Saturday, December 19, 2009

Instrument Evaluation: The iPod App 'Percentally'

Percentally is a new iPod application that seems ideal for gathering data for IEP goals. It is a tally counter that automatically converts tallies to percentages for documentation purposes. As a special education teacher, I think this new tool has great potential.

Percentally is a unique application for special education teachers and service providers because these educators can gather data on multiple students in one location on one device. A device that can be kept easily on hand or in a pocket.

Depending on the classroom environment, I like that the tally clicks can be silent or provide audio feedback for students. I also like the exporting option which allows for efficient transfer of the data to a clipboard, Google Spreadsheet or email. The option to reset or undo tallies is also an important feature.

Although I haven't tried the application yet. The application costs a mere $2.99 to download. However, as a teacher, you will need to have purchased an iPod touch or iPhone before you can use the app. For many teachers this may be a hefty investment.

Watch this video on the Percentally app.

You can find out more information about this app by visiting the Percentally Website.
You can also download Percentally for the iPhone and iPod touch by clicking here.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

College Students with Disabilities - Spend Your Summer in DC!

Thanks to @Wrightslaw for passing this one on.  The American Association of People with Disabilities is now accepting applications for the 2010 Summer Internship programs.

Each year, the AAPD hosts two Summer Internship Programs for College Students with Disabilities in Washington, DC, providing paid travel to and from DC, paid fully-accessible housing, and living stipends. These programs are generously funded by the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) and Microsoft Corporation.

Visit the site for a link to applications for 2010 Summer Internships Instructions Form.  Applications for both 2010 AAPD summer internship programs are now being accepted until 5PM, EST on January 8, 2010. 

Pass it on.

Add Your Two Cents: Innovation for Assistive Technology

Reposted from:  the Tools for Independence Blog written by Michael Carbine 
Is today’s assistive technology simple to learn, use, integrate and support? That’s the question being asked by the National Center for Technology Innovation. And it wants AT users to contribute to an issue paper it released at its Technology Innovations conference earlier this month. The paper, entitled Innovation for Assistive Technology, summarizes finding from an extensive research project NCTI undertook to identify what “state-of-the-art” AT means, and what the AT field must do to realize its full potential for helping people with disabilities live as independently and productively as possible. But NCTI isn’t stopping there. While it interviewed stakeholders as part of its research, it’s now asking AT users across the nation to contribute to the paper. Using what it calls a “crowdsharing” approach to completing the paper, NCTI wants your input on what you need, what’s meeting your needs, what isn’t, and how AT can be designed in ways that make the devices simple to learn, use, integrate and support in everyday life. NCTI is accepting comments on its website and by email, and also by phone. You have until December 31 to respond. To read the paper and post your comments, visit You can email your comments to, or call (202) 403-5323.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Epilepsy Awareness

REMINDER:  Seizures happen. 
Would you know what to if someone in your life was having a seizure?  Would you be able to recognize the type of seizure?  You might have a student in your class with a grand mal seizure disorder or a petit mal seizure disorder.  Did you know that if a child that appears to have attentional issues they may have an undiagnosed seizure disorder?

Watch these 30 second videos as either an introduction to or refresher course on seizures.  They were created with the intention of raising public awareness and dispelling myths about Epilepsy. (Pass it on)

For more information please visit the Epilepsy Foundation of America's Website.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Greatest Dad

Thanks to @lloydcrew for sharing this with me. It's an updated video of TEAM Hoyt.

Assitive Technology Writing Tools

Check out this archived webinar I found on TeacherTube on Integrating Assistive Technology Writing Tools into your curriculum. What A.T. writing tools are your favorite?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's 'OUR' Room - Strategies 4 Successful Co-Teaching

It's that time of year again folks. Time to head back to school! For some co-teachers, this task can be particularly daunting and frustrating. Especially when you're new to inclusion or placed in an inclusion classroom with a teacher you may not get along with. I hope that none of you, special or general education teachers, are in a situation where the first day of school is the first time you'll be speaking with your co-teacher.

This post is inspired by a friend that is in a situation where she hasn't connected to her co-teacher all summer, yet this is the second school year where they will be working together. Like many co-teaching situations, they had a 'my kids/your kids philosophy.' This is unfortunate, because both teachers are now returning to their shared class with invisible mental and physical boundaries that have already been drawn. This, "I'm not sharing" approach to teaching can foster negative animosity between co-teachers before the school year has even begun. Teachers in this situation might as well have drawn a line down the middle of their room, and in some cases an uneven split. If this is your situation, then this post is for you.

First of all, if you haven't done so already, it is time to open up the lines of communication with your co-teacher whether you get along or not. I don't care what venue you choose to pursue conversation, just do it. Call, e-mail, mail a letter, send a postcard, or light a smoke signal (j/k). It is important that you do this, because those invisible boundaries I discussed before start to become more permanent every day you let pass. If neither of you has taken the first step yet, get to stepping.

So, what are you going to say to your co-teacher? Whether you feel this way or not, "I'm happy we're going to work together this year." Kill your partner with kindness. Why? Because negativity festers and it is NOT worth the impact it will eventually have on your health for the next 180+ days you'll be teaching together. But in the same breath, you need to establish your expectations for the year. Note: Your partner may take this in a negative light, but it is your responsibility to put this information on the table now, rather than keeping this information to yourself and letting it fester all year until you explode on your partner in the middle of lesson on a cold day in December, in front of the kids. Professional? I think not. Guess what? You're also expected to be a good listener too when they lay their expectations on the table. Remember, for the sake inclusion be proactive not reactive.

Some reasonable expectations that you should set forth for each other include everything and anything that revolves around being inclusive of the students and establishing parity: the quality or state of being equal or equivalent.

First of all, if you're a co-teacher, then the classroom is yours to share whether or not you're pushing into a room for 45 minutes or spending the entire day together. Co-teachers need to make a conscious effort to be inclusive of each other, whether or not they like each other, because they are role modeling inclusion for the students in their co-teaching class. Remember the circle of life? This is the circle of inclusion. Fake it if you have to at first, as it will become second nature after you've progressed through the developmental stages of co-teaching. There is no time line for this, because your growth as a co-teacher all depends on your ability to share and be a good listener. You have to learn to dance with your partner and you will both need practice doing so. If you don't practice, you will not succeed.

Depending on your comfort level, you may want to state your expectations to your co-teacher in an e-mail or via phone if you're too uncomfortable stating your expectations/feelings in person, but you will ultimately have to meet. You're going to have to spend the whole year together!

Some expectation suggestions:
  • General planning for the school year should be done together (in person, phone, via Skype, through e-mail, using Google Docs, etc.) and different co-teaching models should be appropriately considered for each lesson. [Note: The one-teach, one-assist model should be used the least in a co-teaching situation.]
  • Decisions regarding the class should be discussed together and compromises should be expected before a final decision is made, unless determined by the principal. [It is appropriate for you to say, that your co-teacher should not make decisions for you and vice-versa.]
  • "It is important for us to set up our classroom together so the room reflects both of our needs and meets the needs of all of our students."
    • If a separate room is also used, this should also be set up together. In co-teaching/inclusion, the teachers should set up and share all spaces available to them. Doing so helps you to determine what resources are available to help all of your students, the ultimate goal in teaching.
  • We have the responsibility to share/connect with each other often in school and out via f2f communication, e-mail or phone in order to successfully work together and meet the needs of all of our students. Communication should not be limited to the first 15 minutes before school starts and/or your prep time when you're busy with copying and/or preparing your materials for an upcoming lesson.
Each teacher needs to look equal in the eyes of the students in a co-teaching class, because doing so does wonders for the self-esteem of students. Students don't want to be singled out or labeled, their teachers shouldn't be either. It should be a top down approach to inclusiveness and in a co-teaching class, good communication between co-teachers can provide a learning environment for students where seamless instruction takes place that not only meets state standards but IEP goals at the same time.

As a visual and auditory approach to parity, both of co-teacher names should be on the classroom door and/or combine your names to make one name if you're in a full-time co-teaching model. When only your co-teacher's name is called over the loud speaker or announced at a concert, and your name isn't, you've lost parity. I.e. "Will Mr. Smith's class please report to the auditorium for the assembly?" Make a mental note of this and be sure to mention this to the school principal and secretaries, a combined name may be more appropriate for your co-teaching situation. This may seem trivial, but it is really important.

As co-teachers, you are two teachers who will be sharing a space as well as responsibilities for the upcoming school year. If you want to successfully differentiate learning to help all of the children in your class, then you need to communicate your philosophies accordingly. Ultimately, you should have a common goal in that you want to establish a space where students feel safe, want to learn and feel good about themselves. An inclusive, co-teaching environment should be that ideal space.

For a co-teaching class to be successful, it is important to connect with your co-teacher in order to set the stage for parity and inclusiveness before the school year starts. "Silence is a text easy to misread." (A. A. Attanasio) and, "Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals." ( J. Isham).

Despite the challenges that lie ahead for you my co-teaching friends, communication really is the key. I wish you the best for a successful year.

Image: 'Chalk...'

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sensory Assault Operations

This summer, I met a local Hudson Valley mom, Sherri Pruner. She is the creator of a company called Sensory Assault Operations - Gear for Kids on a Sensory Mission. Based out of necessity and influenced by military life, her husband is in the ARMY, this Pleasant Valley mother of a four year old with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder created Sensory Assault Operations.

Early on, Sherri noticed that her son had sensory issues. He hated baths, having his diaper changed and was overwhelmed by loud noises. After being diagnosed with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, her son was evaluated by her local CPSE team and placed on a sensory diet.

Inspired by her son, Sherry opened an online store for parents with kids on a “sensory mission!”

From her press release:

Parents with kids who have sensory needs alone or in addition to Autism, ADD, or ADHD will find products created by a fellow parent.

The mission that Sensory Assault Operations is embarking on will be to provide fun products in a cool and empowering way so that children with sensory needs learn how to manage them when they are away from home.

The goal of Sensory Assault Operations is to help parents navigate the winding journey through the world of special needs by providing unique products, tips, and information.

Two featured products on the site include: The Sensory Assault Pack and the Propaganda Pad. The sensory assault pack is a bag of sensory items that you can customize to your child's needs. The propaganda pad is a weighted bag that is naturally scented with cloves and cinnamon to add to the sensory experience.

Unique to the site is the SAP Briefing Area where Sherri offers some scenarios and suggestions for tools that might address the specific sensory needs of a particular child in your life or under your care.

While this site is geared toward parents, there are a variety of tools that are appropriate for school and could be considered for use in the classroom depending on your learning environment and the needs of your students. Please visit the site and explore.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

ATIA YouTube Contest

The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) ( is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2009. As part of the celebrations ATIA is hosting an AT video contest on the popular YouTube web site. ATIA invites you to create a short video that presents an inspiring story about how assistive technology has helped to change the life of an individual with a disability and helped to empower them to change their world.

Prizes are being awarded based on "most viewed" video criteria:
Grand Prize - trip to the ATIA 2009 Chicago Conference (October 28-31, 2009) including travel and hotel expenses.
Sub-Category winners receive $400 gift certificate (American Express or Visa).
Runners up receive complimentary registration to ATIA 2009 Chicago or ATIA 2010 Orlando (January 27-30, 2010).

Please see the site for more details.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Lotsa Love at the LATS Training

It was such a pleasure meeting with the members of the #LATS09 Training session today at Jericho School District. I really enjoyed sharing the ins and outs of my experiences with assistive and instructional technology and I hope that I added a lot of resources to your personal 'bag of tricks.'

While I know I presented about a lot of information at once, I am going to use this space to recap and post some of the links I shared with you today, as well as some additional resources.

For starters, I used this presentation as my home base for today. During the presentation I also introduced you to our class website and blog.

Along the way we covered a variety of tools and resources that you might want to save to your favorites. You can find my compilation of websites at If you have a delicious account, feel free to add me to your network. You can also find my favorites at Diigo, another social bookmarking site.

Here are some of the tools we talked about today as well as some more 'good stuff':

If you have any questions please leave a comment to this blog or send me an e-mail.

Welcome to the LATS family! Be sure to add me to your network. Let's stay connected. :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

South Paris Podcast

Inspired by the Tech Chicks, Lisa Parisi and I recorded our conversation on our way home from #NECC09. As co-teachers [in the same classroom] we speak each morning on the way to school during our long commutes to work. We often think we should be recording these conversations, but we have not yet determined the best way to successfully record both sides of the conversation from our cell phones. Do you have a suggestion on how to achieve this? In the meantime, the embedded conversation below was recorded as we drove home together from Washington D.C. back to New York.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

South Paris @ #NECC09

Lisa and I had a wonderful experience networking and presenting at the National Educational Computing Conference during our award winning poster session and lecture. This post is for the people that we met along the way, as it contains hyperlinked resources to the sites we discussed as well as our lecture presentation. It was great meeting you all and if you'd like to continue the conversation about our presentation here is the link to the ISTE NECC Ning.

Here is a link to our ISTE SigTEL Learning award project entitled Poetry Collaboration and here is our presentation:

Keep in touch!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Instrument Evaluation: Want to Playaway?

Yes. Playaway is spelled correctly. I'm talking about a Playaway preloaded digital audio book player.
In total, over 6,500 titles are available on Playaway. The complete list of titles available to schools can be obtained by combining the Follett (the exclusive distributor of Findaway World's titles in the K-12 market), Recorded Books, and BBC America catalogs.

Playaway is the easiest way to listen to a book on the go. Simply plug in the earphones and enjoy. No Cassettes or CDs. No Downloads. Just Play.

Our school library just purchased a few of these devices, and the librarian asked me to demo one. I took it with me on a school trip and offered it to students during the ride. It got mixed reviews.

While most students were eager to listen to the device and sat quietly doing so, there was one student in particular that was frustrated by the fact that there was only one book to listen to from this one machine. In the world of iPods and mP3s, this student commented that he wanted more choices than just one book. He pushed the buttons a lot in order to figure out how they worked.

According to the Southern Scene company:

Each title is supplied in specially designed library packaging and includes:
  • The Playaway digital audiobook
  • Earbud' style earphones
  • User instructions
  • Two batteries (one inside the unit and one spare)
  • Lanyard


  • 10 volume levels
  • 3 voice speed levels: normal, fast and fastest
  • Bookmark your favourite sections
  • Skip forward and back chapters and bookmarks
  • Rewind, fast forward and pause
  • Remembers where you stopped
  • Can also be used with most headphones,
    speakers and car adapters
  • Time remaining and battery level on LCD screen
  • Full 12 months warranty
From my perspective, the Playaway is a great alternative to an expensive iPod or portable cd player, although it is still expensive at approximately $50. Despite the price, the Playaway is a assistive technology alternative for students that have difficulty decoding. The fact that the student can only listen to one book means that he or she has to focus, and will not be distracted by any other auditory book choices. However, the success of a book on tape always depends on the reader. A unique alternative to this product would be the ability to choose a different reader.

Based on my knowledge and experience with audio books, I like this unique alternative to books on cd which can get scratched or a expensive iPod that could easily get dropped and broken. Educators should consider the Playaway for students that benefit from books on cd or tape.

Instrument Evaluation: Google Docs

Google Docs is a free web-based word processor and spreadsheet, which allows you to share and collaborate online.

If you were to ask an intermediate student to set up a Google Doc without ever telling him or her what it was, I think they could easily set up their own account in less than 3 minutes if they had a computer/laptop with internet access. They might do a Google search for it and easily follow the steps to set up their own account. If you're a teacher, I hope you're brave enough to do the same.

As a fifth grade teacher, I've set up Google accounts for my class because to be honest, it makes working on writing assignments so easy. First of all, if students are familiar with Word, then they can easily navigate through a Google Doc. A Google Doc is unique though, because you can not only observe the students OS (over the shoulder), but you can be invited into a document and view student work on your own computer. You can even add your own comments in real time. What's even better, is the fact that students no longer need to save their work to a floppy disc or a flash drive. They have access to their work anywhere there is internet access.

Watch this video to learn more about how this works, but while you're watching do so from a teacher perspective. Pretend the main character in the presentation is a disorganized student and you'll understand the benefits of this tool immediately.

I've observed a number of students using this tool independently. I've also observed kids who have shared their documents with other students, teachers and parents. Doing this makes working collaboratively, collaborative. The interaction between the student and the Google Doc and the other participants is unique, but there are some basic skills an evaluator/teacher must look for when gathering data on the success of the student. For one, can they touch type? If so, do they have the stamina to type an essay? If they are working collaboratively, does the student have the ability to comprehend the text of their peer, parent or teacher?

When I've interviewed students that use Google Documents, they have said that they like the application. It is an ideal tool to use for collaborative projects. Teachers I've interviewed state that they like the fact that they can help to edit work when students are both in and out of the classroom. Parents like the fact that they can also be invited into documents with the student and his or her teacher. What a classroom community!

In all, this FREE application is an ideal tool for all students, but especially for students that can type but have difficulty keeping track of their work on a network server or flash drive. They can easily access their work online at a PC or wireless laptop. If they have access to these tools in school, they can use Google Docs to take notes during lessons, to write a paper, or to work on a collaborative document or presentation with peers. Teachers invited into the documents can then help to edit work and/or make suggestions for improvement.

One problem with this instrument is that you need internet access in order to login into the Google Docs application.

Based on my own knowledge and experience with Google Docs, I find the tool invaluable. I especially like this tool because it fosters independence in the classroom and out. A student using Google Docs that needs help from a teacher in the room, only needs to create a signal for assistance and a private conversation can occur online rather than creating a auditory ruckus for the rest of the students in the class. It brings no attention to the student in need. I think this application is ideal for students in the intermediate grades through high school, because it is a tool that is easy and flexible. This is an assistive technology application that can be collaborative and meaningful for students as well as non-intrusive.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Instrument Evaluation: Can I be Frank(lin) with you?

This is a Franklin Children's Talking Dictionary and Spell Corrector. If you've never seen or used one before, the Franklin Children's Talking Dictionary and Spell Corrector is an interactive dictionary that will:

Improve your child's reading and writing skills. It includes over 40,000 easy-to-understand definitions, automatic phonetic spell correction, an animated handwriting guide, a rhyme finder, five word-building games, and a vocabulary word list that can be created by the user.

To determine if this tool could be an appropriate assistive technology device for a student, you should consider the following:

The classroom is an ideal location to observe a student using this tool. It is a low tech device that could be easily integrated into the general education classroom during various subjects and groupings. With regard to evaluating the tool with a student, an observer may want to compare how long it takes the student look up definitions in the dictionary with how long it takes the student to use the Franklin Spell Checker.

While this tool could benefit students with learning disabilities as well as speech/language impairments, fine motor deficits could impede on the success of the student with this device since the keyboard is very tiny.

Since this device is portable and has headphone jacks for privacy, this device could be easily integrated into any learning environment. Students will need training on using the various functions found on the device through guided instruction and practice. This tool would be beneficial for a student that was not able to master the use of a cumbersome dictionary at the same pace as his/her peers. It achieves the same goal of defining words, but at a more productive speed.

This device is recommended for students from six to ten years old, however, older students may find this device appealing. The ten year olds that I work with often fight over who gets to use the spell checker since they find it a quick and easy resource to look up definitions and/or to practice their spelling skills. Another student used it primarily for cursive instruction with the animated handwriting guide.

As a teacher, I recognize the positive impact that vocabulary and spelling instruction have on learning. As a special education teacher, I understand how frustrating it is for a child that functions below grade to use a dictionary. I have found this assistive technology tool to be a nice alternative to the challenges involved with defining words the old fashioned way for students with high incidence disabilities.

Some additional benefits of this instrument include the personal spelling/vocabulary list that students can independently upload into the spell checker. These lists can be used with the five word building games on the machine and can be very motivating to students that learn through play. Another benefit is the homophone guide and rhyme finder.

At least one problem with the Franklin Children's Talking Dictionary and Spell Corrector is that despite it's general durability, the device does not withstand gravity well. Students need to be careful with this $49.95 tool in order for it to last, however, teachers can order carrying cases for it for $14.95.

If I had my way, I would recreate a more durable Franklin Children's Talking Dictionary and Spell Corrector. Other than that, I believe that a device like this has the potential to improve the learning of any student that uses it. For a student with reading deficits, this tool will speak words, define them, and spell them out in cursive all from the comfort of their own seat. If he/she has headphones, the student can independently, quickly and privately pursue their own learning without adult interference. Any device that increases opportunities for independent success like this should be considered when determining a student's assistive technology needs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Get Your Game On!

Hello Son, how was your first day at school?
It was all right Mom, except for some woman called "Teacher" who kept spoiling all our fun!

After reading the chapter on 'Play' in Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind, I'm reminded that play, joy and humor are important not only in our daily lives, but in school too.

Way back when in the 1930s at the Ford Motor Company "laughter was a disciplinary offense - and humming, whistling, and smiling were evidence of insubordination." This is not only true of school during those times, but this same philosophy is held true today in many classrooms. This makes me sad.

It makes me happy to play. Play, according to Pink is becoming an important part of work, business and personal well-being that manifests in three ways: games, humor and joyfulness.

So what games do you play? Did you know Albert Einstein said, "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." What games do you play with your students? I love this quote by Pat Kane, the author of The Play Ethic because it takes play to a whole new level. "Play will be to the 21st century what work was to the last 300 years of industrial society - our dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value."

I'm sure that you already know that games are being used to train soldiers, doctors and pilots. I'm sure you've also heard that data proves that these training tools can enhance skills and productivity. Why aren't more teachers gaming in the classroom? Most of our kids love games whether they're playing a hands-on game w/ manipulatives or a virtual game on line. Either way, they're still practicing and learning.

Kid's have fun when they're playing games, especially when they're social. Fabio Sala from the Harvard Business Review states that "More than four decades of study by various researchers, confirms some common-sense wisdom: Humor, used skillfully, greases the management wheels. It reduces hostility, deflects criticism, relieves tension, improves morale, and helps communicate difficult messages." In the classroom, humor, used skillfully not negatively, has the potential to improve learning. It reduces anger, deflates frustration, relieves fears, improves motivation and helps kids to feel good. What a joy!

So what can you do to bring more play, humor and joy into your classroom?
  • laugh
  • play games
  • create cartoons
  • encourage wit
  • foster creativity w/ inventions
  • tell jokes
  • play right brain games
  • have fun
  • smile
Pass it on.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Below is the theme song for the new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). These guidelines were created to explain how to make Web content accessible to people with disabilities.

Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make Web content more usable to users in general.

Please follow the link above to the web content accessibility guidelines to learn more about how to make your web content accessible to all. I'm not sure about where I learned about the WCAG, but I'm thankful that I did. It is an important document to pass on.

Accessibility consultant David MacDonald wrote and produced this video.

Instrument Evaluation: Do You Toobaloo?

The Toobaloo is a telephone like instrument that a student talks into. It allows the learner to hear how they sound as a reader even when they whisper.
During snack time I observed a 5th grade student using this tool. He whispered a whole page of novel to himself during this busy break in the day and then answered questions about the page.

From my perspective the student appeared to be focused while using the Toobaloo, since his attention was on the page in front of him rather than the other students buzzing around the room.

When I interviewed the student he said, "The tool helped me listen to how I sound while I read. Since I didn't have to listen to anyone around me, I could focus more."

In my opinion, there are benefits to using this instrument in a busy inclusion classroom with 24 students. Even in a busy room, a student can tune out the other noises in the room by reading or speaking into the Toobaloo even at a whisper. Doing this allows the child to hear them self read. With direct instruction in fluency skills, a child can easily recognize how their speaking should be fluid and not stilted. Using this tool allows the student to determine how they want to sound when they're are reading aloud or speaking. This tool could be easily used in speech/language related service instruction as well.

The only problem I found with the Toobaloo is that it only uses one ear and it does not have a hands free device. Yet despite these limitations, my experience with the Toobaloo has been nothing but positive. As a Local Assistive Technology Specialist candidate I would consider recommending or using this tool with students that have speech/language difficulties, fluency deficits, comprehension issues or attentional delays.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Digital Storytelling as a Deep Learning Tool - Salon Response II

The article "Researching and Evaluating Digital Storytelling as a Deep Learning Tool" by Helen C. Barrett provides the fuel for a round table discussion or blog discussion among educators about using digital storytelling with K-12 students and beyond. The framework of this specific article is based on some proposed digital storytelling rubrics, guided questions about digital storytelling for the discussion participants and resources for the digital storytelling natives. The premise is this: "If Digital Storytelling is to become accepted in today’s schools, it will be important to collect data to be able to draw conclusions about the impact that the process has on student learning, motivation and engagement and how teaching practices and strategies change with technology integration through digital storytelling."

Based on the article by Barrett, "Digital Storytelling facilitates the convergence of four student-centered learning strategies: student engagement, reflection for deep learning, project based learning, and the effective integration of technology into instruction."

While digital storytelling is fun, engaging and powerful in the eyes of students and teachers, data is going to be detrimental to administrators in order to rationalize the money that will be needed to fund the staff development and technology tool costs associated with digital storytelling in schools. Data is also detrimental to the persuasion tactics that some administrators and staff developers will need to engage unwilling educators to participate in the digital storytelling revolution.

Since the advent of digital cameras, video cameras and cell phones with camera/film capabilities, digital storytelling has become an easy new learning tool for willing teachers and students across all grade levels. Applications like PhotoStory, MovieMaker and Frames have to be purchased, but there are also free online story telling tools such as VoiceThread, Xtranormal, Animoto and Mixbook.

Teachers that are interested in learning more about digital storytelling should start by visiting the Center for Digital Storytelling. The Center for Digital Storytelling assists educators around the world in using digital media to share, record and value the stories of their lives. It is the goal of the center to promote artistic expression, health and well-being, and justice. Other resources for digital storytelling include Alan Levine's CogDogRoo site: 50+ Ways to Tell a Digital Story, as well as
Silvia Tolisano's Langwitches' Blog Post on Digital Storying. Larry Ferlazzo also has a great post on the Best Digital Storytelling Resources on his Website of the Day Blog.

Personally, I love using digital storytelling with my students. Most recently we finished a storytelling unit on Tall Tales where groups of students were given the task of retelling and elaborating on an assigned Tall Tale story. The video below was
inspired by Lee LeFever and Common Craft videos and it was created using a Flip Camera and edited within MovieMaker.

While my students were provided with a very specific rubric at the beginning of this particular Tall Tale assignment, I know that this type of assessment does not indicate or document the
impact that the digital storytelling process has on student learning, motivation and engagement, nor does it show how teaching practices and strategies change with technology integration.

I will say, however, that there has been an improvement in the quality of student work since we began introducing this year's class to digital storying this past September. While the visually appealing end result is engaging to on-lookers, there was a lot of note-taking, research, reading, writing, editing and digital literacy skills that are involved in digital storytelling. These are the same skills involved in writing essays and reports, but from my perspective: digital storytelling is so much cooler in the eyes of a child.

If you haven't tried using any of these digital storytelling tools with your students, I would hope you would make the effort to try. While you might not
officially collect data on the impact digital storytelling has on student learning, motivation and engagement, you'd give yourself the opportunity to practice with the tools and the strategies that would make digital storytelling successful for you.

“The only real failure in life is the failure to try." ~Anonymous

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Have you heard about Caitie?

Gravity is love and every turn is a leap of faith. ~Author Unknown

Have you heard about Caitie? Her real name is Caitlin Sarubbi and she's a fellow skier from the Adaptive Sports Foundation where I've volunteered for the last 10 years!

Caitie needs some help in her quest to get to the
2010 Paralympics in Vancouver and since I can't attend her Party For a Dream event in Brooklyn this Friday to support her, I vowed to blog about it. My goal is to get the word out and to encourage monetary or silent auction donations from you, your school or your business in order to help Caitie get to the Olympics.

Caitie was born with Ablepharon Macrostomia that left her without eyelids as well as other facial deformities. She had her first surgery when she was only three days old to salvage her eyesight. Since childhood, Caitie has had 57 reconstructive surgeries on her face and hands. Caitie believes that she was blessed to have had the top surgeons in the world as her doctors. It was the doctors that saved her life that have inspired her to follow in their footsteps and to pursue a career in the medical field.

Despite her challenges, Caitie became interested in skiing after the members of her family were invited as special guests to the Hartford Ski Spectacular by Disabled Sports USA after 9/11.
Caitie’s father, a NYC firefighter, brought the whole family to the event so they could enjoy snow sports together.

For Caitie, skiing unleashed a freedom in her that she had never felt before. “For the first time,” she states, “I felt that there were no boundaries, no limits, no disability. I was free to do whatever I wanted.”

Back home, Caitie did some research and found the Adaptive Sports Foundation in Windham, New York. Since elementary school, Caitie has spent her weekends taking lessons to improve her skiing at the ASF. Ultimately, she began training and competing at the National level to qualify for the US Adaptive Ski Team (USAST). Since Caitie graduated high school she has maintained excellent grades at Harvard University where she is currently attending as a pre-med undergraduate, while still pursuing her skiing career.

In case you haven't heard, nineteen year old Caitlin Sarubbi is now a rising star in the adaptive ski-racing world and has earned a space on the US Adaptive Ski Team. Her new focus, is the reward of earning a medal in the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver!

Caitie is a skier classified with a visual impairment, but she is still a racer. In order for Caitie to ski and compete she requires the assistance of a guide that skis in front of her and acts as her eyes through the race course. The guide calls out commands to Caitie through the wireless headsets they wear as they race through the gates together toward the finish line.

In order to maintain her participation on the US Adaptive Ski Team, Caitie requires a budget of ~ $100,000. This amount includes the cost of her guide, PSIA Certified Instructor, Gwynn Watkins, a former head coach of the Waterville NH, Winter Park CO, and Challenge Aspen Adaptive Ski Teams. The money also includes travel expenses, fees and equipment for the two of them.

In response to this blog, there are a variety of ways you could help support Caitie in her quest to attend the 2010 Paralympics.

  1. You could attend her party on Friday, April 24th, 2009 in Brooklyn, NY.
  2. Donate an item or service to the Silent Raffle/Auction
  3. Make a secure credit card donation through the Adaptive Sports Foundation Website.
  4. Mail a donation to Caitlin Sarubbi at 21 Knight Court, Brooklyn, NY 11229
  5. Repost this blog within your educator networks and encourage others to help Caitie.
Anything you can do to support Caitlin would be greatly appreciated.

Turn right, turn left, repeat as necessary. ~Author Unknown

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blogging Against Disablism Day

From the Diary of a Goldfish blog:
Blogging Against Disablism day will be Friday, May 1st. This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people will blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination. In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we've made.

How to take part.

1. Comment to the Diary of a Goldfish post if you'd like to participate. You will then be added to the list of participants. Everyone is welcome.

2. Spread the word by linking to the Diary of a Goldfish site, displaying the provided banner and/ or telling everyone about it via twitter/plurk. The entire success of Blogging Against Disablism Day depends entirely on bloggers telling other bloggers and readers in advance.

3. Write a post on the subject of disability discrimination, disablism or ableism and publish it on May 1st - or as close as you are able. Podcasts, videocasts and on-line art are also welcome. You can cover any subject, specific or general, personal, social or political. In the previous three BADDs, folks wrote about all manner of subjects, from discrimination in education and employment, through health care, parenting, family life and relationships, as well as the interaction of disablism with racism and sexism. Every year the Goldfish has been asked, so it's worth stating; the discrimination experienced by people with mental ill health is disablism, so naturally such posts are welcome too.

You can see the archives for previous years here: 2006, 2007, 2008.

Blogging Against Disablism Day is not a carnival of previously published material. The point about doing this around one day is that it is a communal effort and all the posts connect to one another. You can of course use your own post to promote other things you've written as you wish.

4. Return to Diary of a Goldfish on May 1st to let everyone know that you've posted and to check out what other people have written. The Goldfish shall post links to everyone's posts throughout the day, creating an archive. However, the Goldfish needs you to comment and leave the URL of your post or else she shan't find your post and won't be able to link to it.

From the Diary of a Goldfish blog:


Naturally, Blogging Against Disablism Day invites contributions from people with all variety of impairments and none at all. You are welcome to contribute with podcasts, video-blogging or anything else that allows you to take part. And whilst May 1st is when this all takes place, nobody who happens to have a bad day that Friday is going to be left out of the archive.

Please e-mail the Goldfish at diaryofagoldfish at if you have an questions or concerns.

From the Diary of a Goldfish blog:

The Linguistic Amnesty

Whilst discussions about language and the way it can be used to oppress or empower us are more than welcome, please respect the language that people, particularly to describe themselves in their own contributions. We all have personal preferences, there are cultural variations and different political positions which affect the language we use. Meanwhile, non-disabled contributors can become nervous about using the most appropriate language to use, so please cut everyone as much slack as possible on the day.

At the same time, do not feel you have to use the same language that I do, even to talk about "disablism". If you prefer to blog against disability discrimination, ableism or blog for disability equality, then feel free to do so.

New Website for the Tourette Syndrome Association

The Tourette Syndrome Association, Inc. has just redesigned their website.

Just in case you've never visited the site, be sure to check it out and bookmark it. It happens to be a great resource to teachers and offers many affordable professional development opportunities for parents, teachers and service providers from New York and surrounding areas.

On the website, you'll find THAT DARN TIC , a newsletter written by and for children with Tourette Syndrome as well as other resources for adults that live with Tourette Syndrome.

In addition to the resources above there is an education section with strategies and advocacy supports. You can also sign up for e-mail updates.

The following video is a PSA regarding the
Tourette Syndrome Association, Inc.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Salon 1 - The Judgement of Thamus

The following excerpts come from the TEAM Salon PB Wiki.

During the seventeenth century, Parisian artists, poets and thinkers regularly gathered in "Salons" to talk about ideas. Some of the most influential thinkers of the day met purely for the joy of conversation and for the pleasure of thinking together. Out of these meetings came much of the cultural change that occurred during that time in history.

In TEAM, I will participate in three different "Salon" discussions, led by Canadian instructor, Brenda Dyck.

My first salon was a meeting of the minds regarding “The Judgement of Thamus” by Dr. Neil Postman.

"What happens to us when we become infatuated with and then seduced by them [new technologies]? Do they free us or imprison us? Do they improve or degrade democracy? Do they make our leaders more accountable or less so? Our system more transparent or less so? Do they make us better citizens or better consumers? Are the trade-offs worth it? If they’re not worth it, yet we still can’t stop ourselves from embracing the next new thing because that’s just how we’re wired, then what strategies can we devise to maintain control? Dignity? Meaning?" ~ Andrew Postman , 2005 (son of Dr. Neil Postman)

"In what sense do new technologies alter our understanding of the purpose of education, teaching and learning and the role of the teacher and student?"

As new technologies avail themselves to the general public there are teachers who get excited about the tools and wonder how they can integrate them into their teaching and learning. On the flipside, there are also teachers who couldn’t care less. Personally, I believe I’m wired with a passion for new tools. I’m not consumed by them, but I enjoy the conversation and demos that are shared by my PLN when a new tool comes along. New tools can be cool, but I am not infatuated with their being. It’s not the tool that makes or breaks the learning, it’s how the new technologies are being used to enhance the curriculum. Even with these new tools, the purpose of education remains the same. As educators, we still expose the students to the grade level content and address the required standards for our states. With new tools, however, I feel more like a facilitator of learning than a sage on the stage.

"In what sense do new technologies alter the structure of our interests (the things we think about, the symbols we think with, the nature of community- the arena where thoughts develop)?"

Since I have adopted a passion for educational technology, the way I run my classroom has changed. While I still present content to my students, I feel more like an instructional coach than a lecturer. The technology has altered my classroom into a cooperative community of partners involved in more project based learning. The technology has transformed the way information is shared, and the content seems more integrated and fluid. This change in education has altered the way students collaborate with their peers and how they showcase their work. I have found this shift is more motivating to the children and has helped to level the playing field among diverse learners. It is much easier to differentiate in a class that uses technologies, than in a class that does not.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Inclusion Revolution - ASSET Preso

Welcome to my blog. Today I'll be presenting at the Suffolk County ASSET technology conference.

Presentation Description:
A special education teacher will discuss how her integrated curriculum uses technology to help level the playing field for students with special needs. See how web 2.0 technologies are being used to meet IEP goals and to prepare students for 21st century learning.

Here is my presentation.

Uploaded on authorSTREAM by CSouthard

Saturday, February 21, 2009

AT: A Family Affair

After multiple attempts I have had difficulty connecting with families to interview for this assignment, so I decided to interview my mom about the biggest assistive technology challenge in my family, my Grandpa.

Sixty years ago, my grandpa worked for the railroad and serviced the lines above the trains as an electrician. One day while working high on a pole (like a telephone pole), Grandpa slipped and fell. He broke his pelvis, his tibia and fibia in both legs, and his feet were crushed. Despite the initial “Holy Moly!” response of the whole family, his wife and children banded together to help GP through this incident. Grandpa needed a lot of time to recover and he had a lot of operations in the interim. One surgery that baffles me is how his foot/ankles were reconstructed with pins and fused with over 40 pieces of bone. GP was out of commission for a long time while the doctors waited for him to heal.

During this time in history, there was not a lot of assistive technology around unless you made it yourself. Thank goodness GP was a tinkerer and he knew how to adapt and/or create his own assistive technology. We now refer to his strategies as McGuyver-like. You never knew what he could do with some wood, nails and some duct tape.

Throughout Grandpa’s life his support system transitioned from my grandmother to my mom. Grandkids, however, were often involved with the support system too, and in his last six months of life, he had a nurse’s aid too.

There have been many assistive tech tools in GP’s life. My favorite has always been the Easy Lift Chair aka the “Ejecto Chair.” Special buttons push your bottom to a standing position as it has always been hard for GP to get up from a sitting position. When he didn’t have his chair, it was often my job to pull him out. We’d grab each other on the elbows, pull and smile. I liked that job.

With regards to the other AT in his life, GP adapted or fashioned tools out of anything he possibly could. He used to have a block of wood on a string that he’d keep in his truck, to give him a step up. I also remember how he would hook his cane around the steering wheel to help pull himself into the front passenger seat of the car or how he fashioned a large square piece of plastic on the seat so he could easily swivel his legs into the vehicle for a nice ride along the beach.

For a while, GP was walking independently until his knees started to get bad. He had them replaced but physical therapy was a challenge for a man who waddled. His ankles were fused at 90 degrees, so the whole point and flex, or walk/run exercises were out of the question. So, we just adapted. He used two canes and walked like a spider for a large part of his life. Ultimately, he transitioned to a walker then to a wheelchair. Sometimes he used all three and the tools were strategically placed all throughout his home. He lived this way, independently, for a very long time.

After some complications, it wasn’t until recently that GP needed to officially order what he finally called assistive technology for his home. This included a hospital bed, hoya lift, slide board and handicapped accessible van. The training on any or all of these things was slim and none. In our case, it was a lot of practice and trial and error. In our family, that’s how we roll. This time, it was GP saying, “Holy Moly!” especially on the Hoya Lift. But he delegated, called out commands and we assisted.

When I asked my mom if there was anything she’d change, she would have loved more electric assistive tech instead of the manual, but she recognizes that nothing is without faults. There was one time where the power went out and GP was trapped in his electric chair and she recalled that it wasn’t so much fun trying to get him out. Shortly thereafter, McGuyver set up a battery pack back up on the chair so it would never happen again.

As a family, we’ve just learned to adapt with GP and that has always been the way.

Learning about or creating new devices actually brought us together more as a family, and never really stopped us from doing anything, including family road trips.

Our biggest challenges and frustrations came this year when GP got sick. Grumpus was still delegating and adapting, but the time spent with him being sick took a real toll on my mother, who was his main caregiver. Although she tried to remain upbeat, chronic sorrow definitely invaded her life and ours. Adapting wasn’t so easy anymore.

My Grandpa passed away in January and although I miss him very much, it was his time to go. I am thankful for all that he taught me about assistive technology and duct tape and all the other McGuyver strategies in between. Sometimes for a family, AT isn’t always about the SETT way you do things, but how you can just adapt things that need adapting.

Friday, February 20, 2009

AT: Funding

When schools are strapped for cash, it is important to consider what funding opportunities are available for teachers and their students when it comes to purchasing assistive technology. Grants and local funding are ideal ways for teachers to fund AT needs for students in their classrooms and/or in their schools, but there are other options too.

As part of this assignment for LATS, I had to learn more about the steps and sources for funding AT. One of the purposes of this assignment was to learn about how to connect educators with grants and monies to support students who would benefit from AT .

Through this module, I learned how important it is to gather data on your student and to research what AT, low tech to high tech, is available to support their needs in the classroom. I also learned about some additional sources of funding for AT. Some of these resources include:
For the most part, my district pupil personnel staff and families are responsible for funding opportunities through Medicaid, SSI, IDEA, etc. As a classroom teacher, I am rarely involved in this paperwork, but when I worked in PPS during college it was my job to gather the documentation required for this funding so I know a little bit about how it works.

As a classroom teacher, there seems to be a disconnect between pupil personnel and the classroom staff regarding this type of funding. I recognize this challenge and it would be nice to be able to connect more about this topic. This could probably be achieved through a faculty meeting, PPS newsletter or e-mail update to staff, but I am not advocating any more work for those hard working secretaries!

On the other hand, I am lucky to work in a school that supports my participation in unique funding opportunities through grants and contests. While at my district, I have worked on grant writing committees to access money from the Department of Education. I have also applied for community grants that are available through my school district. I have even applied for unique grants and contests through local community organizations with my class.

While I recognize that there are many sources of funding, I think it is in a district's best interest to allow teachers to challenge themselves through these grant writing opportunities. As Dave says, "Obtaining funds for assistive technology can be a rewarding challenge to a problem solver personality." I like the challenge. How about you? If so, here are some tips for you:
  • Gather Research
  • Know the Law (FAPE and IDEA)
  • Apply to different organizations
  • Keep your chin up
    • If your grant is denied, don't be afraid to try again
Any trouble? Talk with your colleagues or online PLN, they may have experience with funding and be able to offer you advice for success.

Additional resources: