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Holiday Learning Gifts

New Tech & Learning Toys

November is typically a great month with new technology and educational toys coming out for the holiday season.  This year is no exception.  Most of the top tech toys that I have seen in the stores this fall are also educational.  These gift ideas are both great for parents to give their children this holiday season along with ideas for teachers to add to their holiday classroom wish list.

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Interactive Gaming Tech

Microsoft released an add-on component to the Xbox called Kinect.  Kinect allows the user to interface with the system using voice and body movements rather than having to use a controller.  There are specific games that use this new technology that encourages the player to interact with the system and other players around them.  This is similar to the controller system that the Wii uses, but is touted as being more responsive.

Paper Jamz is a great new (inexpensive) musical and technology toy.  The paper guitar and drums have a touch-technology imbedded into the paper instrument.  When the child strums or select chords, the instrument will play with the sound being heard through the paper amplifier.  There are three different ways to play including a Perfect Play, Rhythm Mode, and Free Style Mode.  Perfect Play allows you to play along with one of the three pre-programmed songs even if you don’t know the song.  Rhythm Mode plays the accompaniment of the song while the child plays the lead guitar and Free Style Mode allows you to play any chords or notes on the guitar.  There are different styles of guitars to buy, and each guitar has different song pre-loaded onto it.  There is also a headphone jack which would be great for students who may be playing their Paper Jamz in a classroom setting.  This would be a great musical toy to have for indoor recess or in an elementary music class as a free-choice activity.

Reading & Tech

The Vtech V-reader is an e-book reader for pre-school children or struggling readers.  The e-book device loads various stories either from a book cartridge or from connecting the V-reader to a computer and downloading books.   Each ‘book’ contains stories, a story dictionary, and reading games.  As the student reads the story, words are read aloud and highlighted.  The stories contain picture animations and sounds that make the story interactive.  If the student selects a word on the screen it can provide a definition and learning questions.  If a student touches a picture on the screen various animations and interactive elements can be explored.  This is a great new learning toy to encourage young readers.

Another similar reading toy that I saw ‘in action’ this weekend when I went to a gathering is the Leapster Explorer.  The Leapster Explorer is a handheld video gaming device with an educational twist.  Games and activities can be loaded via store purchases, or Leaplet apps that are downloaded through the computer.  This system can run various educational games, e-books, videos, flash cards, and life skills games.  All of the learning games are based on National Standards and cover subject areas like reading, math, geography, and science.  What I found very interesting is when the kids had difficulty with one of the activities, he would ask the other kids for help.  A device that you would typically think of as a one-to-one computing device actually encouraged the interaction amongst the children including learning the various educational concepts in the games.  As a parent or a teacher, the data derived from the games on the Leapester can be viewed online to monitor your child’s or student’s progress.  This would be a great tool to help students when they struggle or to encourage enrichment of certain subjects that students are interested in gaining more knowledge.  Again – another great new tech tool to encourage young learners to be actively engaged in their learning.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Toys

Lego Mindstorms are robotics kits for kids ages 10 and up.  The kit includes materials and directions to create 4 different robots and 6 different building challenges.  The robots are then programmed using the computer and the NXT technology.  Kids can then take the challenge to the next level by using the pieces to create and program their own robot.  In a classroom setting this would be great to use in a science, math, or technology class.  Students could work together to have a robot build-off or even use it as a spring board to get involved in competitive robot competitions.

K’nex is a popular building toy, similar to Lego’s.  They have come out with new kits for the holiday season including cars, animals, and amusement park attractions.  This is a great educational toy to have in the classroom as connections can be made to science, math and technology.  K’nex even has an educator website with lesson plans, connections with kits and standards, and various products that would be great to use in the classroom setting.  Using K’nex as a learning toy can also include helping students to build gross and fine motor skills.

All of these great learning toys are available now and would be great additions to classroom instruction and learning!

Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar

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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.

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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.

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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

Picture By ~Brenda-Starr~

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iCan with the iPad – Usage for Special Needs

For many children, the iPad is just another form of entertainment. They can play games, listen to music and do other types of fun activities. But for some children, it can do more than that.

The video below is about a boy named Owen, who was born healthy, but diagnosed at 8 weeks old with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Type 1. Doctors expected him only to live for 2 years. Although he has now lost nearly all muscular movement, he lived. He also has learned to read, do math and write, all from the help of his parents.

 

Over the past few years, Owen’s mother has been looking for different technologies to help her son learn. Many of these technologies have been very expensive and not proven to be as helpful as expected. One day, Owen’s nurse brought over an iPad for him to use. Since he can use his hands, he was able to use the touch screen to move about with the iPad.

The fact that Owen was able to operate this device was a huge step for the family. He was able to push buttons, change screens and do other moves with the iPad. For people with disabilities, the features on the latest devices, like the iPad are “game changers”. Owen is able to turn the pages in a book on his own, for the first time.

With the potential to advance his learning abilities, devices like the iPad prove to be crucial. The abilities they give to people with special needs may soon prove to be endless.

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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

Picture By edenpictures

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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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Dragon Naturally Speaking 11 – Classroom Usage

Dragon Naturally Speaking version 11 just hit the market this month.  I have written about this great product that allows individuals to use voice commands to control the computer and as a text input device to search the web or create documents.  This new version of the program includes faster processing times, increased accuracy, and an easier interface.  Using this program takes the place of using a mouse, keyboard, or touch screens.  This is a great product for individuals with physical disabilities that would make it hard to use any of those devices.

technology

With version 11, students should find it easier to train.  When the users first begin to use the program it will learn and adapt to their inflections or accents through a training process.  This process is touted to take less time with fewer errors.  The new version also includes a status indicator if there is poor reception due to a faulty microphone or too much background noise.

Users are also able to speak faster and have the product respond quicker.  Students can now move quicker through commands and to be able to dictate homework assignments, papers, and searching the Internet faster.  They have also included more short cut commands to also increase the speed and accuracy of the use of the program.

The new interface includes a side-bar pop up screen of most frequently used commands.  This can help students to learn the program and also students who may have a combination of physical and academic struggles.  There are also help features that include videos and visuals to help students to learn the program.

They have also added easy to use user profiles to the program.  This is great for classroom use.  This way the different students can create their own profiles, train the program to work with their voice, and then process more quickly while using the computer.  When another student comes to use the program, they would just select their profile, and continue on.  This is one of the best enhancements to this product for classroom use.

Enhancements have also been made for easier web surfing.  When a user wants to click on a link, they say click and the phrase.  This will process has been made easier where the program is able to tell if the reader is saying a phrase on the site or if the user wants to select the link.

Lastly, the program is now easier implemented on netbooks, which is definitely useful in schools that have purchases these inexpensive tools.  The program has also been upgraded to be fully functional with both Office 2010 and the newest version of Open Office.

If you have room in your school budget to add or upgrade this program in your special education classroom, this would be a great product to add.

Article By Laura Ketcham

Picture By San Jose Library

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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.

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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

Picture By San Jose Library

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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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Labor Day Activities for Students

Today, many schools are already in session before the Labor Day Holiday.  Students look forward to Labor Day as their first long weekend of the year, an official ending of summer, or even as the beginning of the football season.  This signifies the end of breaks and that school is back in session for a long stretch, without breaks.  However, many students don’t know the origin or meaning of Labor Day.  This week, it would be great to include a lesson on Labor Day, sharing the history and original meaning of the holiday.  There are many craft ideas, projects, and historical lessons explaining and importance of Labor Day.

labor day

Adaptations for the activities below for special need students would include providing reading material at the student’s lexile level, providing assistance for project activities like cutting, pasting, drawing, or providing direct instruction or easy to follow instructions.  For inclusion classrooms, pairing a helpful student with the student with special needs can help both students to be more successful with the activity.

Reading Passages & Articles about Labor Day

Education World has created an annotated list of educational Labor Day resources.  The site also contains a short explanation of the history behind Labor Day.  The first link they provide has a short article about unions, teamsters, the government involvement in labor legislation, and the American workers.  This article can be printed out and used for a guided reading activity in class.  The article is written for children, which makes it easier to understand than some sites written for adults, like Wikipedia.  The fourth resource provided on the list is more for high school students.  It provides a series of lessons about freedom, political struggles, strikes, legal rights of laborers, unions, and women entering into the workforce.  The 6th resource provides information and photographs about child labor.  This would be a resource where each child could receive one picture and write a story behind the photo.

Activities & Projects about Labor Day

The Labor Day activities on the Apples 4 the Teacher site include reading and writing lessons, but also fun hands on activities to learn more about Labor Day.  This includes coloring sheets, word searches, worksheets, and other printables.

Enchanted Learning has a page full of fun-filled Labor Day activities.  Crafts include a labor collage, building a town out of recycled materials including paper towel rolls and tissue boxes, printable activity books, puzzles, vocabulary worksheets, alphabet games, and coloring pages.

Incorporating Technology with Labor Day Activities

Other activities that students could complete about Labor Day while infusing technology into your classroom include:

  1. Watch a YouTube clip from the History Chanel about Labor Day and having students write a blog post or short response using a word processing program.  You could then upload their papers to Wordle and visually see the important facts and main ideas in a visual representation.
  2. Have the students use Art Pad to create a before and after drawings of what they through Labor Day was before they read the page on Wikipedia on Labor Day and then again after.
  3. Create short video clips about Labor Day using Flip Cameras, edit them on Movie Maker (comes free with Windows), and then upload their videos to Teacher Tube to share will other classrooms.
  4. Have the students play one of the popular online games that involve labor related activities, like Diner Dash, Lemonade Stand, Nanny Mania, or Fish Tycoon.  After they play, and advance to more difficult levels, you can discuss multi-tasking, taking breaks, and how challenging that job may be in real life – and how all workers deserve a day of rest.  Link to Games

Article By: Laura Ketcham

Picture By: Robert Couse-Baker

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