Tag Archives | special needs

Keep Moving, Keep Learning – Special Needs Physical Education

Physical education is required in almost every school in our country. With obvious health benefits, it is very important that children learn the importance of physical activity. For some schools, they like to approach physical education in a different way.

physical education

At Mattawan Early Elementary School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, they make use of their Fit for Life class. Just a half hour, twice a week, this short class has a large impact on student performance.

Physical activity has been proven to energize brains. From these observations, teachers have also noticed a change in student performance and attitude, along with self esteem. At this school, selected students who are more overactive and need opportunities to let off some steam attend the classes in the gym. The school has many programs that focus on using physical activity to help children in other ways.

Another program, Motor Moms and Dads, offers motor skill activities to all kindergartners and first or second graders with developmental delays. This intervention, called Brain Power Half Hour, allows parents and other volunteers to help aide children through six activity centers including balance beams, trampolines, mats, visual integration, stretches and strengthening exercises.

School staff has used these physical activities to decrease the need for special education in many cases. With early intervention, many students can redirect their focus, using the physical activities to help improve their mental capabilities. The different types on intervention that have been used in this school have proved successful in helping more students become more ready to learn.

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After Hours SPED School | School of the Future?

I recently came across a blog post in Edutopia by Dr. Katie Klinger about a project in Hawaii that will possibly change the future of secondary schools in that state. A group of people got their thinking-hats on and created a plan that will meet a gap in their secondary school system, which was not being addressed. Special Ed students were unable to attend the regular school hours due to different reasons that discourage them from attending the programs offered at the charter schools.

The project was launched earlier this year because Hawaii was not offering online/virtual Advance Placement courses to these groups of students. Dr. Klinger, an authority on Educational Technology, expert on virtual education, and creator of the National University Virtual High School, is collaborating with the Liahona Youth Empowerment team that is leading the project. Other experts involved in this project include Dr. Bonnie Bracey Sutton from ISTE and Emaginos.

The main objective is to design a strategy for charters schools in the state that will strengthen and improve student interest and parent participation and commitment. The charter school will implement a different approach to diagnose students and create the plan for virtual and on-site programs that will be offered to low income neighborhoods in two sides of the island. The new charter school plan includes AP courses, exercise and wellness, performing and art programs. The program will be offered to students on nights and weekends, as well as in person support to ensure students have access to all the AP courses offered.

Technology implementation to deliver a program to high school students with special needs is not only inspiring to other educators around the country looking to fill in gaps, but also demonstrate that the initiative and execution of a plan can start from anyone in the community not just the educational system. To read the blog post from Dr. Klinger, visit Edutopia’s blogs.


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Specific Learning Disabilities – Differences with Students

As a teacher, trying to understand and implement strategies for a student on an IEP(Individualized Education Plan) indicating the child has a specific learning disability (SLD) is like reading an essay written in a foreign language.  This is one of the catch-all terms for students who have learning disabilities that can affect their ability to listen, think, read, write, spell, and complete mathematical questions.  The wide variety of issues a student may have under the umbrella term of SLD makes it difficult to determine the correct classroom strategies that should be implemented.  Sometimes the IEP is helpful in providing goals and strategies that the student should aim to achieve.  This information can provide insight as to where the student struggles and what strategies should be implemented.  Unfortunately, on some IEPs, the information is very vague and it will take time to determine strategies to help the student to be academically successful.


Many students who are classified as having a SLD have dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia.  Dyslexia makes it difficult for a student to read, dysgraphia makes it difficult for a student to write, and dyscalculia makes it difficult for students to compute math problems.  Many times, these issues are compounded with other disabilities including ADD or ADHD.

One resource that can help a teacher with students who are diagnosed with SLD would be the Learning Disability Association of America site.  On this site, there is a specific section for teachers.  This page provides information and articles about LD, ADHD, social aspects of the disability, and reading strategies for the classroom.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities also has a page on their site directly for teachers.  This site provides information to support effective teaching strategies, monitoring the progress of the students, and Universal Design for Learning.  All three of these sections contain supporting articles written about the hot topics in teaching students with learning disabilities.  One article I found interesting was about how tweens with learning disabilities have a difficult time mastering the challenge curriculum where higher-order processing skills needed.  This article breaks down a study that was completed on this topic, and includes the teaching techniques and strategies as well as outlining the findings.  The recommendations  provided were to break down the steps of the tasks the students must complete, provide repetition, small group instruction, modeling when appropriate, and providing multiple exposures to the material (drill, repeat, practice, repeat, review).  The articles provided on this website offer a depth of research-based materials for implementation into many different special education classroom settings.

The website Great Schools has an interesting article about assistive technology for students with Learning Disabilities.  They suggest the implementation of simple technology such as online learning programs like Learning Today or the use of an electronic dictionary to help a student with spelling.  For all of the technologies that they list as good tools for students with learning disabilities, there is a link to another short article describing the tool and the classroom uses.

All of these resources can help teachers to implement strategies for success with students with specific learning disabilities.  Understanding the deficit and then providing the student with the tools they need to be successful will make the school year gains increase for the student.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Enabling Devices – Product/Company Spotlight on YouTube for Students

Searching through YouTube one morning, I stumbled across a company called Enabling Devices.  The videos include demonstrations of the various technologies and tools that they offer at their company for individuals with disabilities.   Some of the videos also incorporate students working with the various devices.   Enabling Devices, a New York based company, prides themselves on creating “affordable learning and assistive devices” for individuals with physical, emotional, or learning disabilities.


Check out their videos demonstrating the various toys and tools listed below.

Compact Activity Center

In this video, a special education student plays with the Compact Activity Center along with her teacher.  As her teacher guides her, the student learns about different textures, colors, feelings, and songs while discussing her feelings and input about the various activities.

Adapted Guitar Hero

A video posted just last week included an interview of an individual with cerebral palsy who was the first individual who used their Adapted Guitar Hero.  He was so excited that he was able to play this fun and interactive guitar hero.  He stated how easy and fun it was to play.  Another video shows this individual actually playing the Guitar Hero using the adapted keypad along with a mouth piece tap device.

7-Level Communication Builder

The 7-Level Communication Builder is one of their top communication tools.  This video is hosted by a technical support individual for Enabling Devices.  In addition to describing the product, he also provides a step-by-step process of setting the product up.  This device can load various pictures and frames that can have audio recorded to correspond with the pictures.  This device would help a non-verbal student to communicate.

The Buddha Board

The Buddha Board is an adaptive art product that allows students to paint leaving no mess.  It has a built in easel board and water tray.  Using the special board, students are able to paint and create designs using water.  The image will disappear after it dries, typically 3-4 minutes later.  This allows the student to then create another painting.  This reusable device is great for art therapy sessions.

You should also check out the main website for Enabling Devices.  They have a new blog that they are now posting to, including their videos and information about new products.  They also have a great online catalog that is easily searchable based on need.  For classrooms, they have special package deals already created that can be purchased using the Federal Stimulus dollars that have been infused into your school.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Including All – Special Needs Inclusion

For the preschoolers at the Waisman Center’s Early Childhood Program classes have become a little more interesting. Teachers and students are heavily integrating the students with special needs into the general education classrooms. With the patience and kindness of both teachers and students, these children have a chance to truly experience the education system exactly the same as any other student.


Teachers have noted that the other students know these children are different, but do not use this fact to outcast them or make them feel unwelcome. The Waisman Center has been educating children with disabilities since its opening in 1979. Twenty to 30 percent of the enrolled students have special needs.

The center is nationally known for its emphasis on inclusion, as children with special needs can and should be integrated with typically developing children in regular classrooms, as opposed to segregated in “special education” classes. Since classes like these take a little extra help, each classroom has several staff members present at all times. Teachers can give students intensive attention, if need be. There is also speech and occupational therapists that help give some students the extra help they need.

Ramps around the school parking lots and touch screen computers are just a few of the things that allow for children to have special benefits of attending this school. An open-ended curriculum allows for students with different abilities to participate and contribute to things at their own speed.

With activities adapted to students and constant support, special needs students are not the only ones that have grown from this program. All children have learned to be more inclusive, leading to more respect in the classroom environment.

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Visual & Kinesthetic Learning Activities for SPED

There are three types of ways that students learn: hearing, seeing, and by doing.  Research has demonstrated that that majority of learners will retain information that they see and do.  These students are termed kinesthetic learners.   This means that when you incorporate interactive visual activities in the classroom, your students are more likely to process and retain the information along with being able to perform higher on both classroom based assessments along with standardized assessments.  This is especially important for special education students.  Having them engaged, actively involved, and ‘doing’ what they are learning can help to keep them attentive, interested, and increase academic games.


Two ways that I like to have students actively engaged in my classroom lesson is by using my interactive SMART board and by having them complete both online and off-line projects about the topics they are learning.  Below are some resources for both areas that are easily adaptable for many different ages and ability levels.

SMART Board Interactive Resources

SMART Technologies has a site for teachers to share their already completed lesson and SMART board activities that they have created for their classroom.  This site is called SMART Exchange.  On this site teachers can upload and download lessons by searching their site.  The site has interactive activities on all subject areas and grade levels along with including activities that include their SMART Response system remotes where students can answer questions and interact with their lessons from their seat using a remote style device.  Remember, SMART boards are meant to be INTERACTIVE boards, which means that the students should be able to come to the board, answer questions, manipulate figures, or show other students their knowledge.  This is where the digital power of the board will help students to retain what they are learning.

Another great site with SMART board activities is Center School District’s site for SMART Board Templates.  This site has interactive activities for grades K-12.  They have templates for math that include graphing, number lines, and multiplication facts.   They have literature templates that include both the stories and interactive question, mapping, and reflection sections.  They have modifiable templates of various graphic organizers including Venn diagrams and KWLs.  They have social studies, geography, French, and science interactive templates that would be great to encourage participatory learning in your classroom.

On & Off-line Project Ideas has a page devoted to class project ideas.  These projects include making dioramas and science fair style projects.  It also includes a link about how parents can get involved in helping their children with class projects.

The Computing Technology for Math Excellence website provides teachers with a background on project based learning and questions the teacher should follow when creating a project for students to complete.  This site contains a wealth of web links to other sites with great project ideas including building bridges to teach about math and engineering and ePals where students can connect with other students from around the world.  Links to WebQuests, activities that will have the students complete an online hunt for information, are also included.  This site also has links to various rubrics and score guides on how to grade students when completing project based assignments.

Please feel free to share any links that you may know for interactive whiteboard materials or project ideas by commenting on this article!

Article By: Laura Ketcham

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A Sound Idea – Program for Students with Autism and Hearing Impairments

Many programs are created to give students with special needs a chance at growing and learning at their own pace. Many of them focus on one or many disorders. In Brattleboro, Vermont, they are catering towards two specific disorders.


In recent years, the number of autistic children has increased. In addition, many of these children also have been classified as deaf. The Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has decided to start the first deaf-autism program in the country. The program is a better way for these students to communicate with each other, which was more difficult to do in previous years.

The program has a lot of the same approaches and curriculum as it had in the past, but many of the details have been edited to better fit for the deaf students.  The non-profit organization already serves 625 deaf and hard of hearing people in Vermont and southern New Hampshire. Eight students have already enrolled in the deaf-autism program.

With help from several grants, they plan to expand and grow with their program to accommodate more students and open more programs around the country. They want to also make sure the appropriate staff are selected and trained so that the students get the most out of the program.

Since this program addresses the most important needs for these students, they can benefit from the learning experience in a new way. In addition to the learning taking place, there will also be research done to discover more effective learning methods for the autistic students, both hearing and deaf.

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Wake Up and Sing! – Special Needs Program

Music can be something that links parents and children. Bonding over music and songs is a great way to connect. Wake Up and Sing is a weekly group in Atlanta from the Center for the Visually Impaired, that meets for two hours. The group is designed for babies and toddlers with visual impairments. With this program, musical therapy is used for both parents and children.


Children in this group all have some kind of disability but that does not stop them from enjoying new music and new friends. Parents of the participating children have noticed changes in their children. With the support of other children and parents, they have noticed more confidence and positive attitudes from their children.

The program is relatively new and combines both support group therapy and music programs to those participating. Parents also thrive from the support and help they receive, so it is important that whole families are involved with the group.

Students can build many skills through the program, like social skills, cognitive skills and motor skills. Because many students also suffer from learning disabilities, it is a good way to get some extra practice that they would get out of school. Pairing sounds with smells and other forms of sense give students a new way of learning and growing together with their families.

The Wake Up and Sing program is a great way for families to enjoy togetherness while helping their children thrive and grow. By providing a fun and positive atmosphere, students and parents are both able to learn not only about themselves, but about others who are just like them.

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Attention Troops! – Girl Scouts for Special Needs Students

Many young girls across the country participate in the Girl Scout tradition, joining troops where they get to learn about leadership and friendship. Much like the unique girls who make up each troop, no two troops are the same.

In Naperville, Illinois, Troop 200 is made up of Girl Scouts who range in age from 7-17 and all have different disabilities. Many of the activities are modified specifically to their special needs. The girls go on many field trips and attend meetings, just as in any other troop.

The troop leader started Troop 200 for her own daughter who has autism. After believing that her old troop was not meeting her needs entirely, she decided that she wanted to start her own, and gear it specifically towards special needs girls.

Members of the troop follow the same rules and guidelines as any other troop, earning patches, attending events and providing community service as a group. Family participation is also a big part of Troop 200 and really helps the girls form friendships and enjoy their time together.

The troop currently has 13 members and is hoping to expand into northern cities in the near future. More troops like this one will help other special needs children participate and enjoy their times as a Girl Scout.

The troop provides a time and a place for the girls to be themselves. They get to learn from one another and form bonds with other children who are just like them.

For more information, please visit the Western DuPage Recreation Association.

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Buddies for Life – Special Needs Student Bonds

Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships with volunteers and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Over the past 21 years that they have been in existent, Best Buddies has grown to more than 1,500 chapters all around the world.

best buddies

One particular chapter, Best Buddies Australia, is made up of 150 volunteers who pair up with members who are intellectually disabled people and spend time together, playing sports, shopping, video games and other everyday activities that are involved with any friendship.

The organization is so simple because it does not require training or mentoring services. It is based on true simple friendships. Participating in everyday activities allows both participants to form a bond that may be stronger than others they have in school and with the peers they see at school.

In the schools that participate in Best Buddies Australia, there are up to 15,000 students with disabilities and 50,000 students with learning needs. As schools and organizations like Best Buddies integrate special needs students into mainstream schools, they are allowing for these students to have the same experiences as the other students.

Many schools provide special classes or opportunities for student with disabilities, but not many of them let students integrate and really be in an environment where the rest of the students are. Best Buddies is an organization that really lets those students form friendships and bonds that happen everyday. These one-on-one friendships are only the start of helping those with disabilities immerse themselves into the world.

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