The iPad Orchestra

When my younger brother was little, his special education teachers gave him a large, bulky device to help him communicate and verbalize what was always stuck in his head. He could form sentences through words and pictures, and then click on the large white box at the top of the screen for a monotone voice to read out what he put together. Of course, given my brother’s sense of humor, he enjoyed making silly sentences and blasting them at full volume for all to hear. In addition to adding humor, his device helped him sound out words that we could not understand, making him a more confident speaker.

My brother was diagnosed with autism far before the world of iPads, iPods, iTouches, and i-Everything elses. He had always been interested in technology, and his school enjoyed testing different types with their students. Recently, there have been more and more articles published about apple products being used for special education purposes, helping to “deepen engagement, communication, and creativity” in classrooms around the world. I find the most interesting use of this application in the special ed. music curriculum.

A PS 177 music instructor in the Fresh Meadows section of Queens, New York uses tablet computers to reach his students with disabilities. The entire band is made up of students who all play traditional musical instruments and iPads. Yes, that’s right – they play iPads. The iPad now has applications that allow people to produce complicated orchestral-style arrangements, allowing people to play all kinds of different instruments at the same time with just a push of a button. Instead of having to learn the intricacies of different instruments, students can play with the sound of different notes in creating music. This is especially close to my heart because my brother has always loved creating music.

support.apple.com

support.apple.com

This iPad revolution is not exclusive to the United States. On June 4th of this year, an exceptional educator from the United Arab Emirates received an award for “bridging gaps between children with special needs and their classmates by creating the first electronic tablet orchestra that includes children with special needs in the UAE.” This teacher, Hanan Al Attar, is a music supervisor at the Sharja Education Zone, and agrees that replacing traditional musical instruments with the iPad is a good solution to a short supply of instruments. Her orchestra is comprised of 68 children with both mental and physical disabilities.

Why are iPads so effective for special needs children? Educators believe that the combination of clear, big, and bright visual cues coupled with the easy-to-use touchscreen make it simple for kids to use without creating a visual or sensory overload. The iPad has therefore been significant in changing the way that people look at others with disabilities. Karen Gorman, the director of Assistive Technology for New York City’s Public Schools, and Hanan Al Attar agree that people are starting to look at the talent of students rather than at their disabilities.

Apple has published a video themselves to highlight their great contribution to the special needs community. The video profiles three schools, one in the Czech Republic, one in Japan, and one New York’s District 75, the world’s largest special education district. In all three locations, there seems to be an emphasis on “the individual learner.” Special needs students each have a wide range of abilities and disabilities, and each must therefore have a specialized education plan for maximum success. The iPad has allowed students to learn socially through different virtual games and simulations. Activities in such activities include washing their hands before eating or turning off the stove before leaving the room. The iPad can also perform the same function as my brother’s old device, allowing students to form words and sentences via pictures and sounds. Apple claims that their product has the potential to make the nonverbal verbal, and to enhance the social, emotional, and academic performance of special needs students across the world.

Though the iPad is more expensive than individual instruments, I completely agree with its use in a special needs music classroom as well as its use in other special education classes. The special needs community is a part of the student population that is often times segregated into separate schools, even though students greatly range in their abilities in each school. I think that the iPad has the potential to promote an individualized education and special attention to students, as well as expose them to the new technologies that are being exposed to all students across the mainstream and disabled spectra. As technology continues to change, educators and policy makers should use it to their advantage in promoting new learning opportunities. And these opportunities should clearly not be exclusive to the mainstream population.

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“Get the door. It’s Domino’s!”

In 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture began to raise nutrition standards for foods served in schools, causing consumer advocates and nutritionists to believe that fast foods would disappear from school lunch lines. This did hold true for many commercialized products, as most fast foods did not meet these new “healthy” standards. However, some food giants like Dominos began to use these new rules to their advantage, changing their already existing products to fit in with the reformed school nutrition guidelines.

Sensing that this change would come, Dominos quickly looked toward its research and development team in developing a new type of pizza eating experience, designed specifically for school-aged children. In 2010, Dominos introduced the “Smart Slice,” which has 1/3 less fat, 1/3 less salt in the sauce, and 1/2 of the fat in the cheese. It also uses 51% whole-wheat grains as opposed to exclusive white grains that have more sugar. In 2010, the “Smart Slice” was being delivered to school cafeterias across three states. Now, this has expanded to over 3,000 lunchrooms in 38 states. I think it’s about time for some critical Domino’s-inspired analysis.

as.lsu.edu

as.lsu.edu

First, let’s look at the actual extent to which Domino’s has made a drastic nutritional change to their pizza. If we look at the nutrition information on the Domino’s website, it does not specify the calories for one slice of pizza. Instead, let’s look at the smallest pizza size, the 10”, which is designed for individual consumption. Domino’s reports that for a small, 10” thin crust pizza the serving size is 1/4. That is much smaller than one regular slice of pizza. I speak from collegiate experience when I say that most people consume the entire 10” pizza, which is 880 calories – a calculation that Domino’s does not give on their website. And that’s just the thin crust! If we switch this calculation for “hand tossed” crust, which is what Domino’s is known for, the serving size magically changes to 1/6 of a 10” pizza at 200 calories. This means that this individual pizza would cost you 1,200 calories of the average 2,000-calorie a day intake.

The calorie count for the “Smart Slice” is most likely slightly lower than these calculations, although I cannot be sure because the nutritional information about this specialty is no where on their main consumer website. There is simply a beautiful picture of the “Anatomy of a Domino’s Smart Slice,” but nothing about overall nutritional content.

And if that wasn’t enough of an “ew” moment for you, we haven’t even gotten to the discussion about the effects of this commercial material on children’s minds! Dominos delivers these pizzas directly to schools, and “its trucks, employees, insulated boxes and lunch-line placards help imprint the company’s red-and-blue logo on the brains of students.” Students are becoming “brand brainwashed” in schools, and nutrition and consumerist experts warn that this will drive more students to head to Domino’s after school hours. Not only is Domino’s able to develop a loyal following of young eaters, but the “Smart Slice” creates a false sense of reality that Domino’s pizza, or pizza in general for that matter, is healthy.

Here’s the kicker: the “Smart Slice” is not available at any local Domino’s locations and the company has no plans to sell this type of pizza in their actual stores. So their increased adverting in schools may claim to be aimed at this “revolutionary” pizza slice, but I (and I hope most consumers) can see right through this type of immoral advertising.

Domino’s is not alone in this endeavor, and this is not a new phenomenon. For years, commercial companies have been promoting school-related projects, textbooks, lunches, posters, and more in the hopes of advertising to young children. It seems genius for these companies: reach a large number of young people who are likely to buy a certain product, and target them where they spend the most time exercising their brains. If students are learning important material while sifting through corporate logos and slogans, the advertising strategy is likely to work.

A Domino’s spokesman was quoted by the New York Times, stating, “Some schools like the branding because brands drive sales…”. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with this type of marketing tactic’s affect on students? Shouldn’t schools realize that equating one of the unhealthiest food chains with health is not such a good idea? I think it is time for a cold, hard look at these corporate sponsorships and their impact on the youth of America.

Who Doesn’t Want Permanent Employment?

Teacher tenure has stirred controversy among teacher’s unions, state unions, school administrators, and government officials since the policy first appeared during the late 19th century. A couple of weeks ago, three states and the District of Columbia eliminated tenure, claiming that granting teachers permanent employment may be harmful to students. On June 10th, the Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled, “Teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education.” This is especially significant given that California is our nation’s most populous state. This decree has potential ramifications for education systems across the country.

Nine students from the Los Angeles school district brought forward the lawsuit, claiming that tenured teachers limited their access to equal educational opportunity. In California, teachers are eligible for tenure after just 18 months of teaching, which administrators and policy makers argue is not enough time to observe a teacher’s potential and/or effectiveness. The plaintiffs in the case argued that ineffective teachers are disproportionately placed in schools that serve low-income and minority students. Citing the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Judge Rolf Treu stated that “all students are entitled to equal education” and that “the current situation discriminates against minority and low-income students.”

 

Though I disagree about Judge Treu’s use of this historic court case in arguing against teacher tenure, I do understand the frustrations of students, parents, and administrators regarding ineffective teachers being granted permanent employment. Tenure laws do make it more difficult to hire and fire, which is concerning in schools that already do not receive enough funding. Struggling schools are sometimes left with ineffective or under-trained teachers, coupled with students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. When the system becomes more rigid and teacher mobility becomes more difficult, the argument against teacher tenure is clear-cut: schools need effective teachers, and tenure has the potential to offer under-qualified teachers permanent positions, affecting students’ access to a quality education.

It may also be important to look at the tenure program from a monetary perspective. John Deasy, the Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent, testified during the trial stating that, “It can take over two years on average to fire an incompetent tenured teacher and sometimes as long as 10. The cost of doing so…can run anywhere from $250,000 to $450,000.” This opportunity cost is a significant expense to school districts that already have limited funding.

 

home.isr.umich.edu

home.isr.umich.edu

Though I agree that this is an unnecessary expense, I think that it is important to look at this case from the teachers’ perspectives. Teachers and state unions argue that overturning these laws would allow administrators to make unfair personnel decisions, including firing without legitimate cause. Many believe that the current tenure system preserves academic freedom, something that is slowly being taken away through the increased use of standardized educational tests and procedures. Tenure also helps attract talented teachers to a profession that does not pay as highly as others.

When this ruling is final, it will “prohibit the state from enforcing a law that gives teachers permanent employment after less than two years on the job.” Other states are impatiently watching this ruling to unfold, knowing that it will greatly influence tenure policies across the country.

Recently, the tenure debate was important enough to be featured on the front page of the New York Times website. But I do not think that enough educators, teachers, and professionals are talking about it. The fact that students brought forth the lawsuit proves that those within education policy are too scared to bring tenure into the spotlight. The debate calls for difficult questions and discussions about employment, teacher training, low-income versus high-income districts, and school funding. These seem to be the subjects that cause nightmares for policy makers.

Among all of this current, front-page debate, I still remain conflicted on this topic. I do sympathize with the argument against tenure, especially given what I know about ineffective teachers being disproportionately placed in under-performing schools. However, I also understand the attraction towards tenure in drawing talented people into the education field, providing job protection, and allowing academic freedom. Perhaps the reason why I am still so conflicted is because this issue rarely makes a newsworthy story. Rarely do students learn about tenure, not to mention those in the education field themselves. If this debate encompasses so many other important factors of education policy reform, shouldn’t it be at the forefront of discussion?