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.

Thing #21 (Week 9)

Podcasts come in handy when you get no radio reception in your cinder-block-walled classroom. All the CDs in my stereo at school are classical or kid-music, and anytime I put my earbuds in my ears, someone inevitably walks into my classroom or I get a phone call immediately after. My rescue to the endless quiet on early dismissal days or when I'm working before or after school is the ability to listen to podcasts on NPR. I love the freedom that I can listen anywhere - either directly on my computer, or on my mp3 player. I like how I can listen to a favorite show again, or pick up where I left off.

Podcasts open up great opportunities to educators and librarians. Book talks, book reports, or other non-traditional means of sharing information will certainly motivate students to create and to participate in material.

NPR Podcasts

Thing #20 (Week 9)

"Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/ing us"

I watched several of the suggested videos from Classroom 2.0. This one, "Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/ing us," was my absolute favorite! It gives a great explanation/demo of Web 2.0. It's almost a little Web2.0 in a nutshell. A bit like the "fairly use tale" about copyright, it uses the subject to tell about itself. From html to xml, blogs and web searches, to handwritten and typed text, the information is written and presented in context. This video would be a great introduction for someone who was unfamiliar with Web 2.0. It briefly shows some of the many applications while explaining the history, purpose, and potential. I especially liked the ending, and how the creators remind us how this new technology requires us to rethink our ideas of concepts like copyright, authorship, and even our relationships.

Some of the other videos were just plain fun. I loved the library dominoes (but could not imagine having to re-shelve all those books!) and the introduction to the book (makes me feel a little bit better about when I have had to call the tech help desk in the past!).

The ability to share videos gives even more potential for sharing information and ideas. One of the award-winning websites mentioned in Classroom 2.0 is "I'm Cooked," where amateur foodies can share their own food-network-style cooking videos. I haven't explored many more of the library or education based videos other than those suggested in this week's tasks, but I'm sure I would find a wealth of fun and informative videos out there. I'll put that on the back burner for now, since I know I could easily get lost (and lose track of time) exploring some of what's out there.