Tag Archives | SPED

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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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

Picture By: woodleywonderworks

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Community Production – Special Needs Performance

For many students, performing in front of a group or a large audience can be something they dread or are not comfortable doing. For others, like the students at Thresholds Theatre in Chicago, it is a way for those with mental disorders and disabilities to share their experiences with others and tell their unique stories.


Sharing personal stories and experiences with others is a common therapeutic for those who have mental illness or disorders. In their 7 month program, people from all over the community come together to share their own personal stories. The groups do exercises and games that allow them to bounce around ideas. After a few months of bonding and sharing, when the students are comfortable, they start to build material that will be used in their show.  Participants practice hard for the production, which is held in a live theatre and is put on anywhere from 7 to 12 times.

Threshold, which is Chicago’s largest mental health agency, has many different programs for people with mental disabilities. In the production, personal stories, poems and other works of art are all used. For the first time, they were able to incorporate many deaf participants because of the interpreter on staff that was able to attend all rehearsals.

For those who are participating in the program, it is a great way to share and listen to others who have been through similar situations. Those who attend the performances are able to see not only the stories and experiences from those in the program, but the hard work and dedication each one has put into each performance.

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Magazines Encouraging Struggling Readers #SPED #ESOL


Students who are struggling readers typically find that they are not interested in reading ‘long boring books’ that their teachers assign to them.  One way to get these struggling readers to read would be to engage them with child focused, high quality magazines.  There are many magazines that are geared for the younger readers.  The short articles with games, puzzles, and crafts can help to engage the reader to learn more about that specific topic or subject.

Some magazines that young readers will be interested in are Ranger Rick, Your Big Backyard, Zoobooks, Sports Illustrated for Kids, National Geographic for Kids, Highlights and American Girl.  These magazines should be included in a comprehensive classroom library.  During free reading, having these magazines as options can engage the struggling reader.

When these students read about a specific topic they are interested in, they can then find other books, both fiction and non-fiction, about that same or similar topic – in essence making the transition from magazine to book.  This fun reading can give them an incentive to start reading longer, more challenging books.  Magazines should not be used as a crutch, but as a spring board to broaden a child’s reading.  Many of these magazines also have different versions for different age groups of kids – babies, toddlers, and young children.  These magazines engage the kids with both entertainment and learning.

Magazine Companion Websites

All of the magazines mentioned above also have companion websites.  On these websites,students can read more about different subjects and topics covered in the magazine along with being able to play games, watch video clips, solve riddles, and complete different activities and crafts.  On their websites, you can also view past issues of the magazine or parts of current articles without subscribing.  Many sites also include teacher and parent companion materials

Currently on the Ranger Rick website, there is information about the Oil Spill in the Gulf.  This was a topic covered in this month’s magazine.  This extension provides a way for children to learn about the spill, how it is affecting the animals, and what they can do to help – but at their level.  The Your Big Backyard website has different summer activities and crafts.  On the Zoobooks website, kids can play a variety of  games along with visiting a virtual zoo, guessing different types of animals, and access to an animal directory.

The Sports Illustrated for Kids website has videos, blogs, articles, and photos of the current happenings in the sports world.  This site also has sports related online games, some of which have students learn different sports trivia in order to win the game.  The National Geographic Kids website has very similar activities on their site except the focus is on animals, people, and places.

Highlights has two different companion websites for their magazine. Highlights Kids has games, puzzles, crafts, stories, and science links. Highlights Puzzlemania contains a variety of different puzzles for kids to solve including Sudoku, story twisters, code cracking, and answering trick questions.

The American Girl website has two sections – one for shopping for American Girl dolls & accessories and one for online play.  The online play section includes activities, games, quizzes, and information about the different dolls.  Each of the different dolls has a story about them.  These stories can encourage the girl’s to learn more about that topical focus.

Overall, great kids magazines have a place in the classroom to encourage struggling readers with engaging high-quality level-appropriate stories and articles.  Subscriptions are inexpensive and should be added to your classroom wish lists for the coming school year.

-Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo from mclib

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Student Response Systems Increase Learning Outcomes | Special Needs

I am currently researching the variety of student response systems out on the market to determine which brand, style, and system will work best in my classroom and at my school.  These systems allow teachers to gauge student learning immediately during direct instruction.  Teachers build in questions to ask the students during the presentations.  They use the response systems to enter their answers and then their answers are displayed through the projector onto the board and presentation.  Then the teacher can gauge student understanding immediately, rather than waiting for a quiz or test grade.

Technological Advances in Student Response Systems

There have been many advances over the past year to the student response systems.  The traditional True/False and multiple choice response systems have now emerged as high-tech multi-function devices.  Some response systems now include a full QWERTY keyboard, allow for text responses, and have computer-based or phone-based options available.  Many manufacturers are now offering a one-to-one model where each student will have their own remote that they take with them to each of their classes with their traditional materials like a textbook, paper, and pencil.  This is in place of having a classroom set that stays in one place..  Some schools are even requiring students to purchase their on remotes as part of their school supplies.

SRS Increase Learning Outcomes in Special Needs Classrooms

I believe that student response systems can play a vital role in increasing learning outcomes with students with special needs in the inclusion classroom.  The student response systems allow students to answer and ask predetermined questions that were created by the teacher, but also allow for students to indicate when they don’t understand a concept or have a question.  These systems can be set up to allow for the students’ identity to remain anonymous.  This would allow the students to be actively engaged in their learning as well as decreasing any fear associated with asking questions or showing lack of comprehension in front of their peers.

Available Response Systems

SMART Tech has a variety of response systems.  One of the remotes that they carry is specifically designed for students with special needs.  It provides a color and shape coded system and larger buttons than their traditional response systems.  Their other responses systems include options for QWERTY style remotes or using the response system through computers or cell phones.  If you have a SMART board in your classroom the system seamlessly integrates with the Notebook software and the SMART board to make for easy implementation.

Turning Technologies also has a wide variety of student response systems.  They have systems that can run through PowerPoint or other programs.  Their clickers are much smaller than the SMART response remotes.  They also have software you can download onto PDAs, phones, or computers and then use as the response system.  The most advanced clicker that Turning Technologies has is the ResponseCard® XR.  This system allows students to enter a wide variety of responses including numbers, letters, negatives, and decimals.  They can also be used to give a complete interactive test that students can complete at their own pace.

An online FREE polling system that is popular in schools that allow cell phone use is Poll Everywhere.  Poll Everywhere uses text messaging to receive responses to questions.  The teacher would setup the questions before the lesson and then provide the text number for the students to respond to for the question during the presentation.  The students then enter the answer and the results are displayed on the board.  This system requires no major investment by the school for equipment or Internet access.  It would be a great alternative if students are allowed to use their cell phones in the classroom at your school.

There are many other student response systems available for K-12 education including special needs students.  It just takes a little bit of time and research to figure out what is the best fit for your classroom and school.  It is definitely a tech tool that you should add to your wish list before the end of the school year!

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo from Waifer X

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Win $2000 in the Sketch-A-Space Competition for Students with Autism

Easter Seals and Google SketchUp are teaming together to help make spaces more accessible to students with autism in the Easter Seals’ Sketch-A-Space Competition. $2000 to design your ideal, dream space is up for grabs for students with autism, students interested in learning more about autism, or students who have someone in their life that lives with autism (aged 13 and older). The Sketch-A-Space Competition aims to raise awareness about autism while helping students express their creativity. Google SketchUp has become very popular for students with autism since many autistic students are visually and spatially gifted and are well-crafted in creating 3-D models.

How to Win $2000 for Your Dream Space

To enter, students must use Google SketchUp’s free 3-D modeling software to design their dream space.

Step 1: Browse the competition rules. If the student is under the age of 18, parent or guardian approval must be granted. Note, there are four categories of competition.

  1. Youth with Autism: individuals with autism age 13-17.
  2. Adult with Autism: individuals with autism age 18 and over.
  3. Youth: individuals without autism age 13-17.
  4. Adult: individuals without autism age 18 and over.

Step 2: Create your dream space in the Google Site Template. Don’t forget to name and save the entry page. Be creative if you are in it to win it!

When designing your space, keep in mind the unique needs of students with autism. Here are some interior design resources for students with autism provided by Easter Seals.

  1. Advancing Full Spectrum Housing:  Designing for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (PDF).
  2. Opening Doors:  A Discussion of Residential Options for Adults Living with Autism and related Disorders (PDF) (Chapter Six specifically addresses design needs)
  3. Design + Autism.
  4. Classroom Design for Living and Learning with Autism.
  5. Individuals with autism may present with a variety of sensory needs.  The following site has information about how these needs may present in individuals with autism and how they might be addressed.

Step 3: Submit the Sketch-A-Space competition entry by July 16, 2010, at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

Step 4: Await the results. Winners will be notified no later than September 1, 2010. Entries will be judged on a variety of categories including how innovative the design, how the design addresses the unique needs of students with autism, thoughtful use of materials, and the quality of the SketchUp model.

Step 5: Accept your prize! 3 of the four finalists will receive $1000 to a home design/home improvement store. One grand prize winner will receive $2000 to a home design/home improvement store.

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There’s an App for that! | Special Education Apps

The iPod Touch®, iPhone®, and iPad®, are a great innovative technology tools for educators and students to use in the classroom.  These devices all have access to the App Store, which now contains a wide array of easy to use, fun and functional applications for education.  Access to the App Store is readily available through iTunes or over wireless and 3G connections on the various ‘i-devices’.  Since the release of the iPad, there has been an increase in creation of educational apps.  While not all students may have access to Apple’s portable devices, it may be time to put in wish-list requests to administration for tools like these to be included in the budget for your classroom next year.

Where to find Apps for Special Education

Scribd is a social publishing and reading site.  On this site I found a Scribd page devoted to special education apps.  The interactive list contains 24 mini-pages of useful apps for special education students including descriptions and links for download.  The apps are organized by topics and include communication, organization, reading, writing, math, music, art, accessibility, and games.  Most of the Apps that are in the list are free or low cost, typically not costing more than $5.00 per App.  When you select on an App, the link will take you into iTunes where there is a full description and screen shots of the App along with user feedback is available.  The App can then be purchased and downloaded the portable Apple device you own.

Beth Kintle is a K-12 Technology Integration Specialist who maintains a blog about various educational happenings.  One of her posts from March included a new open-access Google Docs document for individuals to add information about iPod apps that they have used in their classrooms.  The list contains the title of the App, a link, description, subject, level, comments, and user feedback.  Users with a Google account can add their favorite Apps to the lists.  This is a great way for the special education community to join together in building the best apps that will help special needs students.

One app that I really liked was the My Homework App.  Using this app on an ‘i-device’ allows the student to create a list of their classes and add specific details about projects and assignments.  They can be viewed by all classes for individual days, for a week, or a month-at-a-glance.  Text can easily be added, deleted, and modified into the program.  There is also a feature to then send their updates to their email account.

One last location to find Apps for special education is to directly search using iTunes either on a laptop or your ‘i-device’.  If you go to the iTunes store and search ‘special education’ and then select App store from the left-hand menu, you will get a comprehensive list of Apps currently denoted as being specifically developed for special education.  When you select on the App you can learn more about the App through a description, screen shots, and user feedback.

Upon my searching I found many flash card systems that teach functional skills that can be integrated with the iPhone.  Since the device is portable, it can lead to students living more independent lives.  Another cool set of Apps I found was the Jammit games where students can learn to play drums and guitar and then make a mix based on actual artists’ recordings.  Fun and learning all wrapped into one!

I can really see this type of technology being the future of education for special needs students!

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo from myHomework

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Links for Teachers on Teaching Children with Special Needs

I had an enlightening discussion today with a colleague about special needs students, their accommodations in the classroom, and classroom strategies.  The teacher is a core-curriculum middle school teacher and has several inclusion ESE students in her daily classes.  Every teacher at our school is provided with the appropriate paperwork (called an Individual Education Plan, IEP or 504 Plan) and documentation about the students’ type of disability and accommodations.  The colleague I was talking with was curious to know more in depth about her students’ actual disabilities to have a better understanding of how to better serve the educational, developmental, and social aspects for the special needs students.

Below you will find a list of links that can assist teachers to learn about specific disabilities, development and academic abilities, classroom management techniques, appropriate ways to build social skills, and other facts to increase student learning outcomes and independence for special needs students.

Teacher Vision

Teacher Vision has a section of their website devoted to students with special needs.  They have tips and advice, modifications for reading, math, and ESOL students, curriculum suggestions, and IEP accommodation information, among many other resources.  The pages that had the best information to help my colleague were under the Tips & Advice section.

There is a link about Students with Exceptionalities.  This link provides teachers with terms and definitions that are associated with special needs education.  It also provides specific teaching strategies to increase learning outcomes for students with different disabilities and ability levels.

Another link in this section is called Teaching Students with Special Needs.  This link provides information for teachers on indicators for students with learning disabilities.  They provide and extensive list of behaviors and struggles that a students with learning disabilities may have and how to make learning more accessible for them.  They also cover the opposite end of the spectrum by discussing indicators of gifted students, their learning struggles (ie. not being challenged), and how to adapt your teaching and lessons to challenge gifted students.  Overall, this is a great site for teachers to learn more about better educating students with special needs.

New Horizons

The New Horizons website offers information for teachers and parents about inclusion, ADD/ADHD, Autism, Gifted Learners, and English Language Learners.  They provide definitions and examples for the disabilities and learners along with providing links for best practices and research-based strategies.  This is also a good resource for finding information about federal laws about the education of students with special needs like IDEA and 504 plans.

Children with Special Needs

The Children with Special Needs site has a section of information devoted to informing teachers and parents about special needs.  This site has a link list of 13 disabilities along with information on general disabilities.  It provides information about the disability and common symptoms or behaviors of the disability.  They then provide a great links section with more information on classroom strategies, laws, advocacy groups, or social skill strategies when teaching students with those specific disabilities.  This is a great starting point for learning more about special needs students.

Article by Laura Ketcham

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How does Technology Help People with Special Needs?

Next week, my 7th grade Computer Applications classes will be learning about how technology can help people with special needs. Year after year, this has become one of the most interesting and intriguing lessons for my students. They learn about the ADA, hearing impairments, sight impairments, mobility challenges, and learning disabilities. This lesson opens their eyes to the struggles of individuals with special needs and how they overcome their disabilities with the advancement and use of technology.

This lesson is based around the famous scientist Stephen Hawking. He has ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. He was diagnosed with ALS at age 21 and as he has aged, he lost movement of his muscles and is now almost completed paralyzed, including his vocal cords. Stephen Hawking uses technology to help him communicate, for mobility, and for him to complete day-to-day tasks. Over his life time, the technology advances have helped him to maintain a level of independence that he might not otherwise have. I believe that a lot of the advances in technology for individuals with special needs stems from his involvement and persistence with technology companies to come up with the next best tech tool.

One technology device that Stephen Hawking uses is an electronic voice synthesizer. He uses this to communicate. This system works through his wheel chair which has an infra-red ‘blink switch’ connected into his glasses. By scrunching his right cheek up, it actives the ‘blink switch’
and he is able to talk, compose speeches and research papers, browse the Internet, and write e-mails.

His wheel chair houses all of the technology tools need to run his communication system along with assisting him with mobility. His current computer, a laptop, can run up to 7 hours or longer if switch to run off of his wheel chairs battery. There are also various external peripherals, a touchscreen LCD, and speakers which project his hardware-synthesized voice. The computer also has wireless Internet access that connects through cell phone towers. Through this system he can also make and receive phone calls. Lastly, he has a radio transmitter that opens doors from him in his home and office increasing his ease of movement around home and work.

All of the information that the students learn about Stephen Hawking is then connected into other disabilities and how those technologies that he uses could be adapted for students their age to help them communicate, learn, and be independent. At the end of the informative section of the lesson, which includes a reading passage from their textbook, an informal discussion & presentation, and a recent video interview with Stephen Hawking, the students are challenged to come up with their own futuristic technology that could help students their age to overcome their disabilities. Look back next week for their inventive ideas!

Article by Laura Ketcham

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iPods & iPads are Innovative Tech Tools for Special Education

The iPod Touch and iPad, are great innovative technology tools for educators and students to use in the classroom.  There are many applications and features of these tools that may potentially increase learning outcomes and motivation for learning in the classroom.  While not all schools or students may have access to these tech tools, it is time to add these innovative devices as a wish-list request for next school year!

Functional Skills System for the iPod Touch

The Conover Company has a great package for special education classrooms that includes a classroom set of iPod Touches pre-loaded with age-appropriate videos setup into a functional skills system.  This system allows the students to learn functional skills to gain more independence in society.  The videos include an instructional phase, review phase, and generalization phase for life, literacy, math, social, and work skills. Some of the topics for the videos are learning about money, safety signs, tools for work, manners, social skills, describing words, clothing, entertainment, transportation, restaurants, shopping, labels, hygiene, grooming, and groceries.

The advantage of the iPod system is that the students can travel with the functional skills system to assist them in their day-to-day lives.  The touch screen capability of the iPod allows access to this system for students who may have limited hand movement or motion.  There is also a feature to modify the iPod into a single switch compatibility mode.  The videos include high-quality audio which used in conjunction with the vision impaired features of the iPod, allows access for students with low vision to utilize the functional skills program.  Closed-captioning is also available for the videos for students with hearing impairments.  This system can also be used on the computer instead of using iPod, but it would limit the use of the program outside of the classroom.  Another addition to the program is that there are print exercises that accompany this software for students to learn the functional skills in the classroom without the technology.

Videos of Special Education Students using iPods in the Classroom

Click Here to view a great video about how iPods can be used by teachers, students, and parents in the special education classroom.    In this video the teacher and sign language interpreter use the iPod as a communication device between the teacher, student, and parents.  The teachers also created videos of vocabulary in sign language and student accomplishments.  The parents can then see what the students are learning in class and become more involved at home.  The voice memo feature of the iPod is used to send information back and forth from families to teachers.  They have expanded the roll of the iPod in the classroom by video taping the stories that are being covered in class including audio, sign language, and photos from the books.  The stories can then be read at home to increase reading comprehension.

This video shows hearing impaired students utilizing the iPad for science education.  The teacher has the students completely engaged in their lesson combing the use of the iPad with sign language.  The video shows that the iPad is an innovative tool where the students can interact with each other in conjunction with their online textbook.  The features of the iPad that the students felt were helpful include the flip the screen, easy ability to scroll, enlarge images, search the net, and load their textbook.

Article by Laura Ketcham

Photo by FHKE

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