SEN Computing Day

December 12, 2013
It has been clear ever since the new Programs of Study for 2014 were published that the new Computing Curriculum was going to cause a few issues for teachers in all schools, as there is quite a shift in emphasis from teaching ICT. The newer elements of programming and computational thinking are intimidating for non-specialists in mainstream schools, not to mention teachers working with pupils with special needs. As a result of this we decided to run an SEN Computing Day on the 6th February here at Sheffield South City Learning Centre in order to provide teachers in special schools and similar settings with the knowledge to understand what the newer elements might entail and practical ideas how to teach them to pupils with moderate and severe learning difficulties.

The day was very successful and you can read reports about the day in two blog posts on the official Sheffield eLearning Team website here and here.

There is also a wiki for sharing resources and ideas for teaching computing to pupils with special needs and disabilities:

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.

Seven Hills World War II Project

May 16, 2012

The Blitz

I worked with four different phase two classes from Seven Hills School before Easter to help them bring alive their topic on World War II. Each class chose a different aspect of the war and wrote a script for a short film. We filmed using the green screen, both at the CLC and in school, and added voiceovers, backgrounds and music. The finished films were:

  • 2BT – Evacuation
  • 2SM – The Blitz: with information on  the different types of shelters.
  • 2DS – D Day: including poems written by the pupils.
  • 2JL – Rationing: with dishes cooked by the students based on wartime recipes.

Using the green screen was a great way to put the students into an era very different to their own, and helped them to understand how life was for young people at the time.

Done Up Like Tommy Ward’s Elephant

May 2, 2012

A year 7/8 class from Talbot Specialist School bought a Sheffield legend to life this term through animation and artwork. Lizzie the elephant was used by T W Ward and Co scrap metal dealers during the First World War, to replace horses that were conscripted by the military. The Talbot class brought to life a number of stories about Lizzie, using stop-motion animation.

The students worked really hard on the film, recording the voice-over, writing the titles, drawing the backgrounds and models, animating the stories, and finally editing the film. We were also very lucky to find the perfect soundtrack, a song called “Lizzie Wards Elephant” by a songwriter called Steve Birks (you can see his MySpace page here). He very kindly gave permission for the song to be used in the film.

For more information about Lizzie’s story, see the Sheffield Jungle  page on the University website.

Lizzie the Elephant

TeachMeet SEN

February 29, 2012

Animation exampleSorry for the long hiatus in posts on the blog, but I have returned from maternity leave and have lots of exciting things to blog about already. On the 28th January I travelled down to Leicester for a TeachMeet with a SEN focus. A TeachMeet is essentially a load of teachers (and other educators) getting together to talk about great stuff they’ve done in the classroom, often with technology, but not always.

It was really nice to meet face-to-face some of the people I follow on Twitter, and whose blogs I read. Here are just some of the things I learnt:

  • Tony Shepherd (@grumbledook) showed a video about using iPads with visually impaired learners. The accessibility features are very useful, for example the screen reader with the Pages app; Documents to Go with a magnifier; voiceover on the scientific calculator.
  • Bev Evans (@bevevans22) mentioned which creates jigsaw puzzles from images uploaded to Flickr. She also showed a great video of a Beebot’s eye view – using a Flip camera, gorilla tripod and tape.
  • Mary Farmer (@ebd35) showed some great films made by a couple of boys in her class who really don’t like writing, but loved telling a story to accompany their drawings – using an iPhone to record the audio and take photos of the drawings, then putting them together in iMovie. These can be viewed here.
  • Marc Faulder uses Kinect games, like Kinectimals, to support physical literacy amongst his pupils. He also uses the Kinectimals app for the iPad in order to practise fine motor skills. His blog is at

I gave a presentation about using animation to support literacy, based on the work I’ve done with the Sheffield special schools. Here is a link to my presentation: Using animation to support literacy.

Thanks to Jo Badge (@jobadge) and Josie Fraser (@josiefraser) for organising. All of the resources and presentations will be posted on a mini-site soon. I’ll link to it as soon as it goes live.

OMi-Vista use with Norfolk Park School

May 13, 2011

A class from Norfolk Park School visited the CLC over the last two weeks to use the OMi Vista interactive floor projector. The class members have a range of Special Educational Needs, and they really enjoyed the time on the mat.

Their teacher, Laura Cryer, talked about the benefits for the pupils of “learning that their actions cause a reaction on the mat”, and having “a safe environment to play with water, a media that they are wary of normally.” The water activities were particularly good for one child who could use his whole body to interact with the projection, by jumping into the pond to make ripples. She also explained that “experiencing pictures of objects in different environments helps to extend and reinforce their language”.

If you want to book your class in to use the OMi Vista, please call us on (0114) 2587728.

CLC Staff Learning Makaton

April 6, 2011

Three CLC staff are learning Makaton over a 6 week period, alongside staff from Mundella Primary School and Talbot Specialist School, and taught by Talbot School’s  Makaton Regional Tutor, Janet Screaton. Makaton is a simple sign language used in the special schools, and some primary schools, that we work with. “Makaton uses signs, symbols and speech to help people with learning and/or communication difficulties to communicate.”

We decided to learn the basics in order to help us communicate with some of the pupils who use our centre on a regular basis, and we all have to admit we’re really enjoying the classes. If you’re lucky you may get the odd video on the blog with our ‘Word of the Week’, that is if anyone will vounteer to be filmed.

If you are interested in finding out more about Makaton, visit the Makaton Charity’s website at

Talbot Space Project

March 17, 2011

A y10/11 class from Talbot School used the CLC this term to create a film for their Space project. They began by creating science fiction sounds and music in Garageband on the Apple Macbooks. Garageband is a great tool for composing music and creating soundtracks as it comes with a large number of sound effects and music loops that can be combined in layers. Some of the pupils managed to work independently, to choose sounds they liked and drag them across to different tracks. Others needed a bit more support, but all were involved in making decisions about the sounds they wanted.

In a later session the class acted out scenes in space in front of the Green Screen, for example lifting off in the rocket, walking on the moon and planting flags. This footage will be accompanied by the sound tracks they created.

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.


Iron Man Stories from Heritage Park

December 7, 2010

Two key stage 2 classes from Heritage Park have been studying the story of the The Iron Man by Ted Hughes as part of their Machines topic and came to the CLC to help bring it to life. In the first session the pupils created an animation of part of the story, using 2D painted backgrounds and characters. This worked particularly well as they had used split pins in the joints of the Iron Man, so that his arms and legs could move. The animations were also quite short and based on action rather than dialogue, which I find is always most effective.

The following week we looked at mechanical sounds and created a soundtrack for the animation. We used the iPads, in particular the Shaker app, and Garageband on the Apple Macs. This contains a large number of loops and sound effects. A couple of groups recorded their own sound effects too.

In the third session, I took our Lego Mindstorm Robots to the school, to do some programming. We look at simple programs to make the robots move forward, backwards, turn and stop. Then we investigated the sound and colour sensors, seeing how loud different sounds were, and what colours the robot could detect.