Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kate's Class Video of the Day Blog

Starting last week I have been posting a video of the day (VOD) that my class watches at the end of morning meeting in a new blog, Kate's Class Video of the Day. The blog does embed YouTube videos, among others, so it may not work in your setting.

It will feature seasonal/holiday videos as appropriate, rounded out with "Music Every One Should Know" and music that can be tied to either my class's curriculum or to current events or news in our room. Feel free to suggest video ideas.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Adam Lambert is My Personal American Idol

Apparently I live under a rock, because I didn't know who Adam Lambert was, which is because I do not have a television. Yes, you read that correctly. I do follow a few TV programs via Hulu, but I don't have a TV. This means many conversations go like this, "Hey, Kate did you see... oh yeah... forget it." (And now you know how I have time to write this blog!)

Imagine my surprise to discover that I was getting quite a few donations from Adam Lambert Supports Education to my Donors Choose projects. Actually one fan club in particular, ONTD_AL, had chosen one project, "Avoid the Void" to ask Adam's fans to donate to. (ONTD stands for Oh, No They Didn't - ask someone who follows American Idol to explain... I now understand, but I cannot do the story justice the way some one who followed the show live can.)

Thus far ONTD_AL has lead to 9 donations to our classroom project, which is enough for me to make Adam Lambert and his fans my idols. We celebrated Adam by making him our video of the day (VOD) star on the say we discovered we were on the ONTD_AL short list. How cool is that?

News-2-You Introduces SymbolStix Online


The folks who bring us News-2-You and Unique Learning Systems are now offering their symbols subscription style online for $99 (the price will rise to $129 eventually). SymbolStix are the Symbols used in the News-2-You papers, Unique Learning System, the Proloquo2Go iPhone/iPod Touch AAC App, the Tobii AAC products (the C Series), AMDi Overlay Designer Pro, Jabbla AAC devices, PCI Printed Books and also is among the symbols offered on Pogo Boards. More and more our students are becoming familiar with SymbolStix.

SymbolStix Online will allow subscribers to use a simple search to find and then download symbols in any of their choice of a variety of formats for import into other communication or board designing programs (Boardmaker, PhotoSYMS) or a regular office program.

The SymbolStix collection has 12,000 symbols and grows as News-2-You papers and Unique Learning System Units are produced. Currently SymbolStix are in six languages. If there isn't a symbol you need it can be requested online.

As a user of Unique Learning System, News-2-You and Proloquo2Go I am excited to get to stop taking screenshots of SymbolStix on PDFs and then cut them and paste them into Boardmaker to enlarge them for my students with low vision. This should substantially lower my work load.

I do wish there was a week long free trial to allow us to try before we buy, especially since we can get SymbolStix at PogoBoards if we wish.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spin Art Part Two

About a week ago I posted about the Lite Brite FX Spin Art machine I picked up at a thrift store for around $5.00.

I thought folks might like some pictures of it in action making some Halloween themed spin art. From left: a student using a head switch (not seen) watches as her choice of green paint is applied, student uses the regular spin art machine button to make the art spin (in a technique I like to call "armpit switch" since it is easier to "armpit switch" than it is to take out the battery interrupter), a staff explains to a student through how to apply the paint before trading jobs and having the staff hit the switch while the student drips the paint. A great time was had by all.

(I wish I had more pictures, but sadly our esteemed photographer was doing double duty in another part of the classroom. Those of you in the field will know what I mean by "stander magic".)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Two Sites to Make Your Own Games

Game Salad and Purpose Games are both sites that allow people to create their own interactive online games. Bring it on!

Please post links to what you make in the comments!

AAC Gloves

Proloquo2Go gloves? Because you still have to communicate in the cold. Etre Touchy.

The things we say...

The things we say, especially those catch phrases we find ourselves saying again and again can be good indicators of the kind of classrooms we run. Are they positive places? Are they encouraging and rewarding? Do we take our students feelings seriously?

Here are some of the phrases we say are find ourselves repeating in our classroom:
  • "I don't want to loose my clips!" This comment is a humorous remark that means, "I need to use the ladies' room!" It is a reference to one student's reward program that allows her to wear pretty hair clips for asking for and using the restroom as needed. I think this remark reflects our attitude towards independence and personal responsibility, positive reinforcement and having a sense of humor.
  • "I feel like you're not listening to me!" This is a remark a student has on his communication device as part of his upset/because/you can help me by board sets. He says it periodically - and so do the rest of us - but only when we are not feeling heard. We don't say this one in jest, only we are mean it. This reflects our seriousness about making sure everyone feels heard and role models how to handle feeling angry and ignored.
  • "I'll give the berift of the doubter" This is a joking paraphrase of something a young relative of a staff member said when trying to say, "I'll give the benefit of the doubt". We often remind each other to extend the "Berift of the doubter". This shows our flexibility, acceptance of others and good humor.
What are some of the things you say in your room?

P.S. I love it when years later classroom catch phrase stick with me. I still can't heard a certain brand of timer beep without wanting to offer a former student, from many years ago his, "minutes" of earned free time for being safe and engaged . The word "sight" will always make me chuckle because of a young lady who thought it started with "sh" and ended with "it" no matter how many times it was on her spelling list. "Oh sight!", was what everyone in the classroom said that year when something went wrong. Before I was a teacher I spent some time as a 1:1 teacher aide and my student and I would sing "Up Up and Away On my Beautiful Balloon" when I turned the handle on the Hoyer Lift. Guess what song I still sing to this day?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Halloween Sensory Center

Cooking Class

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On Friday mornings our class has cooking. Here is how we run our lesson:

1. We gather around a large group table and discuss the recipe of the week and how it ties into the theme. This works on recall of past events.

2. Students are asked what we need to do before we cook and then we all wash our hands. This reviews basic hygiene and following a sequence.

3. Students volunteer to gather materials for the recipe. They volunteer by using their voice, voice out put switch, AAC device or raising their hand. This allows students to work on calling for attention and using a communication switch or device.

4. Each student is given a card (see photo of cards above) for an ingredient or other item we need for the recipe. (Staff know that the half closest to the ingredient table are to stay on the far side of the room after gathering their item until the other half of the table is finished to prevent a traffic jam.) Gathering items allows for meeting goals like ambulation/self-propulsion, matching a picture to an object, reach and grasp, exploring a new object placed on the wheelchair tray or decreasing tactile defensiveness.

5. Once back at the table we follow the recipe. There are two things we always try to include: some kind of switch activated appliance and something we can count like stirring or spreading. we use switches for the blender, food processor, grinder, mixer or battery operated flour sifter. Once we get one we will use them for our new pouring cup. Through the activity students use AAC to volunteer for turns and to comment and ask questions (well sometime, we are working on asking questions).

6. Finally we either wait for our recipe to cook and clean up OR we dig in!

By the way, thanks to my former student teacher SU for the "shopping for ingredients" idea!

Here are other things that can be done with laminated ingredients cards:
  • match card to card for practice
  • play memory
  • play Go Fish
  • play 20 Questions by having a student draw a card and having the other students ask yes/no questions (via AAC if needed) to guess what food it is (is it sweet? do you drink it? is it a snack food? do you have to cook it to eat it?)
  • match card to item in grocery store
  • match card to card to find out where to put an item (label cabinets/shelves/drawers with cards)
  • sort into food groups/place on the food pyramid
  • sort by type of packaging (bag, jar, box)
  • sort into groups by how/where you pack in a grocery bag (freezer bag, on top of the bag, on the bottom of the bag, in a separate bag)
  • sort by first letter (or if your students can do it, alphabetize)
  • using a jig to make sets of ten (one to one correspondence and packaging skills)
Don't forget that cutting out ingredient cards, laminating and cutting out again and hole punching as well as attaching to the split ring for storage (if you decide to store them that way) can all be vocational skills!

Flashback Friday - Tips for Low Tech Eye Gaze Communicators

Flashback Fridays is a new feature that will bring back blog entries that readers found useful, inspiring or that provoked conversation in years past.

This is a re-post from September 2008 by guest blogger Rose Marie. Since this entry was first posted I have had two students who are very good eye gaze communicators and have really learned how to become a better communication partner for them. One of my favorite tips is to use photo mats to make eye gaze boards, I like to make them and laminate them so the symbols are always in the same place and motor automaticity is built. My current student who is an eye gaze communicator can eye gaze to the correct corner of one of the laminated boards in less than a second because the icons on the board and their locations have been memorized. Another tip for students who may hyperfocus on your face instead of the icons or the board is to hold the board in front of the student in then bring your face into the center of the board slowly (it helps to be seated on a rolling stool). Enjoy Rose Marie's re-post!

1) Just because the concept of eye gaze is simple, reading eye gaze is not necessarily easy. We need practice and experience to become competent partners. Not all kids use the same techniques, in part because the end goal for each child may not look the same (see #2).

2) Eye gaze response procedures should keep in mind technologies to be used in the child's future. If a child will be using a dwell-click with head mouse or eye gaze software, for example, then it is important that they learn to hold their gaze to a choice for a specific length of time. Children who will not be advancing to a head mouse or eye gaze may find it beneficial to confirm their choices with eye contact to the communication partner, especially if they are socially motivated.

3) Similarly, if head mouse use is in the child's future, helping them learn to turn their head along with their eyes will support that technology. This can roughly be considered "nose pointing," although the child is merely directing the nose toward the choice, rather than touching it with the nose. If head mousing is not in the child's future or if you plan to go with eye gaze not head mouse, it's fine to hold the head still and cast long sideways glances with the eyes.

4) Motor ability must be considered. The length of dwell to a choice should be reasonable...five seconds (a standard dwell time expectation in too many IEP goals, sad to say) is WAY (WAY!!!) too long for most children, both in terms of head stability and attention span. Try it...five seconds is an ETERNITY and it slows conversation down to a pathetic pace. At our house, .90 seconds is a good dwell time and doesn't interfere with the flow of communication.

5) Positioning yourself as a receiver is very important. You must be able to see the child's eyes clearly. However, some children fixate on the face of the reader, so you need to be flexible. Head-on (180*) will work for students who do not fixate on faces, but for children who are hyper-fixated on faces, an angle just over 90* may be more appropriate. You learn from the child what they need as far as positioning in relation to the partner.

6) Children with hyper-fixation to faces may benefit from loose symbols held side-by-side in front of the reader's face, then slowly moved apart. The child's eyes will (hopefully!) follow the intended choice as they move.

7) Boards intended for finger-pointing tend to have symbols spaced too closely for all but the most skillful eye gaze readers (and users). Loose symbols allow you to distance the choices at optimal points from the user. These can be held in the hands or affixed to velcro-sensitive boards (I personally like 3"-wide strips of indoor/outdoor carpet mounted to mat board, 15-18" long. Post-It makes poster board that can be cut into strips that holds symbols temporarily as well).

8) Not all days are necessarily the same. Some "off" days may require few choices spaced at farther distances, while other "on" days may allow a child to handle many choices placed closer together.

9) Along these lines of "off" and "on" days, if the child suffers neurological swings, it is imperative to tailor our expectations to the child's ability at the time. This may sound basic, but it is a point often overlooked in our hurry to take data.

10) Some children do very well with fixed frames. These are nice because they free the partner's hands and can often hold many choices. There are directions for some wonderful PVC frames online. There are also commercial e-Tran frames of Plexiglass (Cogain and others). Again, you must keep in mind the child's preferences and tendencies to fixate...

11) The goal of eye gaze communication is COMMUNICATION! It is NOT testing! Kids pick up on the fact that they are being heard or being tested, so make sure you honor what they tell you!!! This is probably the single most important point in all the discussion of eye gaze. For some reason, we tend to doubt eye gaze responses. This is because of our OWN insecurity in reading the answer correctly. If we honor a child's response, they learn to trust us as communication partners. If they indicated what they intended, we validate their answer. If they answered in error, we STILL validate their answer and demonstrate that we honor what they say. The children learn they must change their strategy to communicate the accurate answer and that they must find ways to negotiate to get what they had meant to tell us.

12) When you are unclear of a child's answer, DON'T repeat the same question. Ask it a different way. Try asking it in a way that would require they show a different answer ("Do you need more time?" becomes "Are you all done then?"). Show respect by letting the child know that you are the one having difficulty understanding; it is not the child's fault.

13) Try to keep the same placement of symbols offered for choices. This allows the child to develop motor automaticity. You may start to see eyes heading to a location before a symbol is even offered; this definitely suggests the child has achieved motor automaticity.

14) Not all children need to demonstrate "scanning of all the options" before making a selection. Motor automaticity may come to play, as well as peripheral vision skills. This does not mean kids aren't expected to know what all the choices are, but it does mean that "scanning" them may not look quite like we expect. An example is this: A teacher offered my child yes/something different/no in the same order each time (hurray! Way to build motor automaticity!) but would not accept the answer until she had gazed at each choice first. This is both unnecessary, slows communication, and discounts motor automaticity).

15) As soon as possible, eye gazers need to have introduced an option to indicate that what they want to say is not among the choices. This can be most anything ("something else," "not here," "different idea," whatever works for you and the child), but it is not fair to force a child into choosing only between choices they don't really want. Otherwise, the only option we give them is to NOT choose...and then we've set them up to be labeled as "non-communicative."

There are usual communication strategies that we can't forget: motivating topics, making the child responsible for sharing information that they alone would know (highly motivating!), respecting the answer, GENUINE conversation...

I hope this helps. Again, it's just what I've learned from walking in the trenches.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Five Ways to Play

Our speech therapist runs a fun group every Thursday and this week we played, "Where is it?" She had small containers filled with fun size candy bars. Students volunteered to hide a container while the other student hid their eyes. (All with assistance as needed, of course.) Then the other students asked the "hider" yes/no questions starting with "Is it..." using position words (under, next to, on top of) and items in the room (desk, shelves, refrigerator, stander). The "hider" then answered the questions until someone guessed the location. In the end everyone got to eat or at least "taste" some candy.

Five out of six of my students where in school today and below you will see images of how each of those five students participated.

From left to right: A Mercury communication device by ATI with a keyguard using direct selection, a Go Talk 20+ from Attainment, four picture custom made low tech eye gaze boards, a TechTalk by AMDi and textured Yes/No board and a Yellow Big Red switch by Ablenet attached to a Step by Step Sequential Switch (not pictured).


Free and Low Cost Head and Eye Tracking Software

Updated March 30, 2011

Free and Low Cost Head Tracking Software (note head trackers can usually track any body part and more so if you put reflective tape, shiny nail polish or an LED on that body part)

Note and Tips:
  • Head Tracking and Eye Gaze Tracking are two very different things.  Head tracking uses a camera to translate a body part movement, typically the head, into mouse movement.  Eye Gaze Tracking is more complicated, using one or more cameras to translate slight movements of the eye into mouse movements.  Please do not use the terms interchangeably.
  • Head Tracking can generally track any body movement - a toe or finger or elbow should work as well as a head to these systems
  • Many head tracking systems work better if you use a dot of metallic nail polish, aluminum foil or reflective tape (you can get this in bike stores) to make it easy for the camera to stay on one spot
  • Free and low cost systems often do not have the features commercial systems have, for example you many need to install addition autoclick or dwell click software and you will not have as much (or any) access to tech support
Free and Low Cost Head Tracking Software
DIY Head Trackers

Free and Low Cost Eye Tracking Software
  • ITU Gaze Tracker is a free eye gaze program for Windows that works with a webcam
  • myEYE is a free eye tracking program for use on Windows with a high resolution webcam
  • Open Eyes has directions to build two different user worn eye gaze systems
  • Open Gazer is free eye gaze software for Linux that works with a webcam
Options to Click
  • Dwell Clicker free software to allow hovering over an item to trigger a click
  • Point and Click  free software for dwell and auto clicking 
  • Use a switch set to "mouse click" or "enter"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Halloween Resources

Ten days until Halloween! Over at Teachers Love SMART Boards there is a fantastic list of interactive Halloween resources. Most work with a touchscreen, mouse or mouse emulator if you do not have a SMART Board. Many of the Flash files also work with two switches set to tab and enter.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Online Interactive Calendar and Weather Activities

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Move'n Mounter Website

picture of Steven with a speech device mounted

The newest AAC (and other device) wheelchair mount in the field now has its own website. The site features product information, videos, user stories, pricing information, comparison charts, and more.

My two favorite things about the Move'n Mounter are that the user, even with minimum arm range of motion or strength, can easily move their device and the device can be rotated so you can do quick setting adjustments or programming without removing it from the user's wheelchair. My least favorite thing is that I have found it difficult to get device vendors and therapists to think outside the Deassy mount box. (I also like Deassy Mounts, but the Move'n Mount may be the better option for users who will be able to use it to move their devices when they can't move a Deassy mount.)

Hopefully Move'n Mounter is going to add some information on funding their mount via health insurance or medicaid.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Click and Type Portable and Other Portable AT Apps

Click-N-Type, the fantastic, free, configurable on-screen keyboard with word prediction now has a portable version which can be run completely from a flash drive! How cool is that?

More and more AT users who need specialized software are able to carry what they need from computer to computer on a flash drive. In addition using portable versions of common applications like Firefox and Thunderbird allow you to maintain your accessibility settings and add-ons from one computer to the next. Wouldn't it be great if school, college and public libraries offered flash drives of AT software for use? How cool would it be if disability support services created a flash drive from each student who could benefit from such software, trained that student on the software and allowed the student to use his or her flash drive of portable AT Apps on any computer? (In a presentation once I had the head of IT for a district complain that free software for schools isn't free because of the time in takes to install and monitor it, flashdrives full of accessible software was my answer.)

AT Apps to run from a flash drive:
Links to full collections of Portable Apps or App Suites:
Don't forget you can use Package Factory to convert many program (like Classroom Suite Player) to run from a U3 SanCruz thumb drive. Here are my instructions on how to do that.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

News from PRC

If you support a learner who uses a Prentch-Romich communication device or if you and your team are considering a PRC device for a student there are two new sites you should know about AAC Language Lab and The Center for AAC and Autism.

AAC Language Lab offers information on language stages, PRC AAC Devices and the Unity Language System and teaching resources.

The Center for AAC and Autism focuses on Language Acquisition through Motor Planning or LAMP. Offering resources for using this technique for teachers, SLPs and parents.

They continue to have their funding assistance, offer their PRC Symbol Set for free download, activities on the Intellitools Exchange and Podcasts.

In other news PRC will soon begin offering the Clarity Symbol Set, formerly called LibSyms in the US (currently already offered in the UK and Australia). Here is my review of the Clarity Symbol set when it was called LibSyms, obviously the pricing and upgrade info no longer apply. Here are the Clarity Symbols for Airport, Be, Blond and Awful.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ablenet Introduces the New Powerlink 4

Ablenet has announced the new Powerlink 4 enviromental control device at Closing the Gap. No longer the teal box we are used to the new Powerlink 4 is upgraded for today. The new Powerlink is compatiable with the wireless Jelly Beamers and Big Beamers. The Powerlink 4 will cost $230.00 and will begin shipping in early 2010. A Powerlink 4 and two wireless Jelly Beamers can be ordered for at a discounted rate until the end of the year (12/31/09).

(Note to Ablenet folks - could someone clarify the discounted race, in the e-mail it was $307 and online it is $357. Thanks.)

PowerLink 4 features:
  • Easy set up with built-in display and a simple new design
  • Powerful access with six modes of control
  • Accurate programming and data collection like never before
  • Flexible outlets allow custom positioning of up to two appliances, activating independently
  • Linkable™ wireless technology for use with multiple Big or Jelly Beamer switches (from up to 30 feet away)
  • Two switch input jacks
  • Position on table-top or wall-mounted
Modes of Control
  • Direct
  • Count (direct with data collection of number of activations)
  • Two Switch (direct but two switches must be held down at once for interaction or safety)
  • Timed Seconds (0-99)
  • Timed Minutes (0-99)
  • Latch (one hit on, next hit off)


MailMyWeb may be an option for those of us whom face issues with websites being blocked (for example a few weeks ago HelpKidzLearn was blocked at my school because it is listed as "games", luckily this was resolved easily with an e-mail to IT, but in other school I have worked in once a site was blocked there was no way to get IT to unblock it).

Essentially MailMyWeb allows you to surf the web in your e-mail client. What could be cooler? Registration is required. MailMyWeb is currently in public beta.

from MakeUseOf.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lite Brite Spin Art

The other day a trip to the local thrift store proved fruitful with the find of a $4.00 Lite Brite FX Flash Art Machine, which usually costs about $25.00. (In working condition, complete with all the parts and batteries!)

The cool thing about the Lite Bright FX Flash Art Machine is that it is just like a regular home spin art machine only it also has black lights and music. (We won't be using the lights in out class, spinning lights cause some problems for some of my students.) We will be using a battery interrupter to make the Lite Brite FX Flash Art Machine Switch Accessible and using Boardmaker to make choice boards for the students to pick colors and how much paint to put on their art.

Just in case you don't luck out and find a spin art machine in your local thrift store here are some links for you:

Free Online Spin Art Games
Free Online Lite Brite Games
iPod Touch Apps

Monday, October 12, 2009

One Switch Sliding Puzzle

thanks to One Switch Blog for the link

A Sliding Puzzle for Helen Title Screen

A Sliding Puzzle for Helen is a free, one switch activated slider puzzle that comes out of the A Game for Helen contest. The only other special needs slider puzzle I know of is Flip It Slider by MKP and it only works with touch screen or mouse.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Preventing the Flu - Seasonal or H1N1 - in Our High risk Students

I have a sore arm, not from softball or even typing IEPs but from my seasonal flu shot. My sore arm has caused me to start thinking about the flu, in particular the H1N1 Flu that so many people are talking about right now.

It has been broadly noted that of the 36 child deaths from H1N1 67% (this is about 9% higher than the yearly seasonal flu) had a high risk medical condition and 92% of those with a high risk medical condition were children with neurodevelopmental conditions.Of the 02% who had a neurodevelopmental condition 59% had multiple neurodevelopmental disabilities and 41% had chronic pulmonary problems. Many of these children also had a hospital accquired infection like MRSA when they died. (From The Surveillance of Pediatric Deaths Associated with the 2009 H1N1 Epidemic by the CDC.)

What this means is that our students with severe and multiple disabilities are at very high risk should they become infected with the H1N1 flu, or really any influenza infection. Already some strains of the virus are resistant to anti-viral medication, so prevention is our number on weapon. We as teachers, working with our supervisors and program or classroom nurses are at the forefront of ensuring that our students do not become infected with any strain of flu virus, including H1N1 at school.

Prevention Guidelines (from the CDC)
  • If you are ill, stay home until fever is gone without medication for 24 hours
  • If students are sick they should be required to stay home until temperature is normal for 24 hours without medication
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water and assist students with hand washing following hand washing guidelines (warm water, use soap, rub for twenty seconds, etc.)
  • If soap and water is not available use an alcohol based sanitizer frequently (rub until dry)
  • Wash/sanitize all the areas of your hands palms, backs, between fingers, fingertips, thumb & wrist, nails
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth and wash hands after touching face
  • When coughing or sneezing over mouth/nose with a tissue and dispose of immediately in waste basket, then wash hands
  • H1N1 can survive 2-8 hours on surfaces, decontamination can be done using heat 167-212°F, chlorine (bleach), hydrogen peroxide, detergents (soap), iodophors (iodine-based antiseptics), and alcohol (such as alcohol based cleaners/sanitizers)
  • Surfaces like phones, keyboards, and doorknobs (not to mention switches) should be cleaned with alcohol wipes or anti-flu cleaning wipe often
  • Clothes and linens can be washed with other items using regular laundry detergent and tumbled dry on high heat, care should be taken not to "hug" the dirty laundry to you before washing and wash hands after handling dirty laundry
  • Eating utensils should be washed in a dish washer or by hand using soap and water
  • For the record you cannot catch H1N1 from eating pork or pork products
Basically - wash your hands, wash the kids hands, stay home if you are sick and send the kids home if they are sick and require they stay there!

H1N1 Symptoms (from the CDC)
  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • some people may have vomiting and diarrhea

Other Flu Links
Get the latest guidance for early childhood programs Get the latest flu guidance for schools. Report Flu-Related K-12 School Dismissals. Wash your hands with soap and clean running water. Visit for more information. Keep your sick kids home from school. Visit for more information. Cover your nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough. Visit for more information. Stay home if possible when you are sick. Visit for more information.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Our iPod Touch

Over six months ago I wrote a Donors Choose grant application for an iPod Touch for my classroom and about a month ago it was fulfilled. A few weeks ago it arrived. A week after that I purchased an iMainGo speaker case (which I will need to replace as we seem to have gotten a dud - I have had many iMainGos and it is an awesome solution, but this one has been terrible). One of the things our classroom staff marveled at was how quickly some of our students mastered turning up the volume while music was playing!

Our iPod Touch has quickly become one of the most valuable tools in out classroom. It is loaded with the following:
We have used the iPod Touch:
  • as a reward for positive behavior
  • as a way to increase student exposure to music
  • for students to listen to books and poems while stretching or resting
  • as a way to distract students and thus increase prone stander tolerance
  • as a way for our students to be just like the other kids

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Song of the Day

Every morning I play a song of the day/music video of the day in my class. The idea is that my special needs students be exposed to as many songs that "everybody should know" as possible for the purpose of cultural currency, broadening exposure and pure enjoyment. What songs should I have on our list?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Wheelchair Manners

recycled blog post from 12/19/06

Wheelchair Manners

· Use the same manners you would with anyone else,

o Rude is rude.

· Ask before you help,

o Sometimes independence is more important than ease or speed.

· Please don’t lean or hang on the wheelchair without permission,

o How would you like it if someone hung on you?

· Speak to the person in the wheelchair

o Not to the person with him or her.

· Make yourself eye to eye,

o You may want to sit or kneel.

· Shake hands, give a squeeze on the shoulder,

o But never a pat on the head.

· A person who uses a wheelchair is a wheelchair user,

o Not “confined to a wheelchair” or a “victim of a wheelchair”.

· Always ask before moving someone’s wheelchair,

o Whether or not he or she is in it.

· Be aware of the person's capabilities,

o Some users can walk with aid and use wheelchairs to save energy and move quickly.

· It is ok to use terms like "gotta run" and “went for a walk” when speaking to a person who uses a wheelchair,

o The wheelchair user probably uses the same words.

· It is okay to ask polite questions,

o Much more okay than staring.

· A wheelchair gives mobility and freedom,

o It is not, in and of it self, sad or a tragedy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Way to Switch Adapt Cooking

We have all adapted cooking lessons by putting recipes or other related messages on a sequential voice output switch, using a power adapter (PowerLink) and switch to control a blender, mixer or food processor and many of us have also tried out an adaptive pouring cup.

In the past few weeks we have been trying out another fabulous cooking adaption. A $14.00 battery operated flour sifter adapted with an off the shelf battery adapter and a switch we already had. The result, lots of flour sifting fun!

Classroom staff are already planning to use it to make powered sugar designs on cakes and things in the future and it may fit in well to make it "snow" in our "tundra" dioramas for this month's Unique Learning System unit.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Online Planbook

When I first started teaching I used a commercial planbook, but it never really met my needs as a self-contained classroom teacher. In more recent years I have created a template in Microsoft Word or Open Office, printed it out weekly and penciled in my lessons, enclosing the pages in a three ring binder, which I use as a plan book.

This week I will be trialing Planbook Edu, a free, online planbook. The free Planbook Edu includes the ability to plan for one class (which is all most of us severe special needs teachers have), access from any internet connected computer, nothing to install, and WYSIWYG editing.

It is the "premium" features that I really like and I have a feeling that after the seven day free trial of using the "premium" Planbook Edu I will pay the $20.00 to upgrade. These features include printing from your browser, attaching up to a 2MB file to each block of the plan book, sharing your plans, exporting to MS Word or PDF and built in spell check.

The 2MB file attachment isn't big enough for most Unique Learning or News-2-You files, but is just fine for craft instructions and recipes. I am already finding it helpful to download these types of things on my laptop at home and attach to the Planbook Edu so I can print on my work computer.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Because you asked...

I was forwarded these questions by a reader. So I thought I would answer (most of) them.

The phone rings. Who will it to be?

My phone doesn't ring much, but that txt is probably my dad.

When shopping at the grocery store, do you return your cart?
Sometimes. I probably should shoot for always.

In a social setting, are you more of a talker or a listener?
If I don't know anyone I am quiet, but if I know people I am quite verbose.

Do you take compliments well?
Not always. Ok, fine, not usually.

Do you play Sudoku?
Nope. It involves numbers, linear thinking and problem solving. Someone hand me my colored pencils.

If abandoned alone in the wilderness, would you survive?
For maybe a day or two.

Did you ever go to camp as a kid?
Oh, yeah. Girl scout camp, basketball camp, tennis camp, student leadership camp, community service camp, swim camp, theater camp and probably some others. My parents worked, I had to go somewhere.

What was your favorite game as a kid?
I wasn't much of a game player, I was more likely to read, draw, do crafts or in the summer time swim.

Use three words to describe yourself?

caring, sensitive, committed

Do any songs make you cry?

Depends on the context, Little Girl Blue covered by Janis Joplin, For Good from Wicked, In the Arms of an Angel by Sarah McLaughlin

Are you continuing your education?
At some point I would like to pursue my doctorate, but I find the idea of leaving the classroom unbearable.

Do you know how to shoot a gun?
No, and that is one constitutional right I intend to never use.

Have you ever taken pictures in a photo booth?
Yes, usually during Community Based Instruction with students!

How often do you read books?
I am never NOT in the middle of a book.

Do you think more about the past, present or future?
Probably a pretty equal division.

What is your favorite children’s book?
As a little girl I loved Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs! The illustrations fascinated me. As a 'tween I loved The Girl with the Silver Eyes, I really wanted to be able to move things by thinking about it.

What color are your eyes?
green, one has a freckle in the iris

How tall are you?
six feet!

Where is your dream house located?
Near the ocean.

If your house was on fire, what would be the first thing you grabbed?
As long as all the people and my beloved cat are safe I don't need anything material.

When was the last time you were at Olive Garden?
I've only been once when I was out of state to go to a wake. It was maybe 2 and a half years ago.

Where was the furthest place you traveled today?
I went south to Methuen, Mass (maybe 10 miles) to go to the bank and then North to Plaistow, NH (about 5 miles) to buy some laminating pouches, but they didn't have the ones I like.

Do you like mustard?
Love it.

Do you prefer to sleep or eat?
Does that have to be a choice? Can I do both? I mean not at once.

Do you look like your mom or dad?
My sister. We are both a nice blend of both sides of the family.

How long does it take you in the shower?
3 minutes. I don't like to get up early enough for anything longer!

Can you do the splits?
Never could.

What movie do you want to see right now?
Whip It. I love Drew Barrymore. We have the same birthday.

What did you do for New Year’s?
I went to bed.

Do you think The Grudge was scary?
No idea what The Grudge is.

Do you own a camera phone?
My Blackberry takes pictures, but not very good ones.

Was your mom a cheerleader?
That is soooooo funny!

What’s the last letter of your middle name?

How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
I aim for 8. I get 6-7.

Do you like Care Bears?
Not really, but I was a little girl in the 80's so it was basically required.

What do you buy at the movies?
Popcorn and Diet Coke.

Do you know how to play poker?
No, don't like playing cards, I like to knit and watch others play.

Do you wear your seat belt?

What do you wear to sleep?
yoga pants and a v-neck

Anything big ever happen in your hometown?
Original home invented Chelmsford Ginger Ale. Current Home Town was the birthplace of John Greenleaf Whitter (the writer) and had the first Macy's.

How many meals do you eat a day?
Usually 2.

Is your tongue pierced?
Once upon a time it was. Actually twice upon a time. But not anymore.

Do you always read MySpace bulletins?

Do you like funny or serious people better?
Both, I have room in my life for all sorts of people.

Ever been to L.A.?
Never, not even a lay over.

Did you eat a cookie today?
Yup, chocolate chip. It was so-so.

Do you use cuss words in other languages?
Yes. In ASL, Spanish and Arabic. Though I am fluent in none of those languages.

Do you steal or pay for your music downloads?
I pay. Mostly because I am lazy, it is more work to find them for free and deal with protecting from viruses and malware.

Do you hate chocolate?
What? Hate chocolate? Who on earth would ask such a think?

What do you and your parents fight about the most?
I don't really fight with my dad. On occassion we annoy each other and then we say, "I am finding ____ annoying perhaps you could ____ instead." I realize we are terribly boring. We can't help it.

Are you a gullible person?
Not generally.

Do you need a boyfriend/girlfriend to be happy?
I love being unattached.

If you could have any job (assuming you have the skills) what would it be?
Likely the one I have, but with a shorter commute.

Are you easy to get along with?
Isn't this question better asked to people who know me?

What is your favorite time of day?
About 8:30 AM on weekdays, when we are done with morning positioning and the posibilities of another great school day are in front of me.

Calculator Options

Talking Calculator
A few months ago, as part of a post on the free resources at Tripico I wrote about their online calculator which works with keyboard, mouse, mouse emulator (i.e. head or eye tracker, joystick) or two switches set to tab and enter. (A note about using tab/enter - typically you to mouse click once on a key on the calculator to start tab/enter working correctly.)

Here is a more complete list of online calculators with multiple means of access for our learners
  • MyCalculator is nice because there is nothing else on the page to distract our learners, however it is a little small on the page - works with mouse or mouse emulator, tab/enter switches. touch screen or interactive whiteboard, MetaCalc also has nothing else on the page to act as a distraction, has the same accessibility, but is larger.
  • Tripico Simple Calculator is a large, color coded calculator accesible through mouse, mouse emulator, touch screen, interactive white board or two switches set to tab/enter
  • PBS Kids Talking Calculator speaks each button as it is pressed - works with mouse or mouse emulator, tab/enter switches, touch screen or interactive whiteboard
  • Calculators for Free Visually Impaired Calculator is a large, black on white on-screen calculator - works with mouse or mouse emulator, tab/enter switchers, touch screen or interactive whiteboard
  • Ableside Primary has a very large on screen calculator that works with mouse or mouse emulator, touch screen or interactive whiteboard, it also works with tab/enter switches but the buttons do not tab through in a logical order so it takes some getting used to, but there is a great "click" noise that provides auditory feedback
  • Calcutype is switch accessible math word processor/calculator for more advanced users
Free Software Downloads
  • Big Calc is a large, on screen calculator accisible through mouse, mouse emulator, keyboard, alternative keyboard, touch screen or alternative keyboard
Other Free Options
Software for Purchase
  • Talk and Scan is a one switch solution from RJ Cooper for about $120
  • Dynavox/Mayer-Johnson sells CalcuScan a fully accessible, including single switch solution,for a PC or the Dynavox V for about $90
  • GoKeyTech offers software that both teachers and offers access to a calculator, which is fully accessible via all means including single switch, Calculator Tutor is about $40

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tone Matrix (and some things for your iTouch)

Tone Matrix is designed as a tool to write/create music. For our learners it can be a fantastic tools to use light and musical tones to encourage cause and effect using a touch screen, interactive white board or even a head or eye tracker.

Imagine one of your learners swiping his hand across the SMART Board to to make a glowing song and then clicking a switch (set to "space bar") to clear that song and make another!

If you are lucky enough to have an iPod touch or iPhone for your classroom you can do pretty much the same thing wigh the app Melodica or in color with the app Tripper. Another cool app that doesn't look like these (it is prettier), but meets the same purpose is Bloom (and I think it sounds beautiful).

Thanks to NCS Tech for the Tone Matrix tip.

Ever had one of those days?

Actually today was not one of those days, however we (the para-professionals and I) had a number mini-incidents which we responded to with good humor. The day ended with trying to break into my car because... well, obviously, I locked myself out.

We did figure out (by watching the AAA man) that next time we can likely break into the car using the following items from the classroom: a foot wedge from a Rifton stander, a long strip of laminated paper and some sand paper. If that included some Velcro it would be the ultimate special needs solution!

By the way wasn't it sooooooo nice of one of the paraprofessionals to take this super flattering shot of me breaking into my car. Too bad I have no shame!

Mulberry Symbol Set

The Mulberry Symbol Set is a free collection of picture symbols available from Straight Street. After registering and logging in for free you can search for single symbols or you can download the entire set. There are currently about 800 Mulberry Symbols and there should be 3000 by this time next year. The Mulberry Symbol set is included in the new Pogo Board program and also is perfect for importing into Boardmaker or the free PhotoSyms program. In fact between Mulberry Symbols, Sclera Symbols and PhotoSyms people can have everything they need to make printed boards for free. Another free set of software that would be perfect for using Mulberry Symbols is the EdWord and EdWeb programs from Sense.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

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