One of the highlights of November was the opportunity to take a tour around a fantastic school, Trinity Fields School and Resource Centre, in Caerphilly. James Winchester and I had been invited there for the first meeting of the Professional Learning Community set up by Anthony Rhys to investigate the use of gesture based technologies and to discuss the use of these technologies in the classroom. The use of Gesture Based Technologies in a Special Education environment, provides opportunities for engagement, interaction and social communication, as well as possible opportunities to supplement physiotherapy and exercise by encouraging movement and stretching. The use of Natural User Interfaces such as the MS Kinect, further enables access for groups where interaction with standard computer equipment can be difficult.
We have been working on some cause and effect applications for a while at our own school, some of these have been discussed in previous posts on this blog here, and on my colleague James Winchester’s blog at SEN Classroom, where James has previewed a Processing Sketch he has been working on for the Kinect. Anthony provided us with a generous slot during the day’s schedule, which allowed us to deliver a presentation and discuss how we have been using these technologies at our own school, to enable engagement and provide opportunities for interaction and social communication through sensory exploration. Some excellent examples of the use of Natural User Interfaces such as the MS Kinect and more Gesture Based Technologies including EyeGaze and the iPad were demonstrated by Anthony with students from Trinity Fields and together with our own video evidence, it gave us chance to discuss the use of these technologies and the benefits to our students. Providing access to activities was superbly demonstrated when we were shown evidence of PMLD students using iPads to access music apps enabling them to join in making music alongside other students. We also saw evidence of the use of PO-MOtion in a floor projection setting which was being enjoyed by all students. PO-MOtion is an application we have successfully used at our own school, it is inexpensive, visually stimulating and doesn’t require a sophisticated setup as it can be run from a webcam and in trials with students in my own class, I have used it to supplement physiotherapy and exercise classes, where access to these has proved difficult. Students have enjoyed this software on every occasion it has been used and often ask if they could use the software again next session. The discussions and evidence also included the Somantics application suite which encourages exploration through interaction and movement and the use of Visikord, which has the added attraction of being a highly visual sensory experience which uses music and movement to trigger effects. Whilst our conversations never became bogged down in technical detail we also touched on the hardware requirements to run the software. During the day, we had a chance to try some of these applications out, as well as discuss their ease of use and how we could gather evidence to show the link to learning that will be required for inspections. A PLC is only as good as the people involved in it and their commitment and enthusiasm to share, guide and support each other and there were some excellent contributions and discussion points during the day. It was a pleasure to meet the other professionals involved in the PLC and it was encouraging to see independent professionals like Richard Hirstwood from Hirstwood Training being involved, Richard gave some excellent advice on the use of iPads, apps and equipment that he has seen used in classrooms and we will definitely be following his advice on the purchase of a projector for our own sensory room. A second meeting in February is planned and we are now looking forward to collaborating on future projects as part of this team.
We left in the afternoon with storm clouds gathering across South Wales but the wet weather and grey clouds looming overhead couldn’t dampen our spirits and enthusiasm for the PLC, which had made a great start and we look forward to our next meeting. Anthony Rhys and all the staff at Trinity Fields were fantastic hosts and the classes we were invited to meet were very welcoming and pleased to show us some of the outstanding work they were doing and as we headed home, we left feeling that Trinity Fields was a fantastic school. We enjoyed a brilliant day, which left us enthused to continue to develop our work in this area and inspired me to finish some coding on a small Kinect sketch in Processing, I had begun over a year ago for my own students.
Version 2 of this sketch (to which I owe a small debt to Sarah Hoddy [ @shoddybyname ] for her excellent ideas) is now available for download from the KinectSEN Wiki site, where you can also find advice and information on how to get started using the MS Kinect in the classroom, as well as several free applications for trial with students, including James Winchester’s Kinect sketch, mentioned earlier in this post.
You can read more about the first PLC Meeting, investigating Gesture Based Technologies on James Winchester’s SEN Classroom Blog at the link below.
The KinectSEN Wiki is run by its members as a free resource and is not associated to any private companies, further information is available from Anthony Rhys [ @trinityfieldsit ].
The Night Sky Painter sketch is available for download via the link on the “Free Stuff” page on this blog.
KinectSEN Wiki – a resource site for information on how to get started using the MS Kinect and Gesture Based Technologies in the classroom.
SEN Classroom – A fantastic blog by James Winchester, with lots of information on technology, apps and education resources.
PO-MOtion – Interactive projection software.
Somantics – Beautiful application suite by Wendy Keay-Bright and her team.
Visikord – Interactive application using real-time visuals with music.
iPad-SEN-PLC (South Wales) – Information on the use of iPads in SEN classrooms.