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Be Somebody with the NOBODY program- Special Education

Special education students and teachers share how the NOBODY program impacted their students and made a difference in a big way.

The NOBODY program aims at getting everybody involved with this character building project. All students, regardless of their background or learning disabilities gain hope and confidence by using their own actions, interests and abilities. Students involved with the project get the chance to add things to the character, present stories and fill a scrapbook with their experiences with their new friend.

The NOBODY teaching resource is an innovative way to develop both character and self esteem. When the guidance counselor first introduced NOBODY to the class in this video, the children were very intrigued. They described this “doll” as having no age, interest, gender, etc. They realized that they would need to help give it all of these qualities and more, making it a “somebody.”

The students go on to talk about how they took him home, added things to him and gave it character and interests. One student talks about using NOBODY to help build relationships with his family. He explains how his family has a tradition to play cards and how he added a card to the doll to represent that. Through NOBODY, he realized the importance of his family’s love and support.

Some of the characteristics of many of these special needs students are that they do not show much empathy. Through this program, the teacher noted how caring and nurturing the students were with NOBODY. They took him on field trips and included him into the class as a whole.

This program offered a great way for children to evolve while also builing self esteem.

Visit Whoisnobody.com for more information about this resource.

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New Drivers, New Learners – Alternative for Special Education

Preparing for a driver’s test can be somewhat nerve wrecking. For students with special needs, who have different ways of learning, sometimes a different approach to preparing for the test is needed.

Flashcards and graphics of road signs and symbols can greatly help prepare students for the test. Since a lot of students are visual learners, instructional videos with real life situations can aide them in preparing for the test.

The California DMV has released a YouTube Channel with a series of 54 short clips helping students prepare for their driving test and being on the road for the first time. For students who learn visually, these videos are a great alternative to texts or long documents on computer screens.

The video clips offer real life examples and situations that can happen when taking a driver’s test or preparing for one. They present the top ten common mistakes that a lot of first time drivers do when they are starting out, including unsafe lane changes, failure to yield, and failure to stop.

The videos include interviews with real driving examiners about their experiences with taking out first time drivers. They give examples of these mistakes that so many students make and then details on what you should do to correct that mistake.

These short videos are a great refresher for students who want to see real people in real situations. The comments from other YouTube members can also offer advice or personal experiences in addition to the videos.

Since YouTube is watched by millions of people a day, the California DMV realized a great way to get this safety information out there would be to post it on YouTube. For those students who need visual aides to help them retain information, this is a great resource.

Photo by redja

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iCan. Using iPods for Special Needs Students

iPods. We see students using them everywhere. On the bus. In the home. At the park. Are we ready to see them in the classroom?

The Special School District of Saint Louis County has taken that well-known device and integrated it into the classroom. Since students are already using iPods so much throughout the day, they wanted to offer a more positive and educational use for the device in the classroom.

Vicki Nelson, a special education teacher, is a strong advocate of using technology with students with special needs. Starting with iPods, she sent home training information for the communication devices. She explained how parents can access the iPod and use it for building vocabulary skills and reading comprehension.

By adding video and audio lessons onto the iPods for the students and parents to be able to access at home, she noticed her students were starting to recognize material she hadn’t yet taught in the classroom. She then started using the iPods with children who had to use sign language. She had another teacher interpret stories using the iPod as a video portfolio. They were able to shoot video of themselves and the students performing a specific skill and then send it home to the parents.

The iPods were also serving as a replacement for written communication logs between staff and parents. By recording a simple voice memo, teachers can quickly record messages about each student. These messages can then be downloaded from iPod and saved for future references.

Vicki Nelson noticed that her own students had improved skills and vocabulary knowledge. They had a better ability to comprehend stories, too. Because the students were able to take these videos or audio clips home, they were becoming more familiar with the terms they were using everyday. The students were engaged and involved while using this technology. Parents loved the iPods because they were using compatible signs and could use extra reinforcement at home.

This is just another example of integrating technology into the classroom to help students with special needs. With technology constantly updating, it is important that students of all needs are being involved.

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The Best Things in Life Have No Fee

The other day I inexplicably found myself in a workshop that espoused the rejuvenating effects of a life giving source found abundantly in nature, drum roll please, the product is: water. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, you too can begin to reap the awe inducing benefits of water for a low, low fee. Although I deeply wish I were being facetious, I am using this example to illustrate that like the water salesperson, I will attempt to bring to your attention a myriad of educational resources that can most often be found right at your very own fingertips.

I am a strong proponent of you get what you pay for, but I also graduated from the school of “when there is a will there is a way”. Armed with a bit of techno-wanderlust and a commitment to high quality, together we will explore a plethora of tools to provide academic support for your student or child. In order to give knowledge to others one must, in my opinion, continually enhance their own knowledge. Even if you are completely at home in the world of technology, optimizing the use of technological tools at your disposal will allow you streamline your instruction to provide what our children so desperately need today, an innovative education geared towards a new generation .

starfallThere are many web-based tools that are highly effective and at little to no cost to use. If you have difficulty accessing the Internet, I would suggest joining your local library or explore the media center at your child’s school. The first introductory tools I would suggest for your perusal are StarFall, www.starfall.org; and SmartTutor, www.smarttutor.com.

StarFall is a free, web-based tutorial that exposes beginning and emerging readers to basic skills in Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and Emerging Fluency.

SmartTutor is a great low-cost Reading and Math Program that can be used in your classroom or home with the added benefit of individualized assessment and tracking of each learner’s progress.

These websites are colorful and interactive, but most importantly they promote the learner’s independence. When working with students with special needs, you may need to provide minimal assistance with computer mouse manipulation, but once your child has mastered this skill, off they go!

So on this President’s Day, I would like to empower you, citizen trembling behind your mouse or computer aficionado reading this amongst multiple applications running simultaneously. Si Se Puede! Yes, you too can further incorporate technology into your classroom, your home, your life even, and you don’t have to be a techie to do it. Oh, and don’t worry, the fee for reading the article this time is on me.

Article by Tai C. Hinkins

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Mice – so many choices! What is best for your students?

Wireless or corded?  Standard or trackball?  Trackpad or mini-mouse? Left-handed or right-handed?  Optical or laser?  There are so many different types of mice to choose from, all with their own specific advantages.  Special education students may benefit from the use of non-standard mice, allowing them to more comfortably utilize a computer in the classroom setting.

Standard Mouse

The mice I currently use in my classroom are standard corded mice that came with the computer systems that my school purchased.  One good quality of these mice is that they are easily adjustable to be used by left- and right-handed students.  In Windows, you can swap the function of the left- and right-click buttons.  In Windows XP, go to Start, Printers & Other Hardware, Mouse, and then select Switch primary & secondary buttons.  Under this menu there are also many other useful features that enable you to adapt the mice and make them more user-friendly for students.  Other options include increasing or decreasing the cursor speed, left-clicking and dragging without having to hold the left button down (ClickLoc), making the pointer larger or a different color, and modifying the wheel functions.

Wireless Optical Mice

I currently use a wireless optical mouse.  One advantage to this is I can flip over my clipboard where I write down anecdotal records, and then I am able to walk around with my mouse and still interact with what is showing on the SMART Board.  One disadvantage of this mouse is that it needs batteries.  For this reason, I keep plenty of rechargeable AA batteries on hand.  However, a consideration that you should take into account when purchasing wireless mice is that students might accidently pack them with their belongings if switching between classes.

Trackball Mice

While both of the previous types of mice may work well in your classrooms, there are other options that are also available.  One type of mouse that I have used with students who have mobility impairments or difficulty wrapping their hands around and moving the mouse is a Trackball. With this type of mouse, the movement of the mouse is controlled by a ball that is placed on the top.  Depending on the placement of the ball, the mouse can be controlled by just using your thumb or by the palm of your hand.

Laptop Mice

If you are using laptops in your classroom, you will have to decide if you need to purchase additional mice.  Using the TrackPad is the default method of tracking the cursor on a laptop.  Your students may find this method difficult to manipulate, as it is even difficult for the everyday computer user.  However, there are alternate options.  One option would be to purchase a small laptop mouse.  This mouse was developed to be smaller than a regular mouse and is easy for traveling.  They are typically wireless and are connected through a USB receiver.  Another option is a mini handheld trackball mouse.  However, because of its small size, it may not be the best choice for some special education students. Standard and larger trackball mice are also compatible for laptops and may be the best option for your students.

Laser & Bluetooth Mice

The most recent adaptations to mice are the development of laser and Bluetooth mice.  Laser mice allow for more accurate and precise movement when compared to an optical mouse.  Laser mice are typically used by gamers and by graphic and video designers. Bluetooth connections allow for a mouse to be wirelessly connected either with a small USB receiver or with built-in technology on laptops.

There are many choices of mice on the market.  Taking into account your classroom needs now and in the future can help you to better determine which type of mice will work best in your classroom.  For a relatively small investment, your students will have more accessibility to computers in your classroom.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by 1Happysnapper

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IEP iPhone App…another item off your list – Special Needs Tool

Sometimes parents and educators working with special needs students find that there is a lack of resources. The Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center has recently launched a free application for the iPhone, the IEP Checklist, which is the first special education related application.

The IEP checklist gives users basic IEP laws with the ability to create individual profiles for students. The Individualized Education Program, known as an IEP, is mandated by The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures services to children with disabilities. In the United States, an IEP is required by public schools for each student with a disability.

Each IEP is designed to meet the individualized needs of one child. It should describe how the student learns and what teachers and educators can do to help them learn more efficiently.

The iPhone application allows you to create a list in either English or Spanish. It then shows 13 main categories directly related to the IEP, including IEP members, student placement transition plan and more. There are also sub categories. For example, under current performance, you see options like recent evaluations and strengths/needs, which provide you with more information to review.

A details button provides additional information on federal regulations as well as a brief description. You can even add notes about particular students under each category. Once noted, categories are highlighted for easy markings during IEP meetings.

The IEP Checklist application is a tool aimed at helping parents and teachers as they are developing an IEP. The checklist provided gives them items to consider, many which are required by most special education regulations. It also helps parents of students with special needs be more informed about IEP information.

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Text-to-speech Software for the Special Education Classroom

The concept of text-to-speech (TTS) software was first conceived in the 1950’s.  TTS software processes written text into spoken words.  Since the 50’s, this technology has gone through many changes and has developed into an affordable technology tool that is a great asset in special education classrooms. Students who have a limited field of vision, have dyslexia, or may be struggling readers can benefit from TTS software.  This technology can play a vital role in making computers accessible as a tool in the classroom.


One of the most famous individuals who uses TTS software is Stephen Hawking.  Hawking is a famous scientist who has ALS and has relied upon this technology to communicate since 1985.  He is almost completely paralyzed and uses a wand-style device attached to his glasses, activated by his cheek, to enter words and phrases into a computer system.  His system uses a word recognition program.  He enters the first few letters of the desired word and the program narrows down choices based on his use.  All of the words that are entered into the computer system, which is carried in his wheel chair, are then synthesized and spoken through his computer.

Similar software can be used on a home or school PC.  TTS software, that is included with the Microsoft Windows operating systems, is relatively simple to activate.  To activate TTS, all you have to do in Windows XP is select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Accessibility, and Narrator.  Read and then follow the directions on the command prompt to setup the computer for TTS navigation for your students.  TTS can also be integrated with Microsoft Office.  In Office 2007, you will first need to install a simple macro (program).  This link provides easy to follow directions for installation.

TTS is also integrated on many websites.  Most government run websites have accessibility sections where articles and important information are available in audio format.  There are also free sites where you can copy and paste text and then have it read aloud to you.  Two examples of sites that offer this free service are AT&T and Google.  Many of my students also use www.dictionary.com to look up their Language Arts vocabulary words.  This site provides audio pronunciation where you can select to hear the word read aloud.

Other popular electronic devices also use TTS as a means for learning and communication.  LeapFrog has developed the Tag (ages 4 to 8) and Tag Jr. (ages 2 to 4) reading systems where the student uses an electronic pen to interact with the many high quality Tag books.  The words and other sounds effects are then read aloud to the students as they swipe the pen over the text.  This is great tool for students to learn to read and as they progress, they become less reliant upon the pen less and begin to read on their own.  LeapFrog has an educational department where schools can purchase a variety of packages as a classroom set.  All of the packages include the computerized pens and sets of books that can be used with the system.  This would be a great addition to the Pre-K-5th grade special education classroom.

Many free and inexpensive TTS software tools can make computers learning accessible to many special education students.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by eirikso

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Blogging about Technology & Special Education

I have been challenged to blog about technology and its integration with special education students.  As a 7th grade Technology instructor with experience working with mainstreamed ESE (Exceptional Student Education) students, I thought this would be easy.   There are so many great technology tools, both hardware and software, that I use every day with all of my students that it would be simple to write posts upon posts explaining a variety of technologies for infusion in core and elective classes in inclusion, pull-out, small setting, or even 1:1 classrooms for special educations students. Then, I started to delve more into the topic.

Special Education and Technology as individual topics are very broad.  I started to wonder, what disabilities, disorders, or health impairments should I cover? Hearing impairments, sight impairments, ADD/ADHD, autism, down-syndrome, or other physical, mental, or emotional health impairments?  What type of technologies should I focus on; adaptive technology, assistive technology, technology for teachers to integrate, or technology for the students to use?  I determined any type of technology that I can blog about to help you make learning more accessible to your students would be the solution!  I also plan to add interviews with teachers and administrators that work with special education students along with special education students themselves focusing on what technology works!

While I was processing the various ideas for my first post, I reflected on my own teaching and blogging experiences in and outside of the classroom. Blogging, as an educational tool, can be easily incorporated into special education classroom.  Blogging is gaining mainstream media attention in the news and is even being depicted in television shows.  For example, during the last two episodes of Ugly Betty, Betty created her own blog.  The episodes portray her through her triumphs and tribulations with blogging. Blogging is also being accepted as an innovative way for students to write for an authentic audience.

How do you start blogging with your students?  The first thing that you will need to do is determine how you want to integrate blogging in your classroom.  Do you want to create a blog that students will comment to?  Or do you want them to create their own blogs?  I have incorporated blogs both ways and find them equally rewarding and an innovative approach to include writing into the curriculum.  Since blogging is an open-ended assignment, teacher expectations and levels of assistance may need to be modified for special education students. Students at all levels can share thoughts, ideas, and information through well-developed assignments.

Creating a blog that students comment to is easier to setup, maintain, and grade.  I post a question that I want the students to answer and then they respond with comments.  I use that as an activity that students complete when they enter my classroom at the beginning of the period.  One advantage to this method is that students do not need to have their own accounts to comment.  I use this form of blogging to find out their knowledge on a subject before I teach it or to reinforce ideas that we have learned.  This can also easily be completed as a center activity or as part of a rotation during the week.  You may interact with the students online by commenting back the students’ comments, in essence, creating an online conversation.  My students have also really enjoyed reading other students comments. Since they know that they are being read by their peers, they are more attentive to their grammar skills.

Another way to incorporate blogging is to have your students maintain their own blog.  This would require students to create and setup their own accounts.  It is harder to assess as you will have to visit each individual blog. It is also more of a challenge to incorporate cross-communication between students.  I would suggest this as option for middle or high school students and share the different links online via the web. I had my students create their own blog for a six week project on South Florida oceans and beaches and Web 2.0 Technology.  The students had to create and setup their own accounts and maintain their blog with two posts a week.  One post was a formal question assigned to reflect on what they were learning and one was a ‘free post’ where they could write about anything that they learned during the week. This concept can also be easily incorporated in a literature class.  The students can use their blog to reflect and write about a novel they are reading.  This will incorporate both reading and writing into the curriculum and the students will be more motivated to learn than if they were filling out “drill-and-kill” worksheets.

When I first introduce blogging to my students, I explain that blog is short for ‘web log’ and that it can be like an online diary or a way to share written information online.  I show the students some examples of different types of blogs; professional blogs, teacher blogs, and peer blogs.  I let them know that blogging is intended to be a public way to express your thoughts and ideas online.  However, blogs can also be set to private and only shared with a few select viewers that are determined by the owner of the blog.  In my introduction to blogging I also go over student blogging guidelines.  Here is a great example that you can adapt your guidelines from, http://www.techlearning.com/article/Blogs/23336.

Once you have determined the ‘style’ of blogging that is appropriate for your classroom and you have explained your expectations, let your students experience the fun and educational value of blogging.

My classroom blog can be viewed at:  http://aceseagles.blogspot.com/.

For more information on incorporating blogging in your classroom, please visit http://sites.google.com/site/fetc2010/blogger.

Great FREE programs to get started blogging with your special education students

www.blogspot.com (Google)

www.edublogger.org

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by Jose Kevo

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