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The Impact of Common Core Standards on Special Education

Last summer the federal government moved away from the educational standards provided in No Child Left Behind into a new set of standards called Common Core Standards.  Common Core Standards, commonly referred to as CCS, provide a basis for standards at each grade level for reading, language arts, and math that are to be followed by all states.  Previously, each state was able to determine the standards, how they would be implemented in the classroom, and how they would be assessed at the end of the year to provide the data to the state and federal government to show academic progress.  The rigor and standards for each grade level were not consistent across the states.  No Child Left Behind left room for much interpretation including as to how special needs students fit into the academic puzzle.  An additional document released with the standards addresses the needs for special education students and adaptations.

school

CCS’s Impact on Special Education

The Council for Exceptional Children has an informative article about how the change to CCS will impact the special education classroom.   The CCS will be the same across the grade levels for special needs students as it is for the general education classrooms.  The goal is to hold all students to high expectations of learning gains based on college and career readiness.  However, for special needs students there are specific adaptations, accommodations, and assistive technology provided for students to be able to attain those high standards.  The documentation provides information that struggling students should be provided with interventions and that the standards should be read in a broad manner that allows for adaptations to help students with special needs to achieve mastery of the standards at the highest level possible.  The broad interpretation opens the way for changes that can be determined at the state and local level.

This change in standards with increased levels of mastery for special needs students will come with some growing pains.  Special education teachers, along with general education teachers who teach special needs students in the general education setting, will need to be provided professional development opportunities to learn about scaffolding ideas, helping struggling students meet high standards, and how to meet the needs of special education students in the general education classroom.   The states, districts, schools, and teachers are challenged to find the means that works best in their environment to teach the students to gain mastery in those standards that are outlined.

Reading & Language Arts Standards

The Reading and Language Arts Standards provided in the CCS are not solely for the language arts and reading teachers.  The standards promote literacy across all classes.  There are specific standards for reading in history, science, technology, health, and mathematics.  Each grade level is broken down into various higher level categories like reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language standards.  Then, it is broken down into grade-specific standards that help to achieve the goal of college and career readiness.

Math Standards

The CCS Math Standards focus on the students being able to understand math rather than just solve equations.  Ideas like understanding the problem, reasoning, and modeling are integrated into the standards.  The math standards do not directly address the accommodations for students who are struggling or special needs students except for the fact that they should be provided access to the high-level of standards with accommodations or assistive technology as needed.  The standards are broken down into clusters and domains to outline the various mathematical concepts that the students should learn at each grade level.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Online Learning Games for Review

With the end of the school year coming closer to an end, required content curriculum for classes is winding down.  Online learning games can be used to make connections with previously taught curriculum as a recap for the school year.  Here are a few websites that students can access to play online learning games.

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Sheppard Software

Sheppard Software has many free and fun web-based learning games.  Most of the games are aimed at pre-K and elementary students, but there are also learning games for middle and high school students.  They cover all of the major subject areas including math, reading, language arts, science, and social studies.  The games have great animation that will be highly engaging for students.  The directions are very explicit and the students should not need much direction in completing the activities.  Providing your students a list of the games that they should play during this activity will help students to review material that was learned throughout the year while building stronger skills in those areas.

Play Kids Games

Play Kids Games also has a variety of interactive online learning games.  One advantage to this website is that teachers can create their own classroom pages from this site for free.  Teachers can take their own content, like vocabulary words, and add them into the games.  The page is then setup with the fun and interactive games based on the content the students are learning in their classroom.  So far, only the online vocabulary-based games can be modified.

Do 2 Learn

Do 2 Learn is an online learning game website designed specifically for special needs kids.  The free games include learning colors, numbers, emotions, sequencing, and vocabulary.  There are also two sing-a-long animation sections to teach students about important concepts related to safety and speech sounds.  In addition to games, there are programs and activities available for a fee that are very useful resources in the special needs classroom.  These activities can be used throughout the year and then can be used at the end of the year to repeat very important concepts.

Teaching Learners with Multiple Needs

The blog, Teacher Learners with Multiple Needs, has a great post about learning games that students with special needs can play using switches.  Games range from learning letters and vocabulary to matching, math, and money skills.  All of the games use fairly simplistic motions, which make them great for use with switches.  Some are just for fun and getting the students to use the computers and get use to using a switch, whereas other are more curriculum based.

There are many online websites that are offering free learning activities for students.  Always make sure t o play the games fully before asking your students to play to ensure that they will be able to play. You need to let them know i not to select advertisements and be sure that it covers the content that you want them to be reviewing.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month

May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month.  Many activities and events will be held to raise money for research to find a cure for cystic fibrosis.  Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes the lungs to fail, which typically leads to an early death.  Research, early diagnosis, and medications have greatly increased the life span of individuals with cystic fibrosis to the average age of 35.   Children with cystic fibrosis may have difficulty gaining weight, will eat a specialized diet to lessen digestive complications, and may be taking medicines to keep mucus build up in the lungs down.  Children with cystic fibrosis can attend school, play sports, and do the typical things that any child would do.

walking

Living with Cystic Fibrosis at School

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation provides a great resource for teachers to learn how the disease will affect a child’s education at school.  The handbook provides a brief introduction to what cystic fibrosis is and then covers how it may affect the student and how this will impact their education.  Keeping your classroom clean, providing hand sanitizer, and allowing the student to use the restroom or leave the class if coughing, or to get a drink of water are common classroom adjustments.  Encouraging the student to be active at recess, PE, or school organized sports is also encouraged to help keep their body strong.  The child also needs to eat a higher calorie diet in order to continue growing, so allowing a snack time during class could also be an accommodation.

Based on my experience, the only adaptations that had to be made to the classroom environment were that the student could go to the bathroom when she needed or to get a drink of water, instead of having a limited number of bathroom passes per week. If she was out for extended periods of times due to complications from the disease  I needed to keep in email contact with the classwork and assignments so that she could attempt to keep up when she was feeling okay to work at home.  I also made myself available in the morning times when she would return to school to help her get caught up on assignments and missed activities.

Great Strides

Great Strides, the largest cystic fibrosis fundraiser of the year, will be held in many cities between April and May with individuals walking and being sponsored to raise awareness about this life threatening disease.  The website link provides information about the walk, finding a walk in your area, and a place for sponsors to make donations toward your walk.  There is also information about the foundation and cystic fibrosis to pass along to supporters.

School Fundraisers

Schools could also hold their own fundraisers to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.  My school holds an annual week of fundraising and awareness for CF.  This includes a “change for change” program where students bring in change to donate to the foundation, a bake sale, and a “jeans for genes” program where students make a donation to wear jeans to school for a day.  Students in the art classes also create roses for the 65 Roses Project.  Over the past several years the school has raised a significant amount of money to donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Other school fundraising ideas include holding a benefit concert with student performers with proceeds going to the foundation, having students create rose crafts to sell at a craft sale, or holding a carwash to raise funds.  Does your school participate in charity fund raising events?  If so, please share your unique ideas !

Article By Laura Ketcham

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School Weather Safety

April has definitely lived up to the first part of its mantra “in like a lion.”  This month, parts of the United States have been ravaged by tornadoes, flooding, and fires which have destroyed homes, schools, and even entire towns.  Teachers and students need to be aware of the safety precautions and measures in order to stay safe during these natural and man-made disasters.

hurricane

Schools always have safety plans in case of these events directly correlating to the area of the country that you reside.  However, a unique lesson about learning about weather and disasters is to go above and beyond just teaching the students about staying safe.   A unique lesson idea would be to explore the ideas in more depth so that the students have a deeper understanding of the events.  Since this topic is close to their actual experiences in real life, they will take away the learning from the lesson and be able to apply it if and when needed throughout their lives.

This is especially important for students with special needs.   Some students may not be mobile nor have the independent skills needed to move into a safe area during a weather or disaster threat.  A plan should be in place to help student reach safety including other adults and students to assist those students in need.  If the students are educated on what to expect this will help the students to not panic during a real emergency.

Websites for Lesson Ideas about Fire, Flood, and Tornado Safety

Sparky the Fire Dog is a great resource for younger children to learn about fire safety in homes and schools.  On this website, there are interactive activities for students and lesson plans for teachers.   There are printables for a home fire safety checklist and an escape route grid that students can create.

To learn about wildfires, using the resources provided by Smokey the Bear are great to make connections with students.  This website has resources for all ages of students.  Older students can learn about the science of wildfires and how to fight wildfires while younger students can learn about being smart outdoors.

FEMA’s website for learning about disasters provides informative facts about the disasters along with interactive activities.  There are sections on wildfires, floods, and tornados.  Each section provides a written explanation appropriate for kids about the disasters, what they can do to prepare in case of the disaster, along with pictures of kids in the aftermath of the disasters that are not too graphic, but provide the students with the understanding of the impact of such an event.

Weather Wiz Kids is another website that provides fun and interactive information about weather related events.  This website is written by a meteorologist directly for kids and teachers. This website has experiments and activities to learn about the weather events along with safety information and weather related information on what causes the events.  There are many informative pictures that help making learning the subject visual and engaging.  Lesson plans are provided for teachers to make the connections between the information on the websites and activities and assessments students can complete to show their knowledge of the subject matter.

For older kids, Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers” would be an engaging resource for students to learn about tornados.  The show is a high energy show that gets close up images of the tornado chasers, tornados, and the devastation that they can leave behind.  Students can watch clips of the episodes, play the educational games, take online quizzes about the episodes, or follow their weather tracking site based on the various episodes.

All of these lesson ideas will help to prepare students in the event of a disaster along with teaching core-curriculum science content.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Earth Day and Arbor Day Activities for Students

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd and Arbor Day is celebrated on April 29th.  Both of these nature inspired celebration days offer a chance for students to learn about the earth and trees by contributing something back to their community.  Many classrooms around the nation will be celebrating these occasions by planting trees, participating in environmental clean-ups, joining recycling programs, and other ecological related activities.

earth

Both of these events provide a great opportunity for hands-on learning in the classroom that can be bridged with almost any subject area including science, math, language arts, social studies and even PE, foreign language, art, and drama.

Reading, Writing, and Drama Lesson Idea

One great idea inspired by a teacher at my school is to read the students The Lorax.   This children’s fable was written by Dr. Seuss with imaginary creatures and personification shows how nature can be harmed by humans.  Concerns are raised about cutting down trees, polluting lakes, and air pollution caused by industrial businesses.

In small groups, students can then reflect upon these ideas and use them to compose their own environmental story for children.  Taking this lesson one step further, students could then perform a reader’s theater skit for fellow classmates based on their story.  This activity ties in with both Earth Day and Arbor Day.

Science & Art Lesson Idea

eHow.com has a great article with 3 informative and engaging lesson plan ideas for Earth Day for special needs students.

The first lesson is to have students create a compost bin.  The students can then see the process of biodegrading over time.  This compost can then be used to plant a classroom garden.  This activity gets the students active and involved outside.

The next lesson idea is to teach students about the harm plastic bags on the environment and the benefit of reusable bags.  Students then students create their own reusable bags using recycled materials and cloth.  These can then be used at home or in the classroom in lieu of plastic bags.

The most interesting lesson was to have students coat paper in petroleum jelly and then hang it in the school parking lot.  The jelly will cause all of the air pollution caused by passing cars to stick to the paper and can then be observed or even analyzed by the students.  This is a great connection into a further lesson on air pollution and how we can reduce our carbon footprint.  A banner could be used to explain the project and attract community attention to local pollution.

PE Tree Lesson Activity

A simple connection to trees and PE is through learning the “tree” yoga pose.  PE central provides a description of the activity and song suggestions for students to personify a tree.  Students are arranged in lines with enough room to stretch out and yoga mats.  They will learn tree yoga pose and then during the stretching and movements they reach up like branches, sway side to side as if the wind were blowing their leaves, and planting their feet like the trunk of a tree.

More Lesson Ideas

  1. http://www.theteachersguide.com/arbordaylessonplans.htm
  2. http://www.ehow.com/earth-day/
  3. http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson260.shtml

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Planting a School Garden

Planting a school garden is an engaging and versatile activity for students of all ages.  Many schools have green areas where a school or classroom garden can be planted.  This is not a small undertaking, but the rewards are high.  Many local nurseries, lawn companies, hardware stores, and even parents are helpful resources in starting a school garden.

garden

Students who are actively involved in the planting and maintain of the garden are actively learning many different science topics like plants, weather, soil, and the whole garden ecosystem.  Standards connections can also be made to nutrition, measurement, math, social interaction about science, and a love of nature.  With its practical nature and application this activity provides special needs students with a great outdoor connection that can be applied to real life.

Gardening & Measurement

After the vegetables have been harvested, students can be involved in cooking a delicious meal using the fresh vegetables.  This lesson involving cooking incorporates learning a life skill along with math.  One popular garden based recipe is to make a ratatouille.  This has been popularized by both the “Series of Unfortunate Events books” and the Disney movie about the cooking rat, Ratatouille.  Here is a great kid friendly recipe for ratatouille.

Gardening & Nutrition

Childhood obesity is a concern our country is facing today.  Many kids do not understand the computation of calories and how food choices affect your weight and health.  Tying in learning about the vegetables of the school garden can be a meaningful hands-on way for students to learn about healthy eating. Here are some lesson ideas to incorporate learning about fruits and vegetables in the classroom.

Other Great Gardening Ideas

One great twist that my school has added to the school garden this year is to make it a living and learning garden.  This is a year-round garden that involves plants, vegetables, and fruits.  As the seasons change, so do the plants.  Even schools located in very cold climates can use potted evergreens and plants with berries to attract wildlife and it will serve as a visual garden for the winter. An outdoor classroom is also being constructed at my school with a blackboard wall and outdoor seating for students to not only learn about the garden, but to learn in the garden.

Resources for Starting a Classroom Garden

Kids Gardening is a non-profit organization that provides online information about grants, fundraising, curriculum, and a how-to guide to getting started with planting a classroom garden.  They also have a specific section that provides tips for gardening with students who have special needs.

School Garden Wizard is a website to help teachers from the beginning planning stages of creating a school garden.  Information is provided on getting administrators on board, planning, creating, learning, and keeping the garden growing throughout the school year.  This site is very informative and easy to follow.

BBC Kids Gardening is a great resource including information about plants, seeds, gardening facts, and activities.  This is a very kid friendly site that explains gardening in kid friendly terms.

Do you have a school garden?  Share your experiences by commenting below.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Spring Break Activities for Students

Over the next month, many students will be taking a week or more off for “Spring Break”.  Spring b recess is a time for students to relax and unwind and spend time with family.  This is also the time of year that typically comes right before many states administer standardized tests.  Having students relax during their break is important, but teachers could provide fun and interactive activities for students to continue their academic growth without school.

beach

Engaging Reading & Writing Activities

One way to have students to continue learning during “Spring Break” is through reading.  Many schools assign students to read novels and write reports as reading assignments over Spring Break.  Instead of assigning a book that all of the students read, allow the students to choose their own (level appropriate) book will be more engaging over break time.  Also, instead of having the students write traditional book reports, allowing students to make multi-media projects will be more engaging.  Students could summarize the story, complete a literary analysis, or personal reaction of the story by creating video, picture montage, Voki, online comic book, or Wordle.

To get students writing over spring break, you could have them keep an online diary of what they did over spring break.  Students can use a site like Blogger to write their reflective journal.  This journal can then be shared digitally with other students in the classroom.  Students can then comment on other students “Spring Break” activities.  Encourage students to expand their vocabulary and use descriptive words that are not typically used in their writing.

Less formal activities could include providing an annotated list of online learning games that students could complete during “Spring Break”.  Providing parents with a goal for the amount of time the students should spend on the activities would be helpful.

Online Reading & Writing Activities

1.       Primary Games – Language Arts

2.       Between the Lions – PBS Kids Games & Stories

3.       My Monster Poems

4.       Classroom Resources – Reading Write Think

Math & Science Activities

A great science and math based “Spring Break” activity would be to have the students watch an episode of Head Rush from the Science Chanel.  This is a newer TV show hosted by Kari Byron from Mythbusters.  The show provides a variety of science experiments that are explained from beginning to end.  Students are asked multiple choice questions about the experiment to guess what or why questions about the experiment.  If students don’t have the Science Chanel at home, many of the clips and experiments can be found online at the show website or on YouTube.  Students could then either perform experiments, with parent supervision of course, complete a lab write-up about which show they watched that they can then share with the class, or just watch the show for learning pleasure and then be ready to discuss the show in class after the spring recess.

Online Math & Science Activities

1.       Fun Brain Math Arcade

2.       Sheppard Software Interactive Math Games

3.       Cool-Math Games

4.       Math Playground

Article By Laura Ketcham

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National Craft Month – Time to Get Crafty

March is National Craft Month. National Craft Month was started in 1994 by the Craft & Hobby Association. The purpose of the awareness month is to share knowledge and ideas about crafting and encourage creativity.

crafts

While some people might consider this a commercial ploy of craft companies, this truly is the perfect time to implement craft activities into the classroom. Creative craft projects combined with content curriculum help students to build visual connections. Having hands-on projects in the classroom helps students with special needs, visual learners, and ESOL students to connect with the curriculum while be engaged and actively learning. This means that students will be learning on a higher level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Many arts and crafts store and companies are promoting National Craft Month by providing special sales, events, and crafting lessons and ideas. Teachers can take advantage of this opportunity to come up with new creative activities for the classroom.

Early Childhood Crafting Ideas

The Early Childhood News & Resources website compiled a list of online crafting resources for children. One of the resources found on this site is Freckles Crafts. Freckles Crafts provides all of the materials for a particular crafting project in craft kits so that there is no need to find all of the individual pieces.

Another resource is craftbits.com. This website has a plethora of craft ideas, many of which would be great for the classroom including an entire kids crafting section. I really enjoyed their recycled craft ideas because they show that you can be green and save green and still create a meaningful project. Being a computer teacher, I loved all of the creative ways that a CD could be used to make a sun-catcher, candle holder, invitation, and decorations.

Crafting Ideas from Crayola

Crayola has put together special page on their website to promote National Craft Month. This site is great because it provides lesson plans along with the craft idea to make the connections between the curriculum standards and the activity. Many of the resources are free and can be downloaded from their website like coloring pages and ecards. The Craft Ideas and Lesson Plans section contains over 200 classroom crafting ideas. Each idea includes a “why” section (what is the purpose of the craft activity), the steps to creating the craft, safety guidelines, and classroom connections along with a picture of the final craft.

One of the activities I liked was called “Fishing for Friends.” In this activity students learn about the other students in the classroom. Each student designs a fish for the pond and on the back of the fish they write something important about themselves. This would be a great activity for an icebreaker at the beginning of the school year. The fish could then be changed out throughout the school year to incorporate other activities like learning vocabulary words, math problems, historical dates, and events.

Other Kid-Friendly Crafting Websites

1. Craft Place

2. Teacher Place

3. KinderArt

4. Free Kids Crafts

5. Michael’s Arts & Crafts: Kids Crafting

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Connecting Concepts through High-Interest Topics: March Madness

Teaching challenging concepts by using high-interest and timely topics helps students to make connections and increase comprehension.  World and national events like a presidential inauguration, the soccer World Cup, the Olympics, shuttle launches, and large sporting events can be used in teaching lessons including  math, science, social studies, and language arts.

basketball

One event coming up that many students will follow is March Madness.  March Madness refers to the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament of the top 64 Division 1 teams.  March Madness is also called “The Big Dance.”  It is a single elimination tournament.  The winner of each game moves on to the next round until the top team emerges as the winner.

The Bracket:  Conducting Research & Making Predictions

One of the most popular activities associated with March Madness is the filling out of “the bracket.”  The bracket is a tree-graph that is filled-in with predictions of game face-offs based on university regions and expected winners.  This is an activity that students can do that actually has connections in the classroom.  Students can fill out the bracket with the teams that they think will win each game, which teams will face-off against each other, and end with their guess for the final two teams and the ultimate winner.  Students should develop their predictions by researching team statistics, ranks, standings, and divisions using online websites or by reading sports journals or newspapers.  University websites, along with ESPN, are also appropriate student resources for conducting this research.

Getting other teachers, classes, and even the administrators involved in creating and sharing their bracket predictions make the lesson even more meaningful.

The Bracket:  Math & Geography Connections

Teachers can tie in connections with math and geography using this bracket.  Students can be asked questions that involve percentages and fractions.  For example, what is the likelihood that a certain team will make it into the finals?  What percentage of teams a student chose won during a certain bracket?  What is the reduced fraction of number of teams that are in the final 16?  As the games progress, students should make updates to their brackets.  Additional lessons based on this can also include who had the most winning teams.

As students follow the games and find the winners and losers, geography connections can be made by having students take the teams in the bracket and locate the universities on a map.  An extension can be made where students would have to conduct research about one of the universities or the cities in which schools are located.

Incorporating topics that students love while teaching the curriculum is a great way to motivate students.  Highly engaging activities ‘trick’ students into mastering the learning outcomes that are desired.  March Madness is a great way to make math and geography connections based on a high-interest subject.

More lessons based on March Madness:

1.       Creative Parents March Madness Lesson

2.       March Madness Project

3.       Time out for March Madness

Article By Laura Ketcham

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The iPad 2: An Innovative Educator & Student Resource

Yesterday’s much awaited announcement of the iPad 2 did not disappoint.  Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple was on hand to unveil the new iPad at a live press conference demonstrating the new features of the new iPad 2.  The iPad 2 will be available in store and online March 11th.

ipad

In the past year, Apple’s iPad has made a significant impact on the education world.  Administrators, teachers, and students have all embraced the tablet style computing device in the classroom.  Many features, including the long battery life, portability, innovative 3rd party applications, lower pricing point when compared to laptops and accessibilities options have made it a viable laptop alternative in the classroom.

From an educators stand-point, the updated options that are available on the iPad 2 will make it an even more popular device to use in the classroom.  Here are the new options and how I think it will impact the education world:

Faster Processor

The iPad 2 has a new duo-core processor.  This will allow students to process data at a faster speed without much lag time.  Students can create projects and multi-task smoothly with this faster processor rather than using it to surf or passively learn.  This will also allow app developers to create more robust apps that will be an advantage when teaching complex material in the classroom.

Camera

The iPad 2 has two cameras, one at the front of the device and one on the back.  This will allow students to take pictures and videos on the iPad 2 for class assignments.  The new apps, iMovie, Photo Booth, and even Face Time can be used by the students to produce polished, innovative projects.

Lighter weight & Longer Battery Life

The iPad 2 is lighter than the original iPad.  This increases the ease of portability even more.  The battery life has also been increased by 1 hour.  The iPad 2 has a 10 hour battery life.  This is one of the best selling points for its use in school.  Students can use the iPad for a full day of school without ever having to charge the device.

Video Mirroring

There is now no need for any teacher to have to “jailbreak” their iPad.  The original iPad had no way of connecting to a projector.  This was a disadvantage to teachers who wanted to use the device to show students movies, apps, or lessons on the iPad.  Now, the iPad 2 can connect to a projector using extra accessories, the Digital AV adaptor or the VGA adaport.  This will allow teachers to connect their iPad 2 to either a projector or television (even HDTVs).  These accessories also allow the iPad 2 to be charged during the presentation.   What is displayed on the iPad 2 will be mirrored onto the larger screen.

iPad Smart Cover

Reading various sites online, there was not much buzz about the new cover that Apple has created for the iPad 2.  However, as a teacher, I thought it was a great invention.  The new Smart Cover, when placed over top of the iPad 2, automatically turns the device into sleep mode.  When removed from the top of the iPad 2, it can be used as a stand.  It fits great and aligns perfectly making for an easy transition between use and non-use.  For the classroom, it will save battery life when students are not using the device along with providing a protective cover when not in use.  This will be useful between transitions of students needing to focus on the teachers’ directions and not using the iPad 2 to when the students can then use the iPad 2 for the classroom lesson.

There are also many successful features that Apple has incorporated from the iPad to the iPad 2.  The new device has the same pricing point as the original, along with the one-touch off and on options, and accessibility features for individuals with disabilities.

The iPad 2 will be a big hit both in and out of the classroom.  I’m very excited to see the impact that it will have on education over the next year.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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