Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Indi, not just a tablet and some apps...

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Full disclosure; as I blogged before, I am a Tobii-Dynavox consultant. So, yes I am going to spotlight Tobii-Dynavox hardware and software periodically. I’m very excited about these products, I believe in them, or I would not have signed on.

One such product that I’m excited about is the Indi. It’s the size of most tablets. But built like a tank, and equipped with serious “hear me in the subway” speakers. The Indi is pre-loaded with Snap + Core First, the easiest symbol-based software for early communicators. Additionally, the Indi has capabilities that even go beyond speech communication like Environmental Control Units, Infrared, access to social media, email, and texting. This is a fully functional Windows 10 os. If you purchase it directly from the website, it retails for $999. 

 Take a look.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Change is Good!

Poo and I
Hey Tek-Ninjas! I have big news (for me at least) today, November 30th I have completed my last day of employment with my school district. I have been a school employee since 2001, and for the first time,  I will be stepping into the private sector. 
I have loved my work with students, teachers, therapists, and the parents. It has provided me with much joy to be a part of so many people's journey over the years. I will miss many of my colleagues and the communities I have been blessed to be a part of. 
But, I am so excited! On December 4th, I will begin working for Tobii-Dynavox as a regional Sales Consultant.  My territory will include Mid to Eastern NC, and the Hampton Roads area of VA. This adventure will allow me to reach out to a larger population, and to work with adults as well as students. Again, I am so very excited!
Tobii-Dynavox creates communication solutions that users can grow and develop with throughout their life. In short, their products are the bomb!

New chapter, wonderful opportunity!

Friday, November 17, 2017

“Language” Immersion

Hey Tek-Ninjas! I was at a terrific in-service for Augmentative Communication (AAC) today. The presenters were discussing how important it is for AAC to be continuously modeled by educators, therapists, and parents. 

The conversation got me thinking about how we teach students foreign languages. Like many others, our school district has dual language schools, both Spanish and Chinese, Everyone in those buildings are always speaking in those respective languages. This model of language immersion has proven to work.

Now consider how we teach AAC users. Are we modeling a Dual-language classroom in how we communicate? Doing so can feel intimidating, especially as we are sometimes also learning as we go. But showing this process, our own stumbling and successes can be hugely valuable for your students and colleagues, ultimately helping them feel better about their own feelings of AAC inadequacy.
I’d love to hear from any of you as to how immersive you are in your educational settings. Any tips? Pitfalls?
Happy Therapy!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Managing your Apps

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Back in September I wrote a blog article about Apple's removal of the App store from iTunes. For some of us, we really want to be able to see the icon of the App.

Well, at the time, I did not think about Apple Configurator, primarily because I use that tool to manage my Volume Purchases. Apple Configurator will work for individual installations similar to the older iTunes. 

Apple Configurator is a free download from the App store. Once downloaded, click on "Account" on the top bar, and log in to your iTunes account. 

Once logged in, you can click on the green plus, than click  on the "Apps" icon.

You will be provided the choice of choosing from the window box that appears, or choose from your mac in the bottom left corner. 

The only disappointment I'm still faced with, is that (to my knowledge) the user is not able to customize the iPad appearance using Apple Configurator. It appears that to create folders and rearrange apps, the user will need to do so directly on the iPad. 

Still, its a nice tool to have, given that iTunes no longer supports Apps. 


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Infinite Possibilities...

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Recently I had a student introduce me to a really terrific Google Extension. It's called Infinity, and it allows users to create an elegant, customizable, and intuitive home page for desktop or laptop. 

Google Infinity is designed to create a minimalist environment,  providing easy pathways to often used sites. I am using it personally with Google sites such as my mail, docs, and drive.

Chrome Browser
Infinity will require the installation of the Chrome Browser, which really is a topnotch browser anyways. Both the browser and the extension are free. They work on Macs and PCs, as well as Chromebooks. 

Once installed, anytime the user opens Chrome, they will be
Infinity Home Page
presented with the Infinity page. If they use Chrome and log into their Google account on another computer, regardless of the operating system, (Mac, PC, Chromebook) they will encounter the same Infinity page. 

With Google Infinity, walking into any public library, the user can replicate their computer experience. For many of our users, this type of continuity is crucial. 

For fun, anytime the user clicks on the pinwheel in the bottom right, a new background photo comes up. My student indicated some of the photos might be a little "inappropriate, but not too sexy" for younger students. I've yet to encounter any such issue, but I'll keep looking just in case. 

Happy Tuesday!


Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Hey Tek-Ninjas! If you are a user of iTunes for managing your iDevice apps, be warned, the new iTunes no longer manages apps. 

As in, there is no app tool anymore. At all. Instead, I guess you download everything wirelessly. You can still "file share" moving data to and from your apps, but no longer manage them that way.

So. Do not update your iTunes if that is a potential issue for you.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Change Agents

Hey Tek-Ninjas! We are at the end of our first week of school for our district. From my perspective it's been a whirl-wind of activity. Today a colleague shared this nice story with me, and I thought I'd pass it along. 

Last spring during an Exceptional Children (EC) adapted curriculum and EC Resource Professional Learning meeting, one of our school-based teams were discussing the game Hangman which was being used within a learning program called News2You (N2Y) that is offered internationally.

The team was discussing the historical messages that are associated with hanging and agreed that
"Build A Word"
they didn't want to reinforce those messages or portray them as a fun activity with their students.

So, rather than just abandon the activity, which they all deemed to have education value, they decided to advocate for their students and contact the company to request changes to the game.

They called and emailed with representatives from N2Y over several months.  After several productive conversations they were thrilled that the programmers heard their concerns and made terrific changes!

N2Y changed the name to Build a Word and the activity now focuses on building a character! Way to go N2Y!

For me, the take away from this story is that we all have the ability to be "change agents". Here is to hoping you all have great school years full of learning and rewarding relationships.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Word Processor

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Last week I posted asking for help regarding the recent demise of the last sub $500 Stand-Alone-Word-Processor.

I am pleased to say, that with the help of the IT folks in our district I have a solution!

Our district is planning on re-purposing old laptops, and we will load a "Cloudready Chrome OS. This essentially turns any Mac or PC into a Chromebook. The OS can run on an older device, and does so remarkably fast, thus turning an outdated computer into a functional Chrome Book.

Next, we install the Chrome app "Note", or any other preferred/and free word processor app you like. We want a simple word processor, with minimum bells and whistles.

Finally, we turn on "Kiosk mode" so the laptop will boot only and always into the Note app. No internet, no youtube, no settings, no distractions.

The only downside is that right now, the only way to get the document off the laptop is with a fob, but that is proving to be navigable.
Hope this helps. Please let me know if you do this, especially if you make improvements/changes!


Monday, May 15, 2017


Hey Tek-Ninjas! I'm looking for ideas. If you are an Occupational Therapist, or educator, you may have noticed recently that the makers of the Fusion Writer, WriterLearning, has gone out of business. The good folks at Alpha-Smart of course have been long gone.

So, if you are looking for a dedicated word-processor for your student who requires key-boarding, but is too distractible by a full blown computer, you are going to be in a jam. The only one I can find, the Freewrite, retails for $499, which is easily the cost of two Chromebook.

So, I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions for ready made products? Or perhaps experience locking down a word processing function on a Chromebook, Linux, or Pi unit?

Thanks, and Hajimé

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What's the time?

Hey Tek-Ninjas! This is a quick share. Many of you classroom folks or therapists have needed timers to help students with focus, transitions, etc. I've shared this inexpensive and easy to use app a while back. 

Today I thought I'd share this free resource in the form of a website: http://www.online-stopwatch.com/classroom-timers/. As long as you can access the internet, it doesn't matter if you are using Mac, Windows, Linux, Chrome, or any smartphone. 

The online stop watch is very easy to use. And, the makers offer many varied types of timers. Choose a timer that is simplistic, or find one that is whimsical, or sports themed. 

An online timer can easily be displayed on a Smartboard or other projected screen for a class. Or, for a smaller setting, the online timer can easily run on a smartphone. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The "Choice Act" isn't really about "Choice".

Another day, another call to make:

Please call your representative and ask him/her to vote NO on U.S. House Bill 610 (HR 610) introduced by three Republican reps.

This bill will effectively start the school voucher system to be used by children ages 5-17, and starts the defunding process of public schools. In addition the bill will eliminate the Elementary and Education Act of 1965 (ESSA), which is the nation's educational law and provides equal opportunity in education. ESSA is a big comprehensive program that covers programs for struggling learners, AP classes, ESL classes, classes for minorities such as Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance and Federal Accountability Programs.

Let me be clear, I am not categorically against Charter schools, I have worked in some truely remarkable charters. But I am categorically against charter, private, and home schools replacing public education.

The Bill also abolishes the Nutritional Act of 2012 (No Hungry Kids Act) which provides nutritional standards in school breakfast and lunch.

The bill has no wording whatsoever protecting Special Needs kids, no mention of IDEA and FAPE.

Some things ESSA does for Children with Disabilities
-Ensures access to the general education curriculum.
-Ensures access to accommodations on assessments.
-Ensures concepts of Universal Design for Learning
-Includes provisions that require local education agencies to provide evidence-based
interventions in schools with consistently underperforming subgroups.
-Requires states in Title I plans to address how they will improve conditions for learning including reducing incidents of bullying and harassment in schools, overuse of discipline practices and reduce the use of aversive behavioral interventions (such as restraints and seclusion).

So as a stated above, time to make some calls! If you are uncertain who to call, you can find your Congress-person here.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ditch the Desktop and Laptop and make Custom Boards!

Hey Tek-Ninjas! So I'm on a roll reviewing the Smarty-Ears Apps. Let me say that I get no moolah for sharing these apps with you, I've simply been very impressed by them.

Today I am blogging about  Custom Boards, an iPhone and/or iPad app which serves as a board and activity creator. Custom Boards retails for $49.99. This may seem like a lot for "an app", but take a look at the competition and you will see their prices are at least double if not more.

Some of our students require symbol support in order to experience success with transitions, jobs, ADL's, etc. Software can be very expensive, and tied to a computer. Custom Boards provides a great option to get around those issues. 

Rather than retell the features, I've simply pulled this from the creator's website. It is impressive:

• includes over 125 templates from within 6 categories
• includes over 10,000 built-in Smarty Symbols
• Choose from a total of 100 floating shapes and 7 different styles of shapes
• Ability to add images from Google search engine
• Ability to add Floating Images—place an image anywhere on the template!
• Ability to add Floating Shapes—place any of the 100 built in shapes anywhere!
• Ability to add Floating Texts— place text anywhere on the template!
• Layers — select individual floating images, text, and shapes and move them forward/back
• Add multiple pages to a template
• Lock the screen to use a static image on the iPad itself in an activity without accidentally editing it.
• Ability to lock the screen so that the iPad surface itself can be used for an activity.
• Share editable files with other Custom Boards users
• Email PDFs of your custom boards creations to anyone
• Quickly print your creations with an air ready printer
• Cloud Compatible — backup your files via the cloud
• Organize your archive of creations with folders

Also, here is a video introduction with REALLY REALLY peppy music.

The built in introduction tutorial is really well done, and helps a first-time user get up to speed.

If you are in the market for "board-making" software, Custom Boards is definitely worth a look!


Monday, February 13, 2017

Syntax like a ninja!

Good morning Tek-Ninjas! As a lover of all things "Ninja" I am easily engaged by things with "ninja-osity". Yes. I made that word up. But you know what I mean. 

Multiple Adjustments
One of the Smarty Ears apps that I've been so impressed with is called "Sentence Ninja". It is a very powerful education tool, which teaches sentence and grammar skills, all the while recording data.  It retails for only $19.99. 

 Per the app designer: "Sentence Ninja is a multi-player multi-level app designed to improve sentence structure skills in children and adults. Designed by a certified speech-language pathologist." The app teaches syntax, aka, word order. 

Sentence Ninja is easily and very customizable to fit most learner's needs. Used in conjunction with a therapist's clinical reasoning, it can be a powerful teaching tool. With 39 levels ranging from simple to complex phrases, syntax teaching can be fun and effective. 

Using the Smarty Ears Therapy Report Center app, which I blogged about awhile back, the clinician or teacher can easily and quickly "dump" students into Sentence Ninja quickly. Data can be collected and shared as needed. 

So, if you are working on Syntax, be sure to take a closer look at Sentence Ninja!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Support Good Works

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Now for something completely different.

Over the last few years I have been involved with an organization called Wilderness Trail. Every hike has been transformative for me and both of my sons. So much so that I agreed to become a Board Member a year ago. 
I have always believed that amazing things happen when you take people out of their comfort zone and place them in the beauty of God's creation. Wilderness Trail agrees. The main programming takes place in the summer when groups of youth go on 5-day backpacking journeys on the Appalachian Trail. Central themes of servant leadership and being the body of Christ are lived out on the hike and at the "base camp" during each 7-day event.

Wilderness Trail is looking to grow, but carefully. They have maxed out how many students they can serve in a given summer based on Park Service Guidelines, unless they open a second location. I would like for more students to be able to have similarly powerful experiences.

Please consider donating any amount to Wilderness Trail in order to help fund other hikers. 
If not donating, a share on your Social Media would also be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Jim

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Reporting on your Therapy!

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Last blog I mentioned that I was excited by several of the offerings from Smarty Ears. Today, I'm blogging about their app Therapy Report Center (TRC). 

TRC seems to have been designed specifically with SLP's in mind, but I think it easily can be utilized by Occupational and Physical Therapists. If you are a clinician looking for a way to document your treatment and service delivery, this app may be the answer. TRC is compatible on your iPad. Incidentally, it's free. 

With TRC you can individually add each student you work with. You can include a photo of the student, and input the individualized goals into their profile.

The app is specifically designed to integrate with and collate data from other Smarty Ears apps, but I believe it could be used easily for tracking service delivery, and generating reports easily.  The interface is intuitive, and elegant.  Sending data via email and Airdrop is seamless. 

Per the Smarty Ears website: TRC is the perfect accompaniment for data collection in Response to Intervention (RTI). By allowing the professional to input all students (not just those on IEPs), the actual number of student’s being seen is tracked. In addition, each student’s goals are unique and individualized. Because data is tracked as often as the professional desires, TRC allows the professional to monitor interventions and the student’s progress over time. Data collection has never been easier!

So take a look at Therapy Report Center, it may simplify your work for you.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

AT Eval Support

Good day Tek-Ninjas! Today I would like to highlight an app from Smarty Ears. I plan to look at a
few other standouts in the coming days and weeks. This company is prolific, and while I've only used a few of their products so far, every one of them has been excellent. On top of that, when I've emailed thoughts or questions I have received a very quick and courteous email back either answering my questions or thanking me for my input.

So, for this blog, I want to show you the first I saw from them: ATEval2Go is an app designed for any professional responsible for putting technology into the hands of students. It can be used in any environment, but I especially like it's application here in a school setting.

ATEval2Go was created by SLP/Assistive Technology Specialist Christopher Bugaj.  It was designed to help you document all observations and considerations essential to an assistive technology evaluation. It retails for $39.99, which in the world of apps may seem step, but I assure you, it's worth every penny.

The evaluation tool allows you to store multiple students at once. It guides you in your acquisition of data, serving as a robust framework to creating thorough AT/AAC evals.  There are five categories the tool leads you through including, 1. Student/ Teacher information, 2. File Review / Background Information, 3. Observation & Assessment 4. Recommended Strategies & Tools, and 5. Important Notes

ATEval2Go provides users with the ability to build banks of previously used targeted goals, accommodations, and available technologies. The app also provides the user with banks of commonly used accommodations and recommendations organized by domains such as communication, composition, reading, vision, hearing, etc. Each bank is fully customizable, allowing users to add their own recommendations to build a personalized library of commonly suggested tools and strategies.
Report View
AtEval2Go streamlines report writing by storing fixed information such as evaluator’s information and institution information.

Finally, ATEval2Go incorporates frequently-used assistive technology evaluation tools such as Joy Zabala’s SETT Framework, the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative Assessment (WATI) , the Council for Exceptional Children’s Assistive Technology Consideration Wheel, the Virginia Assistive Technology Resource Guide (VATRG), as well as author Christopher Bugaj’s over 12 years of experience conducting evaluations.

This is a tremendous product, and I recommend anyone "doing AT" take a look at it!


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Touchy feely with the TacScreen.

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Today I want to share with you an accessory a colleague told me about. The TacScreen is a clear lightly textured polymer that adheres to the glass of iPad. It is designed to provide increased tactile feedback over the smooth glass, and is sold specifically for various sized iPads. Likely it would work as well for Android or Windows tablets. Pricing ranges from $17.95 to $19.95, with a price-break for buying multiples.

The idea of learning through multi-sensory modalities is held in many teaching programs including Handwriting Without Tears, and Orton-Gillingham.  On the surface, the idea makes good sense to me.  I was very curious to see what a few specific folks I work with would think about this product.

I asked my coworker, J, an Occupational Therapist who works specifically with pre-k students who present with a wide variety of issues. 

J felt that the TacScreen was a nice additional tactile component to technology, and that her students did not mind it being on (some asked what it was, some didn't seem to notice).  She did comment that the TacScreen makes the screen less clear for some apps, specifically for watching any video. The screen may need to be cut down to work with cases.  J also said that at times she felt like squinting in highly visual apps, however none of her students had this issue.  Finally, J thought it "would be best on an iPad just being used for teaching letter formation or drawing."

Next I sent the TacScreen to a student I used to work with, and her boyfriend. A. is 17, Visually Impaired / Legally blind, with some functional vision. B. is 20, Blind / no vision or light perception. 

I would like to add, the folks at TacScreen NEVER stated that this tool was designed with visually impaired users in mind so I acknowledge that I may have went looking for trouble with this "test".

A. stated "I like it. I think it feels cool."

B. was less enchanted saying "It doesn't help or hinder me".

They both noted that it's possible to do something similar and put Braille letters on the screen where the keyboard pops up, but that it can be tricky to learn keyboarding with Braille, so it would also be useful for people to have extra input/practice.

Finally, I used the TacScreen for a while in my day-to-day practice, as well as to make artwork using photoshop. 

I very much like the tactile feedback. I am an avid user of my iPad, but have always been a little dissatisfied with the slick feel of the glass. This feedback reminds me of the comforting scratching of a sharp pencil on paper. I had no issues with clarity of the screen.  Students that I introduced it to remarked on it's feel, and all indicated that they liked it.

The company notes that the screen is not designed to be taken on and off, as it will lose it's adhesiveness after a few times. So, once installed, it's best to leave it on.

If as a user, you dislike the slickness of the glass (like me) this is a great option, not terribly pricey, and incidentally, while not the intention, offers one more layer of screen protection.

I tend to agree with J, in her assessment that the TacScreen would shine when being used to instruct in letter formation. If you are engaged in teaching letter formation, as well as drawing this tool may make a significant difference for your students.

If you already are using it, I'd love to hear your feedback!