Education and technology have become intertwined. Any classroom you step into this year, whether it be a general education class or a special education class, will be filled with various technological opportunities for students. There are tablets, Chrome books, digital whiteboards, adaptive technology, applications, Bluetooth devices, digital textbooks, online learning and collaborative platforms, and much more. They are ubiquitous and aren’t going anywhere.
Even before the pandemic swept across the world and online learning and educational technologies took off, using apps in a classroom setting is not new.
There are many benefits to using apps in a classroom setting, some of which include:
- Apps help students learn things from a different perspective
- Apps hone in on students’ different learning styles
- Apps encourage better parent/teacher communication
- Apps help teachers with data collection, attendance, and other responsibilities
- Apps increase engagement, collaboration, and interaction
- Apps are available 24/7 to students when they are at home
- Apps help differentiate learning among students of various levels
- Apps typically give immediately reinforcement for correct responses
- Apps are more environmentally friendly than using paper and ink
- Apps are a type of technology that most students are used to using
- Apps help non-verbal students communicate
- Apps are an easy way to assess knowledge and understanding
Technological tools not only help students learn, but also assist educators in teaching, planning, and designing curricula. Over the years, applications have become highly and inexpensively accessible and can be downloaded with a simple click or tap.
Keep reading to learn more about these eight must-have apps for special education teachers.
- Khan Academy Kids
- Class Dojo
- The Social Express
- Choice Works
- Montessori Numbers
- Writing Wizard
Khan Academy Kids is a free award-winning app for young students that was developed by learning experts at Stanford. The app can also be used with older students who are lower functioning academically. Their focus is on the whole child in terms of meeting their needs in all core subject areas as well as the social/emotional area. Khan Academy Kids help students develop early literacy and math skills, practice speech and language skills, work on problem-solving, and encourage curiosity. They even have a “brain break” section where students can get up and move around. The app can be used individually with each student or it can be used in whole group mode with interactive stories and lessons that SPED teachers can put on the board. There are also printables available for teachers to use for free. Teachers can easily set up their classes, search for lessons by standards, manage their lessons, create assignments, monitor progress, and much more. This is a super easy-to-use app for SPED teachers, students, and parents.
Download the Khan Academy Kids app on the App Store, Google Play, or Amazon Appstore.
2. Class Dojo
Class Dojo is a favorite app among many special educators because it engages students, reinforces them, and also connects the classroom to parents. When used in the classroom, students get to choose their Dojo character and as the day progresses, they can see how many Dojo points they earn from their teachers. Teachers and students can come up with the positive behaviors they want to see in the classroom and during transitions and add them to the app. They will specify how many points each will be worth. For instance, “being a role model” can be worth 3 points, and “completing all work” can be worth 5 points––or however they want to set it up. Students are more engaged with positive reinforcement when they have a hand in choosing what gets reinforced and what the outcome is.
Another neat feature that Class Dojo has is that SPED teachers can connect the class with parents, so the parents can see how they are progressing throughout the day. Teachers can send parents messages, show them photos or videos of class activities, and much more. The “Plus” version has more features for family engagement. Students love this app, as it is incredibly positive and they can use their points to earn things at school. Teachers can easily download the app on their phones to keep up with points throughout the day and keep the website open on the board so the students can see how they are doing. Lastly, Class Dojo can easily be used in coordination with PBIS or with tracking “bucks” or points for class incentives.
The free app is the typical one used by many classrooms, although there is a “Plus” version for a small amount. Class Dojo works on any iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and any computer.
The Social Express app is an incredible resource for children with autism, as well as kids with other disabilities for whom developing social connections and skills can be difficult. The app helps kids learn appropriate responses in different social situations and with different kinds of people, from parents and teachers to classmates and playmates. Not only can The Social Express app assist special education teachers to increase social stability in the classroom but also help special needs kids to form meaningful and more connective relationships with the people in their day-to-day lives. This is a wonderful app that both SPED teachers and SLPs can use with their students.
The company’s mission is clear: We use high-quality animation, interactivity, and relatable characters to provide each child with a unique and invaluable experience. It is our goal to create exciting, innovative new products to assist with social and life skills for every developmental stage that children go through.
The company has other programs as well such as a teen career exploration app and Muzology, which is a music-based learning platform that is highly recommended.
Especially helpful to students who struggle with words or cognitive and reading disabilities, SymbolSupport translates words into symbols and pictures to help children more easily digest written information. App users can also copy and paste whole documents into SymbolSupport, which will automatically translate the text in question into pictures. Its sister app, SymbolSupport Viewer, allows app users to receive SymbolSupport documents from other users to read and print, making it a fantastically collaborative app – especially between teachers and students. A neat feature that teachers and parents will love is that they can create custom symbols by using photos from their camera roll or from an image found online, making the app even more individualized for students.
While SymbolSupport does have a cost (unless you have interest in the “lite” version with fewer benefits), it offers features that are not found elsewhere and are invaluable in a special education classroom setting. This app is available for Windows, Mac, and iPad.
The Choiceworks app is a fantastic one for kids with autism and other disabilities who struggle with following a daily schedule, completing routines, and telling/measuring time. The app has a timer and a “waiting” screen to help students learn to wait patiently for the next steps or for a preferred item or activity. Teachers and students can search for images to use with the app or use some from their own devices. The download is available in the App Store.
Another great time-management app for students is Time Timer, which is especially useful to children with dyscalculia or other number-related disabilities. Utilizing a visual representation of time rather than numbers, it quickly and easily helps kids understand how much time they have to complete a task––or how much time they have left to finish the assigned material.
Otsimo is an amazing educational app that is approved by Autism Speaks, Forbes, BBC, Parents, and many more organizations. Otsimo is primarily for special education students and for those who receive speech therapy. Their lessons and games have been backed by research, can be adjusted by age or level, and parents can use them at home with their children. The app has AAC-related games for those with communication difficulties and those who are non-verbal in several different languages. Otsimo was developed with and by educators and parents, so you know for sure that it is appropriate for school-aged students with disabilities. The co-founder of Otsimo, Zafer Elcik even has a Ted Talk all about the creation and success of the app. The best thing is that you can download the Otsimo Special Education and the Speech Therapy version for free!
Most of us have heard of a “Montessori school”; this comes from Maria Montessori’s hands-on approach (“What the hand does, the mind remembers”), and this app is founded on this principle. Especially helpful for kids with mathematical learning disabilities, Montessori Numbers helps special needs kids become math pros, utilizing highly visual methods for students to solve problems and equations. Because special needs students are often visual learners, the app strongly utilizes that learning style to help them learn math more easily and effectively. This app is also helpful for students for whom kinesthetic or movement-based learning is important, and through the use of repetitive visual elements, helps students more easily retain the knowledge of how numbers and equation formats work. All in all, it is a wonderful app that introduces math topics to students in a meaningful way.
This is one of the best award-winning handwriting/phonics apps for young students and students with special needs. It is brightly colored and engaging, allows students to choose from various colors, fonts, or “textures” to write or trace with, and allows learners to do this in 6 different languages! Writing Wizard has a feature where teachers and students can add their own words, and of course, there are many engaging and interactive games to play. This app is best used on a tablet or a smart board that has a touch screen so students can trace and write with enough space. Download Writing Wizard on Google Play or through the App Store.
Conclusion to Great Apps for Special Education Teachers
Each one of these captivating and educational apps addresses different types of disabilities and special needs in the classroom and can help kids in the special education classroom be much more successful. The apps allow for more individualized lessons, differentiation, and help teachers to more easily adapt to the varying needs of every child they teach. Since these are all apps and not necessarily school-bought programs, parents can use these with their students at home as well.
Don’t let technology scare you off! Using devices and apps in the SPED classroom have multiple benefits and you will quickly see the progress your students are making by using them.
Master of Education (M.Ed.) | Northeastern State University
Behavior and Learning Disorders | Georgia State University
Updated October 2021