Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Unique Dreams

I couple of months ago I shared my thoughts about using the Unique Summer Curriculum with my middle school moderate special needs class. Now that my intensive special needs high school class is finishing up our first full unit in the Unique Learning System here are some of my thoughts and wishes. (For the record, although we are a high school class we are using the middle school level of Unique.)

  • print, copy, laminate and go materials
  • pretty looking products
  • knowing other teachers across the state and country who are using the same curriculum
  • being able to access materials from any computer
  • less time spent on theme unit design (but just as much time spent on lesson planning and more time on adaptation)
  • the possibility of data collection
  • the connection to our state standards
  • key symbols available in a format that can be imported into Boardmaker or another photo editing program, especially since students with visual impairments may need larger symbols to access the program (my class needs 3x3" symbols at the smallest)
  • when the lesson plan for the "access" or most intensive level of special needs calls for pressing a switch it would be nice to have the symbol to place on the switch available to print out in the common sizes/shapes of commons switches (2.5" and 4" round)
  • recipes that keep in mind students who may have common allergies (nuts, soy) or have swallowing concerns (no raisins, popcorn, or similar choke hazards in the recipes or at the very least one low choke hazard recipe a month (I didn't use any of the recipes this month!)
  • a little more attention to the flow of the simplest level of story/chapter readings because some of the chapters made absolutely no sense in the simple format (I had to re-adapt on the fly or read both levels)
  • more advanced knowledge to teachers on what is coming up in units, I planned this months unit about citizenship because that is what the Unique Materials told me was coming, however any middle school teacher who used this unit can tell you in reality the unit ended up being about Abraham Lincoln, I would have planned differently had I known; also I would like to decide what my one field trip this year is and tie it to a unit, but I am hesitant since I am not sure what Unique really means by the titles it has put on the units (not that we didn't love learning about Abe Lincoln, because we had a great time)
  • more very simple science experiments (one is not enough)
  • some very simple art projects
  • life skills activities that fall into domestic, community and social and leisure categorizes of learning, these should be kept concrete and simple
  • more very simple math problems (sequencing, patterns, basic money, very basic time telling, etc) (We ended up making some very cool books about Penny Patterns using picture symbols of heads and tails of pennies for math.)
  • science, math, art, life skills nicely integrated into the unit, not all lumped at the end so I need to revise the order I present the lessons.
  • pre-made materials on Classroom Suite, Choose It Maker or similar for those who really need to use assistive technology to access the curriculum
  • multiple levels of all lessons with all adaptation included (i.e. the "Ron's Rules" was not accessible for my learners because it requires students be able to point to small symbols for the answers, so I had to create larger symbols to use on eye gaze boards and rocking plate switches, yet in other lessons these larger symbols were created for me)
  • suggestions for material adaptations for low vision
  • more integration of AT overall
  • overlays for common mid-tech AAC devices (Go Talks, Cheap Talks, AMDi devices)
  • essentially I would love a "severe" or "complex" special needs strand within each grade level that addresses students who are accessing the general curriculum while working on cause and effect, simple choice making and basic life skills while keeping in mind the significant medical and physical challenges these students face


  1. i think they don't include the symbols in an easy format because they want you to buy symbol stix, but what I have done for my kiddos using the K-2 strand is use the snapshot tool in Adobe Reader to copy specific symbols into a word document or Boardmaker. My biggest issue has been adapting for my visually impaired student and finding objects for her books. In the October unit the leveled reader "in the woods" was/is quite a challenge, i mean where do you find a miniature squirrel and owl? I can't believe my SLP found chipmunks without buying the $25 snow white disney barbie!

  2. Thank you for this review. As a homeschooling parent, I was wondering how much adaptation would have to be done if I bought this for our son. For the cost, for one user, I would not want to have to do any.

  3. Thanks for the tip about the snapshots to import images. I could use Jing (the free screen shot program I use for the blog). That is a super idea. Still for the price of Unique they should include the *&^*ing symbols! They charge an arm and a leg it is the least they could do.

  4. Oh dear. We just got approval today to get the Unique materials, and now I see that the things you don't like about it is about three times longer than the things you do like about it. Overall, do you feel it is worth the money you spend for it?

  5. Hi All, A few thoughts about Unique: I agree having use of the symbols is very desirable. I heard that if you own SymbolMate the symbols will update to match Unique soon. I've been using SymbolMate and it's really a good tool for making paper based activities- plus I love Symbolstix.

    Re: the cost, I think compared to any other curriculum, it is very inexpensive- in particular given the number of activities included.

    Re: additional AT materials- we are making Classroom Suite activities and some other higher tech options to go with the curriculum which we are starting to share on our website, Wouldn't it be nice if we had some sort of share program? We could consider sharing on the the Intellitools Activity share ( I usually label my shared activities with "UL" so that they are easily found on the Activity Share.

    All in all, News-2-You is an amazing family owned company who I KNOW would want to hear your feedback as they keep improving an already pretty impressive product. They've been amazing in their support to us and their interest in our feedback.



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