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To Use iPads Effectively, First Ask “Why?”

EducationWorld is pleased to present this artice by Mark Giufre, an instructional technology specialist for the Wildwood Programs in New York state. The article originally appeared in TechEdge, a quarterly magazine published by the Texas Computer Education Association. To join or for more information, visit

As an Educational Technology Specialist for Wildwood School, my primary goal is to ensure the pairing of good instructional practices and 21st-century resources. Much of my time is spent working with staff in all areas and helping them see the power technology can have when embedded in an already rich and goal-oriented lesson.

Wildwood School is part of the larger Wildwood Programs. Nestled away in Eastern Upstate New York, Wildwood Programs provides comprehensive supports and services to well over 1,500 people and their families every year. Our students include those with complex learning disabilities, adolescents with autism, and adults with developmental disabilities.

When iPads were introduced to the campus a couple of years ago, I wondered how our educational landscape would change. First and foremost, it was necessary to cut through all of the hype and media and focus on the fact that the iPad is a tool that can enhance instruction, learning and skills, but it is not a miracle that will change everything in and of itself. An iPad alone is relatively powerless until it is immersed in good pedagogy where clear goals and purpose of use are established.

At Wildwood, we are fortunate to have a more than adequate number of iPads. Similarly, many of our families have iPads at home and use them in a variety of ways with their children. While the technology is very exciting, I cannot stress enough how important it is to change the way teaching occurs when you introduce the device. The staff and families at Wildwood understand the importance of sound pedagogy in the technology integration process.

They always start with the “why.” Why am I using an iPad? Is it to enhance instruction? Enhance my own productivity? Teach a skill in isolation that can then be generalized? Create an iMovie about a subject for class? Directly teach using an app that will help someone live a more independent life?

There is a growing understanding that this shiny device is more than just a substitution or replacement for traditional tools. It is a powerful instrument that should be used to extend learning and creativity. Unless we use “why” as our starting point, we get dangerously close to just adding the iPad to a laundry list of tools we have and thereby miss the focus both on its possibilities and the hard work needed to integrate it effectively into the classroom.

After the “why” is identified, the “what” and “how” become the focus, and that usually means navigating the infinite sea of apps that exists. There are many rubrics, alignment tools, charts and lists available that discuss apps and try to make navigating them a little easier. You can find some good rubrics and alignment tools here and here.

Quality, not quantity, must be our focus. Apps are not purchased on a whim, but rather after carefully looking at the app in depth, reading reviews, and even sometimes speaking with the developer. Similarly, the built-in features of the iPad should be fully utilized.

Due to the diversity of students we serve and their unique needs, we are constantly reviewing and analyzing apps to meet our needs without losing sight of the “why.” From academics to occupational therapy to speech and beyond, every department has some favorite apps that they rely on, apps that are trending towards the creation side and away from mere consumption.

Below are some of their favorites, including some “why’s” and “how’s.”


  • Aurasma helps you create, share, motivate and amaze. Bring augmented reality to a whole new level, bring assignments to life, share information with families, create real-life scavenger hunts--the possibilities are endless.
  • Explain Everything helps you create, collaborate, communicate and consume content at any age or ability. Show and explain the steps of a process, an assignment--anything. Now you can annotate video while playing and recording.
  • Book Creator allows you to create a beautifully laid-out “book” to retell a story, create social stories, or whatever your imagination dictates. You can add photographs, pictures, sound, video, speech and music. It is easy to share stories and is great for the Common Core.
  • For All Rubrics (Web site) can be used to create, complete and compute rubrics right from your tablet, and it is easy to use as well.

Music Therapy

  • Tempo allows you to slow a song down without changing the pitch. Once you decide on a new tempo, you can save the file in DropBox or email it for future use. Sometimes the perfect song has too many verses or a long introduction that can easily be shortened. Just import it into GarageBand and edit to the desired length.
  • GarageBand makes it easy to record student improvisations and vocal work. Kids can listen to the recordings and even edit their work. Loops can be made so that a successful performance can be repeated. Through simple editing, songs can also be shortened or adapted as needed.
  • iMovie lets students see themselves on screen. It is not only motivating to see direct feedback of one's actions, but users can also create titles and transitions, culminating in a cool music video (use this in conjunction with the audio created in GarageBand).
  • Songify turns speech into song. The speech has altered special effects such as the vocoder, and the music has contemporary beats. It is highly motivating and addresses language skills and concepts, as well as creativity.


  • My Playhome by Shimon Young features a cartoonish home with several scenes including a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room and yard. It is fun and interactive in part because the objects and people are movable and make sounds when touched. This app can target language in several possible ways, including following directions, “wh”-questions, identifying objects by feature, function and/or class, and labeling functional vocabulary, just to name a few.
  • First Phrases by Hamaguchi Apps teaches students word order and phrase usage. The student touches the words in order, and they are paired with visual and auditory feedback. Then an animal character acts out a phrase like “turn off the light.” Following this trial, the student can record the phrase for him or herself. After a successful recording, the animal character acts out the student’s phrase. Students enjoy hearing their own voice and watching the characters complete actions which mom or dad might not be happy with (i.e., the bear says, “Sorry, Mom. I’m going to jump off the bed!”).
  • Articulate It by Smart Ears allows you to pick multiple phonemes to target, as well as manner of production, phonological process and number of syllables. It uses real photographs, which can target sounds at the various levels, including the word, phrase, or sentence level. The students enjoy the option of recording and listening to their own voices and the silly sounds that are created. It is helpful to therapists for tabulating the student’s accuracy level, saving user data and managing general information such as age.

Occupational Therapy

  • Dexteria works on prerequisites to printing, visual tracking, visual motor, dexterity, pincer grasp and letter formation. The app has a setting for obtaining and recording data for collection. Dexteria Jr. works on less refined prerequisite motor movements, and the regular Dexteria works on more refined fine motor movements.
  • Letter School can be set to HWT settings, which are widely used, and is an extremely effective printing program. This app gives the student the ability to practice consistent, slow and precise letter formation skills and then generalize.
  • Injini helps develop skills in a fun and challenging way. Beautiful illustrations captivate children for working on fine motor, cause and effect, spatial awareness, visual processing and memory. There is a “no penalty” philosophy to the games, and subtle level changes support different stages of development.

Behavior Support

Preference & Reinforcer Assessment by Touch Autism and Behavior Tracker Pro by Marz Consulting are both integral to running effective behavior-change programs. Preference & Reinforcer Assessment helps stay current with a student’s preferences and what items will serve as reinforcements for desired behavior. Behavior Tracker Pro is a great way to keep data collection current and easy so that it may be done with integrity.

Social Work

  • Expression Arcade is a free app created at Wildwood School that allows the user to learn and improve social skills. This app has a corresponding Web site at
  • Middle School Confidential and Companion Books are great for dissecting social situations and teaching coping skills.
  • iMovie can be used to role-play social situations and create interactive videos for discussion.


Work-Based Learning

  • Time Timer is meant for students to set and learn about elapsed time/how much time remains in relation to tasks to be completed. This means student workers begin to internalize concepts of productivity.
  • Choice Works helps students to sequence, time, and check off work task sequences, using pictures or icons of jobs. This means less dependence on job coaching for reminders of what to do next.
  • Scanner Pro lets students scan and file written directions and procedures. It also can develop job sites around scanning, filing and associated tasks.

Speech and Language

  • Picture the Sentence provides an opportunity to target multiple goals while controlling various levels of support. You can control presentation modalities to match your students’ individual needs, and the app can be formatted to teach skills in a hierarchy.
  • Magical Concepts allows you to select specific language concepts with real life photographs. It allows you to work on as many or as few targets as needed for your student.
  • Fun with Directions is one of my favorite apps to target receptive language skills. It reinforces attending skills and draws attention to specific language while rotating through various language concepts.


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