Friday, August 31, 2012

What's Your Homework?!?!

Many of our youngsters with learning disabilities struggle to get their homework for the day copied off the board. This is a regular sore point for parents! Kids come home and they either wrote nothing, copied incompletely, or what they did write is illegible.

One solution we've used when we've exhausted other modalities is to have the student take a snapshot with an iTouch.

I like to make a box for the teacher to write in, using electrical tape on their white-board. This serves two functions: 1. the teachers have an area dedicated for homework (this can help our scribing students as well), and 2. it serves as a visual cue for taking the photograph.

Once the picture is taken, the student can email it using the built-in software to do so. We ask the student to mail it to an email they share with a parent. The other option we've used on occasion is to load the picture up in Dropbox or iCloud. Using Dropbox or iCloud, we want to be certain the accounts are shared with the parents, and that they are emptying the photos at the end of each week.

Whether the student emails the photo or moves it to a "cloud" server, the picture will have a date and time associated with it automatically, which further helps reduce confusion.

I'd love to hear if you are using the iTouch camera in interesting ways.

Happy therapy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Voice Dictation Delivered!

Have you tried to get voice dictation to work for your students with special needs?  Has the promise of voice dictation never quite delivered yet?

As an Occupational Therapist, and an Assistive Technology Professional, every few months, I get a request from a parent to set up voice dictation for their student.

Dragon recording

In 12 years I have seen perhaps half a dozen students use desktop based voice dictation software successfully. Those are really low numbers.  Voice dictation software often requires a high frustration tolerance when training the software, as well as reasonably clear dictation. Many of our students with learning disabilities lack those two skill sets.

Recently though, we have discovered that Dragon dictate on an iTouch, iPad, or iPhone works great. And, there is no training involved.  This whole blog entry is being dictated with Dragon Dictation. After dictating to my iTouch, I copy and paste the text into Apple's Notes which comes pre-installed on all iDevices. Notes is free, as is Dragon dictate.
Dragon Dictate

In Notes I can e-mail the document to myself. In this case I cut and paste my writing into my preferred  blog editor. It would be just as easy to cut and paste into a word-processing software on a computer. On the computer it's easy to perform necessary editing.

The upside is that the voice dictation seems to work pretty well. Even with young students I have had good success.

The downside is that it requires layers of technology:

1. Voice dictation,
2. copying and pasting into Notes or an e-mail program,
3. emailing the text to yourself,
4. copying and pasting again into a word processor.

Mailing Notes
It is important to weigh whether the benefits of voice dictation outweigh the costs created by the layers of technology. But if your reluctant writer can manage the multiple steps of dictating, copying, mailing, copying and pasting, this may be a very elegant solution.

Happy therapy!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The good, and the bad: technology

Parents, teachers, ministers, coaches, teens, and etc, etc... Read this New York Times article! In the past year I have seen 3 incidents similar to the one in the article, with "good kids" who simply made really poor choices.

Don't assume your good kid could't be involved.

Discuss with them the potential ramifications.

Technology, as you know has both  good, and bad aspects. And like most things, knowledge = power.

From the article: "Lacey students were convicted of dissemination of child pornography, they could be sentenced to up to 36 weeks in a juvenile detention center. They would be registered as sex offenders."

Click here:
A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives

A version of this article appeared in print on March 27, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why All Schools Need iPads: Ending Texas’s Bizarre Control Over National History Textbooks

America’s history education is still held captive to the notoriously anti-establishment Texas Board of Education, which buys enough high school textbooks that it can dictate the content of history curriculum nationwide. A recent decision to recall a popular history book for its abject religious bias, written by one of the Texas Board’s most controversial experts, is a strong reminder of why every classroom needs an iPad... more from Gregory Ferenstein at TechCrunch:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Weekend Report:

by Kara VanHooser, Speech Language Pathologist and Leigh Stratton, Classroom Teacher

“What did you do this weekend?”

Do you ever ask this question on a Monday morning? Do you enjoy telling others at work or school about your own weekend? Of course you do!

The students in Ms. Stratton’s elementary class in Chapel Hill have fun talking about their weekends, too.

How is it that they do this, given that most of them are not verbal and communicate just a single message at a time?

The answer is relatively low-tech and not exactly new: BIGmack Communicators by AbleNet.

Each Friday, a BIGmack is sent home in the backpacks of students in Ms. Stratton’s class. Sometime over the weekend, families record a message about their activities and then send the BIGmack back to school on Monday morning. Those recordings that come back to us in Spanish or Burmese are translated by enthusiastic student volunteers.

Now all the kids are ready to tell about their weekends! They tell each other and their teachers about their weekends during Morning Meeting. They tell their therapists during therapy time. They tell their circle of friends during peer visits to the classroom and during inclusion in general education classrooms. It goes such a long way to have something for our students to contribute to the conversation, particularly when a peer replies with something along the lines of "Hey, I do that too!"

Do all of the kids understand the full interaction? Probably not. Do they all benefit from the interaction? Certainly.

Some of our students are able to participate in meaningful turn-taking using the BIGmack. Others may not understand the language but enjoy hearing the familiar voice of a parent or sibling. Still others love the reactions they get to their responses. And they all benefit from sharing incidental information with their teachers and peers - because knowing more about a student’s family life helps us to make our interactions more meaningful and individualized. When a student consistently tells us that they listened to jazz over the weekend, we find ways to incorporate jazz into classroom activities and therapies.

When a student talks about visiting extended family, we make connections to the literature we are reading. When a student’s message celebrates some accomplishment (like becoming more affectionate at home), we celebrate with them.

The success of this program seems to lie in the way it makes families feel connected to school. Very rarely does a family forget to record a message. Never (yet - fingers crossed!) has a family lost or broken a BIGmack. If ever a week goes by without the BIGmack being sent home (which rarely happens but hey, we’re not perfect!), you can bet we hear about it from families. When sending the BIGmack home each week, we typically record a response like “Wow! Sounds like you had lots of fun at the pool last weekend! What will you do this weekend? We can’t wait to hear about it!” - to let families know we really did listen to their Weekend Report. The recordings have been coming back to us week after week for about 10 years, so we figure something is going right. (One of those things is that we are very careful to let families know that the Weekend Report is NOT meant to pressure them into doing something extra-exciting each weekend. Kids are very happy to report simple things like snuggling on the couch or splashing in the bath.)

We must give credit to the Chapel Hill - Carrboro Public School Foundation for funding a grant that got this program up and running. Since those first BIGmack Communicators were purchased, our class size has grown and digital technology has improved the sound quality of recording devices. We’ve had help from our school PTA, our principal, our program director, and the district Assistive Technology team as we’ve increased the number and improved the quality of our devices.

Our biggest challenge has come as our class has grown to include more children from families who not only speak a language other than English but who are also struggling mightily to feed, clothe, and shelter their children. For these families, retrieving the device from the backpack, recording a message, and sending the device safely back to school each weekend can be a burden rather than a joy. So, we are working on ways to better include the couple of students who are not really participating in this aspect of our classroom community.

Do you have any ideas for us? We’ll eagerly check the comment section of Jim’s blog in hope of inspiration!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

More Birds Out of the Box...

Remember Ruth Morgan of Chapel Hill Snippets? Remember how she finds therapy in the Angry Birds app for her and her fellow Speech Pathologists?

Well recently my Physical Therapist (Chelsea) showed me a pizza she made for a friend... It's an Angry Bird!

Imagine the therapeutic possibilities! Individual pizzas for all the group members. Step-by-step picture instructions. Fine motor, visual processing, motor planning, measuring, and the list of therapeutic goals go on!  And of course, while the pizzas are cooking, let's play Angry Birds!

What you need:

Individual Pizza Crusts
Mozzarella Cheese
American Cheese (for the beak)
iPads or iTouches to play Angry Birds

I'm seeing great collaboration possibilities between the the Speech Therapist and Occupational Therapist, integrating both Ruth's book and the pizza creation in a small group.

Happy Therapy!