Louisiana kids gain confidence, skills with design software

Students in special education programs may present unusual challenges to educators, because they need more time than other students to achieve learning goals and reach key milestones. How, then, can teachers keep these students’ attention and provide immediate positive reinforcement for their efforts, thereby preventing frustration and loss of interest in school? One district in Louisiana found an answer through photo editing and design software, which provided rapid improvement to the confidence and self-esteem of their special education students.

Based in Lake Charles, La., Calcasieu Parish Public Schools enroll nearly 32,000 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. The entire district operates 35 elementary schools, 11 middle schools and 10 high schools. With the motto, “All children are important to us,” the district strives to provide high academic achievement and a safe and productive environment for all its students, whether typical or special needs.

Elementary students with special needs in Calcasieu Parish Public Schools have been using the Serif Design Suite (http://www.serif.com/education) in a variety of subject areas since school opened in fall 2009, said School Board Technology Facilitator Mary Beth Sonnier. The kids have been instantly enthusiastic about the creative design projects using the package of programs, she said.

“The students are so excited to use the different software, and almost all of them have quickly figured out how to use the programs on their own,” said Sonnier. “I’m so proud of their growing independence. That sense of self-sufficiency can be the basis of so many future academic and personal milestones.”

Alphabet Walks to Family Trees

Since receiving the Design Suite, which includes Serif’s four leading design tools – PagePlus, WebPlus, PhotoPlus and DrawPlus – along with materials on the Teacher Resources disc such as lesson and worksheet ideas, Sonnier has integrated them into language arts, reading, science and social studies units, among others.

PhotoPlus and DrawPlus, Serif’s image editing and computer drawing programs, were key elements of an “Online Alphabet Walk” lesson, for example. Calcasieu Parish students who were working on an age 5 language level in a self-contained special education class, searched a set list of bookmarked, kid-friendly web sites for photos of items beginning with a certain letter. For instance, if tasked with the letter “A,” students explored National Geographic Kids, Scholastic’s sites or others for a picture of an ant. They then took a screen shot of the bug, pasted the image in the Google Docs spreadsheet and finally edited the image in PhotoPlus. Some photos, for example, such as one of a brown bear in a pond, required a change to the brightness, Sonnier explained. Finally, the students laid out the edited photos in order on a story board created in DrawPlus.

“They love to edit pictures, and they think it is hilarious,” said Sonnier. “You just let them play first, and once they are comfortable with the program they are able to accomplish much more in each lesson.”

Another project has seen third-grade students working on a family tree project in an inclusion classroom with both special needs and general education students. The children were asked to bring in photos of family members or shoot their own with digital cameras checked out from the school by the students. Using PhotoPlus, they were able to crop pictures to focus on individual relatives and then use those images to design a family tree in DrawPlus.

Since the third-graders with special needs had used the Serif programs prior to the lesson, they were able to help out their peers.

“Teachers observed an increase to their self-esteem through their excitement to assist their peers and their willingness and ability to remain on task,” Sonnier said. “Since they can do things like pick their own font and get really creative, there’s a big sense of ownership. Also, the help menu is easy for kids to figure out.”

Student Organization

Calcasieu Parish special education students are also looking to the Serif Design Suite to help them with class transitions and to stay organized, Sonnier said.

One non-verbal student used PhotoPlus to edit some images to use as icons on a visual schedule. The printed board, about the size of a computer keyboard, helps keep the girl on track and on time during her daily routine, Sonnier said.

A similar project is being planned for developmentally delayed students entering preschool and kindergarten. The first unit in the state curriculum is “My School”, Sonnier explained. Calcasieu Parish kids typically have a “Welcome to School” walk-through with their new teachers in their new building. Sonnier is hoping to work with teachers in advance of their lesson to use PhotoPlus to edit, crop and brighten photos of the students’ environment, the bus stop or lunch room, for example, and perhaps add the photos to a story board created in DrawPlus.

Teachers and administrators have been getting imaginative with Serif’s software as well, Sonnier said. Some used DrawPlus to make a logo for the district’s special education technology department, while others used it to make a collage of pictures of students as thank you gift for a local business that donated technology supplies to the schools.

“All of our students – special needs and typical student alike – are very familiar with using technology in the classroom, said Sonnier. “Since Serif programs have a shorter learning curve than other design programs, students catch on much faster and can work independently even sooner. This builds the students’ self-assurance and it gives teachers the time to devote more individualized instruction to those who need it.”