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April Fool’s Day Activities for Students

This year April Fool’s Day is Friday, April 1st.  While not a traditional holiday of either gift giving or religious importance, it is still a fun day to celebrate.  Today’s traditions of April Fool’s Day revolve around playing harmless jokes on friends and family.  However, the basis of the day actually revolves around topics that are great for the classroom – learning about the calendar, the first day of spring, the change of when New Year’s is celebrated, and the historical significance of a variety of pranks that we play today.

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This is an especially sensitive issue as students with emotional or cognitive disabilities may not understand or become upset by the jokes or pranks that other students may be playing throughout the school day.  Making special needs students aware of April Fool’s Day is important so that the students can understand the intentions of why their peers may make jokes or play pranks They could get involved in school-appropriate April Fool’s jokes as well.  This day must be managed with sensitivity and direction to avoid mean or destructive behavior from any student.

History of April Fool’s Day

There are many resources available online geared for students to learn the history behind April Fool’s Day.

Wilstar.com, a website based on exploration of a variety of topics, has a history page devoted to April Fool’s Day.  On this page, students learn that the significance of April’s Fools Day and how it began when the calendar was updated to the Gregorian calendar.  The New Year was changed from the beginning of spring to January 1st.  The people who didn’t accept this change were considered the ‘fools’ and were made fun of for not following the new calendar.  Today, different cultures put their own twist on the day including tricking people for the entire day, holding two days of April Fool’s silliness or celebrating the day on a different day of the year.

The Franklin Institute also has a great page about teaching students about the history of April Fool’s Day.  This includes more information about the different calendar systems and the changes that were made and why they were implemented

April Fool’s Day Activities

Classroom activities for April Fool’s Day should be fun and engaging.   Playing small jokes on your students to get them motivated always works with the middle school students.  Giving the students a silly, impossible worksheet or a fake pop-quiz on pop culture are two examples. For elementary students, you can read them silly books or give them fun worksheets to learn   to learn about simple jokes and April Fool’s related vocabulary.  More activities can be found on this link to April Fool’s activities designed by teachers.

There is one “prank” that sent me into tears from laughing so hard as I was writing this blog.  I was thinking of a classroom joke to play for my students this year and I was thinking of the traditional examples given above when I came across this idea from eHow.  As a computer teacher, I can update the Google homepage, the default on computers, to search in three different ‘fun’ languages Elmer Fudd, Pirate, and Klingon.  I will do a web-related activity having these settings up on the search engine without their knowledge to have a fun time.  For each option, the main choices of searching, settings, feeling lucky, and search are all updated in the fun languages.  For example Elmer Fudd “hunts” instead of searches, and the Pirate “Sails into Port” to login.

What are you plans for April Fool’s Day?

Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture by Vanessa Pike-Russell

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Apps for Teachers in School

If you are a lucky teacher who owns (or is provided by your school) an iPod Touch, iPad, or even iPhone, then this is the blog post for you.  I have written several posts about apps that would be great for students to use in the classroom, but now I’m going to turn the tables and provide you with a list of apps that would be great for teachers to use in the classroom.

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Percentally

Percentally is a low-cost app to keep track of tally marks.  This app would be very helpful in many different classroom scenarios.  It could be used to keep track of student participation, the number of times a student is redirected in class, or even to mark down the number of questions the student received correct on a verbal or written assignment.  The tally marks can are automatically converted into percentage points through the use of the dual mode.  This would be great to keep track of the number of answers correct, for example 5 out of 8 answers correct.  In the single mode you only track one tally, for example 3 warnings.  The tally mark information can then be quickly transferred to a Google Spreadsheet or manually entered into a gradebook or anecdotal notes on a student.  Here is a video demo of this app in action.

iReward

iReward is a low-cost app that is an electronic behavior modification chart.  With this app you can setup a student in the program and then create the behavior you would like the child to achieve along with the reward they will earn.  You then choose how many times the behavior must be displayed for the student to earn the reward.  You can add a picture to the reward chart to encourage the student to earn the reward, for example a picture of the correct behavior.  You can take a picture and load it, or use a picture that you already have.

After the chart is set up, all you have to do is tap the star to indicate that the behavior has been displayed and it changes color from white to gold.  When all of the stars are filled in, they will all turn red.  A video of congratulations (or other reward videos) can be applied for when the student has achieved the award.

There are many modifications you can make to this reward system.  You can also select the stars to revert them back to white if a student has displayed the incorrect behavior.  To reset the stars, you just double tap to remove the colored filling.  If a student has achieved the goal of the behavior modification, you can delete the option by swiping across the row of a reward and then select delete.  To prevent unwanted changes you can also password protect the rewards under the settings mode.  After editing the reward, you relock it by shaking your electronic device.  Here is a video demo of iReward.

Remember the Milk

Remember the Milk is a free organizational checklist app.  I know as a teacher that there are so many different tasks to do in each day of the school week.  This app can help to manage the different tasks that you need to get done.  Items could include parent meetings, staff meetings, student conferences, when to make copies, what lessons you need to plan for, items you may need to pick up at the store for your classes, or even activities or lessons for the day.  These lists can be shared with other programs like a Google Calendar, Outlook, or Twitter.  Alerts can be set to remind you though your smart phone, email, text messages, or instant messages.  Tasks can be tagged by applying keywords or even locations on a Google Map.  There are many options you can apply including choosing a title for your task, a date, time, and if it repeats.  Tasks can be marked as incomplete or complete.  Tasks can be scheduled in advance or for the current day.

I also found a great resource that has a variety of apps that are subject area related.  There are apps for science, math, language arts, and social studies teachers.  Do you have any favorite apps that you use for teaching?

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Reading Rockets – Launching Students into Better Readers!

Reading Rockets provides online reading resources for teachers, parents, librarians, and other school professionals.  This site is sponsored by PBS.   The homepage of this site provides links for all types of users to find information about teaching students how to read.  This includes a FAQs section that features a new reading-related question every day, links to blogs on best practices in teaching reading and top literature picks for kids.  There is also general information including book lists, reading strategies, and research-based guides.  I particularly liked the Video and Podcasts section which included informational videos about various hot-topics in reading education such as how to get students engaged in reading in this digital era.  There were also video interviews with some of the most popular authors today.

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For Parents Page

The For Parents Page provides specific information about reading strategies that parents can implement with their children.  There are ideas for working with younger children who are learning to begin to read along with school-aged children who can read together with family or friends at home.  There are great links and ideas provided for seasonal reading like winter fun reading or how to help improve reading over the summer.  Another section on this page provides parents with tips on how to communicate with the teacher about reading and academic progress in the classroom.  There are also gift ideas for books to buy children of various ages, reading levels, and interests.  One of the most useful sections on this page provided information for parents to determine weak areas and help their struggling reader.  One of these links is a great television show to encourage these struggling readers from ages 7-12 through music, animation, and fun kid-related concepts on PBS also called Reading Rockets.

Teachers Page

The For Teachers Page offers reading strategies and lessons for the classroom.  Some of the information is the same for both teachers and parents including information on how to help struggling readers, access to the Reading Rockets blogs on children’s literature and best practices on reading.  It also has the flip-side of information about how teachers can communicate and build meaningful relationships with parents.

One of the differences in the teacher page is that there is information about professional development opportunities that can be used to further your educational reading knowledge.  Much of this information is presented through webcasts on various reading topics like tutoring programs, ELLs, summer reading, teaching writing, and students with disabilities.  One of the video professional development links is available online and is also aired on PBS called Launching Young Reader.  This series is hosted by famous actors and actresses and covers top authors, illustrators, and books for children along with reading strategies and family activities to encourage reading based on the latest research.

One of the most useful pages under the teacher’s page is the classroom strategies page.  They provide an annotated list of all of the reading strategies broken down into the main reading categories.  You can quickly see when the skill should be used before, during, or after reading.  When you select the strand you are teaching about, it provides you with an explanation of what the skill is, examples of how you can incorporate it into your classroom, books that you can use to teach this skill, differentiated instruction options, and the research data that backs the strategy.  I would recommend this page to all teachers no matter what subject or grade level they teach now.

This is a great website to learn about reading instruction and how you can implement strategies to help children both at school and at home to become lifelong lovers of reading.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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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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Online Resources Provided by the US Department of Education (Part 2)

In my previous post I wrote about Tech Matrix, an online database of technology resources for teachers to help in educating special education students.  This was one of three Department of Education organizations that I recently found while searching online.

book

Today’s post is about another Department of Education organization that I found was very helpful for learning about technology for special needs student: The National Center for Technology Innovation.  This site is directed more toward researchers and companies that make assistive technology, however, as a teacher, I found the information useful to keep up-to-date on the cutting edge research in special education and assistive technology.

Technology Innovators Conference

This organization will be holding an intriguing conference in Washington D.C. in the middle of November called the Technology Innovators Conference.  This conference is based upon  research grants that are applied for the prior year for their program called Tech in the Works.  The research on the chosen topics is then completed, and then the researchers share their findings at the conference.  Resources of past conferences including online video and presentations can also be found online.  This is a great resource to learn about the top research topics in this field.

Other Resources & Articles

Under their Products Link in a Section called Yellow Pages, I found a resource where teachers can find funding for assistive technology for the classroom.  You can also search  people, research projects, and vendors through this feature.

Relevant articles can be found through the Case Studies, Publications, and Innovator Profiles links.  Topics include speech technology, the future of assistive technology, assistive tech products put to the test, and using technology to empower students.  Many of these articles revolve around various products and technology programs that are on the market for special needs individuals.  This information can be very helpful when comparing various technologies that you may want to implement into your classroom.

Top Tech Trends for Special Education

The trends section of this website aggregates information from the top online resources including blogs, journals, magazines, and newspapers.  This information is then represented using a word cloud.  The links of words that are the largest are the ones that are the most written about topics in the trends today.  Selecting on the links will bring you to pages of articles and resources about this topic.  Below, topics can also be chosen based on pre-set categories of interest.  One cloud link that I found interesting and current was about portable technology.  Many of the articles are about the iPad, e-books, and cell phones and how they are helping individuals with disabilities to communicate.

Overall, this is a great website for special education teachers (and students who are studying to become special education teachers) to find information about current trends in special education technology and the research of the future.  The articles I found were intriguing and make me to read and learn more.

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Online Resources Provided by the US Department of Education

The United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs has three programs that are great resources for special education teachers, administrators, and technology coordinators:  Tech Matrix, The National Center for Technology Innovation, and The Center for Implementing Technology in Education.  Their companion websites have research-based articles, professional development resources, specialized searches, assistive technology reviews, articles, and events information related to technology and special education.

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Today’s post will include information about Tech Matrix.  Please come back over the next two weeks to learn more about The National Center for Technology Innovation and The Center for Implementing Technology in Education.

Tech Matrix

Tech Matrix is a free online database for teachers and parents to use to find research-based articles, professional development resources, specialized searches, and assistive technology options from various private and public online resources.  This site aggregates the “best-of-the-best” resources available for learning and implementing strategies for special education.  Tech Matrix helps to simplify the search of information in regards to special education.  Tech Matrix is created and maintained by The National Center for Technology Innovation and the Center for Implementing Technology in Education.

There are several different ways to search for resources and research through Tech Matrix.  There is a search option if you know what information you are looking for, and there are three general topic areas.

The first one is the Consumer Guides section.  This section helps to connect education administrators and assistive technology companies in building relationships and making technology decisions for special education students.  This PDF document includes information on funding, standard alignment, and implementation in an easy to read format.

The second section in Tech Matrix is the EdTech Locator.  This portion of the website allows teachers, administrators, and tech coordinators to see where they stand on integration of technology in the classroom.  This would be a great resource for a professional development course.  The user takes a short quiz to see where they stand and the program has tree targets – early, developing, and target integration of technology.  This site can help teachers to reach the goals of integrating technology in the classroom without feeling overwhelming and making sure that the technology integration is meaningful and helping the students achieve their academic goals.

The third section in Tech Matrix is the Hot Topics section.   This section includes the information from the content subject areas.  This is the most helpful section for the tech-savvy instructor who wants to learn more about technology integration in the classroom with special needs students.  Topics include reading, science, math, and writing for struggling readers along with differentiating instruction, technology integrating and transitioning with technology.  When you select on one of these topics you will find information related to the topic including relevant research papers, links to other online resources that answer hot topic questions, and technology product reviews.  Many of the resources are pulled from www.ldonline.org, a PBS national education service.

Don’t hesitate to take a look at the Tech Matrix pages above and leave a comment about the resources that you found the most helpful.

Article By Laura Ketchum

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Sources for Support in Teaching Students with Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is disorder that can affect various systems in the body.   It may make it difficult for a student to move, hear, see, and think.  For the student, this condition makes it difficult to participate or directly affect the ability to learn.  Students may also frequently be out of class due to doctor’s appointments for treatments, speech therapists to assist in building communication skills, or even physical therapists to help the students to exercise, stretch, and strengthen and move muscles.  The teacher needs to have a basic understanding of cerebral palsy in order to best serve any students with this disorder.  It also important to work together along with the student, parents, doctors, therapists, and other special education professionals to help the student to achieve learning and social goals.

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Classroom Layout & Student Socialization

About.com has a great resource for teachers and parents to help prepare a student with cerebral palsy for school.  Most likely, the classroom layout may need to be changed in order to make it easily accessible for the student.  Aisles and desks may need to be separated further apart and computer center will need adaptations like having raised desks for a wheel chair to fit under, voice activated computer systems, or the use of switches.

Teachers should also prepare the other students to help them to understand the condition of the student with cerebral palsy.  This should be done with the approval or even assistance from the parents.  However, it should also be recognized that the student should be included and treated as a normal student – just with accommodations.

This site also has links to other sites to assist teachers in preparing or planning lessons for students with cerebral palsy.

Tech Tools for CP

eHow also has a great article about helping students with Cerebral Palsy.  They support the ideas that I have read in many articles on this subject. They all stress the use of assistive technology – laptops, switches, specialty keyboards, or even pencil grips.  They also stress the importance of working as a team with the other specialists, administration, parents, doctors, and teachers to help the student to work to achieve academic success in the least-restrictive environment.  Lastly, they also stress the importance that even though the student many look different or may have difficulty communicating, it doesn’t mean that the student is any less intelligent than other students.

Videos Incorporating Technology with Students with Cerebral Palsy

Article By Laura Ketcham

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October School Technology Mashup

Here are the top three resources that I have learned about this month that can help teachers in educating students with special needs.

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Proloquo2Go

This week Proloquo2Go is in the top twenty five applications for use with iPhones, iPads, and iPods.  This fee-based mobile program is a full-featured application for communication.  It has text-to-speech ability, along with symbols, conjugations, and thousands of vocabulary words.  It is very easy to use with a simple tap of the screen.  The student taps the picture that represents what they want to say.  The device will then say what was selected.  Students can also type in their own messages and have them spoken.  There are larger sized keys which will help all users.

There is a section to store recent and most frequently used commands or features of the program.  This makes it easy for retrieval by the user.  This application can revolutionize the ability for students to gain their independence if they have difficulty communicating in the classroom and beyond.    There are great videos on YouTube that show how the program can be used and also  teachers showing how their students use it in the classroom.  It is definitely a very cool program worth checking out!

Evernote

Evernote is a program that students can use to capture all of what they are learning in the classroom.  Students can upload class notes, pictures, or web pages to Evernote.   The information will automatically be organized and tagged so it will be easy to search through at home.  Students can upload their class notes to Evernote in order to keep them organized and in an easy location to study from.  Students could take pictures of field trips, labs, or even the whiteboard and use the material later to complete an assignment or study for a test.  They can also keep clips of web pages that they will use to write a research paper or to complete a project.  This program is great for students with disabilities as it will organize that material automatically based on the content.   It can also be accessed from any device that has Internet like a laptop, cell phone, or iPad.

National Geography Xpeditions

This is an oldie but goodie site with lessons and activities for incorporating geography into your classroom.  This site is sponsored by National Geography and Thinkfinity.  This site is standards-based, high-interest and adaptable for different student levels and age groups.  Many of the activities are hands-on and incorporate animations and high-quality pictures from the actual geographic region.   One activity I completed was in the Xpedition Hall.  The activity was learning about how the brain maps data differently  in a child compared to an adult.  This would be a great activity to teach mapping skills for middle school students who are in the middle of making that transition from child to adult.  Many of the lessons incorporate activities that can be used as cross-curriculum assignments with reading, writing, and even math.

Do you have any great sites or apps that you have come across this month?  Please feel free to comment and share your best classroom tech resources!

Article By Laura Ketcham

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Back to School Technology Mashup

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, almost all of the schools around the country are open for learning!  Enjoy these technology sites and ideas for incorporation into all levels of classrooms this fall.

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Blabberize

Blabberize is a free web 2.0 tool where students, or the teacher, can upload  a person or animal photo, add audio, and animate the mouth so that the person or animal is speaking the audio you uploaded.   Implementing a project using this site would be a great activity for students to complete when learning about the history of famous individuals, or when learning facts about animals. Teachers can also search for already created blabberized photographs to share in class as a fun activity or opening activity for a chapter or lesson.

Thinkfinity

Thinkfinity is a website that provides a wide variety of free online resources that are frequently updated by various organizations including Verizon Foundation.  They have lesson plans for grades K-12 for many different subject areas including the core subjects along with economics, literature, geography, and art.  They also have an interactive games and tools section where students can go on the computer and develop creative projects including interactive dictionaries, post cards, maps, and graphs.  These activities provide great guidelines on how to implement them into your classroom along with the information for appropriate grade levels.  Another great feature on this site is the “Today in History” section.  This would be great to start off a history lesson in class every day with the fact and a critical question relating to the fact of the day.  Teachers of all subjects, grade levels, and ability levels should definitely check this site out.

Exploreatree

Exploreatree is another free web 2.0 resource.  On this site, students can create, save, and print, a wide selection of graphic organizers.  This site has very simple and very complex graphic organizers appropriate for many different classes and levels including math, science, and language arts for all grade levels.  Students, or teachers, can even start with a blank template and create their own graphic organizer for a specific lesson.  After creating a graphic organizer, you can even upload it to their database of graphic organizers and share it with other users.

PSB Kids Design Squad – Designit Buildit Fidgit

Design Squad is a science, math, technology, and engineering television show where teens compete in making machines to try to win a college scholarship on PBS Kids.   They have a companion website for the television show.  Designit Buildit Fidgit is an online logic game that student can play on a computer during technology centers or as an activity for when they complete assignments early.  The goal of the game is for the students to solve various puzzles including shapes that can be rotated for flipped to save the ‘fidgits’ by getting them back into their box.   Students can play levels that other students have created and once familiar with the game, they can actually create their own level to challenge other students.  There are also several other games related to the Design Squad show that can also be accessed via the Fidgit site.

These are great free online resources for creative projects and lessons in your classroom for the beginning of the school year.  If you have any ideas of other great free sites, please feel free to leave a comment!

– Article By Laura Ketcham

– Picture By San Jose Library

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A Perfect Fit – School for Special Needs Students

Most public schools do a great job of incorporating special needs education into their school curriculum. A Texas school, Green Oaks is a school catered towards students with special needs, mainly Down syndrome.

green oaks
For many of the Texas families, it was difficult to find a school where their student’s needs were being met. To make sure that their students were receiving all the help and instruction they needed, they decided to start a school with a curriculum that is focused on basic skills, such as reading and writing. Students can get one-on-one lessons that are specific to their abilities.

Special techniques are used to ensure that the students get the most out of their time at school. Since many Down syndrome students have trouble or difficulties with individual letters, teachers emphasize on those letters, using very large print and materials to teach reading.

As the students’ education continues to grow, so has the school itself. More and more students are attending Green Oaks each year. This also allows for more social interaction with students that are alike in many ways. Social interaction is a great way for students to interact with peers and practice real life social skills in a public environment. Students should not only be about learning from books, but learning from others, too.

With students from ages 6 to 24, there is a wide variety of learning in their education and school system. Specialized schools like this one are making learning and education more efficient to all students.

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