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The Florida Educational Technology Recap

The FETC was an energizing 3-day experience with immersion into education technology.  Everyone was buzzing about iPod’s and iPads, educational apps, cell phones, and what the future may hold for these devices in the classroom.  Sessions with “i” in the name filled up quickly with many attendees creating their own seats on the floor.

conference

Edmodo

One of the great additions to the conference was the integrated use of Edmodo.  Edmodo is a free social networking site for teachers and students.  Presenters used this website by creating groups to post their materials, including their presentations, websites, and other useful links.  Their presentation pages were also used as a conduit for the users in the session to ask questions or add more information in real-time as the presenter was speaking. Attendees can join their sessions (called groups) through a group code.  Also, attendees who were unable to attend the session could then still receive the materials and the feedback from the session over the web (including those who didn’t even attend the conference).

Check out group codes FC0321, FC0492, and FC0269 to review and receive great resources and information.  Over the next few weeks I plan to see what other ways that this website can be integrated in both building my PLN and if it could be useful for my classroom and students.

Resources for Younger & Special Needs Students

This year, there also seemed to be more sessions geared to educating younger students pre-k-2 and special needs students.

One of the websites that I learned about that would be great to use with both sets of students is Kerpoof Studio.  Kerpoof is a free website created by Disney where students can create movies, drawings, and online story books.  They have a lesson plans page with ways that you can incorporate their online programs into the classroom through standards-based activities and extensions.  For younger students they can play the spell a picture game.  As they spell words correctly, it is added to their digital drawing.  The objects can then be moved around the page to build a scene and can then be printed to share in the classroom.  There are so many possibilities of ways to use this website in the classroom. (Edmodo join code:  FC0491)

A great session I attended for special needs students included apps that address social skills, schedules, and mathematics.  The presenter, Shannon Sullivan, works with special education students in the greater DC area and maintains her website about apps via www.ipads4kids.com.  On this site you can find a wide list of apps sorted by subjects and needs for the students.  There is also an area for other educators to share their favorite apps that they are using with their students.  Check this site often as it is frequently updated.

There was another session on the use of iPod’s and iPad’s in the special education classroom that has many resources posted on Edmodo (Edmodo join code:  FC0501).  One key point that they make about the iPad as a tool for the special education classroom is that it is portable, adaptable, and even socially acceptable.  It also has built in accessibility along with the power of the apps.  You should definitely check out their presentation on Edmodo and the associated website Mobile Learning 4 Special Needs.

Please check back for more resources that I’ve learned from FETC over the coming weeks.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By NCVO

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Low-Tech Classroom Aids for Special Needs Students

Making adaptations for special needs students in your classroom does not always have to be high-tech.  In a blog post from last year, I shared several low-tech options for teachers to use in their classroom to make the curriculum more accessible.  There are many other low-tech tools besides special pencils and grips, post-its, and highlighters.  This post will focus on a few more pocketbook-friendly tools that you can use with your special needs students that can be found at your local craft and office supply stores.

classroom

Soothing & Calming Tools

The school day can be a stressful time both academically and socially for all students and even more so for some students with special needs.  Offering students opportunities for soothing and calming experiences can help them to control or manage their stress and emotions.  Providing students with soothing sensory items that can be taped or stapled under their desk can be a creative solution.  At a craft store, you can purchase different items like feathers, felt, Velcro, or foam.  These different tactile feelings provide an outlet for students to calm emotions and refocus on classroom tasks.

Students with cerebral palsy or some students with autism may have difficultly controlling saliva.  Providing a sweat band they can wear on their wrist can help them to wipe their mouth area.  This can help the student to feel more confident about interacting with other students in the classroom and provide them with one less thing to worry about.

Accessibility Tools

One tool that I use a lot in my computer classroom is book rests.  This helps the students to lean the textbook up while completing their computer-based assignments.  This can also be very helpful in the regular classroom.  I’ve purchased actual book rests from the local office supply store, but you could also use frame holders that can be bought at the craft store for perhaps a lower price.  This provides a physical prop for their books to help raise them up where it may be either a better position for the student to read or more accessible for them to turn the page.

Even in my 7th grade classroom, some students are not tall enough to reach the floor when sitting in the chair.  Especially when teaching about computer ergonomics and keyboarding, I provide them with a FREE resource to help them be more comfortable when sitting – a phone book!  They can use this as their foot rest and helps them to be more comfortable in the chairs during class and helps them to focus on the academic lesson.

Academic Tools

Academically, there may need to be physical accommodations employed in order for students to be most successful.  Some low-tech strategies can be easy solutions for simple accommodations.  One example is if a student is struggling to keep their paper on their desk because of limited use of their hands or arms, you can use magnets or tape to hold down the papers on the desk.

During reading assignments (both silent or group), if a student has a hard time following along on which line they are one, they can use a clear colored ruler to use as a guide.  After each line the student would move the ruler down as they continue reading.

For math assignments, large key calculators may be more appropriate than the small scientific kind.  You can find these types of calculators almost anywhere including office supply stores or even the grocery store.

Students who have difficulty gripping art supplies can benefit from supplies that are larger in size and easier to grip.  Craft stores sell larger crayons, which are typically used for toddlers and pre-k students, however they work great with older students with difficulty gripping.  Thinking beyond just crayons, paint brushes, paint tubes, scissors, and glue all come in larger sizes and can be found at the craft store as well.

There are many low-tech cost-effective tools that you can use in your classroom to help students to be socially and academically successful.  Do you have any favorites that you use in your classroom?

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By Liz (perspicacious.org)

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Continuing to Build your PLN (Personal Learning Network)

 

PLN

Winter break is a great time to relax and unwind from the busy school year, but it is also a great time to reconnect with your PLN (Personal Learning Network.)  In an earlier post this year, I wrote about some of the most popular programs available online to help in building your PLN.  Sometimes using these various programs can become overwhelming and daunting to try to keep updated on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

By reconnecting with your PLN at this time of the year, you can come up with new ideas for the classroom for after winter break, gain a refreshed outlook on your students and classroom, and make adult connections that you typically do not make a day-to-day basis in the classroom.  These connections and the information you can gain from making them will help you go back with a bounce in your step after the New Year.

Ideas for Whom to Connect With

When you simply break down the concept of building a PLN, all you are really doing is networking online and finding individuals with whom you share connections or whose interests you share in common.  Finding a good group for your PLN requires time and research.  It may mean you follow their blog or Twitter feed over a few days and weeks to see if they are a good fit.  When looking for individuals to ‘follow’ or connect with, look for these following characteristics:

  • Someone who you share common interests and classroom goals
  • Someone who updates frequently with on-topic posts about their professional career and experiences
  • A variety of educational professionals including teachers, administrators, tech coordinators, and even educational reps from the top educational companies and providers
  • Someone who may open your mind, provide a different perspective, and challenge your views

Don’t forget that if you add someone to one of your PLN programs and they don’t seem to be offering useful information or information that you are interested in, it is acceptable to remove them from your listings.  Pick the individuals you are interested like a ‘top 5’ or ‘top 10’ of who you really want to follow and learn from so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Top PLN Programs (Recap & Extension)

Twitter:  A micro-blogging program where users post short statements and quotes that can include links and pictures about a particular subject.  Look for teachers, administrators, and educational professionals that interest you through the search option.  A great way to get starting building your network is to search hashtags for topics that may interest you like #spedchat, #edtech, or #edchat and then follow users based on your results.

LinkedIn:  A social networking site for professionals.  This site is great to make connections with many individuals within and outside of education.  A suggestion would be to start off by connecting with individuals you know and then expand based on their connections.  If your contacts have a common ‘real’ person in common, they will be more likely to add you and share their experiences and knowledge.

Ning:  Individuals and groups create their own Social Networking sites.  Great to search and follow these different groups and see how they have created their own networks.  Searching on Google with your keywords of interest and then adding “Ning” will bring you to these pages of interest.  You can become a member of the group to follow the posts and links easily.

Other Social Networking Sites to Build your PLN

  1. Facebook
  2. Blogger or Edublog
  3. Classroom 2.0

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by RambergMediaImages

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Skype in the Classroom

I have recently had wonderful correspondence with a reader of the MangoMon blog that lives in California.  He is an active parent in his child’s education who wanted to know more about how he could get his son’s teachers and school using Skype in the classroom.  This interest began last year when he was able to arrange a guest speaker to speak to his son’s class via a webcam and Skype.  This year, he wanted to expand this idea to have more teachers, possibly beyond his son’s school, to use Skype in the classroom to  ‘share’ interview experiences with students  who may be so busy that they cannot fly to visit schools individually, but could ‘visit’ many schools at one time virtually.  A school might be able to host a famous author, astronaut, scientist, musician, or artist via Skype. This type of experience is great for schools because the cost of implementation is very low comparative to bringing in a guest speaker or having students leave the school grounds for a field trip.

skype

I have actually been involved in setting up or participating in online face-to-face conversations in several different venues.  One of those was a science museum where they would connect with classrooms and camps to conduct virtual field trips where students would see and learn about the endangered animals they had at the museum.  Another experience I had was through a virtual video conference with several high schools and a college.   The college provided the technology equipment to the high schools, which was then used for all of the schools to connect with one another about various learning topics or to watch professors lecture on specific topics.  However, I have not actually “Skyped” or had any virtual guest speakers in my classroom. However, it is a great idea!

This spurred me to think about some of the roadblocks that I would have to overcome, or other teachers would have to overcome in the classroom, to make this dream a reality.  I already have a webcam and a high-speed Internet access, so this will not be a problem.  I would need the school to install Skype in my classroom, which shouldn’t be too difficult since it is a free program with limited, if any, costs associated with using this in the classroom.  I would need to find a good learning connection for my classroom, along with learning objectives, and then pair that with a speaker or organization.  I would obtain the support of the administration and send home parent ‘field trip forms’ for the event.  This would indicate that it was a special event and alert parents to the importance of the activity. Teaching middle school, I would also have to find a way to gather the students together at one time, or to have one group actively involved, record it, and then play it back to the other classes.  There will also need to be a standards-based connection the interview or virtual trip.  An outline of what will be presented and a worksheet or note taking sheet for the students would help to make the learning outcome connection.  This seems like a lot of preparation, but it is all very achievable – with a possible great and memorable learning event as the end product.

Through my research online, I have realized that many classrooms are using Skype in their classroom.  They have shared their experiences online and many organizations and speakers offer ‘virtual’ interviews or field trips.  Below are some of the resources I’ve read and found helpful in my quest to incorporate Skype in my classroom:

This would be a great extension for many classrooms to make the lessons they learn in school come alive, especially for special education students.  For special education students, this is a great opportunity for them to be engaged in learning through ‘video.’  It provides a means for students to watch the video live, and then after the experience, the teacher can replay sections of the video to ensure student comprehension or review material.  Incorporating this cool technology that the students have not used before also adds to the excitement and interest of the lesson.

There are many ways to incorporate Skype and virtual interviews and field trips into your classrooms – and now my goal is that by the end of this school year, my students will experience a virtual field trip or interview integrating webcams and Skype into my classroom.  Definitely, come back and look for posts this winter and spring for my experiences on incorporating Skype in my classroom!  If you have any tips or tricks, please comment below!

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By tjmwatson

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Livescribe Echo Smart Pen | #Education

Livescribe has come out with a new smart pen called the Echo Smart Pen.  The Echo is used like a typical pen, but it has a technical computer edge over a normal pen.  The Echo digitally records everything that is written on the special Livescribe paper and then the information can be uploaded to a computer, iPad, or even an iPhone.  The smart pen also has the ability to record audio.  The audio and the written notes can be paired together for playback on the pen or on a computer.  This is a great tool to use during classroom lectures or discussions.

livescribe

Features of the Echo

The special Livescribe paper has several tools at the bottom like record, stop, and playback.  The student can select record to start recording audio and written notes and then select stop to stop recording.  The student can then select the playback button to review the written or audio notes.  The speed of the recording can be sped up, slowed down or repeated depending on the students needs.

When the student has finished taking notes for the day, you can connect the pen to your computer to upload the notes and recordings.  Once uploaded to the computer, there are many different options available to review and share your notes.  Students can save their notes as a PDF file or export the audio to listen on a device like an MP3 player.   Notes can also be emailed, shared on a blog, Facebook, or personal website.  Students are able to search through the notes via keywords to find specific information.  Note pages can also be divided into separate ‘notebooks’ to stay organized.  For example the student can create a notebook on their computer for science class, math class, and social studies.   Notes can also be transcribed into typed text using an additional program available through Livescribe.

New Features

Some of the new features added to the Echo are that it is a smaller pen with a pen grip that makes it easier for younger students and older adults to hold and use.  This is especially important for special education students who may have difficulty holding a traditional pen.  Students who are unable to use a traditional pen could use this pen’s record feature to assist in taking notes without having to have a full-sized computer or other recording device.  The notes would be easily played back for students to study and prepare for tests.

It also has the ability to download various applications, similar to that of an iPhone or iPad.  The apps run from 99 cents up to a few dollars.  Some examples of apps would be a dictionary, translators, thesaurus, study apps, games, calculator, and musical instruments.  Some apps come pre-loaded on the pen.

The Pencast

One of the coolest features of the Echo is the Pencast.  The Pencast is a combination of the audio and writing after it has been uploaded to the computer.  As the audio plays, the notes are highlighted on the computer as it corresponds to the timing of the video.  The videos are created using Flash video which is an easy format to share with other students or even from the teacher to the student.  These videos can also be uploaded or emailed.

Teachers & the Echo

The Echo pen isn’t just for students, it could also be a great technology tool for teachers.  Livescribe has three videos on their website showing ways that teachers can integrate the Echo into their lessons with students who use the pen.  Teachers can print worksheets directly onto the Livescribe paper to create audio study guides, flash cards, or practice worksheets.

Another great way I thought of using the Echo is by writing down the class notes and recording my lecture that goes with the notes ahead of time.  This could then be made into a “Pencast” that I could post on my classroom website for students to review for quizzes and tests.  I believe that the combination of the audio combined with the highlighting of the notes would really help to reinforce key ideas and concepts.

Livescribes Blog

Check out Livecrsibes great educational resources via their blog that includes deals on the Echo, education tips and tricks with the Echo, and real-life examples of students, teachers, and classes use the Echo pens to improve their academic performance in school.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Back to School: Ice Breaker Activities

On the first day back to school, energized students will enter the doors with their new bookbag, lunch box, school supplies, and a renewed excitement for learning.  Many students are also nervous as the meet a new teacher, new classmates, or even start at a new school.  One way to make the transition easier is by starting off the first day is with an ice breaker activity.  This initial need for connections is especially important for special needs students. This allows the student to begin a trusting bond with the teacher and is a starting activity to feel acceptance and fitting in with classmates. This is especially important for special education students, whether taught in the general education classroom or in pull out models.

ice breakers

Ice breakers can range from games, worksheets, getting to know you activities, or what you did this summer sharing.  There are many different ways to start the process of getting to know your students and for them to get to know each other.  I have found some great online resources that have a variety of activities for different grade levels and abilities.

A to Z Teacher Stuff:  Teacher Tips with Ice Breaker Activities

The site A to Z Teacher Stuff has annotated list of ice breakers and getting acquainted activities.  Teachers have added their activities which include an explanation, and a description of the activity and the appropriate grade levels.  Ideas include puzzles, crosswords, collages, and poetry.  Some of the suggestions included activities that can be setup ahead of time when parents and students come in for a “before school” open house.  These include having students bring in pictures of their family or activities from the summer, or filling a small brown paper back with a few items that represent who they are.  Many of the suggestions on this site are easily adaptable with students who may have learning or mobility impairments.

KinderArt Ice Breakers

KinderArt has a list of 29 different ice breakers for elementary level students.  They range from very simple activities like having students draw a picture of their family, to very intricate like planning a classroom scavenger hunt.  There are also many active ice breakers including tossing bean bags to learn names, parachute games (various ideas on the site – great for PE teachers), and matching and order games (same shoe size, same color shirt, same color eyes).  A few of the activities on this site are specific for special needs students including the bean bag toss activity where students are arranged in a circle and toss the bean bag to different students and share facts about themselves.

Some Ice Breakers I have done in the past:

  1. Toilet Paper Game: Students are asked to take as many or as few pieces of toilet paper and pass it to the next student.  At this point, no other explanation given.  After the last student has taken their pieces of toilet paper, you explain to the students that they need to come up with one fact about themselves based on each of piece of toilet paper they took.  The students laugh and enjoy this activity as some students will choose many sheets and others may only one.  If you teach multiple classes, many students will hear about it before the end of the day – so it doesn’t work as well.
  2. Fact Web: Arrange the students in a circle.  Holding the ball of yarn in your hand explain the activity that the students will share one fun fact about themselves and then they hold on to the end of the string and throw it to anyone in the circle.  The next student says a fact, holds on to their end of the string, and throws to another student.  When all students have had a turn they will have created a web.  Be sure to remind the students throughout the activity to hold on to their end of the yarn.  This web can then be displayed on a classroom wall or board (move it very carefully) to discuss different topics like working together, and building relationships.
  3. Collages: As an assignment for the first day of school, my students are to go home and make a collage including pictures of their family, friends, favorite activities, foods, TV shows, musicians, or any other appropriate pictures that help to show who they are.  The next day they come back and share them with the class.  This can be done digitally or with scissors, glue and construction paper.  I’ve also done this activity in school using magazines instead of online or personal photos.
  4. Clock Buddies: Students will receive a clock with blank lines next to every hour.  They have to go around the room and find one other student to pair with at each hour.  Bring the class back together and then tell them that you will give them 12 different questions to ask their different buddies on the clock.  You can create questions that would help the students get acquainted.  Students will need a signal for when to move on to the next hour and buddy.  This is also an activity used to help pair students for future activities (ie. This worksheet will be done with your 2pm Buddy).
  5. Pair & Share Introduction: This is a very simple and straight forward ice breaker.  The students are placed in pairs and then given a set of questions they need to learn about the other person.   You then come back as a group and the pairs will introduce each other to the rest of the class.

Feel free to comment your best or most memorable ice breakers or links to great ice breaker idea sites!

-Article By: Laura Ketcham

-Picture By:lori05871

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The First Days Back – Setting up Classroom Expectations

The first days back at school with your students will set the tone for the entire year.  Establishing classroom procedures and expectations helps to create an environment filled with learning and success.  For special education, these rules and procedures should be clearly displayed in the classroom and referred back to frequently especially when the behavior can be modeled.  These rules should be discussed and established as they pertain to each new activity in the classroom.  Here is my top five list of must-do’s within the first days with your students.

classroom

1. One of the first things that I suggest is actively model and explain the flow of movement in the classroom.  I have my students line up at the door on the first day of school.  I greet them, ask them their name and one fun fact about them, and then direct them to their assigned seat.  This way I get a face to face meeting to help me learn names, along with setting up the expectation for an orderly entry into my classroom.   When everyone has entered, I then explain that they should line up at the door and wait for me to have them enter at the beginning of the period.

Every day at the beginning of class I have a short activity the students complete to help them switch gears to focus on my class.   I will then begin the lesson for the day or have the students continue to work from the previous day.  At the end of the period, they wrap up what they are working on, clean up their area, and push in their chair.  When this is completed they stand by their chair indicating that they have completed all of the tasks for the period.  They then wait for the class to be dismissed.  This makes for an orderly transition between periods.

Within the first days of school you should also establish guidelines for other movement in the classroom like when or how to ask permission to use the restroom, sharpen a pencil, get a book, turn in an assignment, or retrieve their work from the printer.

2. Establish a short, but clear list of classroom rules.  The list should typically be between 4-6 major rules.  One fun activity at the beginning of the year is to have your class help you with coming up with the class rules.  Establishing the rules as a class will allow the students to take ownership of the rules and students will begin to monitor each other’s adherence to the rules.  Education World has a page where they have a variety of different activities where you can work with your students to setup classroom rules.

If you establish a rule or procedure, you must be willing to follow through with it.  If you aren’t going to follow through with it, then do not establish it as a rule.  If a student breaks one of the rules, there must be consequences that fit the action.  All students should be aware of the consequences of breaking rules and what the consequences will be if the student continues to break the rule.   Keep a check list and a written record so that communication between the parents, administration, and the student is seamless.  Here are examples of behavior checklists for a variety of age and learning levels.

3. On the first day of school, students are very interested in what they will be learning in your class for the year.  I try to give an overview of the major ideas and projects that they will be completing for the year.  If you have been at a school for a few years, then students and parents come to expect the fun and fact filled projects that you have done in the past.  This way, everyone is informed about the subject area expectations for the year.

4. The students should also know how they will be graded.  Explain the grading scale and what the expectations are for their homework, quizzes, tests, projects, and group work.  Make sure this policy is written so that the parents are aware as well.  I send home my syllabus and ask for a parent signature that they have read it.  This is then kept in the front section of the students binder for us to refer to if needed during the school year.   Here is an example of a middle school syllabus.

Also be sure to set up expectations of how long home learning assignments and assessment preparation should take.  This way the parents know when to except homework or time devoted to preparation for you class and can ensure the student will follow through.

5. Much of the information you will cover in the first few days of school is procedural and requires formality and lacks fun and interesting connections.  However, it is very important during this time that you build personal connections with the students.  Try to learn their names as quickly as possible.  Students are definitely offended when you call them by the wrong name, call them by their sibling’s name, or don’t remember their name at all.  One fun way to learn their names, along with a fun activity to break the ice, is to have the students create a collage about themselves that they can present to the rest of the class.  The students get to know each other along with you getting to know them.  In the past, my students have included items like their favorite food, sport, subject in school, TV shows or even pictures of their family vacation or sleep away camp from the summer.   I also create a collage to help them get to know me better.  There are many other ice breaker activities that you can check out on this site.

Many of the ideas that I have given you here have stemmed from reading The First Days of School.  This is definitely a book you should read if you are a new teacher or even a veteran will benefit from reviewing it.   This book provides information about establishing classroom procedures and expectations to have a fun-filled and educational year.

Final Tips

  1. Model the behavior you want displayed by the students
  2. Have a method set for how students should ask questions
  3. Have a plan for how students who were absent will get their work
  4. Setup guidelines for technology use in the classroom

Article By: Laura Ketcham

Photo By: Editor B

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Back to School Classroom Setup: Making Technology Accessible

Many teachers will be heading back over the next few weeks to their classrooms in preparation for the new school year and students to return.  There are great hopes of going back to a fresh, clean room, newly painted, with shiny floor, ready for the learning to begin.  But typically, the desks are in disarray, boxes have been moved, you find new technology dropped into your classroom, and you may not even know where to begin to get everything back in order for your students to have a positive learning environment.  For new teachers, this can be especially daunting.  For special education teachers, you might have to make special considerations for wheel chair access, levels or styles of desks, or even an appropriate area for a printer so that all students can access their completed work.

computer lab

When setting up your classroom, the first thing that you should think about is the traffic flow of people.  How will students enter and exit the classroom?  Will they need to access the bookshelf at the beginning of the period or do they go straight to their seats?  Where will they turn in their completed assignments?  Are there centers in the classroom and how many students will work at each center?  If there is a classroom set of books or a library, you need to consider where would be the best place to put these materials.  This will help you to determine how to set up your classroom.

How the desks will be arranged in the classroom is also a very important for classroom flow and management.  Some questions that you should think of are: How will their desks be arranged, in rows, in clusters, in a half circle?  How much room can you allow between seats?  Is there enough room for an aid or assistant to work next to a student?  Education World has a great article about how seating arrangements can help with classroom management.

You need to make sure that you leave enough room around high traffic areas including the entry area, near bookshelves, or any other areas where many students may congregate.  Thinking of the traffic flow will help you to determine where items should go in your classroom along with making the flow in and out of your classroom an easy process along with making classroom management more efficient.

One website that you can used to help to plan out your layout of your classroom is Classroom Architect.  On this site, you can add the dimensions of your classroom and furniture, and then move the items around on the screen until you reach your desired design.  Then you can print out your layout to use as a guide in your classroom.  This tool will help you avoid having to move furniture multiple times to try to get it into the best positions in the classroom.  Scholastic also has a classroom setup tool that has similar features and is easy to use.

You should also plan the placement and access to the technology in your classroom.  Many classrooms now have computer learning centers with a small cluster of 4-6 computers.  You may also have a shared printer, document reader, voice amplification system, DVD player, or even an interactive whiteboard.  Scholastic has a guide to how to setup a classroom mini-lab that can help you with ideas on how to setup the technology in your classroom.

The computer center should be easily accessible and allow the teacher to see the screens of the students from various areas around the classroom so that the teacher can make sure that they are on task.   For an ergonomically correct work area, the chairs should also be at a level where the students can sit straight forward with their feet on the ground.  Modifications can always be made to make a workstation to increase productivity.  One way is by placing a book on the ground for the student to rest their feet on, or by simply pushing in a chair.  For special needs students there are also adjustable level computer desks and chairs to provide the correct height for computer use.

Shared printers should be accessible at a level where students can reach along with allowing accessibility for multiple students.  Microphones for a voice amplification system should have a ‘home’ and be easily accessible by students so they can use them during the classroom so everyone in the class can hear answers and questions.  Lastly, your interactive whiteboard should be placed at a level where the students can reach the main area of the board.  Extender pens or other pointers can be used to access the very top of a white board.  Making the board easy to use will help to encourage students to participate in interactive lessons.

Planning ahead to streamline the flow of traffic in your classroom has many advantages.  Students will know what is expected of them, areas will be free of clutter, and students will be able to concentrate on learning with less attention on the function of their work area.  Classroom management will be much easier along with the ease of use of the various resources in your classroom.  It makes for a great start to the school year.

Article By: Laura Ketcham

Photo By: Extra Ketchup

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Accessibility with Office 2010 – Collaboration for Students

Office 2010 was released last month.  One of the benefits of the new version of Office is that it combines the best features of Office 2003 and 2007 along with web collaboration features.  This is great for the classroom use for peer editing and collaborative projects in the classroom.

computers

Microsoft also strived to make Office 2010 more accessible than previous versions for users with disabilities.  One way that they have updated the software is by making it easier for 3rd party software and hardware developers to integrate the use of their assistive technology within Office 2010.  This makes the functionality greatly increased with use of compatible tools like screen readers, Braille keyboards, switches, and magnifying programs.

Accessibility Checker

Another new feature for Office 2010 is the Accessibility Checker.  The Accessibility Checker is like spell check in the sense that it checks for problems.  However, instead of checking for spelling, it checks for ease accessibility when sharing documents.  Office 2010 provides all users with a list of areas that should be reviewed and corrected before sharing a document.  This includes items such as alternate text for pictures, ensuring tables are easily readable, and other identification features will be checked before a file is shared like headers, author name, and dates.  This makes the file easily read by individuals who use screen readers, magnifiers, or evening an individual with learning disabilities.  To learn more about the Accessibility Checker, check out this blog post by Microsoft.

Office Online

The Office Live Web Apps allows users to share and collaborate with documents online.  Microsoft has also made the online resources more accessible to individuals with disabilities.  One way they have done this is by maintaining the presence of the Ribbon (the tool bar) online to be consistent with the desktop version of Office 2010.  They have also made the online version compatible with screen readers and high contrast screen modes.  The online version is also fully functional through the keyboard commands, for users who may not use a mouse.

Other features to check out in Office 2010

  1. Backstage View – allows many more options for saving, printing, sharing, and finalizing documents
  2. Video Triggers – have an effect happen on a slide in PowerPoint before or during a video you have embedded
  3. Automated Tasks – in Outlook 2010 to make repetitive processes easier – for example, to forward a message you just have to select one button in the Ribbon, which will include the users you most forward to
  4. Additional Keyboard Shortcuts – additional keyboard shortcuts have been created to reduce the need for the mouse – for example, there are now shortcuts to resize and rotate shapes along with searching through the Ribbon.
  5. More Cool Features

If your school hasn’t updated since Office 2003 or is using free software like Open Office or Google Apps, I would highly suggest checking out Office 2010. There are many features that make Office 2010 a better option not only for special needs students, but for accessibility, sharing, and for 21st century skills.  Office is still the defacto program suite used in industry and it would benefit the students to learn the program they will be using in college and beyond.

Article By: Laura Ketcham

Picture By: San Jose Library

Free Teacher Resources | Special Education by MangoMon

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Student – Robot Relationships? – Special Needs Study

Some students learn better from certain teachers over others. Some students learn better from robots, too!

The RUBI project, tested with toddlers in 2005 at the University of California, San Diego allowed students with special needs to interact with a three-foot tall robot. This robot, like many being developed around the world, is programmable; they can teach people simple skills, tasks, vocabulary and other life skills. More advanced robots can speak and recognize voices, making them almost human-like.

Click on the picture below to watch the interaction of some students with different robots.

robots

Many developers see the benefits of the robots in teaching, especially in subjects like foreign language and therapy sessions for autism. In countries like South Korea, they have already used many different types of robots as teacher aides and class playmates and are currently experimenting with using them to teach English and practice language skills.

The study at USC involved autistic students’ interaction with a robot. From both socially engaging behaviors and acting as a toy or playmate, the robots helped increase the amount of time the children spoke and interacted. By acting as a social partner and also a teacher, the robots help to involve the children in different ways.

The approachable robots can teach students words, basic skills and other tasks. These will become richer and more engaging as time goes on. Some advantages to robots over human teachers are their patience and the extensive knowledge of a certain subject, like a foreign language. Even if not used as a primary teacher, these robots seem to serve as a great aide in the classroom.

Free Teacher Resources | Special Education by MangoMon

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