Monday, December 21, 2009

A Values/Life Skills Multimedia Strategy

Hi all,

Just in case anyone is curious about our final project, I thought I would share the details with you here. Working with Ms. Chiu at the Cooke Center, a school for children with special needs, my group designed a multimedia strategy that would allow her to use video, audio and visual materials to supplement her existing curriculum. Ms. Chiu designs her units in 2-3 week intervals based on various values and life skills that the students in her class need to obtain.

Feel free to peruse our strategy and associated resources.

-Robin

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Edutopia

On December 3, the UN appoints Stevie Wonder as the new Messenger of Peace on International Disability Day. This is a great step in the right direction towards accessibility for all.

To that end, I wanted to introduce you to Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Their mission is to highlight what works in public education and focus on six areas of development: Comprehensive Assessment, Integrated Studies, Project Learning, Social and Emotional Learning, Teacher Development and Technology Integration.


They have a huge collection of videos that profile teachers, students and other models of successful education. Here are few inspiring stories related to assistive technology. But, there are lots more so check out Edutopia!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quotable Quotes

For my final blog posting (for this class anyway), I was asked to provide a quote that reflects my view of technology. Well, I couldn't choose just 1 so here are my top 5 quotes.
  1. "This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man - if man is not enslaved by it." ~Jonas Salk
  2. "The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn't think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential." ~Steve Ballmer
  3. "Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, deserves to be." ~David Thornburg*
  4. "If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow." ~John Dewey*
  5. “Students today are raised on technology, fundamentally changing the educational environment and how students interact, learn and share. Continued focus on eliminating barriers to education by leveraging technology and the network will help bridge the digital divide and deliver world-class education to everyone. Today's students are the leaders of tomorrow and it is our duty to provide the education they need to shape the future.” ~Scott McNealy
I hope that you enjoyed my blog postings this semester. While I can't guarantee that I will post as regularly going forward, I do plan to maintain this blog for all things related to adaptive technology and education. So, see you soon!

*Came from a slideshow on Education & Technology quotes. I picked two but there were lots of great other quotes which are also relevant.

Funding and a collection of AT resources

Before you can implement many of the suggestions made throughout this blog, you'll need money. Lots and lots of money. So, here a few links that address funding issues to get you started.
The rest is a catch-all post for an assortment of resources that didn't fit anywhere else. Check them out when you get a chance...
I hope these will be helpful as you add to your AT repertoire.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adaptive Technology for Classroom Use

There are so many interesting topics in the area of Adaptive Technology that it's hard to know where to start. But, the important thing is that you DO start. Listen to this video of several students explaining why it is so important to figure out how to include all students in the classroom. See the list of AT devices referred to in the video.

So, what is the best way to start thinking about AT devices that are appropriate? A general rule of thumb is to look at low-tech and mid-tech options first. Some good places to start include:
This video highlights some low-tech alternative that helps students and others to live more independently:



Beyond this, there are some higher tech AT devices which may be appropriate. It's always important to remember, however, that each student should be evaluated prior to AT recommendations to ensure the correct match and effectiveness. Trial usage of AT devices should also be encouraged, as available. There are two main categories that I will discuss with regard to AT devices: Adaptive Input & Augmentative Communication.

Adaptive Input - These AT devices generally include alternatives keyboards and mice, and other input methods. There are also Adaptive Output devices such as screen readers and braille printers. Check out this interactive presentation highlighting many of the available adaptive input devices. Here are some additional resources on the subject:

To introduce what I mean by Augmentative Communication, here is a video from one teacher explaining how technology has helped her improve the ability of her students to learn and communicate:



Adaptive and Augmentative Communication (AAC) - This area of AT devices encompasses the technology that allows students to be more active participants through alternative means of communication. This 30 minute AAC video highlights many of the devices available today. Other resources include:

To wrap up, you can find lots more resources at NATRI, the National Assistive Technology Research Institute including a segment on how AT services can go awry. This is useful as you prepare to utilize these technologies in the classroom. Another great resource is this Assistive Technology Implementation Plan that should be used as part of an IEP to ensure that students get what they need to be successful.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Kurzweil

This exercise asked us to explore a popular tool in the world of literacy and learning support known as Kurzweil 3000, or just "The Kurzweil". You can request a 30-day demo CD from their website. So, I took it for a spin.

First of all, I was quite frustrated with the installation process. The first time I tried to install it I was told that I had to restart my computer before it would work. Well, I have about a dozen different things open that I was not prepared to shut down. So, I tried my backup computer but alas I have no speakers on that computer and it didn't want to work through the sound card. Then, I tried my laptop but I didn't have enough space on C and it wouldn't let me install to D. So, back to the first computer, write down what's open, shut everything down, install, restart and finally use Kurzweil.

I then opened the Reading for Math.kes file provided by our teacher, a document that had already been scanned in. I went through the tutorials provided which basically showed me how to move around the tool bars and then began the process of trying to add a text note. The tutorials did not go through that so I checked the help menu. The help menu said to go to the "Study Skills Training" tool bar. Guess what? That's not where it is. It's actually under "Test Preparation". Anyway, I added several text notes to indicate where the student should fill in the form and what data was being requested. The text notes were next to name and questions 1-3, 5 & 6.

Question 4 asked the student to circle items in the picture shown.













The question is: How can a student do this within the program (or can they?). And, the answer is, yes they can but only after some edits are made by the teacher. As is, the student would not be able to use the circle tool on the "Basic" toolbar because the picture is not one of the zones. So, using Zone Edit (which I learned about from the video) I made the crayons into a zone. The students would now be able to circle the number of crayons the question is asking for.














So, yes it's possible. Finally, I added a bubble note to be read before the first question. This allowed me to review the task and ask the student to consider the appropriate strategy to use to solve the problems. The bubble note allows you to request input from the student but doesn't provide a mechanism for stating whether the selected answer is correct. Another flaw that I noted is that while you can slow the speed at which the program reads, there seems to be no way to add appropriate pauses or interjections. It just continues to read as if it were one long block of text.

I think that more exploration of this tool would be necessary to use it in real classrooms with actual students but I do see potential for this as a useful tool for some.

Interactive Whiteboards: Markers & Chalk Be Gone!

Interactive Whiteboards, often referred to by the brand name "SmartBoard", are the greatest thing since desks and notebooks in the world of education. When I first heard about them, I wasn't sure about them being more than a glorified projection screen. But, that was until I saw them in use. Now, I can't imagine classrooms without them.

One of the things that makes these SMART Boards so powerful is the SMART Notebook software that accompanies it. The first thing you should do is download the software and play around with it, although you'll need to get a license number from your school for the installation. There is a plethora of training materials that will help you get started on the Smart technologies site. To learn more about effective uses in the classroom, check out this great review of recent literature on the use of Interactive Whiteboards in education. Also, check out this profile of a district in Westchester using SmartBoards.

In addition to the standard tools that come "out of the box" with SMART Boards, there are a number of companies that are making tools and software that compliment the system. Check out TEQ's Education Resource Center for an assortment of complimentary tools and visualizers by Samsung. There are many manufacturers of these document cameras but the Samsung visualizer is one of the smallest. There are also "clickers" that work in conjunction with these interactive whiteboards. SMART Response and SMART Response LE (formerly Senteo) are available from SMART Technologies. These clickers provide a more interactive environment for students and allow teachers to assess student's prior knowledge or effectiveness of a lesson. Finally, it might be useful to consider a projector mount
(again, many manufacturers make these) if you have an older SMART Board without the projector built in. This will help ensure a safer and more effective classroom environment if your facility is capable of wiring the connected computer through the ceiling tiles or other concealed areas.

Finally, there is a reason that I chose to name this post "Interactive Whiteboards" rather than "SmartBoards." SMART technologies can be expensive which is a serious consideration for schools and districts with limited technology budgets. An alternative favorite of mine is the Wiimote Interactive Whiteboard that you can create yourself. If you check out Johnny Lee’s website he describes the project (Low-Cost Multi-point Interactive Whiteboards Using the Wiimote). I actually created a lesson plan for an engineering class around this where they make the pens themselves. However, if you don’t want to take the time or effort and are just looking for a cost-effective alternative to SmartBoards there are plenty of pens you can buy yourself. Penteractive sell pens and other accessories. Smoothboard.net sells software similar to SMART Notebook. There is actually a whole development community around this project so there is lots of exploration you do. Check out the Wiimote Project Forum for more information.

For our final project, my group has decided to present a multimedia strategy to the teachers at Cooke Center in the form of a SMART Notebook file. See a future post for information on how we created this file, how it can be shared with other teachers, and how it can be used to create interactive lessons.

Using Storyboards in the Classroom

Storyboards are useful for helping students visualization content they are studying and there are several ways that they can be used in the classroom. The first way was demonstrated in my PhotoStory posting of Shel Silverstein's "Where The Sidewalk Ends." Teachers can either prepare these in advance for students to use, or students might actually create these storyboards themselves.

This handout describes Visual Think-Alouds and a process by which you can help students get started. You will also want to help students locate images and music that they can use in their digital storyboards. Here are some resources that you can share with your students:
Finally, this pdf document provides a simple Tutorial for getting started with PhotoStory.

Another way of thinking about storyboards is that they are alternative methods for "reading". For individuals with visual impairments or learning disabilities, there are many resources that provide books in alternative formats. Here is a sampling of e-Text providers:
For a master list of these sites and more detail about each, check the CAST.org resources page. Finally, here is a list of some additional resources to explore:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

All About Boardmaker

Boardmaker is a new software tool that was introduced to me recently. Unfortunately, it is not free but I was able to use it with a semesterware license. The idea behind Boardmaker is that you can help students by presenting information visually and associating it with words to help them learn.

I remember that my cousin Josh used boards similar to this when he was younger to help him communicate what he wanted or needed. I definitely see the benefit that this assistive technology can bring to students and others with disabilities.

Our assignment for Boardmaker was to create a "Memory" game for visual discrimination. We had to select an object and make 2 sets of 10 images that were varied in one way or another: rotated, flipped, color change, lines added, etc. I choose a Tennis theme because I could easily visualize the racket and ball in numerous positions. I also thought that this board could be easily adapted to discuss various tennis terms like overhand, backhand, net shot, practice, and love by simply changing the word "Tennis" above the image to the appropriate term. Here is a picture of what my Board looked like:


















If you want to get started with Boardmaker, and are lucky enough to have access to the software, here are some tutorials that might help:
Remember, you can always use low-tech options if you don't have access to software or other technology devices!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Using PhotoStory for Accessibility

This task was designed to show how PhotoStory, a free download from Microsoft (if you have genuine Windows) can be used to extend accessibility for ELA. In this example, I have chosen the poem "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein.

video

The use of pictures and music alongside the words helps students who are visually impaired or struggle with literacy to appreciate the poem in different ways.

On the technology itself, I will say that Photostory does have some limitations and some advantages. Unlike MovieMaker, Photostory does not give you a way to add a credits slide or use video clips as part of your movie. It really is designed for slideshows with music or voice added rather than video-editing. A nice feature of Photostory is that it will automatically adjust music that is too long for the slideshow, fading it out on the last image. It's also very easy to use which makes it an advantage for students.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Spiration Family: Graphic Organizers and Education

This post focuses on graphic organizers as a way to help students learn in a more focused and organized way. The Spiration Family includes Inspiration, Webspiration and Kidspiration. Inspiration is the original concept mapping tool designed for older students and adults. Kidspiration as the name implies is focused on younger audiences and Webspiration is online version of Inspiration. There are two parts to this post. The first identifies two sample lessons using Kidspiration. The latter highlights three sample concept maps that I have personally created and used.

Good Kidspiration Examples:
The first example that I want to highlight is the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere Cartoon Creator lesson at
http://www.inspiration.com/sites/default/files/documents/CartoonCreator.zip. There are several reasons that I picked this one. First, the author provides both a .pdf of the lesson plan as well as a sample kidspiration file of what the resulting product could look like. The template that is used is built-in to Kidspiration under the Social Studies Content Area and the graphics are used from the embedded libraries but the teacher can also bring in their own symbol library. The lesson plan also emphasizes critical thinking skills by suggestion that the last two frames of the cartoon relate to the impact of the actions of the event. It’s also extensible to any social studies content area that the students may be studying.

The second example is actually from my student teaching experience. The teacher had his third grade class divide up into pairs to interview each other. They would be taking notes using the Writing view of Kidspiration. The template that was modified for this is the “Story of My Life” template in the Reading and Writing content area. The students then examine the graphical view to understand the organization of the interview, and to add images. The students then did a second round of interviews to provide the elaboration details. Finally, the students exported their kidspiration notes to Microsoft Word in order to publish their interview on the school bulletin board.

My Spiration Examples:
The first example is using Inspiration to design a webquest on the topic of Colonial Values and America today. In designing a WebQuest, organization is extremely important. Inspiration is a great tool because it allows for reorganization and multiple idea paths which is critical in WebQuest design. Using Inspiration in this manner would be helpful for students at the secondary level who are instructed to design a WebQuest of their own in order to gain a deeper understanding of the content areas that they are studying and to provide useful tools for students yet to come.

Here is the concept map that I designed for my WebQuest which you can find at
http://questgarden.com/79/14/5/090327191304/:


inspiration
The second example uses Webspiration as a group brainstorming platform. The advantages of Webspiration are that it is free and the concept map can be edited by multiple people through sharing. In a class where we had to design a lesson for a particular group of students using collaborative activities, my group chose to create a lesson on what it means to be a green citizen. It was targeted at the high school level. We all contributed to the resulting concept map shown below which was used to design the Green Citizen wiki and website that students would use to create their projects. This is a great example of how concept maps can be used by students working on group projects to get organized and come to consensus on the direction of their projects.

Here is the Webspiration map for the Green Citizen project (pbwiki:
http://greencitizen.pbworks.com/, website: http://sites.google.com/site/greenhs4052/home):



The third and final example is a Kidspiration project I designed for a second grade class at my student teaching placement. They were beginning a unit on New York City and specifically transportation today and at the turn of the 20th century in NYC. They would be visiting the NYC Transit Museum and this lesson was to be an introduction to the NYC subway system. The students had not been exposed to Kidspiration before so I created several templates for them to use. The students were divided into groups of three and assigned a subway line by color. This allowed me to differentiate the lesson as some lines are easier than others. The students would be identifying end points, numbers or letters associated with the line, the original line company (IRT, BMT or IND), important sights along the line and the boroughs through which the line passes.

Here is a picture of the completed template for the Green line:

kidspiration

PowerPoint: A New Perspective

I spoke briefly about this in my post on Web Accessibility Resources, but I wanted to expand on it here. In my original post, I wrote:

"Powerpointlessness - I love it! Until reading Scoring Powerpoints, I have generally been of the opinion that Powerpoints should never be used in the classroom as a way to say "I'm integrating technology". While still true, I do see now the benefits of helping students prepare effective Powerpoint presentations with accompanying supportive documentation since remains a critical skill in the 21st century. But, it can not be the only tool used by students! If you want to explore some of the ways that Powerpoint can be used effectively in the classroom, here are some Powerpoint Tutorials to get you started: Powerpoint in the Classroom, Internet for Classrooms."

That was before I completed my Interactive Powerpoint Assignment for class. I have created many a PowerPoint (or StarOffice Impress) presentation over the course of my career but I have never created one that was designed to be used as an interactive lesson. It proved to be an interesting and motivating challenge. The mindset in creating a presentation of this format is very different than a presentation one creates with the intent of a speaker using it as supporting documentation. The interactive PowerPoint needs to be a standalone module that interacts with all students regardless of any limiting disabilities (unable to read, hearing impairments, sight impairments, etc...) they may have. I had intended to actually use this lesson with a 1st grade class at my student teaching placement but it was rejected as it didn't fall within their curriculum guidelines or methodologies. In any event, I enjoyed creating it and would like to share it with you. Feel free to use in your own class. The link below allows you to download the PowerPoint show. If you would like the editable version, just let me know.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Interactive & Accessible PowerPoint

You can also take a look at the accompanying documentation designed for teachers which explains the lesson's goals, curriculum standards met, and differentiated instruction/accomodations. The document also contains numerous resources and citations.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Interactive PowerPoint Teacher Supplement


Finally, I have one more tutorial to share with you from the Florida Gulf Coast University. I hope that using the tutorial and samples provided you will be able to create your own fully accessible and equitable interactive PowerPoint lessons for your students. If you do, please share. I would love to see your creations.

Serious Games

Serious Games are a category of educationally focused games, activities and virtual worlds that are designed to help students think critically while they believe that they are "just having fun". You might also hear these games called "Games for Change." In this editorial by Suzanne Seggerman, she ponders whether Obama Plays Video Games? given the impact that these games can have on promoting change and engagement.

There are quite a number of these serious games that have popped up and I wanted to share some of them with you. Here are some games that I find particularly interesting:

Peacemaker - A game about the conflict between Israelis and Palestianians
Food Force - Fighting global poverty
Free Rice - A vocabulary game that donates 20 grains of rice for every correct answer
Peace Corps Challenge Online Game - Addressing issues of sanitation, microfinance, education, women's issues, water contamination and more
Play The News - Changing news consumption from passive reading to active engagement

To read more about these and other games check out "How Internet Games and Virtual Worlds Can Help You Deliver a More Global Education" by Laura Adriance.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

RSS Feeds and Education

I’ve been a long time user of RSS feeds but only recently discovered a way to keep up on the RSS feeds that I follow.

I largely use Google Reader as my RSS reader however I do use FreeRange on my cell phone quite often as each of the sites below will note. I have occasionally also used the Windows Vista gadget to monitor feeds.

And now, here is a list of my ten favorite educationally related feeds.


1. A Life Without Limits – Rolling Into the Future

Blog: http://alifewithoutlimitsrollinintothefuture.blogspot.com/

Feed: http://alifewithoutlimitsrollinintothefuture.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Description: Debbie, an individual with a disability, maintains her own blog to push past the stereotypes and inspire others to pursue their dreams “no matter what.”

Justification for selecting this one: I was actually searching for a blog written by someone with cerebral palsy to prove that there are people with this disease who are doing it. I wanted to find hope and motivation for my cousin Josh who has CP. While I don’t know what Debbie’s disability is exactly, I thought the point was made that technology transcends disability and breaks down barriers of communication for all.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader.

2. Assistive Technology

Blog: http://assistivetek.blogspot.com/

Feed: http://assistivetek.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Description: A blog “on the topic of assistive technology, eLearning, mind mapping, project management, visual learning, collaborative tools, and educational technology.”

Justification for selecting this one: Since my area of focus is educational technology, I wanted to find a feed to follow that would identify appropriate uses of adaptive technology in education. It just so happens that the author of this blog, Brian Friedlander, is my husband’s cousin and I have been following his blog since he posted a recent update on Facebook.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader.

3. Mike Saggese’s Blog @ 508 Portal

Blog: http://www.508portal.com/?q=blog/555

Feed: http://www.508portal.com/?q=blog/555/feed

Description: TecAccess is an accessibility consultancy practice who maintains an accessibility and disability community blog. The blog spans at range of topics from “accessible technology and Section 508 to the business case for accessibility.”

Justification for selecting this one: While the blog clearly has its own agenda (selling it’s consultancy services), I found the posts to be interesting and relevant to bringing equity into the classroom.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader.

4. No Limits to Learning

Blog: http://nolimitstolearning.blogspot.com/

Feed: http://nolimitstolearning.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

Description: The tagline for this blog says “celebrating human potential through assistive technology” and the author of the blog invites readers to comment on children, disabilities, assistive technology and education.

Justification for selecting this one: I found this site in searching for adaptive technology but it captured my attention through several posts on the use of Wii as an assistive technology. I am strong proponent that the Wii motion control should be embraced as a way to enable greater accessibility in education.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader.

General Education Interest

5. Cool Cat Teacher

Blog: http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/

Feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/CoolCatTeacherBlog

Description: Cool Cat Teacher’s philosophy is “teaching content with new tools, enthusiasm, and the belief that teaching is a noble calling.”

Justification for selecting this one: I found this site while looking at the blogroll of another blog that I follow and I am continually impressed by the interesting posts and technology integration discussions. I also really like the “Daily Spotlight on Education” series because it provides nuggets of information in a short post.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader.

6. EdTechTalk’s 21st Century Learning

Podcast: http://www.edtechtalk.com/taxonomy/term/9

Feed: http://www.edtechtalk.com/taxonomy/term/9/0/feed

Description: A web radio show that explores the intersection of education and technology.

Justification for selecting this one: I’m a big fan of EdTechTalk, a platform that hosts numerous podcasts for their community of educators interested in discussing and learning about the uses of educational technology. I picked the 21st Century Learning show to highlight since it meshes with my passion for utilizing Web 2.0 tools in the classroom.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader.

7. The Clever Sheep

Blog: http://thecleversheep.blogspot.com/

Feed: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/TheCleverSheep

Description: The author is a teacher who has self-proclaimed using media and other communication technologies in education for years. The blog desires to engage in meaningful conversations with other educators who also see themselves as learners.

Justification for selecting this one: This site is a new acquisition to my collection of blogs that I follow but I’ve been impressed with the informative nature of the posts so far. I’ve predominately read this thread on my phone and found myself sending posts to email for later follow-up. To me, this is a sign that the blog is worthwhile.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader.

8. The Power of Educational Technology

Blog: http://edtechpower.blogspot.com/

Feed: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ThePowerOfEducationalTechnology

Description: Liz Davis is the director of academic technology at an independent school near Boston. She is very active among the community of educational technologists and her blog postings inspire other educators to integrate technology in the classroom.

Justification for selecting this one: This was the very first blog that I began following. I found it through my network of educators on Twitter and quickly became a fan. She provides interesting and useful links to educational software tools and inspiring stories of successful classroom implementations. Additionally, her blog serves as a professional learning community through its various followers and associated comments.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader. In addition to these methods, I also get blog post updates delivered directly to my email.

9. LParisi’s Twitter Stream

Twitter: http://twitter.com/lparisi

Feed: http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/6212782.rss

Description: Lisa Parisi is a 5th grade teacher on Long Island who has created an environment in her classroom that is both respectful and collaborative. They use project-based learning approaches and lots of technology integration.

Justification for selecting this one: I spent half of my observation hours observing in Lisa’s classroom and I am supremely impressed with the levels of achievement and engagement by her students. I have chosen to profile Lisa’s twitter feed rather than her blog because quite frankly she updates Twitter a lot more frequently.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader. While I could use any number of Twitter clients to follow this feed, using a feed reader ensures that I don’t miss any.

9. Technology on CNN

Website: http://www.cnn.com/TECH/?eref=rss_tech

Feed: http://rss.cnn.com/rss/cnn_tech.rss

Description: This is CNN’s online Technology section, kind of like the Science section in the Tuesday Times. It provides an overview of the latest and greatest news reports on technology.

Justification for selecting this one: I’ve included this thread here as a reminder that it is always important to keep up to date on your content area of specialist. As an educational technology specialist, I need to keep pace on the latest trends in technology and not just the latest trends in educational technology.

Format Received: I use Google Reader as the method by which I get updates posted to this feed. I also use FreeRange on my cell phone. Free Range is a mobile application that presents the contents of feeds provided by Google Reader.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Computer Accessibility Resources

I spoke earlier about Web Accessibility Resources, but now it's time to think about Computer Accessible Resources. This includes any hardware or software features built into your computer and discuss possible computer add-ons that help make computers more accessible. Inevitably, this discussion leads to a debate of PC vs. Mac. I have been a PC user for years but I won't dismiss the fact that Apple has some very nice features included on the Mac that make it ideal for some applications (as in uses, not software), and even some schools. That being said, the PC seemingly is much better equipped for individuals with special needs than the Mac. To begin with, here is a testimonal on the PC advantage.

Beyond that, Microsoft has provided a wealth of resources about the accessibility features it offers - much more than Apple provides. Here is Apple's stance on accessibility. That''s it? Ok, sure, they say they have all these features but there is no additional supporting documentation. You'll see what I mean in a minute.

Microsoft, on the other hand (for all my complaining about its faults) has done a great job on this aspect. To begin with you can watch video demonstrations of four aspects of accessibility (Display and Appearance, Sounds and Speech, Keyboard and Mouse, and Accessibility Wizard). Then, jump on over to Microsoft's main accessibility page to see Fact Sheets and Tutorials for Windows, Office and Internet Explorer of various versions. If you really want to get down and dirty, check out Accessibility Technology: A Guide for Educators which also includes an Assistive Technology Decision Tree, some research reports on the topic and a great breakdown of assistive technologies by impairment.

Finally, although not solely focused on computer accessibility, eSchool News is a great resources for teachers.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Whyville Halloween!

This "enhanced learning opportunity" invited us to attend and report on the Whyville Halloween party.

The very first challenge was obtaining the secret code. There were several ways you could do this. The first was to invite another person to join Whyville and if they were active enough, you would be sent the code. So, I sort of cheated. I invited myself (using another email address) and received a Ymail with the code. Here is the email.

Halloween Party Secret Word
Since robinweb, one of your Halloween Party invitees signed up for Whyville, you get to hear the special Halloween Party Secret Word. It's 'corpse' spelled backwards: 'esproc'. During the Halloween Party on October 30 from 1 PM to 8 PM Whyville Time, visit Dr. Leila's house and say that word in chat. You'll be instantly transported to the party!

The other way was to chat and see if someone would share the secret word with you. The first time I tried this I was told “ymmum” was the secret word but later found out that was last years. The second time I tried it, before reading Ymail, I found it that it was “esproc”. That’s great but dmwraight & I still had trouble getting into the party. Why? We kept saying the secret code and then walking through Dr. Leila’s front door. Instead you had to say the secret code and hit ENTER! That was not intuitive. I actually figured it out by accident because I was getting frustrated and hit ENTER without even thinking about it.

The other early step was to get a costume. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of clams left so I couldn’t buy much. I bought a pumpkin face for only 10 clams. So, here I am in Whyville:
Here I am in costume:
Once at the party, the first thing you see is a whole ton of people in front of Hauntington Mansion.
It took a while to figure out what else there was to do. It was a big help going to the party together with dmwraight because we both were figuring it out together and sharing what we learned using Facebook chat. She discovered the clicking on the ghost would provide information on the different activities:

Then, clicking on the door the haunted house brought you to the lobby where there were different scary things to observe (spiders moving, paintings looking at you, etc…).

I was intrigued by the staircase so I clicked at the top and it took me to a staircase to nowhere.

This staircase had two views and went on and on and on. I followed it up at least 6 levels but then gave up. Someone told me I could catapult things off the side and I tried it but apparently had nothing to catapult. I went back down the staircases, back to the lobby of the haunted house and then entered the other doorway. This led me to the dining room.

In the dining room, you could see if a reflection of yourself in the mirror if you were in the right place. I couldn’t figure it out though. In this picture it looks like I am in “eyeball soup”. dmwraight is at the bottom left of the table. The only way out of the house is by clicking on the crow on the branch at the back window. I then went to the graveyard to explore.

The graveyard was just another place to chat with your fellow partygoers. The tree on the left had eyes that kept blinking at you. I perused around about and discovered that you could enter a secret portion of the graveyard by clicking on the grey tombstone by the right tree. I pinged dmwraight so she could join me.
This is where the witch’s brew was that the ghost told us about. You could drink the brew and the avatar responded “yuck”. I then went to the Ghoul Shed where apparently avatars could create private party rooms at the Whyville Halloween party.

I attended sloane5’s party but no one was there.

The last activity was that you could vote on avatar’s costumes. You voted by saying “vote avatarname” when you were in the room with that avatar. You could see which avatars were in the lead by clicking on vote tally.
To reflect on this experience, I would say that it’s definitely geared towards participants of a younger age. While it was interesting to explore, I found it a little bit disappointing. There was so much more they could have done (more interactive activities for example). Again, it’s obviously not an activity that a visually-impaired student could participate in even those with limited sight because it’s so busy on the screen and there is a ton of movement to follow. However, for those with physical disabilities it might serve as a way for them to “attend a Halloween party” that they could not attend, or may feel uncomfortable attending, in real life. I think this would fill more a social need than an educational one. Other than learning about the holiday of Halloween and perhaps the concept of voting and citizenship (loosely) there aren’t too many educational outcomes that the party would provide to students with or without disabilities.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Digital Citizenship

There is a whole area that should be discussed whenever you start introducing students to the power of the Internet. It's all about digital citizenship - what it means to be a contributing member of the digital society. The conversation needs to start with what it is and is not ok to do online.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ergonomics and Adaptive Technology

Ergonomics, the science of work, or more specifically, the science of determining the most natural positions for work, applies to everyone. However, for those with disabilities, finding the most ergonomic positions is not always easy. Many of these individuals need adaptive technology to help them adjust to the best position for them. Here are some resources to companies and products (from low tech to high tech) that just might help these individuals be more comfortable.

Rifton - This company makes an assortment of products to help individuals be more mobile.
Laptop Laidback - For those more comfortable flat on their back, this company provides a solution for laptop usage in this position.
Heads-Up - A simple low tech solution for helping individuals with poor muscle tone keep their heads up.
Wenzelite Rehab - Mobility and seating solutions so that individuals can participate equally.
FlagHouse - Lots of solutions for those with special needs, but here is a simple solution to scissors for those children who can't manipulate them. It's called Adapt-a-cut.
Onion Mountain Technology - Specializing in low tech adaptive technology, these pencil grippers might be just the thing to improve writing in a classroom. For more great ideas, see also LoTTIE kits (Low Tech Tools for Inclusive Education - a collection of low and mid tech tools designed for teachers, classroom aides, and support professionals to use with K-12 students who have special needs).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Web Accessibility Resources

Today, I'm going to share some interesting tools and Websites that provide resources and information that can help teachers design lessons that accommodate every student.

The first site you should know about is the W3C. The W3C is the standards board for the World Wide Web and they provide guidelines for ensuring that Web sites are accessible by all. Here is a complete list of Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools. I also like these quick accessibility tips.

Another resource is Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators including a special section on Special Ed resources containing some resources on assistive technology, sign language tools and more.

WebQuest.org provides lots of information about how to create WebQuests, template design and detail, and a support community. You can also use QuestGarden to build your own and search existing WebQuests. While not specifically an adaptive technology, WebQuests are ideal for designing instruction that is differentiated. For example, here is WebQuest that I designed for 4th grade social studies students examining the connection between Colonial Values and America Today. The roles are designed so that students of differing abilities will be appropriately challenged.

FunBrain is a site that has several educational games for kids. It also seems like you purchase books to read online at the site which might help children improve their literacy skills.

I really like the idea behind Awesome Talkster because it helps kids learn to read and use the Internet at an early age. As per the review at IDEAS, "adding a Natural Voice to Web pages, children and teens can learn to pronounce words as they read them. Awesome Talkster, the Awesome Talking Library, includes an animated character, providing synchronized highlighting so that children can follow along even more easily. This multi-sensory approach is a powerful method for improving reading skills" for all children. I think it would also be especially helpful for students with special needs.

Don't be confused. Clicker is not one of the interactive response devices (called "Clickers"). In this context, Clicker is a reading and writing tool based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which helps all students to improve these vital skills.

Powerpointlessness - I love it! Until reading Scoring Powerpoints, I have generally been of the opinion that Powerpoints should never be used in the classroom as a way to say "I'm integrating technology". While still true, I do see now the benefits of helping students prepare effective Powerpoint presentations with accompanying supportive documentation since remains a critical skill in the 21st century. But, it can not be the only tool used by students! If you want to explore some of the ways that Powerpoint can be used effectively in the classroom, here are some Powerpoint Tutorials to get you started: Powerpoint in the Classroom, Internet for Classrooms.

Finally, here are some challenges to web accessibility that you might consider as you design and use various sites, lessons, and more: The Challenges of Web Accessibility for the Blind and the Dyslexia challenge.

That's it for now. Stay tuned for more useful resources coming soon...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

National Standards - It's About Time!

I just wrote about this on my other blog but I wanted to share it here. There is a new initiative to create National Education Standards for Math & ELA. It's relevant to our class because inclusion was a key consideration in design.

Specifically, it says:

"Special populations: In the development of these standards, the inclusion of all types of learners was a priority. Writers selected language intended to make the standards documents accessible to different learners."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

All about Ergonomics: A report on my workstations and more...

Today's blog post is all about ergonomics: the study of how people work in their environments and how to adapt work environments to suit people's needs better. This report outlines both the advantages and problems of my various workstations and work habits. The assignment asked us to evaluate the workstation we use most often, however, I really move around quite often so I'm evaluating all of my recent workstations.

Green = Ergonomically good, Yellow = Not ideal, but not terrible, Red = Needs ergonomic adjustment.

In this chart, you can clearly see that the most ergonomic workstation is the SunRay at work. While I no longer work at Sun Microsystems, I included it in the chart because I knew that it would be the most ergonomic of all of them. The only additional design that would have been nice was a document holder, but quite honestly I rarely needed to refer to paper documents. Nearly everything I needed was in the form of electronic documents. I will now address the other three workstations.

The Laptop
Clearly, this is my least ergonomic friendly environment. The positives are that my feet can be properly placed on the floor and my wrist is properly angled on the mouse. Additionally, I have lots of space to spread out. The challenges here are: 1. It's a laptop so the monitor and keyboard are together, and the table is too high so my keyboard is not ergonomically ideal for my forearms. 2. While my feet technically can touch the floor properly, my work habits are to fidget in the chair, cross my feet, sit forward in the chair, etc... Some of this probably also has to do with the fact that I am using a dining room chair!

So, what are my alternatives: 1. Move. Don't work at the dining room table. Instead move my laptop to my desk in my office and work from there. This still doesn't resolve the laptop issue but would help with the chair issue. I could also get an adjustable chair for use at the the dining room table although my husband would prefer the former. But, you will see why moving to my office is not really an option. 2. Buy a separate monitor and keyboard to use with the laptop. I could but where would I keep it? 3. Keep working at the dining room table but sit properly and buy a document holder.

Home Desktop

My home desktop environment is a moderately ergonomic friendly environment. My feet can be properly placed on the floor and my forearms are aligned properly with the keyboard in its drawer. My chair is also completely appropriate for an office environment since it has lumbar support and adjusts in three different areas. The challenges here are: 1. I keep the mouse on the keyboard drawer which creates an improper angle. I would move it up to the desk if I had space. 2. Space. My desk is completely cluttered. I have no room for workbooks or textbooks or really anything else. I'm not even sure where I would put a document holder if I had one!

So, what are my alternatives: 1. Clean! Yes, I know I have to clean the desk. This would solve all the problems. I could buy a document holder, have space for my notebooks, and move the mouse up higher. Because of the size of the desk, it might not solve the laptop problem, but it might if I used a KVM switch and just pushed the laptop to the back. The problem. I have no time to clean it. It's a major project at this point in time and with school, student teaching, my internship and also finding time to spend with my husband, there just isn't anything left. My goal is to clean this all up when I graduate!

Student Teaching Desktop

My student teaching environment appears to be slightly more ergonomic friendly than the laptop situation although I must say that it doesn't feel that way. About the only good thing is a proper chair and a monitor in front of me. The challenges here are: 1. It's a shared group office. A technology office. My "workstation" is a PC amidst the clutter of other PCs, motherboards, manuals, and of course other people. You'd think I'd feel at home here given my home desktop description, but I really don't. I have no space for workbooks or even a document holder and barely any space for the mouse. 2. Because it's a shared office, I also have to use my cell phone without speaker, which means holding it to my ear while typing. It usually means stopping work while I talk.

So, what are my alternatives: 1. Ask my "neighbors" to move some of their stuff. or 2. Wait for my placement to be over. :-)

Solutions:
So, I've mentioned some possible alternatives above. In this section, I will identify some items that fulfill these accommodations and also list some additional websites for research.

Adjustable Chair (for the dining room) - This might help with my laptop environment.
Monitor & Keyboard - Allows me to place the laptop in a location with an adjustable keyboard drawer and position the monitor better.
KVM switch - Allows me to use my desktop keyboard, video (monitor) and mouse for my laptop.
Document Holder - For use at any of my workstations. This one is a bit expensive but I like it because I can use it with documents or books.
Desk - Possibly get an extra desk for my laptop, although I have to figure out where I'd put it.
Footrest - While this wasn't mentioned above, I wonder whether having a footrest would help me sit better.
Laptop in Bed - Another alternative although it means using the touchpad instead of a mouse.
You can find all of these listed on my Kaboodle Wish List under Ergonomic Devices.

Additional Resources