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Help students take control of their own behavior in class with new iPad app

KidConnect helps kids recognize and manage their emotions in real time

Introduce the app to students in advance so they’ll be ready to use it in class when they’re feeling anxious, frustrated, or overwhelmed

When students struggle to control their behavior, they not only miss out on opportunities to learn themselves, they also disrupt the learning of the rest of the class.

What if—instead of stopping instruction in its tracks when a student acts out—you could just hand him an iPad, point to where he needs to get started, and continue on with your lesson?

This is what school psychologist Lori Jackson and special educator Steve Peck had in mind when they developed the KidConnect app. They wanted to create a way for students to recognize their behaviors, understand what was leading them to act the way they were, and choose a more appropriate response so that both they and the rest of the class could get back on track.

With KidConnect, students can stay in the classroom where they can keep participating and learning!

Here’s how it works

Make an introduction

First meet individually with students to introduce them to KidConnect. Explain that they will be able to use the app during class if they feel anxious, frustrated, or overwhelmed, and that it will help them find better strategies to use when they experience those emotions.

Take a quick tour

Have them give it a try

Walk them through the application

  1. KidConnect first asks the student why the teacher has instructed her to use the app
  2. The student indicates what behavior she thinks she was displaying and in what class she behaved that way
  3. Next the student is asked to describe, in her own words, what she was supposed to be doing and what she was doing instead
  4. She is asked to choose from a range of emotions, to pinpoint what she was feeling when the behavior occurred
  5. The final step is for the student to choose a better alternative for the next time she feels that way; for example, get a drink of water, squeeze a fidget toy, or take a short break.

KidConnect provides a summary of the student’s answers in a simple-to-read paragraph to help solidify her understanding. Customized rewards are available if deemed appropriate, and the app captures and organizes the data so the student’s activity can be measured and shared as needed.

In-class use

Once students are familiar with KidConnect, you can provide them with an iPad during or immediately after an incident. One of the best things about KidConnect is that it can be used in real time so students truly understand and retain the connection between their behavior and emotions.

How KidConnect came to be

The app was born out of necessity,” says co-developer Lori Jackson. Seven years ago, she and Steve Peck were colleagues at a Boston-area school where they were charged with supporting students with the most challenging behavior in the building. Many were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, others had physical and cognitive disabilities, and some carried no diagnoses but just couldn’t manage their emotions.

“Their behaviors were off the charts,” recalls Jackson. “One child laid on a table for an entire week. There was a kid who put his head through a window. We were told if we didn’t figure out a way to handle these kids they would have to be moved from our district to other placements,” Jackson recalls. “We had to find a way to help them.”

Searching for answers

So Jackson and Peck set out to find answers. “We did a huge amount of research into the disabilities,” says Jackson. “Were there commonalities between them?  Were there areas of the brain with deficits in common? Was there something everyone was missing?”

As they worked with the students, Jackson and Peck found that existing programs and therapies that worked in offices and therapy rooms didn’t work in real time. “The kids never generalized any of the support,” says Jackson.

They also observed significant gaps in students’ academic and functional skills. Simply put, the students had never learned how to behave in a classroom. Without functional skills, they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the therapies they were receiving and would not succeed academically.

Flooded with emotion

“When these students were asked to do something in class that they didn’t want to do, they were flooded with emotion,” says Jackson. “But they couldn’t name the emotion and they couldn’t regulate it. The only thing they knew how to do was to misbehave. Then they got themselves removed from class, which just reinforced the bad behavior and didn’t help them. They fell terribly behind and felt very unhappy.”

Piloting KidConnect

Dr. Tom Keane is piloting KidConnect in a program in Massachusetts for students with special needs, 14–22. Dr. Keane is a firm believer in the use of technologies like KidConnect. “If we can use technology to level the playing field by keeping these students in class where they can access the curriculum, be as functional as possible when they graduate, that’s the name of the game.”
Jackson and Peck believed if they could teach emotional regulation to students with behavioral challenges in their own classrooms, they could turn things around for the students, their teachers, and families.

Evidence-based, kid-friendly

Using concepts from cognitive behavioral theory, Jackson and Peck created their own classroom tools and began to see results. Their next task was finding a means to teach emotional regulation in the most kid-friendly way possible–by developing an app.

After months of tinkering, the pair came up with the prototype for KidConnect. “[Before KidConnect] we had students who were taken out of the classroom 80% of the time,” says Jackson. “After 3 or 4 months using KidConnect, they were back in class 60–70% of the time.”

“There is no way to support these kids academically without managing their emotions,” says Jackson. But with KidConnect, they learn to regulate what they’re feeling and choose more appropriate behaviors, creating a more positive learning environment for everybody.

Where to find KidConnect

KidConnect is available from the Apple app store. Schools or teachers can purchase the app for 1 student at $11.99, three students for $17.99, and six students for $29.99.

Originally published: February 2016