How the Apple Watch Can Spark Creativity in Special-Ed Classrooms

How the Apple Watch Can Spark Creativity in Special-Ed Classrooms


At the A. Harry Moore School of New Jersey City University, we have a rich tradition of embracing best practice in educational and therapeutic research and applying that knowledge in the classrooms of our demonstration laboratory school. As a Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction, I am always looking for innovative tools that will help improve the education of our unique population of low-incidence special education students ranging from ages 3-21. Also, I look for new 21st century devices that enhance the creativity of our dynamic teaching faculty and inspire them to craft and design innovative lessons.

And what’s recently piqued my interest? The Apple Watch.

Not Just a Shiny Object

Globally recognized edtech thought leader Monica Burns recently visited our school to demo the Apple Watch with our students, teachers, and technology coordinator Ms. Talalai. (You can hear more from Monica at ISTE!)

The Apple Watch was a huge hit in our pre-school, especially because early learners love any item that can be presented in a show-and-tell capacity. The children sat with their eyes wide open as each student patiently waited for a chance to try on the Watch.

Beyond just the appearance, pre-school students benefitted from learning about social studies concepts using the Apple Watch. For example, it was used as a teaching tool about geo-location. How does the Watch know that I am in Jersey City? Isn’t the Watch smart? The technology generated a meaningful conversation, even amongst the teachers. In fact, the pre-school teacher had the idea of using the Apple Watch to collect student behavioral data, and even discussed the idea of using the Apple Watch as a classroom pet that different students would get turns to take home.

Implications for SPED: Personalization for Individual Students

But perhaps even more enlightening were the implications for special education classrooms.

I knew from the writing done by accessibility expert Luis Perez that the Apple watch could be used with the app Proloquo2Go as a switch. However, I was impressed when the accessibility zoom setting was adjusted to match the needs of an individual student by making the typeface on the watch larger. The students also enjoyed using Siri to turn the voice over on. Also, the concept of having the “wearable” watch right on the student’s wrist is helpful for students who might not have use of all ten fingers but may be able to swipe or double-tap the watch with one or two fingers and use it independently.

Implications for SPED: Data Tracking

And for the teachers? Adapted physical education teacher Ms. Bierig explored ways to use wearable technology like a Fitbit along with the Apple Watch to track student achievement data.

In his adaptive physical education class, we were able to attach the Apple Watch to high school students’ power wheelchairs and walkers, and explore the physical fitness data that could be captured by the Watch when the students did laps around the room in their student operated power chairs. When we did this with the Fitbit as well, Ms. Bierig liked the idea of using a wearable device to gather formative, ongoing, and summative fitness data to emphasize all that our students can do in adaptive PE.

Implications for SPED: Accessibility

In Ms. Thompson’s middle school class, she and her students explored how the accessibility settings on the iPhone transfer to the watch to help meet the assistive technology needs of the individual students.

Take, for example, the one student in the class adjusts the settings on his iPad so he can see the words on the screen better. We learned that with the zoom function on the watch the screen can be magnified to support low-vision students. Low-vision or visually-impaired students can activate the larger text function on the iPhone paired with the watch and that will immediately enable the user to have improved visibility on the watch screen.

We concluded the day by using the watch with one of our most sensory classes and experimenting with the Taptic Engine setting to explore the concept of cause and effect. This taps you on the wrist when you receive an alert or notification. A student reacted swiftly to the stimulus/vibration of the Apple Watch on her wrist and responded by raising her arm.

We were impressed by the ability of this wearable technology to connect to all of the senses in various ways. It will allow us to customize assistive technology profiles for our students and curate individualized learning experiences.

Curious to learn more about Scannable and Wearable technology used at A. Harry Moore? Come check out Courtney Pepe's From Scannable to Wearable A Voice for Generation Z sessions at ISTE. Or, come learn more about the relationship between accessibility, iPads, and the Apple Watch when she presents at the Apple Playground at ISTE

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