A Toronto teacher who works with special needs students says Apple's iPad has become an important tool in helping her students communicate and learn.

Stacie Carroll, a teacher at Toronto’s Beverly Public School, told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway the iPad has helped teachers connect with students — including those with autism — who often struggle to communicate.  

"There is a level of engagement that the students have with these devices that we hadn’t seen with other teaching tools before," she told Galloway in an interview that aired Tuesday morning.

The school for students with developmental disabilities, was featured in a Sunday report on the CBS news program 60 Minutes. The report focused on the legacy of former Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died on Oct. 5.

The story explored how some autistic students who struggle to communicate become engaged when exposed to the iPad, Apple’s popular touch-screen tablet computer.

During her interview on Metro Morning, Carroll gave Galloway an example of how an iPad helps her connect with students.

She told the story of one student who wanted to use a swing in the playground, but couldn’t understand they had to wait until another student was finished.    

"With the iPad and an app called First/Then, I quickly was able to take a picture of the swing, take a picture of the playground and instantly the app put it into a First/Then format, so the student knew within seconds: first play, then swing.

"That’s something I couldn’t do without this device," said Carroll. "Within seconds you can create a meaningful ‘right now’ communication board for students. There is a level of engagement that the children have with these devices that we hadn’t seen with other teaching tools before."

Students drawn to the iPad

Carroll said students are drawn to the iPad almost immediately.

"All of a sudden students who may or may not choose to play together gather around the device and they’re all interested, reaching out and touching it together. As a communication tool, they’re engaged, looking, watching and paying attention.

"It’s not going to engage every student in the same way but we have found most of our students have responded favourably to the devices."

When asked why some students gravitated to the iPad above other devices, Carroll said educators aren’t entirely certain.

"We feel that it might have something to do with the variety of apps available, it’s a multi-use device. It could have to do with the vibrancy of the colours and the ease with which they can manipulate the images on screen."

"When people first started bringing in their personal iPod touch devices, the reaction that the students had was so exciting that quickly our administration supported us in buying some for the school to use with multiple students.

"To see the kids excited focused engaged and learning and making noticeable gains in their communication and social skills development is really exciting."