* The Wonder of Procrastination

What, me procrastinate???  On the Wonder League mission, of all things???  I blame some part of my brain that simply cannot measure or draw a straight line.  OK, here’s the deal: The Wonder League has a cool programming mission using the robot, Dash.  I’m good with programming.  I’m good with the fascinating mission.  But you have to create a mat, a 5 x 8 grid.  And since my student works from a fixed position in a special chair, I had to create a sturdy platform to hold that mat.  Hence my procrastination.

I did make a foam platform but I thought it was supposed to be 5 x 7 (click on the link to take a look).  I am not sure how that happened, because I triple-checked the dimensions.  Ha!  I also thought it would be safer to make the platform larger, so it became 7 x 7.   Oh dear!  I had bought shower curtains and miles of black tape to create the mat; to my chagrin (thankfully before I started fastening the plastic mat together), I discovered that it was to be 5 x 8.   I spent a couple of weeks re-cutting and re-gluing the foam platform, making several key errors which required MORE glue and Contac paper.

After the platform debacle, I was loathe to start the mat.  My dearest widower assured me I don’t have Alzheimer’s and that he would help me measure it.  I cried a few tears about my visual-spatial glitches but with my teaching widower’s faithful help, it’s all finished!  Woohoo!

 

Yeah, that’s the robot Cue, not Dash.  Cue the Cleverbot is AWESOME!  But let HIM try to make a mat….

* Fun Foto for EE

sheet of foam

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge this week requires that that the photo topic have two E‘s in the word.  I chose this sheet of foam, which is one-half of the base for the current Wonder League mission, a programming challenge for kiddos.  I repeated the harrowing drive with a second sheet hanging out the back of my car.  As I am wont to do, I somehow misread the required dimensions of the base and asked my dearest widower to chop off a foot.  Not his own, mind you.  The foam base is now 5 x 7, instead of the required 5 x 8.  Oh dear.

Here’s the almost-final product featuring Dash the robot.  I am going to glue that extra foot back on (yikes!) and finish a vinyl mat that goes on top.  Then all of this sits on two tables raised up to my disabled student’s eye level.  Whew!  That’s a mouthful and you are probably WONDERING what this is all about.  The Wonder Leagues offers a terrific opportunity for kids to explore coding on a very cool mission in outer space.  Yeah, that will take some explaining.  More later.

Dash on mat

* Seesaw

Wow!  Seesaw is a user-friendly digital portfolio for classes, with many features that support special needs students.  I stumbled across this terrific app and have already started using it!  Here’s a short video that quickly explains some of its key features: 

What are some of Seesaw’s best features?  It’s teacher friendly, supports simple yet effective digital learning, enables teachers to individualize within a large group setting, and is FREE!  Seesaw allows teachers to connect with families effortlessly (and privately, if needed).  Best of all, from a special ed perspective, it supports struggling learners by providing a wide range of response choices without time pressure.  Teachers can create formative assessments, announcements, videos, and much more to share with individuals or the entire class.  Teachers also adjust settings to approve all entries before they are posted, message families privately, and moderate a class blog.

Seesaw is student friendly, working well whether each student has a device or shares one.  All students access a private “journal” where they can post photos, videos, links, files, and drawings.  All videos and photos can be edited to include recordings, text, and drawings.  This app allows special needs kids alternative responses to a range of typical school tasks.  The drawing feature, a miniature whiteboard, could improve student understanding in math by allowing teachers quick access to how a problem is interpreted and solved.  The recording feature allows shy or socially awkward kiddos a less stressful approach for class presentations.  For those students who need extra time to process information, Seesaw can be used flexibly to provide adequate thinking and prep time.

Before you start Seesaw, it’s wise to go through their online course which has been carefully designed to provide practice on each feature.  Plus, you get a certificate of credit- how sweet!  Seesaw works on laptops with Chrome or Firefox, Kindle Fire, Chromebooks, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices.  And there are actually two Seesaw apps, Class and Family.  Both are awesome!

Seesaw 2

I give Seesaw a 5-star rating for its broad scope of use, ease of access, and potential benefits to special needs kids. 

* Camp Wonderopolis 2017- WOW!

Camp Wonderopolis 2017 is the BEST ever!   This STEM-based set of activities is divided into six tracks, with 7 excellent lessons for each.  New this year: Each track also includes a Maker Activity, a hands-on, fun way to extend the primary concept of each track.  A helpful video also accompanies each Activity.  The creators of this Wonderful camp have added a slew of additional resources for each lesson, access to a Wonder Wall for posting comments, and a cool representation of progress (such as completion of a graphic power plant) in addition to the previous representations of completion.  Kids still earn those awesome Wonder Cards by taking a 6-question quiz related to the basic concepts and vocabulary of the lesson.

Camp Wonderopolis 2017

Kids with reading struggles are not neglected.  Each lesson features an audio track, so those smart kids who can’t wade through paragraphs of unfamiliar words won’t have to!  Kids on the autism spectrum or those with language/ auditory processing problems may also benefit from the audio and video features, as well as time spent on “Spin a Wonder Wheel,” which reviews key vocabulary.

So here’s my Wonder question:  How do they keep making Camp Wonderopolis better each year?  

* Fickle Technology

cables.jpg

To paraphrase a former IT specialist: “You can love Technology but you can’t trust him.”

I wanted to wring Technology’s neck yesterday.  He promised me the moon: Discovery Education, Reading A-Z, BrainPop, and Google docs, to name a few.  He left me holding dust.

My student uses eye gaze for communication, so at least we had Tobii Dynavox I-12 and Communicator 5.  Technology pretended not to care; after all, he had reduced me to pen, paper, and my phone’s wireless hotspot.  I tried not to think about the gigabytes we were whizzing through, dollar signs soaring around the classroom.

To make matters worse, Technology told me there was no hope for today, either.  “I’m on a 24 hour freeze, darlin’.  But I’ll be back.  You can count on me.”  Sure.  I’ve heard that line before.

I used to pack a first aid kit, a safety net if Technology pulled a fast one.  I kept all manner of printed materials that would bypass fickle Technology.  I’d show him!  But when I was on crutches, I could only stuff essentials into a huge backpack.  As I’ve limped around with the compression boot, that backpack has been a lifesaver.  All the while, I’ve had this niggling sense of vulnerability without that kit.  “Don’t be silly,” I told myself. Technology has turned a corner.”  He looked genuinely heartbroken when I brought up his past failings. “Look at all I’ve done for you!” he’d proclaim defensively.

Technology jumped off the wagon with glee yesterday.  Today he’ll probably give me roses.

* A-Z Challenge: V is for video

I was just introduced to GoAnimate, an online site that allows both teachers and students to create and share videos safely and relatively easily.  In my online class, a couple of GoAnimate videos have been used as examples of how teachers might use technology to teach math.  The videos model excellent “teacher” questioning, along with a variety of “student” responses to complex math tasks.  Not only did I learn from the videos, I realized that I can use them, too!

GoAnimate provides a cool number avatars, props, backgrounds, and sounds for video creation.  They also lead novices like me through the video-creation process.  Teachers using GoAnimate for Schools can moderate all student-produced videos, assist students in sharing their work, and of course, use them to foster higher level thinking.  There are several features that make me drool: automatic lip syncs by characters, even if you record the voice yourself, and the ease of creating fascinating whiteboard videos.  Here’s a snippet of my first video (yes, I am a pirate teacher).

clip of video

GoAnimate could not only promote higher level thinking in core academic areas, but would be a fantastic tool for teaching social skills.  Teachers could share scenarios for students to problem solve.  It would also provide opportunities for students to create videos reflecting their perspectives, how to deal with bullying, and other social struggles.

So glad I found this online video-maker!

* Math Playground

If you haven’t yet visited Math Playground, you are in for a treat!  Designed by Colleen King for her classroom in 2002 and continuing to grow, Math Playground has now over 450 games and activities.  The site is organized by grade level (1-6+), math topics, and includes excellent math videos and an entire page of games and videos aligned to Common Core standards.

Math Playground provides ample practice on just about any skill you can name, with games that are not always timed, which can be a helpful feature for struggling students.  About 130 games are also available as apps from iTunes.  The site is certified kidSafe, so ads are benign.  Math Playground also donates to Donors Choose, a terrific site I’ve used in the past.

One of my favorite features of Math Playground is the accessibility of 28 interactive math manipulatives, such as “thinking blocks” for solving word problems on multiple topics.  Teachers, parents, and students can explore fraction bars, geoboards, fraction scales, probability spinners, tangrams, function machines, simple programming, and much more.  These manipulatives are a bit more difficult to find, so bookmark the link!

chalkboard kids.jpg

Math Playground has many logic games and a cool section on the interaction between math and art.  “Equation Creations,” for instance, may appeal to students who are into video games and graphic designs.  For movie creation, there are 3 fun “sets”: a picnic site, rock band, and alien adventure.  If you’re a parent who needs a boost for supporting homework assignments, this site is also for you.  Finally, there are reading, spelling, and geography games, plus just-for-fun activities.

Math Playground is a 5-star site!

 

* Blogging A-Z: ASCD

ASCD, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, has a lot to offer teachers as well as administrators.  The organization was founded in 1943 and has continually provided high quality professional development, current research and issues, along with a commitment to improve education, one child at a time.

ASCD.png

How does this play out for special needs kids?  ASCD supports a positive approach to neurodiversity, which means celebrating learning differences and improving students’ ability to understand their unique strengths.  This also means less emphasis upon labeling/pathology, less test-driven assessment, and more technological support for struggling students.  With state and federal monies dependent upon labels, is this possible?  Certainly!  Most elementary students are oblivious to the behind-the-scenes labeling process.  As they mature, students can participate in that process with a secure awareness that there is no average learner.

Check out the membership options for ASCD.  You’ll be glad you did!

* Smartbox

SmartBox is an assistive technology company which designs hardware and software for eye gaze use.  Their Look to Learn eye gaze activities are excellent, allowing for initial success and subsequent growth in targeting.  Not only does Smartbox provide fun games and challenges, but each activity captures your student’s eye movements in images similar to heat mapping.  This makes it easier to determine where your kiddo needs more help focusing and provides feedback for teachers, parents, and kids.  In the coloring activity below, the burnt orange color shows where my student focused his eyes the most.  Clever!

burnt orange 2

For more information on Smartbox activities, here’s a terrific video.  I’m sure you’ll find the burnt orange color in this, too.

Thank you, Jennifer Wells, for your Color Your World crayola blogging challenge!

* Ummy! Video downloader

In a not-so-recent post, I mentioned that I’m using the awesome Tobii Dynavox I-12 device with Communicator 5.  One of Com 5’s cool features is the creation of page sets that allow links to even more links.  This means the homepage can be simple, but each link allows more choices.  Here’s a look at a home page (sorry for the picture quality):

homepage-1

Before UMMY, “brain break” in the school page has been linked to pictures of a student’s favorite YouTube videos, but then we have to open YouTube, etc.  Brain breaks are serious business and support improved student learning, but they also need to be efficient.  This is where UMMY makes good things happen!  I just discovered the Ummy video downloader, which allows me to access and create links to the actual YouTube videos.  Wow!  For $14.95, I now have unlimited downloads, it’s a snap to use, and allows me to choose from a variety of formats.  I love the HD quality as well as the sound.  [I had a free trial with another downloader, but it was going to cost a big chunk every month and in 5 days, I couldn’t get one video downloaded.  Granted, my brain has had its challenges this past week, but even a digital novice can get Ummy to work!]

If you want easy and cheap access to unlimited and high quality video downloads, Ummy is a winner.  It’s going to make school transitions easier and my student’s life more fun.  For classroom teaching, you can ALWAYS access your Ummy videos with a simple click, even without internet availability.  Be sure to check it out!