by Michael Murphy
Thanks to some dedicated staff and several generous community technology grants, Easter Seals in Bucks County has been able to install Qomo boards in each classroom. A Qomo board is an exciting interactive whiteboard with an outstanding variety of applications in today’s classroom. Since the boards were installed in the fall of 2015, each classroom at the Margaret “Judge” Brooks Center in Levittown, PA has worked to utilize the technology as best as we can. Our teachers have used the boards in new and diverse ways, as the populations and purposes of our students can be very unique. We use the boards in routine activities, like circle and calendar times, while also testing its limits and challenging the limits of our students in more academic and focused activities. The entire staff has challenged their tech skills at one time or another in order to best utilize these tools, even going so far as to plan gatherings among staff to share and troubleshoot new ideas or problems. The initiative of the staff shows a promising dedication to best serving our clients in all facets of learning.
Often children are said to have too much screen time at young ages, however as educators we know that any experience can be turned into a learning adventure if students are taught to utilize tools in the best ways. At home my children can unlock my cell phone, find (and delete) applications and, of course, exit out of anything they do not like. At the earliest of ages students are learning to solve simple problems. When applied to our Qomo boards, we have instant engagement from our students and are able to watch them solve simple problems, accomplish tasks and apply technology to learning activities. Whether the required tasks are simple or complex we try to address a variety of goals.
As the Friendship Academy teacher at Bucks we can have a challenging group of 3-5 year old students of a wide range of physical, cognitive and emotional abilities. We use the Qomo to encourage students to follow the class expectations if they want the next turn. You’ve never seen such perfect demonstrations of Criss Cross Applesauce. We achieve physical goals at times by having students use a non-preferred arm, reaching high or low, or even just standing with minimal support for a period of time. We get students to patiently wait their turns, while still engaged in conversation and thoughtful discussion. They wait. They try. They learn. They succeed. One by one the children get more and more excited for their turn, turning an average attention span of a few minutes into an extended, sometimes twenty minute activity where everyone gets a turn to show what they know.
The activity was something simple, dragging shapes to a matching space on a tangram. No curveballs here, just your basic shapes. When the shapes were all added to the tangram, the picture came to life. A duck, a turtle, a horse… nothing spectacular. Students came up one by one and added a piece of their choice by dragging their finger across the board, or requesting to use the “Magic Wand” (a simple stylus that doubles as a light saber). The students who are sitting on the rug are encouraged to make predictions about what piece will be chosen, what the picture will turn into or counting the number of other shapes left on the board. When the student picks their shape their friends clapped or gave thumbs up and watched as another student came up to do the same. At the end the students confirmed their predictions, laughed at the animation and calmed themselves back down to be ready for the next tangram. Not an earth shattering lesson, but in an inclusive classroom it truly included everybody. We worked together to achieve a common goal. Students felt confident enough to share their ideas, predictions and encouragement for their peers. At the board, students were able to make a simple choice, under considerable pressure in front of their peers and sometimes explained or defended their choice. Every student walked away with positive praise from teachers, students and staff and a new approach to their ability in the classroom.
Through these exercises we are practicing patience, sharing, cooperation, and determination. These are some of the most difficult lessons to teach young children. While the Qomo board is so much more in each classroom depending on its usage, at its most basic level it is an automatic motivator that achieves whatever goals the teacher wants to address. With a focus on individualized education, there is no better way to teach and assess students of such varied ages and abilities than I have seen when that board turns on and I start my lesson.