Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Free Blogs for Students and Teachers

Edublogs offers cost free, ad free blogs for teachers and students. The learner blogs are hosted at learnerblogs, uniblogs or eslblogs. Each Edublog includes a free wiki space and free assessment software. The blogs use the open source Wordpress platform. There are endless possibilities for using these blogs and wiki spaces limited only by your imagination.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Free Online Videos for Education

I believe my students have the right to be exposed to the same curriculum as others their age, maybe not at the same level of complexity but the same topics. Therefore, I frequently teach using video clips. Video gives my students access to complex ideas and concepts. My year long history curriculum is "a decade a month", so I have shown clips of silent films from the twenties, 1930s cartoons, the Hindenberg Disaster, Apollo landing on the moon and peace protests in the seventies. I usually bring my 17" laptop right up to my horseshoe table to do this.

Last week, however, I discovered my primary source for video clips, You Tube, was blocked by the school firewall (as "tasteless"). Google Video is still working, but it is probably only a matter of time until that is blocked as well.

Therefore, to prepare myself and help out my fellow teachers I thought I'd better line up our video options.

The first option is to download the video clips, then you can play them when ever, where ever. You can put them on a flash drive and pop them in any computer. This can be done easily on Google Video by choosing "download" for mac/windows or even for iPod (and then show it in iTunes). For You Tube on Firefox you can install the VideoDownloader extension, on Opera you can install the VideoDownloader widget. If you use Internet Explorer, or something else, or if You Tube has changed their preferences recently you will need to use the VideoDownloader Website.

If you don't want to download videos or if you just want some new places to explore for educational videos, then here are some sites to try:

Enjoy your video teaching!

P.S. A free video player you may want to explore (an alternative to Real Player, Windows Media Player, etc.), which plays all types of videos and is high definition is the Democracy Player.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How is it? Abuse Prevention Picture Symbols

Seeing a need and filling it is how most of special education works and this web resource is no different. How Is It is a website that offers 383 picture symbols that can be used to teach learners with disabilities about abuse prevention and to aid child protection services in working with children suspected of being abused. Disabled children are much more likely than their typical peers to be abused. It is our job as their teachers to do what we can to prevent this tragedy from happening. How Is It is a resource we can use to help us. This is what the their website says:

"How it is
is an image vocabulary that has been developed to help children communicate about a range of important issues. It has been developed by Triangle and funded and supported by the NSPCC. The project was led by Ruth Marchant and Merry Cross of Triangle.

More than 100 children and young people contributed by drawing or commenting on images. The project was also supported by a multi-disciplinary group of professionals and parents.

How it is has been designed to be used as a flexible, child-centred resource."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Free Simple Single Switch CD Player

For those of us with students not yet ready to scan using a switch, with goals and objectives focusing more on cause and effect, there is a free single switch CD Player that can be downloaded. Simon's CD Player simply starts and stops a CD player on your computer. No whistles or bells, just simple cause and effect training with music.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Website of the Day and Amazing Free Software - Don't miss this!

If you take now other advice I give on this blog let it be to check out and download the (free) software at This software is definately not just for Deafblind students, I can't think of any classroom for students with moderate to severe disabilities that would not have a use for it. The six pieces of software may save your school or agency thousands of dollars without really sacrificing quality.

I have only managed to play with five of the six of the programs since I discovered them three hours ago, but I am amazed. They are well done, versatile and easy to install and use.

First there is Sense Factory, a simple cause and effect program for one or two switches or the touchscreen. It rivals any simple cause and effect software out there, free or high priced. It also allows you to design your own switch programs akin to Switch It Maker, only about $125 (USD) cheaper. You can download a number of activities as well.

Then there is Everyday Skills, with is another simple cause and effect OR can be used as a quiz style program with switches or touchscreen. Students can watch and hear the sequences of ADLs or anything else you create and answer questions.

Next there is EdWord. This is the clincher. It is a talking word processor, along the lines of Write:Outloud or any other talking word processor, but with a much simpler interface. The uncluttered, clear design is fantastic. Plus you can set the level of options for each user. (The only thing I don't like is it will speak characters or words, but not sentences or paragraphs, but considering the price difference $99 (USD) versus nothing, I think it is worth it.) When you leave the EdWord program, but it is still open the software will act as Microsfot Narrator, reading all sorts of text boxes to you!

But here is where EdWord blows Write:Outloud and similar programs away, it can also be used as a symbol and text or symbol only processor, like Writing with Symbols or Clicker. You can type in text and have symbols appear overhead or you can create grid and make interactive writing activities. And did I mention that it is FREE!

One of the catches is that there are no included symbols. Not to fear that is where Symbol Maker comes in. With a few mouse clicks Symbol Maker transforms those symbol libraries, photograph collections, etc. into the symbols that are integrated into EdWord. Checkout any free symbol set if you don't already have a set of symbols you can convert. (For free symbol sets try: Sclera's Pictograms or Imagine Symbols.)

Be sure to download and make a quick read of the manuals for Symbol Maker and EdWord, because although simple, you do need to follow the directions to get it all working. Using Grid Maker is how you create the Clicker-esque interactive activities, I can't wait to try this feature out more.

Finally I have not tried EdWeb yet. It is a talking web browser which will not only speak web sites, but convert them into symbols.

This is the most amazing free web resource I have found to date for the special needs classroom. I can't even begin to say how impressed I am.

Kudos to, UMIST and Sense!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Free Online Audio Books for Children

Here is a compilation of links from free online audio books:

Also check your local libraries website, many have free audiobooks rentals that expire and delete themselves after a period of time and/or memberships to sites like Tumblebooks.

Not free but great: (Comment - although I enjoy iTunes for my music I don't use them anymore for audiobooks. The reason for this is has better prices, especially with membership, and if I somehow delete an Audible book I can re-download it, iTunes does not allow that.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Tuned In To Learning"

"Tuned into Learning" a series of music CDs includes "Skill Building for Students with Multiple Disabilities". Ten songs, including some written to be used with a Big Mack Switch are presented for use in classrooms for learners with severe disabilities. This CD, the others in the Tuned into Learning series and more music for special needs students are available from Songs For Teaching.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Website of the Day - Switch in Time Free Activities

Switch in Time, an adaptive software company, has a number of free switch programs on its website. All twelve programs it offers are for Macintosh only and include Bingo Games, a Morning Meeting Program and other activities for the special needs or inclusion classroom.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Genie Books in Power Point

A bit too tired to post tonight, but link of the day is Genie Books in Power Point. These are downloads of decodeable stories for early readers. Remember, in general Power Point is switch accessible.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Teaching Idea - Household Sounds Activity

On Friday I did a fun activity with my class about household sounds. It was a Powerpoint presentation using (free) Pictograph Symbols and (free) download sound files.

Each sound was taught in a pair of slides. The first slide was a question mark symbol that played the sound. The students would then guess the sound. Then next slide was a picture symbol for the sound with the sound being replayed. I set the background of each slide to black, since the symbols I used were high contrast white on black and tried to chose the sounds with the least ambiguity. The students really enjoyed this activity. Those with hearing impairment had some needed practice and those with visual impairment were able to see the symbols and get the explanation for sounds that they here. Powerpoint slide shows can be run with a touch screen or single switch placed on "mouse click".

I have placed the file on "putstuff" so that anyone who wants to can download it. Go to Noises in My House. It will only be there for 30 days, after that comment and I will send you the file.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Free Professional Development Opportunities

In my state we have to acquire a large number of professional development points every five years. Although school districts do offer some free training, much of the time it is not appropriate for special educators. I have located a free, online professional development courses appropriate for teachers of learner with special needs.

As part of the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative stemming from the No Child Left Behind Act a free series of online courses are available called eLearning Workshops. Originally presented as face-to-face workshops through the program, the sessions were taped, divided into segments and interspersed with learning activities. Each course is about two hours long, including the activities. Forty-nine states accept these online courses to meet professional development requirements. A number of the courses are appropriate for special needs teachers. Upon enrolling in the program you create a ePortfolio that tracks all the courses you take.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Website of the Day - Building Blox for Autism

Although primarily a website to promote their products and services, Building Blox offers a great set of task ideas. The task ideas are shown through photographs and the concept behind each is clear (be sure to look at more task ideas as well). Most of the activities featured look like they could be made in an afternoon or evening.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

AAC in Asia

Perhaps it is because I am an absolute geek, but I love looking at what other countries have to offer as far as special education is concerned. I particularly like exploring what other countries have to offer as far as AAC.

Using Google Translate I was able to explore most of a Korean Augcomm website that creates online communication boards to print out. Click on the pink box with the Korean characters on the left to go to a menu page, then use the drop down menus to choose boards to look at.

Unfortunately I was unable to find a way to translate one Thai AAC product page.

Again using Google Translate here is a special needs school in Japan to explore. From there we can find the website of Hearty Ladder a Japanese piece of scanning AAC software and Pad de Mouse, software that lets a joystick or gamepad replace a mouse. ATAC Kyoto was an AT and AAC conference held in Japan that is a fun site to visit. I also found a collection of picture symbols and photographic images along with instructions for the creation of a communication book and a picture symbol carrier for swimming. These Japanese picture symbols may appeal to students who really like Manga or Anime, while these might be nice for fans of Caillou.

Can you imagine how great it would be to be part of an international team of special educators exchanging ideas and information? At least the internet can bring us close to that.

End note: Some of Google's translations are quite amusing. Physical disabilities becomes "arms and legs inconvenience" and assistive technology becomes "welfare technology".

Virtual Fieldtrips and Tours

Although this isn't the post I had in mind for today, I stumbled upon the first site and thought I would share.

The Teacher's Guide Virtual Field Trip site has a listing of 70 plus online museums and tours you can access form your classroom. Unfortunately some of the links on the site are obsolete (but you can always Google the listing and find out where the virtual tour is now located).

Other listings of virtual tours and museums are available from e-Fieldtrips, Thinkport, Internet4Classrooms, and Oops (who give the great suggestion of creating a virtual trip planner and then sending virtual postcards). Not geared towards teachers or kids is Virtual Freesites, which has 300 links, but require you deal with pop-ups and ads.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Teaching Dressing Skills

If you have ever written a task analysis of putting on a blouse or tying shoes you know how difficult a skill dressing can be. Dressing is particularly difficult for student with fine or gross motor issues, visual impairment and/or cognitive challenges (particularly if they relate to sequencing, short term memory or problem solving).

Fortunately there are some free resources out there to teach dressing skills. CanChild at McMaster University in Canada has a free PDF download of a booklet to aid in teaching dressing using backwards chaining. has a text based social story about dressing. University of Michigan offers tips for parents you can print and hand out.

Disabled Children's Village has a guide to teach dressing primarily for those working in third world countries, but interesting information for all. Texas schools has a four page guide book for teaching dressing to those who are deafblind. The Scottish government has put out a chart that lists seven stages of dressing, the skills needed to learn the next stage and suggested ways to teach those skills.

Higher functioning students may need to learn more about dressing for the weather and dressing appropriately for different situations. Integrating Minnesota has a lesson plan for dressing for the weather as does Exploring the Enviroment and Loundon Schools. Integrating Minnesota has another lesson plan for selecting outfits.

Dressing for the Weather is an online or free download game featuring Lecky the Alien and comes with a worksheet and lesson plan to match. BBC Wales also has a dress for the weather online game with the character Bobinogs from their children's television series.

Many of our students will need dressing aids such as those shown here at Rehabmart.

Pre-school and primary aged children may benefit from using teaching tools such as button boards, dress up doll and other toys designed to teach dressing. On PBS Kids children can dress Caillou for the Weather.

Older students can benefit from more age appropriate activities that teach dressing, including naturally occurring opportunities and activities like dressing a scarecrow for the fall festival or dressing a mannequin for a pre-vocational activity. You can pick up piles of old clothes with all sorts of fasteners at Goodwill, The Salvation Army and other thrift shops. These clothes can then be used to teach dressing in a more age appropriate way.

Montessori dressing frames
are another option to teach some dressing skills in a discrete trial or direct instruction manner. (Note: dressing frame prices can range from ten to fifty dollars each.) On-line Montessori Albums has a task analysis, lesson plan and alternative activities for each kind of dressing frame and Montessori World as a more simplified version with photos.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Resources for Cooking in the Special Needs Classroom

Sorry about taking yesterday off. My goal was to post M-F, but we may all need to settle for posts on five out of seven days a week instead.

Most special needs classrooms find cooking to be a fun activity that teaches sensory integration, math, science, social skills, reading and communication. There are many easy-to-find resources online for cooking with children, but harder to find are resources for cooking in the classroom for learners with special needs.

One resource is actually a compilation of links from the page of another teacher of learners with special needs. While I encourage you all to check out all of the information on this site the links on Cooking in the Classroom are particularly excellent as well as the seven downloads of picture recipes.

Other sites with picture or photograph recipes include: Visual Recipes, Healthy Recipes, Nellie Edge and Great Recipes for Kids (scroll down).

Another website to check out is Savory Palette, with their free download of a cookbook for those with visual impairments.

E-parent has an interesting and unique article on using a bread maker with students who have disabilities that is well worth a read and may find you hitting up Craigslist or Freecycle for a bread maker.

The University of Illinois has a free online program to make and print any picture recipe you want called Custom Picture Recipes. You will need to play around a bit, but the site is very cool and extremely useful.

If you need photographic images of foods to use in making your own recipes I strongly recommend StockFood.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Device of the Day - Tango!

Having gathered quite a bit of attention on non-sped technology blogs, such as Engadget and Sci-Fi Tech, I thought it might be time for me to mention Tango! from Blink Twice.

The Tango is a handheld, dynamic display device with unique picture symbols (although you can import anything you want) and a built in camera for taking new photos to use as symbols. The symbols are arranged into talk topics for easy access (although you can program anything you want).

The Tango has spelling/typing options with word prediction and can be used as an adapted keyboard for documents, e-mails and more.

It runs on Windows CE, has about 8 hours battery life, built in scanning and switch ports. It only weights 2.5 pounds and has dimensions of 12.5" x 4.4" x 1.8. It is water resistant and has a tough wear resistant design. It also looks cool and was designed by some of the same people who made the X-box.

It costs about $7000.00 (gasp) and is distributed by Ablenet. The price would be its most obvious downfall. Others I can foresee without trying it out are non-standard symbols and a limited symbol set, not-yet-distributed desktop editing system and a maximum of six buttons per page,

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Websites of the Day - Primary Resources and Teaching Ideas

Today I have for you two U.K. sites for primary level teachers, however much of the material is applicable or adaptable for use in the intensive special needs classroom.

The first site Primary Resources and the second is Teaching Ideas.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Turn a personal DVD player into an AAC device

From Frame Technologies (the folks who make one of my favorite medium tech, inexpensive VOCAs the Talk Pad) I share with you today instruction to make a $99.00 DVD player into a high tech communication device. This project seems a tad beyond my abilities, but I bet there are some techies out there who would love to give it a try.

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