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Vanessa’s Journey: Empowering Special Education Through Technology

• ExcelinEd

Today, we’re sharing something personal.

Karla Phillips serves as the State Policy Director of Competency-Based Learning for ExcelinEd. But more importantly, she is mom to a young daughter named Vanessa.

Earlier this month, Karla shared on Getting Smart’s blog how education technology has empowered Vanessa to learn. Keep reading for a story you won’t want to miss!

Vanessa’s Journey: Empowering Special Education Through Technology
April 4, 2015
Getting Smart
By: Karla Phillips

My daughter’s story started like many children born with special needs – doctors telling us not to expect much. I did my research and discovered that visual learning may be one of her unique abilities. It’s turned out to be true.

Like any good Type A, control-freak, helicopter mom, I had been making my daughter watch educational videos pretty much since Karla and Vanessabirth, but the truth is that because she was still non-verbal at two-to-three years old I had no idea if she was learning much. And then I bought an iPod…

A friend sent me a list of suggested pre-K apps and I ventured into iTunes and began downloading.

Sometime later, we were at dinner with grandma and grandpa. I was playing with my new toy with my daughter sitting on my lap. I opened a very simple (yes, it was free) app that asked kids to identify numbers, letters, shapes, etc. What happened next forever changed how I view her educational prospects and fueled my passion and advocacy for her.

By simple touch, she answered all the prompts correctly! Okay maybe one or two wrong but enough to blow my mind. All she needed was another way to demonstrate what she had learned. In education speak we call this an alternate assessment.

I wasn’t the only one blown away. Grandma and Grandpa sent iPads the next week.

We have now moved past the pre-K apps to more age-appropriate reading and math apps. And guess what? Like any other child she much prefers game-based learning versus worksheets. Shocking, right?

Since that first iPod experience (and it has been reaffirmed many times over) I knew that her abilities are even greater than I can imagine and my journey would be about finding ways for her to show the world.  Technology is a big part of that plan.

The irony is that I’m describing her home life. Even though she is in a fantastic “A”-rated school, fully mainstreamed with her typical peers, and great teachers that have high expectations for her, it is a very traditional classroom environment.

What I have discovered is that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of technology’s ability to help us increase academic achievement for children with special needs. Many are now suggesting that online courses are a viable option for students with special needs. I’m not advocating merely for increased use of “assistive technology” as it is referred to in special education, but the expanded use of the same technology serving traditional students to increase engagement and facilitate blended learning.

After all, there is one thing we know about all kids… the sky is the limit!

Want to learn more about how technology is impacting education across the nation?

Check our weekly series of state stories from the upcoming 2014 Digital Learning Report Card to learn how states are advancing personalized, digital learning. So far we have highlighted Arizona, Florida, West Virginia and Ohio.


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