Transforming Special Education with iPads in LAUSD

Learning, Learning Innovations, PreK-12 / by

Neil Virani, a middle school special education and technology specialist in the Los Angeles United School District, will not have new ipads in his classroom this fall like so many other teachers in his district will have. Neil won’t be part of the district’s huge $30 million dollar investment into the Apple devices because his students already have their iPads and have had them for the past few years. Neil’s students each have their own that they use daily and Virani has noticed a huge change in the classroom.

Working with 20 students at various levels of ability, with significant learning disabilities and multiple handicaps, it is extremely difficult to meet all their varying needs with textbooks, paper and writing utensils. But with iPads for each student, a whiteboard and an internet connected Aver tabcam, which can be used as a document or even video camera, every student is learning in their own style. Because all his students finally had full access to the entire curriculum, Neil noticed that, without a doubt, his student’s achievement levels went up and also saw long term english language learners overcome major language barriers.

Because of special SIG funded grants specified for LD students, his were the only students in the school with full access to these devices and, as a result, felt a new found confidence around the rest of the student body. The iPads also made it possible for mainstreamed students to come and effectively work together with the special needs students because of the differentiating capability of the device.

Combining the iPads and Aver Tabcam, a document camera that tethers to a the iPad, allowing for wireless streaming, presenting and recording- Neil has created his own alternative curriculum. He now assigns new kinds of lessons and projects that engage his students to levels that were not happening before the students had iPads in their hands. The students no longer use text books, the iPad has replaced those. Students find the facts and information they need, but the iPad presents it in the style they can understand. If they can’t see, it reads to them. If it’s hard for them to hear, it displays the text, animates and makes it interactive with the touch of the student’s finger. If their fine motor skills are impaired, the iPad allows for alternative forms of communication than simply writing with a pencil. These students now learn the core curriculum through their personal learning style.

They also collaborate together in fun, motivating projects. For example, Neil’s class connected with a class in Australia to share their learning and stories through videos they created. Most of the math curriculum is gamified with math apps like Math Ninja or Mathmeter. For English, they use journaling apps like DayOne, feeding their writing directly into their dropbox accounts- creating instant student portfolios. The class even went to the Apple Store for a free field trip to learn certain iPad applications for projects they work on in class, like iMovie and Garageband.

Beyond teaching the daily curriculum, the iPads can also be used for interventions. “As a teacher, it makes you feel like the possibilities are endless,” says Virani and now he is working with other special education teachers throughout the district who also want to go 1:1. He makes video tutorials for professional development to share with other teachers who want to get started using the iPads. With the Aver tabcam, he can create videos and export them directly to Youtube or Dropbox, making it easy to share videos he creates with students, parents and fellow teachers.

Mr. Virani’s students leave Mulholland Middle School and often to go to high schools that don’t have 1:1 ipad programs which is disappointing when his students leave their 3 successful years of middle school- destined to start over without the device that opened up their learning world for them. LAUSD has decided to invest in making the district 1:1 with iPads, so chances are looking up for these students in particular. Hopefully, Neil’s students, along with many the students in LAUSD will feel this investment is worthwhile and substantially enhance their educational experience.

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson

Alison Anderson is a Media Specialist at The Madeleine School. Follow her on twitter at @tedrosececi.

2 Comments

John WHite /

Great Application of Technology where it is making a huge difference! Regular Ed should be moving at the speed of learning as Mr Virani has demonstrated with his students. All students are special and need to have teachers willing to actively engage and challenge them to learn every day and not just read chapters and answer questions in back of book!

Connie Rhymes /

Your students will be awesome! These iPads do transform students behavior and learning! Good luck to you and your students, they will prove what universal learning does for students. I have been involved in technology since the APPPLE 2E and I have willing participated in helping students. Most of which were not my students, it was the teachers that I provided technical assistance to. But, I have provided these tools to my grand children who both are GT students. The little one presented yesterday for 30 minutes to a group of teachers on an app called Plague Inc. and Garage Band. They were blown away…one of them asked if he watched the Big Bang Theory, he said “BANZIGA” and they fell out laughing!!! Goo luck…and best wishes.