The start of the new academic year, gives me chance to reflect on the year ahead. This is the second year in a row that I have started a new position, Last year, I was fortunate to be offered a middle leadership role as Head of Year 11. I really enjoyed taking on the challenge of leading a year team to ensure that we provided a safe and enjoyable environment for our year 11 to achieve. I work in a generic special school and I was pleased with how successful the whole team were in ensuring our students applied themselves to their learning and developed as young people throughout the year. There were certainly challenges along the way, but I look back with very fond memories of the year,
This year, our school has undergone a major reorganisation – in terms of how our students cohorts are arranged. Rather than being year based, we have moved to a more needs based system with different hubs for moderate learning difficulties (MLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) and the 6th Form. The thinking behind this, is that we will be better placed to ensure that the resources for specific students can be utilised more and that by teaching in need groups – progress can be shown more clearly. Obviously this smacks inclusion in the face a little, but we have a Complex needs coordinator who role is to ensure that where appropriate students have the opportunity for inclusion across different areas of the school. Now my role has changed too – I am now Curriculum Leader for the 6th Form responsible for ensuring that we have a dynamic and appropriate curriculum for the many different types of learners that we have in the 6th Form. I think there are 7 different curriculum’s running alongside each other, which is great for providing a tailor made curriculum for the majority of our students, I have written briefly about creating a 6th curriculum before. I am very much looking forward to this role and the challenges it creates in the currant climate of changes to OFSTED inspections.
Contrary to some people’s beliefs, special schools are still inspected using the same OFSTED criteria than all school s in the UK. We have the benefit of using the SEN progression guidance to help us justify the slower rates of progress for students with SLD and PMLD, however MLD are expected to make the same levels of progress and this gets mixed into the overall picture when OFSTED make their judgement. We had the pleasure of Her Majesty;s inspectors come visit earlier this year. There are many things to be celebrated about school (emotional well being, exceptional performance in the Arts, outstanding vocational provision) unfortunately under the new criteria we were classed as requires Improvement as the progress in Maths and English was not rapid and sustained enough.
This has led to a change in focus as our school for the new academic year, we are now putting in place more focus on literacy and numeracy across the whole school. I for one am quite excited by the challenge of this and to a certain extent agree that we should have the high expectations of our students to achieve in literacy and numeracy regardless of ability. However, I think that OFSTED need to recognise the appropriateness of what we mean by literacy and numeracy, For one student this might be developing their writing skills however for as more severe student this might be improving their communication skills so that they can effectively communicate their needs and wants. For our SLD students in the 6th Form it is about developing their numeracy and literacy skills to enable them to become more independent in their lives for when they leave school.
No matter what we think about OFSTED and whether we agree with the hoop jumping or not, being in the position our school is in we have no choice and have to look at the priorities to ensure that the next time they come to visit we have done everything we can to show an upward trend in progress in the core subjects, Not being a English or Maths specialist I am slightly nervous, but looking forward to developing my knowledge of teaching these subjects and looking at new and exciting ways to be able to deliver these across the life skills curriculum that I deliver in the sixth form.
Looking around a colleagues today, there was a real sense of togetherness that we as a staff team want to ensure the best for our students and I am quietly confident that we will give the students the best opportunity to shine in these subjects, not just for OFSTED but because it is the right thing to do.
Since the Gesture based Technology PLC was created in November last year, our focus has expanded to many devices and this has led to the setup of a central portal page that links to all the hardware that we are currently using with our students.
So if you are interested in using iPads, Eyegaze, Kinect, LeapMotion or any gesture based tech visit the GestureSEN wiki for information about how to use these devices to promote engagement, movement and creativity with students with severe learning difficulties.
Tuesday 23rd July was the day that my LeapMotion was delivered. I was very excited about this piece of technology and the impact it could have on access and engagement for the students that I work with.
For those who don’t know the LeapMotion is a small, USB sized device that works like a mini-kinect to track movements of the fingers. It’s ‘working area’ is an invisible cube about a metre across above the device and it will pick up fine hand and finger movements- these can then be converted instantly to effects on the screen- so causing visual and audio effects. Unlike the Kinect – which does whole body tracking. the Leap will only track hand and finger movement which potentially limits the audience that we would use the device with.
First impressions of the Leap are that it is very accurate in detecting hand and finger movement and I quickly went to Airspace (the Leap Motion app store) to see what has been developed for the device. When playing around with the apps, I found those that require fine motor skills were quite difficult to use for example Blocks – a jenga -like game – which requires you to ‘pinch’ your fingers to remove the blocks. However where I feel the Leap will be most useful for our students is in its ability to track hand movements and the apps Midnight, Flocking, Airharp and Vitrun – beautifully demonstrated this. I found myself engaged with these apps in particular Midnight and spent time trying to manipulate the environment to see what I could create.
After the initial trial at home, I was eager to try the Leap out with our students. Considering it was the last day of term, I still managed to find time for one of our students to have a go with the LeapMotion. The student has muscular dystrophy and has limited movement in his arms. I was intrigued to see how he got on with using the Leap, as I found even when I used it, the positioning of the device was crucial. He started with Midnight and really enjoyed making changes to the environment in front of him. He soon got to grips with changing fingers to make things happen and mentioned that he like the different colours that he was making on screen.
As any typical teenage boy, he is quite keen with playing computer games, so he tried out Cut the Rope. This game requires quite fine motor skills – using your finger to swipe the ropes to cut them. This is where I noticed that positioning of the device for those with difficulty with their mobility is crucial . He was quite determined to continue the game but he did get frustrated on occasions when his finger swipes were not fast enough to cut the rope. The last app that he tried was Vitrun and he had greater success with this app as it requires you to hold you hand out flat above the device to move the ball forward and backwards. Again, he enjoyed this app and was engaged for long periods of time which was promising to see.
Apps that I recommend to try:
Midnight – $2.39 A beautiful particle system that is controlled using your hand. Also plays music to add to the experience. Watch the video below:
Flocking – Free – Fish will follow you fingers on screen. Really nice and simple sensory application.
Airharp – $1.19 – exactly what it says, play a harp using you hands – nice interaction for simple cause and effect.
Vitrun Air – $3.59 – Simple game that involves moving a ball thorugh a range of obstacles with very easy controls.
I am impressed with the Leap and can see potential for it in an SEN setting as an enabling device that allows those with limited movement to be able to interact with a screen. Factors that will be important in the success of using this device are similar to all devices such as iPads, switches, Eygaze – positioning and app selection. Hopefully now that the Leap has been released, I am hoping that more developers will create content for it and I look forward to seeing what they develop for it.
Anthony Rhys (@trinityfieldsit) has setup a LeapSEN wiki which over the next couple of months we hope to fill with information about how to get the best out of the Leap for SEN students as part of the Gesture Based PLC group. For more information about this and other gesture based tech visit -http://kinectsen.wikispaces.com/
After retuning home from another fantastic meeting discussing and examining the impact of gesture based technology on the students we work with, I wanted to share some of the findings from the day. Big thanks to Heronsbridge School for hosting the meeting and I always enjoy going to new schools and having a look around and there were many fantastic examples of how they support and develop their students learning throughout the school.
The meeting started with an update on where we were in terms of future developments, in particular the introduction of the Leap Motion and Kinect One which we discussed the potential of these pieces of technology and the impact they could have on our students. If you have not seen the Kinect One have a look at my previous post here. An exciting development with the PLC is being able to have a hand in developing our own applications with the Cariad Interactive team and this is certainly something to look forward to.
Onto the evidence sharing, where there were some fantastic videos of students using the technology. What is great to see from the examples shown, was the engagement shown by students who would usually struggle with concentrating on tasks for long periods of time. They clearly enjoyed interacting with the various programmes like Somantics and Visikord and through perseverance students showed excellent progress in their engagement. For example a student from Pen Maes, showed vocalisations which they never did at school and this was great to see their excitement from interacting with technology that enable them to have a control on their environment.
In the afternoon, Barri Farrimond from the MUSE Project showcased some of their music technology applications which aim to increase independence and engagement using music making tools that enable access for all. One of the applications shown was Looper Dooper (currently in BETA, but sign up to the mailing list to get the free download). Its a really simple music making app that create loops and you can record any sounds to these. Below is a video of Barry explaining how it works;
In addition, he showed a Kinect application which acts like a Soundbeam which when finished will be another useful tool to use with our students.
Again another worthwhile day and those who are interested in learning more about gesture based technology check out the KinectSEN wiki.