Using the iPad in making movies

This story tells a great story how using tablets can really make a change in learning and motivates students so that the sky is the limit!

TeacherCormac Cahill



School levelPrimary school


I have been working in an Autism Unit for the past 3 years. Over that time I have taught and helped the children to create different type of video stories (movies) on an iPad and assisted them in publishing these stories. Last year the children created an animated movie using Minecraft on an iPad. This movie went on to win the overall Aileen McKeogh Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film Making at the Fís Film Festival, an All Ireland film festival for Irish Primary Schools. This was an incredible achievement for the children and they have been featured in the National Press a number of times since as a result of their film making exploits. They returned again this year with a stop motion movie lego animation which won the award for Best Special Effects. This pedagogical idea came from the difficulties the children were having in writing stories and sharing their extraordinary imaginations. The traditional methods were difficult for them and rather than continue with this I felt it was time for them to try something new. I had already had success with a previous class with the iPad and felt that the same success would be possible for these children. The children I work with are very visual learners and the use of video is something I had used to great effect in previous years. I did my Masters Thesis on the use of child created video to aid in the learning and speaking of the Irish language. I have also used video as an aid for assisting children with English as an additional language. It seemed only natural to me to utilise this with children who had difficulties with traditional methods. However some of the ideas we have used in class have not come from me but from the children themselves. I will often introduce an app to the children but let them decide how and where they will use it. I think this is another aspect that is essential. It is the children who should be leading this learning. I believe that the iPad is at it’s most beneficial when it is utilised to create. Over the past 3 years the children skills in creating content using the iPad has improved consistently. They now video, edit and publish events happening throughout the school. This year I was tasked with creating a guide to the school. This guide will be made available to parents thinking of sending their children to the school. The guide will include videos on the history of the school as well as interviews with both teachers and children involved in a variety of different activities within the school. I have now delegated this job to the children in the class such are their skills in creating content using the iPad. As part of this the children will also be utilising iBooks Author on an Apple Mac but the bulk of the work will still be done using an iPad. This will build on the skills they have acquired in creating videos and also encourage them to develop new ones. I would also like to introduce the children to coding using the iPad this year and to this end have recently purchased a Sphero and Parrot Rolling Spider Drone. The children have only just been introduced to the concept of coding but I see great potential in utilising the iPad to teach the children the basics. I would also like the children to create a documentary of themselves showcasing what they have achieved over the past few years. My hope is that in doing so they will see the extraordinary results they have achieved over the past few years further aiding their self confidence.


I began the process of introducing the iPad slowly as the children had been primarily using iPads at home for entertainment purposes. I always had using film as a goal but I did not want to introduce this immediately. I felt that by acquiring other skills first they would be better able to deal with the skills required for film making. The children success with Puppet Pals in particular led me to introduce iMovie later that second year. The children took to it quickly and we began to use it to record social visits to local shops, cafes, supermarkets, etc. The children took turns in filming and editing these using the trailer feature of iMovie. This gave them the confidence to move away from trailers and begin creating longer movies. Minecraft was also introduced to help the children collaborate together on projects and they soon began finding uses for it in almost all subject areas. I am a huge fan of Minecraft and believe that the creation aspect of this simple app gives the children the freedom to create anything they can imagine. They have, over the past 2 years built models of the 7 Ancient and New Wonders of the World and used these to learn about the wonders. They have also used this in learning about Pompeii, Troy and a host of other areas. In the beginning we were restricted by having just two devices to be shared amongst 6 children. The children at the time were also going through a period where they had been having little success in school and this had been leading to a lot of behaviour issues. The children were used to being given the iPad as a means to help them calm down when they were having a difficult day. I decided to do the opposite and only gave the iPad when the children were ready to use them for work. Initially this meant that we sometimes had tough days when the iPad was not provided but I believe that in the long term it has meant that the children now see the device for its creation potential. Now when one of the children is feeling like they may be having a difficult day they will return the device to me until they are ready to work again. In terms of working with children with ASD this for me has been something I have been especially proud of. They no longer see the device as a toy but as a powerful tool for learning. For me the most beneficial aspect of using iPads has been the freedom it has given the children to share their imaginations. The traditional methods meant that stories took too long to complete and the result was often something that could not be shared with others. The children all have varying abilities but their work on film making has allowed each one of them to work to their best ability. For some the technical aspects of recording and editing has seen them excel. For others the process of writing scripts and storyboarding ideas has put them to the fore. Each child finds the area they like best and the iPad has meant a lot more collaboration amongst children who before its introduction had done much of their work on their own. This working together has meant that it has helped them to develop their social skills. Some of them attend mainstream classes and when projects are involved here the children have been able to showcase their talents for other children who may not have otherwise seen the extraordinary work they have been doing. Everything from the camera through to the Speech to Text function of the iPad has been used by the children at some point. We had an inspector in the class recently and he asked me to help him translate what the children were talking about. He had never heard some of the terms the children used when discussing their work. He told me he was incredibly impressed in how they had been using technology in the classroom and seemed amazed that children with Special Educational Needs were so adept. Seeing these children excel has meant that they also mentor other children in the school on the uses of the iPad. This year we were assigned two new Special Needs Assistants who had never used technology in the classroom. I assigned the children to each of them to explain how we use the iPads and the terminology we used. The SNA’s still find it difficult to keep up with the children but the children love explaining all the things they use them for. These are links to some examples of the children’s work using video and iBooks. You can also find these books by searching for Cormac Cahill on iTunes. Videos: This is a link to the children’s Award Winning Movie “Power Out.” This is a link to the children’s entry to the 2015 Fís Film Festival. This movie won the award forBest Special Effects at this years awards. Last year two of the children in the class spoke in front of the school as we attempted to gain a Digital School of Distinction Award. They spoke about the work they were doing in class. This video is password protected. The password is “multiclass”


The iPads were used because they have been the easily the most accessible of all technology tools I have used in the classroom. They are portable so we can take them with us wherever we go. The long battery life also meant that the children were able to work in areas of the classroom that they feel most comfortable in. For some this is a quiet corner and for others it is on the floor. The iPad allows them to choose. Some of the accessibility features have also allowed us to keep the children on task. This was especially important in the beginning but has time has gone on the children do not seem to require many of these. But above all it has been the way the iPad has allowed them to share their work that they have been most beneficial. This and the ability to add features to their work that would not have been possible otherwise. Being able to add narrations or animations to stories has added elements to their stories that give them the wow factor. This has led to increased confidence in writing. One child in particular had really struggled to write independently. Her first story on the iPad was done using the Speech to Text function and was littered with mistakes. Her second effort required very little assistance form me or the SNA’s. She is now writing independently and has discovered a talent that may have not been seen using traditional pen and paper methods. The iPad has also allowed the children to work to their strengths with each excelling in different aspects of storytelling. It has also led to a classroom environment where the children are less distressed and we have had fewer behavioural issues. We are often referred to as the quietest class in the school. In the mornings before I begin work with the children many of them take an iPad and begin working together before school actually starts. The children have learned that the iPad is a tool for creation and is not a toy. As I mentioned earlier the children had been using the iPad primarily to consume. They used the iPad to watch YouTube and play games. While we can still use the iPad for this the children ow concentrate all there efforts on creating resources to use in the classroom. What they have gained is an ability to work together or independently as the task requires. Each of the children has an individual workstation where before the introduction of the iPad the children had spent much of the day. They were cut off from each other. They now spend most of their day working together around a central station. For children who are already feeling cut off from mainstream society this has been extremely beneficial in helping them to make friends outside of the Autism Unit. They have also gained the respect of all of the other children in the school. In the past they were seen as different. They were the children in a Special class who appeared to do little work. They are now the envy of the rest of the school. Their Award winning exploits at the Fís Film Festival has made them superstars around the school and while it may lead to slight Diva like behaviour it has been very welcome to see them embraced by the rest of the school community. The secret to our success has been Patience. I could have simply filled the iPads with apps designed to keep the children busy. Instead I chose the route of teaching the children to use the devices on a different way. It took a while but the effort has been worth it. Now it is the children leading. They will often come to me with an idea and no matter what it is they will be left try. The class motto is that Mistakes are OK. Our favourite question is What if? The children are fearless and even when mistakes are made they will go back and try something else. This ability to see opportunity even in mistakes is something that every child needs to learn but most especially for children for whom life has already placed extra hurdles in front of. We have only recently gone 1-to-1 which in itself has been amazing. But it has also allowed me to show other teachers how great things can be accomplished with limited access to devices. We recently began flipping the classroom as all of the children now have access to an iPad at home. They now joke that they do school work at home and homework at school. The ability to start work on something at home and then continue this in class has been an amazing thing to see. They have become very fond of project work and will often spend weeks on a topic. We recently had a Science Fair at school and all of the children in the class participated in the fair. This meant standing in a hall with a hundred other children and showcasing their experiments to both children and parents. Naturally all of their experiments included the use of the iPad with all of the children creating videos to better explain what they had been trying to accomplish.


I have stated above that the children now primarily work as a group. Prior to the introduction of the iPad the children had spent much of the day working in their workstations cut off from the rest of the class. They found it difficult to engage in mainstream classes as a result. Now 5 of the 7 children attend Mainstream classes for part or most of the day. They have been able to engage in group work outside of the Autism Unit and been able to excel in this environment. The children in mainstream often look to include the children more as they know they will bring skills with the iPad that they do not have. If they are having difficulty they are still able to use some of the accessibility features of the iPad to help them. They have learnt how to access these themselves meaning that they do not have to ask for help as often. I have to admit that it has meant less of them spending the day with me. From a selfish point of view this has been difficult. I would love to be able to spend the entire day with this amazing group of children but it has been incredible to watch them fit in with their mainstream peers more and more. Two of them will be leaving me this year for Secondary Schools. They will be attending schools where they will be going 1-to-1 with iPads and I hope that the knowledge they have acquired over the past few years will make their transition easier. This was not the goal set out at the beginning but it should help them to fit in more easily and be able to participate in more secondary school activities.

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