Sunday, December 6, 2009

AT Module 5

1. What one thing did you learn, and what will you do differently as a result?
Again, I find it very difficult to pick just ONE thing I learned from this tutorial. I think it has all been incredibly valuable, and it's hard to place exactly what I will take with me in my future working with children and the public; as I come across new situations, I am sure I will view them from a new perspective. The lesson plans in this module and the etiquette have probably been the most influential. (Although the hardware and software really demonstrate the ways that people with disabilities can complete tasks independently... like I said, it's hard to pick just one).

2. Do you plan to recommend this tutorial? If so, please elaborate.

As a member of my school's technology committee, I will certainly recommend this tutorial. We are always on the lookout for new information, tutorials, and resources to share with our staff. This will be incredibly helpful for increasing awareness of needs, etiquette, assistive technology, and helpful resources.

3. Do you plan to read or recommend some of the Recommended Reading books or add them to your collection? Will you link our LibraryThing list to your blog? If you have a book recommendation or have read one of the books that does not include a review, please send us your own review so we can share it.
I will probably return to this tutorial after I have completed my graduate program. At this time, I have found it incredibly difficult to read anything other than materials required for coursework and for my job as a classroom teacher. In the future, I would like to consult some of the materials mentioned in this tutorial, and will certainly add some of them to my own Library Thing.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

AT Module 4

#1 - The students at my school are at an advantage because of the many people with disabilities with whom they interact on a daily basis. From the obvious disabilities like students in wheelchairs, students with vision impairments, and a teacher with one arm, to the hidden disabilities as mentioned in Discovering AT, our students view these as part of everyday life in our community. We invite the MD School for the Blind to perform a concert every year, and they invite questions from the students at the end. Our students are curious about people who are different from them in any way, but this also includes adults (we are VERY different to our 6 year olds!) and volunteers who work interesting jobs. Our students are used to both low and high-tech AT, like those Jurkowski mentions on p. 106. From pencil grips and Braille to talking calculator and screen readers, they are a part of our school community as much as pencils and computers are. I try to establish a cooperative classroom environment, where my students feel safe and accepted. My class this year is especially outgoing - always offering to help a friend, from holding a hand to lead someone to the cafeteria to reading together.

#2 - I was happy to do well on the quiz! From my first undergrad class in education, we've been taught PFL, or "people first language," so the first part was especially easy. I felt a bit silly about one of the "Ten Commandments.." I often catch myself saying "Let's see what..." or "see you later!" to a visually impaired student, and try to say something else instead. The quiz reminded me that I don't have to change my language, and should talk to these students the same way I would talk to others.

#3 - According to the CIL search, there are 7 Independent Living Centers in MD. I researched Making Choices for Independent Living, Inc., which is the closest to me as it is located in Baltimore. It is the oldest and largest CIL in the state, dedicated to helping clients take control of the decisions in their lives. MCIL provides numerous resources and holds events to benefit their clients. I was disappointed with the lack of recent updates on their website, however. They encourage the community to speak out against "Inaccessible Technology," and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As Jurkowski notes on p. 80, even websites featured in schools and libraries can be inaccessible due to easily-fixable components like font and color schemes.
I had some difficulty with the ATA website, but was able to read some of their inspirational success stories.

#4 - There are so many helpful sites about AT, it was hard to pick just five. I tried to include a variety:
1. Family Guide to Assistive Technology:
Created by Parents, Let's Unite for Kids in 1999, this website is full of information from definitions, to examples, evaluations, and case studies. Although there are no bells and whistles (black text on a white background), there is a wealth of information that can help an overwhelmed family get started, or serve as a reference.
2. AbleData: "AbleData provides objective information about assistive technology products and rehabilitation equipment" You cannot purchase products through AbleData, but you can search products in numerous categories, read reviews, and find retailers online.
3. Assistive Technology Training Online Project (ATTO): Created by the School of Public Health and Health Professions of The University of Buffalo/State University of NY, this site includes AT Basics, tutorials, help in decision-making, and resources. I've bookmarked this site, as the information and tutorials are geared toward those working with elementary students in need of AT.
4. ablebody: Ablebody features the latest publications and news regarding AT and people with disabilities. A blog, "profoundly yours," is included, as well as news articles, expert opinions, and new information regarding assistive technology.
5. EnableMart:
This retail website includes AT in more than ten categories, including vision, learning, hearing, and many more. As a future school library media specialist, I need to have access to purchase AT for my school, and Enable Mart offers an incredible variety. It also features information on educational purchases, and purchasing AT through a school stimulus plan.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Assistive Technology - Module 3

Wow! There was so much to look at this week, my mind is swimming! I had some trouble getting my rubrics into my blog, so here's an overview.

First, I installed the trial of Inspiration. My school actually uses this software, and has it installed on all computers in classrooms and the lab. I attended a PD training about it a few years ago, where I learned some of the many features included. The concept-mapping is wonderful, especially because you can change the format into notes and outlines to help visual learners transition to more formal writing assignments. Our school also uses Kidspiration (I think of it as a younger brother of Inspiration), which has many of the same features aimed toward a younger audience. I use this frequently as a first grade teacher. There are pre-made templates in science, math, reading, and more! It also allows teachers to create and save their own templates for all students to use. I love the text-to-speech, and so do my struggling and strong readers alike! All of my students have found some success with Kidspiration, and it can easily be adapted for a variety of abilities. Some students will simply drag pictures into appropriate categories, while others will include labels, sentences, notes, and more.

Kurzweil 3000 was completely new to me, which made experimenting with it rather exciting. It seemed to take just short of forever to install and set it up on my computer. It was worth it! I had fun playing with some of the things it can do. I like how it reads what you type, and then reads the sentence back naturally after you add punctuation. Even questions are read correctly! (I can imagine using this to show my young writers how their writing sounds. They read the words they WANT to say rather than what they actually write on the page.) I played with the different options for reading, like phrases, speeds, etc, and even threw in a few spelling errors to see what would happen (they were read phonetically). I also liked the definition, spell, and synonym features. I can only begin to imagine how many students at my school could benefit from this! The options to use the toolbar, create a new document, upload, or scan an existing document make it incredibly flexible. I even copied and pasted some lines of chat from gmail and it read them to me!

InfoEyes is a fabulous idea! I like how the service ensures a person can get the answers they need even if their own local library is closed at the time!

I plan to share the Windows demo page with my technology committee at school. This is something we can ALL do with little to no assistance, and few people know about it! I will recommend incorporating this into one of our PDs for staff, since all school computers use Windows. I'm not sure how much we would be allowed to do on the computers in the lab (unless we reset things after making a change), but this could be especially useful for a classroom computer station!

My software choices for my tech plan are on our class DB!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Assistive Module - Week 2

The video (We can because we think we can) was amazing. Beautiful. Inspiring. A great reminder of how physical limitations do not have to limit a person's ability to live (not just exist) and create.

The keyboards were AMAZING. I looked at every single one of them, finding myself more and more fascinated by what can be done, and the innovative ideas that can enable students of all different abilities and disabilities to complete the same tasks and objectives as their classmates. I thought the single-handed keyboards were especially interesting, and it took me a little while and some re-reading to understand how they work.

My hardware plan is posted on our DB. I chose visual impairment, since that is directly applicable to my school (although certainly not the only choice, of course). Sadly, I do not know of much assistive technology available to our visually impaired students. We have many wonderful professionals and paraprofessionals who do absolutely incredible work with our students every day. I am waiting until after I complete this project to investigate what we actually have as far as AT. My colleagues with impaired students in their classrooms even have difficulty with the lack of AT/lack of knowledge about it. One was wondering exactly what her student would do if her class went to the computer lab. This sounds exactly like the Tapped In discussion regarding the role of media specialists in IEP meetings. At the very least, there should be some discussion among the staff who make decisions and work with students with special needs.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Assistive Technology - Module 1

I am excited for this step-by-step instruction in assistive technology. Much of what I now know has come from working as a classroom teacher. I've been exposed to many new ideas that have really impressed me ("Wow! Who thought of that? What a great idea!").

My school is a designated "visually impaired" school, so browsing through the NFB website was really interesting for me. Aside from the usual range of strengths and needs among our students, we are set up to specially accommodate students with a range of visual impairments. Those who do not attend MD School for the Blind attend our school. This means our students are constantly interacting with students with visual impairments. From braille writers to brailled books, letter tiles, 3-D illustrations, canes, and MUCH more, our students have been exposed to it all. Braille technicians support classroom teachers with materials, while providing direct instruction to the students regarding assistive technology, braille, and more. Classroom teachers are incredibly creative when it comes to making everyday teaching accessible to all students. This can include objects for a visually impaired student to hold during literature (ie - reading about a tiger, so he can hold a stuffed tiger, feeling the ears, tail, teeth, etc) or introducing other students to the ways the impaired student experiences the world.

As a first grade teacher, many of my students are just beginning to learn language, so examining print from a different perspective, like braille, is accepted as just another way some people learn to read. We've certainly had some interesting discussions as teachers about how to teach and assess reading strategies with visually impaired students, especially when it comes to decoding.

I explored JAN, and learned about how it helps employers, people with disabilities, people who work in rehabilitation, in order to make workplaces more accommodating.
I also explored the NCLD link for teachers, and was actually disappointed. Most of the information I found said to look to the student's IEP for their accommodations. This is common sense. I suppose the site could not really give more than that, as it would mean they'd have to make many generalizations about the needs of students with learning disabilities. The site does provide helpful information for teachers and parents about what learning disabilities are, and how they factor into a child's learning.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Thing #23 (Week 9)

I can't believe it's over already! Many of the "things" were new to me, or I explored them in new ways over the past few weeks. The biggest thing I got from all 23 was a new confidence in my own abilities. I'm still no expert when it comes to Web 2.0, but I am much more willing to try, use, and incorporate new things in my teaching and my own life.

I found all of the things and discovery exercises to be quite fun, and just challenging enough that I could approach them without hesitation. I like how the program walked us through each thing step by step, with plenty of support and resources. The classroom and curriculum tie-ins gave me new ideas about uses as a teacher and a future school library media specialist.

Some of the award-winning websites will remain bookmarked on my computer forever. I can't wait to make my own librarian trading card when I finally become a librarian! I couldn't pick a favorite "thing" from this whole list - I gained something new and useful from each one.

Thing #22 (Week 9)

E-books... such a fabulous idea! As a devoted book-lover, I will never give up the experience of holding a book in my hands - the smell of old paper, the faded pages, the history of something held and read and loved by many other people. I can appreciate the idea and advantages of e-books. Readers like Amazon's Kindle allow freedom - users can carry numerous books in the space of one, all stored on their device. New technology has increased the quality of display, the colors and fonts, and interactive options like underlining and highlighting.

Websites like the Web Book Fair allow users to access some books for free, while others can be purchased for reading or listening through a variety of retailers.

Numerous projects are under way to provide more books available in digital form. Issues of copyright and authorship must be considered, especially when content is available for free.