Today I attended a meeting of the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Regional Network. As I looked around the room, I spotted someone I recognized….
About eight years ago I began teaching in the public school system. Prior to that, I had taught in a residential treatment facility and an alternative school. In each of those places, there was limited to no technology use. When I came to the public school system, I was inundated with Moodle, Google, Gaggle, and more.
I was a special education teacher specializing in Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities (EBD). Instructional technology was often more of a hindrance than of use. As I began teaching in the public schools, my students often couldn’t access the technology due to learning difficulties. Those that could access often found a way to misuse the technology that teachers were using in their classroom.
Between those facts and my limited knowledge of educational technology, technology was not something I quickly embraced.
Then about seven years ago I heard about a conference that was held yearly in our state, called “Technology Conference for Special Educators.” I figured this would be a good place for me to start and I requested to attend this meeting.
I was the only person from my district to attend and I took the two-day opportunity to explore a lot of things. Many sessions focused on SmartBoards and Google products and things that I had already heard of. A lot of the focus was on software or programs for students with learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities. While interesting, a lot of it didn’t pertain to the students I worked with every day.
Then I walked into a session on QR Codes. The lady who was presenting the session was engaging and fun and showed so many ways that QR codes could be used for instruction and engagement. I learned that QR codes could provide links to video—and I immediately thought of a student that I worked with who got kicked out of class because he couldn’t read. We all know it is better to be the “bad” kid than the kid who can’t read. So every time an Educational Assistant would approach him to read something to him, he would act up and get kicked out….
What if I could record an audio of the worksheet in advance and copy that code on the corner of his worksheet?
I also heard about ways to engage kids with QR codes, ways to promote independence, and methods to add extra challenges or review materials for students who needed them.
I immediately emailed my Special Education Director requesting additional iPads for my classroom and explained everything that I could do with the one I already had—and what I planned to do if I was able to get three extra.
My wish was granted, and I spent the next six years actively teaching with technology. By using QR codes to provide access to audio content for students who couldn’t read, we were able to reduce classroom removals due to behaviors from three times a day to less than three times a week. I created QR quizzes for students to search for around the room, and saw studying, engagement and test scores improve so drastically it was staggering. I had students learning how to create their own QR codes and sharing information about them with peers. Suddenly my students were leaders, explaining the QR codes to their peers, who saw my students scanning the codes on a math worksheet to watch a short video example of the first problem on the page.
It didn’t take long for my passion for QR codes to turn into a passion for all types of technology that could be used to help my students learn, be engaged, and better access their learning environment.
Before I knew it, I was sharing with my colleagues within my district, presenting at district-wide training, and expanding my technology use and knowledge well beyond QR codes.
As of the time I write this, I have presented on using technology to improve access and, consequently, student behaviors, in my district and state, as well as at a national level.
If you ever question your impact—don’t. This woman that I saw today, whom I first saw at a conference eight years ago, had far more impact than she ever could have known. She taught me, excited me, and inspired me to help my students in this unique way. Her influence that day not only touched me, but also hundreds of my students, hundreds of teachers I have now taught, and in turn hundreds of their students.
Just food for thought, especially when you think that what you do has no impact.