Friday, September 28, 2012

Flickr for Severe Cognitive Impaired Students

Sometimes it's difficult to think of activities for students with severe cognitive disabilities.  You have to get creative.  You have to think of abilities.  And you have to think of ways to keep the activities age appropriate.  That can be the tough one.  When I go into classrooms for speech therapy, I model and show the other staff how to create and use simple activities.  Every once in awhile I stumble upon an idea that ends up working out pretty well.  Over the past two years, our schools have been fitted with SMART Boards and Tap Its (mobile, adjustable SMART Boards for students with limited mobility).  As with just about all technology, not only do you have to figure out how to work it--you have to figure out what to do with it and how to incorporate it into everyday lessons.

So, what can my severely cognitive students do?  Participate in a group activity.  Activate a one- or two-button switch.  Make choices.  Enjoy everyday activities.  Have fun.  With that said, one activity that I've been showing teachers is to access a slideshow on Flickr by searching the key terms in their current lessons. For instance, one class was discussing farms and farm animals.  We went to Flickr and typed in "cow horse sheep pig chicken donkey" and an instant slide show was created.

Super Switch

In order to use the Tap It (or SMART Board) remotely, I use one of a couple of devices.  The best way, in my opinion, is to get a wireless one-button switch or a switch adapted remote control.  The wireless Bluetooth switch is easy to use.  You need to plug in the dongle (the little USB remote stick) in order for the switch to interface with the computer.  Once they are connected, then the switch becomes the mouse click.  The other way to do this (and not a bad idea) is to get a remote control (like the kind presenters use at conferences to control PowerPoints).  The only difference is that you need one that connects to a switch.  Lucky for you, they are on the market and reasonably priced with all things considered.  Enablemart sells the SAM-Cordless Switch Interface for $99.  You can plug in your existing switch right into one of the ports and begin using.  The nice thing about the remote is that you can control your computer screen (Tap It or SMART Board) from across the room.  Alternatively, you can just purchase the Super Switch for $149.  It resembles a Big Mack switch, but is completely wireless.  It is strictly a switch and not a recordable communication button.
SAM-Cordless Switch Interface

In the classroom with the "farm" theme, we ended up playing the slide show in one tab and adding music from Pandora in another tab.  We picked the "Laurie Berkner" station.  The kids and the staff really enjoyed it--even for such a simple activity.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Searching for the Perfect Search

Do you know of an app that I could use with my toddler to help him with math?  I just got an iPad for my daughter, do you know of any good apps?  Do you have any opening activities for the SMART Board?  I probably get 10 questions a day anywhere from how to make a game on the SMART Board to how create buttons on Proloquo2Go (communication app).  Somehow, I've become that guy in our school that everyone asks when they have techie questions.  My training--I'll teach you.  It's quite simple.  Here are my order of operations:

This one is a big duh!  When in doubt about anything, type in your exact topic or question and it's very likely that someone (a super nerd) has your answer.  Google is the king of search engines by a bazillion.  They have fancy algorithms to help you find your answer.  That's about as technical as I can get.

You thought YouTube was about viral videos like "Charlie Bit My Finger" or the old couple trying to figure out their webcam?  YouTube not only gives you the answer, but shows you in tutorial fashion.  If you wonder what an app is like before you buy it, type in "_____________app" and you'll either find the developer's video or another Super Nerd's tutorial.  I love how there are people out there that do all of the dirty work for you.  Really, the only effort it takes on your part is to have an idea and type it in the search engine.  YouTube is awesome for figuring out how to format Excel sheets, how to troubleshoot SMART Board problems, and how to create a simple communication board using Boardmaker.  Seriously, type in anything and some super nerd has made a video about it.  Everything.

Unless you're a mid-level nerd like me, you probably haven't heard of Diigo.  You know those bookmarks that you have up above in Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari that you never use or remember, but they sound neat at the moment?  Well, Diigo is a social bookmarking site that saves your bookmarks and tags them for later use.  For example, you can type in "middle school iPad apps" and any bookmark that you previously bookmarked with those tags will come up.  Nothing comes up?  You're in luck because you can look at everybody else's Diigo bookmarks with those tags.  Not only that, you can see how many people bookmarked and recommended the sites--saving you time searching website after website looking for what you need.  Try it.  I dare you.

Now, as I've become an experienced searcher, I've turned the tables.  The searches come to me.  What?  That makes no sense.  What is the internet?  Information.  People.  Resources.  Social networks.  What if you were interested in something and when you turn on your computer it is sitting right there in front of your face?  Have you ever heard, "You don't know what you don't know."?  How do I do it?  Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.  Twitter mostly.  It took me awhile to figure out the difference between Twitter and Facebook.  Aren't they both just "status updates"?  Nope.  That's the difference.  I see Facebook as a social network where you interact mostly with people you know (Although, there's always that random person you don't know who befriended you, right?).  You "Like" people, hobbies, websites, and events.  You read it.  People comment on it.  It's shared......and so on.  

Now, Twitter is similar in the fact that people are sharing and giving information.  Most people on Twitter don't post pictures of their roasted chicken with rosemary sauce, the temperature gauge in their cars, or the gas pump's outrageous price on your most recent fill up.  Who cares about that stuff?  Maybe your friends and family (maybe not).  Twitter, however, is like a GIANT room filled with people that you share a common interest.  You "follow" people like you--be it a speech pathologist, a teacher, a programmer, a mom, a blogger, an artist, a musician, a knitter, an athlete, a fan, and so on.  You end up creating a "personal learning network" or PLN.  What you have now when you log on is a wall full of useful (mostly) information that you're interested in and can share with others.  For instance, one person shared that the "Marble Math" app was free today only and another posted a question asking what activities could be done on a SMART Board with pre-school kids.  Remember how people commented on FB about your sandwich or the weather?  Instead of that, people comment on your topic of interest--people that know what they're talking about.  It takes a certain amount of drive to jump into another social network besides Facebook or Pinterest, but Twitter is well worth it once you figure it out.  I can honestly say that I get many of "my" ideas from others on Twitter.

Finally, I'd like to admit that I am a male and I am on Pinterest.  It is similar to Twitter, but much more visual (all visual).  If you aren't on Pinterest, it's basically a giant bulletin board of ideas, projects, recipes, crafts, favorite quotes, gadgets, and activities for kids.  You can either create your own bulletin boards (recommended to save your ideas/pins) or search everyone else's.  Try a search on Pinterest like "SMARTBoard" and see what you get.  Guess what you get?  A ton of resources.  I've started pages for Speech Therapy, iPad Stuff, & Cool Gadgets among other things.  Find friends, colleagues, or strangers and add their boards to your big board.  You'll have to trust me--there are more things on there besides hairstyles!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More Bang for Your Buck (or lack there of): 2 Free AAC Apps to Use Instead of Proloquo2Go

Maybe you've heard about this craze in school called "iPads".  With this technology at our fingertips, it's becoming increasingly easier for students to have access to communication "devices".  What was once a $2000-8000 investment is now an affordable way for families to give their students access to communication.  Like many apps, there are some that are good and some that are a waste of money.  The nice thing nowadays is that app creators either offer free or "lite" versions to give users a trial before they invest their money.  Most people in the AAC world has heard about Proloquo2Go by now.  It's probably the most comprehensive communication app out there, especially since it includes the Symbolstix library.  Proloquo2Go costs $190.  Is it worth it?  It really depends on the user's capability to navigate through the pages.  I will say, though, that I love Proloquo2Go.  They are the trailblazers.  Several parents and teachers have asked about Proloquo2Go and I'm always hesitant to tell them to pay $190 for something that may or may not work.  If you have a communicator that is at the beginning level or one that doesn't need a lot of pages, then I'd suggest a couple of other, affordable (free) apps to try first.

When I look at AAC apps, I ask myself three things:
  1. How easy would it be for a novice to create a button or page?
  2. Does the app have a picture library and how easy is it to import pictures?
  3. Is it worth the money?
These are two apps that I like that meet those criteria.


You might know Ablenet from its products like the Big Mack and the iTalk2, which are both recordable communication switches.  Ablenet jumped in the app game with SoundingBoard  by providing a cheap (free) app that is very simple to use.  You can create quick buttons on the fly during group lessons by either using some of their free pictures or by importing (or taking) your own.  You can create boards with up to 9 message locations.  Ablenet makes its money through in-app purchased boards, which are professionally made for the user.  The nice thing is that you can edit those boards to your liking.  SoundingBoard also offers basic data collection, auditory scanning, and an edit lock that disables accidental editing.

*GoTalk Now Free

Do you remember the green Go Talks?  You might even still use them.  They were nice and sturdy.  The only problem was that you had to create and print new overlays for different activities which made the functionality decrease with inexperienced or unmotivated users (or facilitators).  Attainment offers a free version of the full version of GoTalk.  This is a GREAT free version of an AAC app and is quickly becoming my favorite.  For $80 you can get the full version, which I believe is well worth the money.  Here's what's cool.  You can make a page with 1, 4, 9, 16, or 25 buttons/locations using symbols from your photo library, camera,  Imagine Symbols, or use the internet in the app.  The images can be cropped, scaled, and rotated easily.  The app uses a free text-to-speech voice or you can record your own voice.  Okay, it sounds like the others, but here's where it gets really neat (and remember--free).  One of the ways to display a communication board is by creating a "scene" page.  You take a picture of the inside of your cabinet, for example, and then make each item in the picture reactive.  So when you touch the box of crackers, you can record, "I want crackers." and will play when you touch that area of the screen.  Finally, I love that you can link buttons to multimedia such as controlling your iTunes library and watching videos.  The app comes with a nice tutorial page that explains it all.  Then, when you've got it, you can edit that page for your own use.

*My favorite!