite (nice and noisy).

The main problem with the iPads was that most apps have buttons in the corners that bring up menus or links to an upgrade, and the pupils invariably stumble across these. In addition there is no way to ‘lock’ an app, so that the pupil can’t come out of it (either intentionally or by mistake). Having said that, they were very popular with the students, and it gave them an opportunity for independent choice and exploration.

We have also lent out a couple of iPads to two schools, to trial the use of the communication aid app, Proloquo2Go. At £109.99 this is obviously not cheap, particularly on top of purchasing the iPad itself, but it comes out quite favourably in comparison to other specific communication aids. A particularly attractive aspect of using this app on the iPad is that the student is using a mainstream device rather than something that marks them out as being different to other young people. I’ll write another blog post once we receive some feedback as to the success of the app and device.


Useful iPad/iPodTouch apps for Modern Languages

September 14, 2010

After trialling the new iPads during our French Summer School I have found a number of excellent apps for use in the MFL classroom. Many of these can also be used on an iPodTouch (marked with an *), which makes it more affordable for a school to use. I’m not going to mention specific language apps here (apart from the dictionary) as I was more interested in the apps for creating work in the MFL classroom. Isabelle Jones has written some excellent blog posts on language specific ones here.

* I use the Collins French Dictionary (also available in German and Spanish) which at £5.99 is the most expensive app. This has just enough detail, i.e. some idiomatic phrases, whilst still being simple enough for younger students to use. I like the Fuzzy option, that means you don’t need to spell the word correctly for it to find it.

(The £14.99 Pro versions are excellent for A-level students and beyond).

* Doodle Buddy is a free drawing app and can be used to make the iPad into an expensive mini-whiteboard. Great for individuals or groups to show their answers, and for pairwork. For example one students draws a person, then describes them to their partner (e.g. He has blue eyes and green hair). The partner draws what they hear, and then they compare the result. It also has a noughts and crosses grid, ideal for bingo!

* Fotopedia Heritage is free and contains 20,000 high-quality photos of all the UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can search via the World map and star favourites. You can use it to look at images of countries where the language is spoken and talk about the culture and landscape. See also the Fotopedia Colors app, which has beautiful images of people from around the world.

Moodboard Lite (free) is aimed at artists, photographers and designers to help them organise their ideas, but is ideal for creating posters too. You can connect to the internet through the app, then find and crop images to add to the Moodboard. Text can be added and edited, to label images. I used this for a poster on colours as you can add ready-made colour palettes. The free version can only include 7 images, but we found it enough for our purposes.

iCardSort (free) is a brainstorming tool, where you can add text to any number of cards which can then be moved around the screen. This can be used for sorting vocabulary (e.g. masculine, feminine, neuter nouns), or creating sentences. Unfortunately you can’t change colours, background or fonts, but I like the simplicity of the app.

Infinote Pinboard for Todos and Notes Free can be used in a similar way. This is for brainstorming and creating To Do notes, and there are more options to change the colour of notes, text and add icons. This could be used for revision purposes, or colour coding types of words (make all adjectives green, nouns blue etc).

* Make a Martian (free) simply allows you to create a Martian, using a number of different body shapes, colours, arms, wings, eyes, legs etc. Once you have created a Martian you can take a screen shot of it (press Home and Power button together), and use it in another app, for example Moodboard or Strip Design. Great for work on colours and parts of the body, and a simple way to create characters for conversation work.

* Strip Designer (£1.79) is well worth the money. It is really simple to use and students can create nice-looking comic strips using images from the iPad’s My Photos. Perfect for conversation work, displays etc.

* Idea Sketch (free) is a mind-mapping app. There are a number of these available, but I liked this one as it is simple and uncluttered. You can change the colour and shape of the text boxes, add notes and view it as a list. Great for vocabulary revision.

i-Prompt Pro (free) turns the iPad into a teleprompter. Use when students are recording audio or video from a script. Type in the script and set how slow you want the text to move. It’s a little fiddly to set up, but works really well.

Voice Recorder for iPad (£0.59) allows you to create high quality recordings using the inbuilt microphone on the iPad. I chose this one simply because I had read a good review of it, and it seems easy to use. Unfortunately I’ve not found a way to use the audio in other apps, or download it off the iPad, but still a useful app to record practice conversations.

Extended list:

Here are some more apps that would be useful for creating multimedia work in MFL.

 *Splice (Free version has ads) – this is a video editor, but can also be used to put together slide shows with text and narration, ideal for presenting new vocabulary, or longer pieces of spoken work.




Book Creator (£2.99) – you can create ebooks and include images, videos, text and audio. Perfect for more creative use of language, and a simple way of combining all four skills of reading, speaking, listening and writing.


*Puppet Pals (free, upgrade for more characters and sets) – This is a lovely app for creating animations using the included characters and backgrounds and recording a narration as you move them. Ideal for making role plays more exciting. See also Sock Puppets and Toontastic.


This is just a small selection, and I’ll add to the list as I find more. Please add any suggestions for other apps in the comments.

French Summer School 2010

September 1, 2010

Following on from the success of our Spanish Summer School last year, we ran a French one for 3 days in August, aimed at Year 5 and 6 students with no or little prior knowledge of the language – although there were a few who had already learnt much of what we covered.

Day 1

We covered Greetings, How you are and Names in the morning. Each pair of attendees had the use of an iPad, which we used initially as an expensive mini-whiteboard using the free app Doodle Buddy, to write answers on. Having used mini-whiteboards as a teacher, it soon became clear that the iPads have the advantage of being much cleaner and avoiding the problem of pens running out of ink all the time.

At the end of the morning, students then created a comic strip using all the language learnt, using the Strip Designer app on the iPad (which we called Pow! due to the icon used). This costs £1.79 but is worth it, as creating comic strips is really easy to do, using images from My Photos. The students used aliens for the characters in their strip, created using the Martian app. This is another free app to create your own alien, choosing colour, body shape, number of legs etc (ideal for teaching body parts!)

You can then take a screen shot of the finished martian (hold down the home and power button) which automatically goes into My Photos. I also used this app to create a unique lock screen for each iPad so the students knew which was theirs for the week.

Once these had been finished the attendees recorded a short piece of French on mp3 recorders to add to a Voki, using French names picked from a list rather than their own. Some of them used Audacity to edit their voice. Unfortunately I’ve not managed to embed the results here.

After lunch we looked at some French-speaking countries and how to say where you lived. Everyone then used Animoto to create a short slideshow about a country.

Cameroon culture


Unfortunately this was quite a frustrating day with regard to the technology, as our broadband connection was running very slowly and some Vokis were lost when the website froze. Other computers wouldn’t connect to the network or kept crashing, and by the end of the day I remembered why a lot of teachers don’t use computers in the classroom. Still it was worth it in the end.

Day 2

In the morning we did colours and because some students had already learnt them I did a bit on adjectival agreement too, in order for them to create a poster using the Moodboard Lite app (free) with French sentences describing images found on the internet. The Moodboard app was created for designers, artists etc but I liked it for the colours posters because one of the features was the ability to create a colour palette. The students used the Collins French dictionary app to look up any words they didn’t know. This was the £5.99 version, and although there was a cheaper one, this had a good balance of detail in the entries whilst still being simple enough for learners of this age.
I’ve always noticed that children find it difficult to use a dictionary properly for a foreign language and so I spent a little time talking them through the process and explaining what some of the abbreviations meant. The novelty of the iPads certainly seemed to motivate them more than using a paper version.

The rest of the morning was spent learning numbers 1-20, and we used the noughts and crosses background in Doodle Buddy to play bingo. Each child then planned a short stop-motion animation using some of the language learnt so far, using plasticine for characters and I Can Animate software.

Day 3

The students spent the morning editing their animations using Windows Movie Maker, adding voiceovers and titles.

We then covered some basic weather vocabulary with the aim of creating weather forecasts in front of the green screen. Unfortunately we were running out of time so I gave the attendees the choice of how to create their weather-based presentations – using Voki, Animoto, Strip Designer, or filming it and editing in Windows Movie Maker. The groups that filmed their weather forecast used the free app iPrompt Pro as a scrolling script to read from on the iPads. It is a little complicated to use, as you have to fiddle with the settings to get the script to scroll slowly enough, but worth it to avoid the children clutching a bits of paper, and typing in the script reinforced the language.


All of the work created over the 3 days was eventually uploaded to our French Summer School blog, which was set up using Posterous. I still really like this platform as it is so simple to use, and presents the work really nicely (for example multiple photos get put into a gallery).

In all it was a very successful 3 days. I was really pleased with how well the iPads worked aspart of the classroom-type activities. Originally I had seen them very much as something students would use for reference and for passive skills (i.e. reading/listening), but there are enough free/cheap apps out there for creating work too, although we didn’t do any audio recording directly on the iPads. I shall try to do a separate post detailing all of the useful apps I found for MFL work.

One last issue presented itself with the iPads, and that was transferring all of the images of the work the students did onto my computer. The photos don’t get synched through iTunes, but when you plug the iPad in, the PC sees it as a camera, and if you double click on the icon that appears in My Computer you can see all of the photos saved on the device and transfer them as you wish.

You can hear me talk about the French and last year’s Spanish summer school in a podcast published on Joe Dale’s Integrating ICT into the Modern Languages Classroom blog.