The iPad as a Teaching Tool: Looks Can be Deceiving

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May 29, 2014

What You Need To Know About the Use of the Ipad as a Teaching Tool

The latest gadget to capture the seemingly short attention spans of schools is the iPad. Money gets raised, budgets allocated, and in short order teachers have the option of bringing iPads into their classrooms.

What more exciting educational tool could there be for gadget-happy teenagers already perpetually wired-in and networked? Who could complain about the sleek, lightweight iPad—replete with its cool apps—being the answer to engaging students in the classroom?

Except it isn't the answer.

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High school students are trudging into SOS offices and complaining about their school’s use of iPads. One announced, "My mother was responsible for signing the check that purchased the iPads … but they are hard to use and not helpful in the classroom at all. I keep telling my Mom they're awful and she keeps saying how great they are!" When I pressed this 11th-grader, he revealed that some teachers at his school have rebelled against using the device in their classrooms.

The problems with the iPad as a teaching tool are numerous and compelling:

  • Interfaces between homework software such as School Loop are not yet configured for mobile devices
  • Distracting apps
  • Note taking is not intuitive on the iPad, especially for students with learning issues involving organization of information
  • Reading on an iPad doesn't feel the same as reading a physical text
  • The iPad is not ideal for recording multi-step homework assignments and planning long term
  • Some students prefer the act of writing
  • Typing on the iPad screen is often clumsy and inaccurate and doesn't mimic a regular keyboard

Students complain that their peers often focus on their iPads and on easily accessible apps that have no bearing on the class. One of my 9th-graders commented that teachers often seem unaware that many students are just playing games or drawing while they are supposed to be attending to a lesson.

While some schools are giving up on classroom use of iPads, they’re only turning to other technologies, such as Chrome Books. Meanwhile, I still hear many students state their preferences for old-fashion note taking on paper and reading from a text book/paperback. I can only wonder how much time schools are actually devoting to training teachers on how to make the iPad an effective teaching tool, and in turn training students to use it appropriately. “Not much,” I’m thinking.

This week's Sunday New York Times had an interesting piece by Anne Eisenberg called "Tackling the Limits of Touch Screens." Among the recent findings:

  • Memory and comprehension are often better served when long text passages are on paper rather than on a screen.
  • Companies are working to adapt some analog tools to the digital world including 3D keyboards that "pop up" from a flat screen on demand. (Check out Tactus Technology in Fremont CA.)
  • In one recent study, engineering students had to assess whether they read more accurately on flat screens or from a physical text. The students said the screens but in reality, accuracy was better with text on paper.
  • Touch screens apparently make it more difficult for readers to create what is called a mental map of what they've read and of what's upcoming, which is an important aid to memory. E- pages make that sort of mental "positioning" of information more difficult. (Of course, work is being done to solve this problem through building technology to make flipping through an e-book more akin to reading from an actual book.)

As the iPad has demonstrated, new technology brings with it not only solutions, but challenges and obstacles for students with and without learning differences. There is no one size fits all solution and even in 2014, some 16-year-olds still like spirals, cool pens, and a paperback version of Catcher in the Rye.

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SOS Summer Workshop and Summer Coaching Slots are Filling Fast

  • Use this Summer to Help Your Child Get Ready for the Next School Year
  • Two More Days to Take Advantage of 10% Early Bird Registration

If your child has difficulties managing school workload or struggles with organization, planning, prioritizing, and time management, then a summer workshop or coaching would be a great benefit both for the child and for you (just think, no more nagging or micro-managing homework assignments!).

SOS's summer workshops are hands-on and geared toward just the kinds of study skills and learning issues kids face these days. We even have programs specifically for those students who need an introduction to or refresher on the essentials of constructing well-crafted essays and theses.

Beth’s Book tip of the Week
It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd touches on what’s new about how teenagers communicate through services such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and how social media might be affecting their quality of life. Check it out on Amazon.

IEP / 504 HELP
Need a better IEP or 504 set up for fall? Meet with SOS’s Beth Samuelson this summer to prepare for your fall meeting. Call Beth at 510-531-4767 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to arrange.

Wait List For Fall Coaching
Get on our wait list for fall coaching by June 15. Slots fill up fast and we can't guarantee a space if you wait for the first report card in October! Call Marcie at 510-531-4767 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.

School’s (Nearly) Out for Summer—But Should it Be?

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Don't Wait for September. Use the Summer to Help Your Student Get Ready for the Next School Year. Here's How...

Summer is nearly here. It’s the time of year when our kids begin to dream ahead to school’s end and lazy summer days with friends. After all, they’ve had a long school year. They deserve a break, right?

But what if your child struggles in school, either from difficulty understanding subject matter or from poor study habits? Maybe a break from school is NOT what’s best. Maybe a summer learning program, such as a small group workshop or one-on-one academic coaching is just what your child needs to reach his or her potential as a student.

TOP 10 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Does Your Child Need Executive Functioning Support this Summer?

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1.  How do I know if my child needs additional summer learning or academic coaching?

If your child has difficulties managing his or her school workload or struggles with organization, planning, prioritizing, and time management, then a summer workshop or coaching would be a great benefit both for the child and for you (just think, no more nagging or micro-managing homework assignments!).

SOS’s summer workshops are hands-on and geared toward just the kinds of study skills and learning issues kids face these days. We even have programs specifically for those students who need an introduction to or refresher on the essentials of constructing well-crafted essays and theses.

One-on-one summer coaching is perfect for those students who are already in summer school and needs extra support getting through it, or who would like customized help with specific challenges, such as with writing or reading comprehension. We find that coaching is especially helpful for students who feel more comfortable working one-on-one with someone to learn strategies to address a particular learning challenge or difference.

2. What is the benefit of children doing schoolwork over the summer? Don't kids need a break?

While everyone needs a break, the reality is if we don't practice something, we forget it. This is especially true for students. Long, school-free breaks are great, but academic skills need to be practiced to keep them sharp. Typically, SOS workshops feature group sizes that are small enough so instructors can focus on particular student needs. As a result, students emerge with improved study strategies and skills that can help them now, in college, and later in life. It's an investment in your child's future.

3. What kinds of students benefit most from summer workshops and educational programs? Are summer programs just for students who are struggling or students with learning disabilities, or can these programs help my child who is already doing well in school?

Students who benefit most from summer work include anyone with executive function issues in the areas of learning strategies and study habits, whether there’s an associated learning disability or not. Unburdened from homework, students can take time during the summer to unlearn, relearn,  and retool approaches to school work. The summer is also a perfect time to debrief the “school-year-that-was” and prepare more effectively for the school year to come, and summer workshops and coaching can help your student do just that.

4. How do I convince my child to do a summer workshop or program if he or she would prefer to relax and not worry about school?

This is a common challenge many parents face when considering summer learning for a child. One way to get buy-in is to make your child understand that you'd like to “get off his or her back” about study habits and school performance, and that the best way to do that is by working with an outside collaborator/coach. This gives him or her an immediate reward for agreeing to do the summer work. When you bring SOS on board to assist, essentially you “fire” yourself from the role of micromanager of homework and school assignments. It’s a win-win for both you and your child. Not only will your child’s school performance improve, but having your child work with someone other than yourself can go a long way towards helping repair strained relationships.

5. What kinds of skills should students work on in particular over the summer?

We find that students benefit most from working on note taking, finding main ideas, annotating, writing paragraphs and essays of all kinds, and reading literature and non-fiction with an end product in mind (such as a test or paper). For our college-bound or college-age students, managing time and note taking for lectures are two popular focal points.

6. Why should I consider an SOS workshop? How is the SOS approach different from others?

SOS has been dealing with improving study strategies and boosting executive functioning for more than 15 years. We have a track record of success working with children from grade 5 through college. We know what schools expect, understand the demands and pressures students face, and provide unparalleled support for our students. Our neurocognitive approach to coaching students is an essential feature of our offerings, even in workshops. Our focus is on helping students define success for themselves and identifying how they can harness their own learning strengths and preferences to improve school performance.

7. What kinds of skills do students take away from SOS workshops? What kinds of outcomes should we expect?

Students who participate in workshops develop a better understanding of how they learn best and how the approaches they've been using either have or have not contributed to their performance. Typically, students learn about best study practices and tools, including ways to take notes, plan projects, track their work, and write multi-paragraph essays in a timely manner. SOS is there to support and guide students as they identify and implement the strategies that will work best for them going forward.

8. What can I do at home to reinforce learning from summer workshops? What's the best way to ensure the skills they learn carry through to the school year and get applied to their school work?

“Use it or lose it” is definitely a true adage. Students talk to us about getting out of the habit of effective studying when they are on break. It’s up to parents to help keep the car running. We highly recommend that you involve your child in at least one school-focused skill building activity during the summer to help him or her stay strategically fit!

9. I still can’t decide if summer learning or coaching is best for my child? Who can I talk to?

Call SOS for more information at 510-531-4767 or email questions to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Marcie Dompier or Beth Samuelson will be in touch right away. Our goal is to help you make the choice that’s right for you and your child.

If you think a friend or family member with a struggling student might benefit from summer learning, please forward this information.

Workshops and coaching slots fill fast! Register early to ensure a spot.

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10. I want my child to benefit from summer learning or coaching with SOS—what do I do next?

Congratulations on making this important decision for you and your child. It’s an investment that will pay immediate dividends in the coming school years by teaching new and important skills that can be used in college and beyond.

Signing up for a workshop or coaching (or both!) is easy and can be done online.

There's More!

IEP / 504 HELP
Need a better IEP or 504 set up for fall? Meet with SOS’s Beth Samuelson this summer to prepare for your fall meeting. Call Beth at 510-531-4767 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to arrange.

Wait List For Fall Coaching
Get on our wait list for fall coaching by June 15. Slots fill up fast and we can't guarantee a space if you wait for the first report card in October! Call Marcie at 510-531-4767 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.

New ADHD Book Recommended by Beth
The ADHD Explosion: Myths, Medication, Money, and Today's Push for Performance by Richard Scheffler and Stephen Hinshaw just came out and SOS highly recommends that families dealing with ADHD check it out. Both are UC Berkeley Professors and experts in the field. The book is available now in bookstores and online.