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TVA and MEF fund tablet computers for special education students

TVA’s Partners in Education program has teamed up with the Mountain Education Foundation to provide matching grants funding the purchase of iPads for all special education students at Signal Mountain’s three schools.

“TVA is very interested in STEM programs in schools, and we want to contribute in areas that will assist schools in developing programs using the latest technology,” said Charley Spencer, a senior adviser in the generation construction department at TVA.

He said he visited a special education classroom at Signal Mountain Middle/High School last spring and observed a teacher using an iPad in the classroom. She explained how beneficial the technology was for students with special needs, such as non-verbal students, but said it was difficult to use the technology efficiently in the classroom with just one iPad for 20 students.

“I asked her for a wishlist, and she asked for an iPad for every child,” said Spencer, who then started thinking about how the technology could also be beneficial for special education students at the elementary level. “Teachers could see potential, but had no way to realize it.”

TVA and MEF each provided $25,000 in funds to purchase 20 iPads per school, plus a charging station and MacBook computer at each school to install software onto the tablets.

“If this is a success, hopefully funds will be found to put this kind of technology in every school,” said Spencer.

MEF Executive Director Mike Taylor said since tablet computers are cheaper than PCs, more can be purchased, allowing each student to have their own. Purchasing apps for tablet computers is also much more affordable than buying books.

“Kids reading and functioning on different levels can study the same material at their level of functioning,” said Taylor of the benefits of iPad technology in the classroom.

SMMHS special education student Oceania Bonner said she likes working on her iPad, because she can play games on it and it makes it easier to spell.

Her teacher Doranne Lane said the iPads save a lot of paper, as stories she previously had to print out for students can now be read on the tablets. When a student is reading and comes across something they are unfamiliar with, the tablets also make it easy to pull up a visual right away, she said.

Thrasher Elementary has about 20 special education students with a variety of learning disabilities that started using tablet computers about a month ago, said Tracy Peele, inclusion assistant at Thrasher. She said the flash card app has been very beneficial for her students, many of whom respond well to visual stimulation, which helps maintain their attention.

“It’s more engaging for them,” she said.

While special education students were pinpointed as a group which could most benefit from tablet computers, Taylor said part of MEF’s strategic plan is to put a STEM lab with iPads in each of the mountain schools for use by all students.

“The whole STEM concept creates an environment that’s hands-on, promoting problem solving and critical thinking,” said Taylor. “We’re trying to build kids that are ready for the workforce, and they’re going to be using technology all their lives.”

Thrasher’s lab, which also includes a SMART board system, was installed earlier this year. SMMHS will get a lab next year, followed by Nolan Elementary, which currently lacks the space for a lab.

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