Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Benefits of Using an iPad as a Speech Therapy Tool in Nursing Homes and Rehabilitation Centers

For the past two or three years, I've been using an iPad almost exclusively as my go to tool in speech therapy when I moonlight at nursing homes.  Some people might see the iPad as all fun and games (it is fun and there are a lot of games), but there are so many more benefits of including it in your speech bag--or as I call it "My Speech Bag".

Okay, so I'm a male speech pathologist and most therapists are female.  Usually, you can spot a speech therapist either by their stylish promotional tote bag or by their fancy rolling cart.  Yes, I have a couple of each too.  I admit it.  But...then came the 21st century and this little thing called the iPad.  Technology is really cool--if you know how to use it.  The iPad has been great for me as a PRN speech therapist because I travel to and from different facilities. Because of the iPad, I always have my bag of tricks with me.  It saves me in productivity (something they're always trying to increase) and trying to find the right materials efficiently.

Now, some may argue that an iPad shouldn't take the place of traditional speech therapy materials such as workbooks, paper and pencil tasks, and flashcards.  I'm not saying that those all go to the curbside.  I'm saying that an iPad has the capability to have those and then some included.  Using an iPad brings upon other responsibilities such as protecting HIPPA guidelines and making sure you keep it clean and sanitary to void spreading any communicable diseases by using universal precautions.  Being a professional and being trained yearly on these issues certainly keeps these as priorities.  So let me say this--use common sense and don't put personal information of any patients on your iPad.  And, don't use your iPad to block sneezes or to cover open wounds.  If you do, make sure you go to the nurses' station and get some of those kills all living things wipes to disinfect the iPad.  Did I cover all bases?

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system.  Here are some things that I've personally used the iPad in therapy at nursing homes:

  • Therapy Books/Workbooks - Have you ever heard of the WALC books, The Source for Dysphagia, or Just for Adults series?  If you work in a nursing home or a rehab facility, then I'm guessing you have.  If you own the books, then you can use the PDF version (included CD in the back of the book) on your iPad.  Remember that tote bag?  It's now in the back of my car filled with crumpled up paper.
  • YouTube Videos - Try explaining a modified barium swallow study to someone.  Then try showing them an actual demonstration video of an MBS.  Which one do you think is more effective and memorable?  YouTube has everything.  Everything.  Need to show a patient how to properly use a Passy-Muir valve?  YouTube.  I've done it.  It's very resourceful.
  • Functional Communication/AAC Boards - If you're like me, you have exactly one half hour to get patients to communicate and participate in therapy.  I've had several instances of working with people with no expressive verbal skills for various reasons.  Having access to a communication board has made it easier for communication (both ways) between the patient and clinician.  A simple board can be created and printed on the fly.  Seriously.
  • ABA Receptive Identification app by
  • Flashcards - Word finding?  Naming items? Receptive identification? The iPad has a slew of apps that you can use for this task.  Try typing in "" in the App Store and you'll find a whole bunch of free ones.  It saves you from carrying around several decks of cards!
  • Swallowing Guidelines - I use The Source for Dysphagia regularly to review proper positioning, modified diets (what's good and what's not), and compensatory strategies.  I use it to show visual models to the patient and to educate nurse's aides who feed patients.  If you were really fancy, you could email/print the reproducible forms to anyone who needs them on the spot.  Do you monitor PO intake?  How about showing them the FDA's MyPlate diagram to show what is suggested for daily food consumption.  
  • Divergent Naming Apps - One of my favorite games on the iPad to use at nursing homes is Family Feud.  It's great for several reasons.  One, it is a great divergent naming task.  Second, it opens up other areas of discussion.  For instance, one question might be, "Name Someone You Would Call if You Were in an Accident."  Questions like that merge into talking about safety issues.  And, to put it simply, it's fun and engaging.
Tap the Frog by Mentals LLC
  • Following Directions, Sequencing,  and Problem Solving Apps - There are a couple that I like for solving problems including Tap the Frog which is a fun way to have patients follow single, multiple, and complex directions involving spatial concepts, sequential order,  and speed and accuracy.  You can have patients read the directions or you can have them follow the directions orally.  Another random app that I really like is called The Moron Test.  I don't necessarily like the name, but I do like the app a lot.  It's good for following directions, short term memory, identifying pictures/objects, sequencing, language processing, and reading comprehension.
I cannot say enough how valuable of a tool the iPad has been while working in nursing home/rehabilitation center settings.  It allows clinicians on-the-spot access to resources limited only by the user's technology abilities.  There have been several times where I've had unengaged patients who have lit up when I played old time music or classic cars from their generation.  I even had one patient who was rather to himself open up when I showed him the Masonic Lodge that he belonged to after I noticed his picture posted on his bulletin board.  The internet alone can give speech therapists the ability to provide immediate information during a therapy session.  If I had my druthers, all therapists and facilities would have access to this incredible device.  Because of its limitless possibilities, the iPad should be an essential tool in all speech therapists' tote bags!
We got grandma an iPad for passover, she immediately goes to her email to pull up Jewish jokes
photo by miserychick on Flickr
(non-commercial Creative Commons license)

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Electric "Speech" Company

My memory of The Electric Company as a kid is solely the fact that they had Spiderman on the show.  I thought it was the coolest ever.  Well, let's say after twenty some odd years later, after seeing it again, it was really cheesy.  After little research (looking at a picture), I noticed that Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman were on there too.  I actually stumbled upon some of The Electric Company activities when writing my previous blog about age appropriate activities.  I started messing around and found a slew of articulation and phonemic awareness interactive games, activities, and videos from the Electric Company.

Since I'm a speech language pathologist and technology enthusiast, I found it very interesting that PBS Learning Media had so many resources for phonology and articulation.  Their activities are built around these areas:  decoding, phonemic blending, vocabulary, connected text, and motivation.  The website integrates these areas using interactive games and videos for practice and fun.  Here are some of the example activities:

Say What?
Say What? is a game that focuses on recognizing different sounds in different positions of words.  Players must listen and find the correct sounds to complete the words.  This game focuses on consonant blends, word families, consonant digraphs, and short vowel sounds.  This game could most definitely be done either in an individual setting or in a classroom setting.  Try it on your SMART Board!

The Chain Game
In this activity, users must listen to directions and create new words using different sounds and sound blends.  The game teaches players how to replace a sound in one word to make another word while exploring phonics and word-building skills.  The games include levels for consonant blends, digraphs, vowel combinations, and short vowel sounds.  This could be a great SMART Board activity to try with an entire class.  Search "Electric Company" or "Chain Game" on PBS Learning Media's website to find the entire list.

The Electric Company Videos
As a fun way to supplement these interactive activities, The Electric Company has many videos that practice using these skills through songs, story telling, and poetry.  You can "Bop along with the Music Man" or listen to beat boxing with "Shock & Friend".  It's really fun stuff.  Again, these would be great if you were doing "push in" therapy with an entire class.  If you search "Electric Company" and narrow the search to "videos", they have over 150 videos available.

Wow!  Who would've guessed that there was so much that the Electric Company had in terms of teaching phonemic awareness?  I actually did a search on PBS Learning Media's website to see what all they had to offer from The Electric Company.  It opened the door to a ton of sound segmentation and combination activities.  This website has so many more activities that I haven't even played around with yet.  Check out their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter for up to date information.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

PECS Gifts in a Jar

It took me awhile to fully understand the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and how I could implement it into different activities in the classroom.  Before I took the training, I thought PECS was just using picture cards to make choices.  In special education, it's pretty normal to see pictures being used in the classroom to make choices, for visual schedules, or to indicate a want or need.  After being formally trained by Pyramid, however, I now understand the purpose of PECS better--to initiate communicative acts.  Really, we want our students to make requests and to comment while gradually increasing the complexity of the message.  Obviously, I won't be able to train you in using PECS, but I can tell you that it is based on applied behavior analysis (ABA) and you should be officially trained by Pyramid Educational Consultants.  In a nutshell, there are three phases to PECS.  For the most part, my students are on Phase I, which is strictly exchanging a picture card for a desired item.  With a communication partner, the student removes a picture card and initiates a communicative act with another person in order to receive something.  As the person progresses through the phases, he begins to build short sentences like, "I want ______."   I guess what I'd really suggest is that you go and get officially trained by Pyramid Educational Consultants (the only official PECS company).

Now, let's get to my activity.  PECS is all about repetition--lots and lots of repetition.  As long as the activity is motivating to the student, you can use recipes as functional activities.  In terms of speech and language, recipes are great for working on functional vocabulary, following directions, following safety rules, and best of all--enjoying a snack with classmates!

A few years ago, my mom (a retired fourth grade teacher) introduced me to "Gifts in a Jar".  She would create these really nice, inexpensive gifts for others at Christmas by using old canning jars and dry ingredients for various recipes.  After examining them, I realized that this would be a great PECS activity.  Basically, all you need to do is have picture cards for each ingredient and then, of course, all of the materials and ingredients needed for the recipe.  You can download the free Gifts in a Jar book here or visit their website for more information.  If you want to see lots of other ideas, check out Pinterest.  There's always a bunch of stuff like this on there.  I typically do cookies, but you can find ideas for bread, soup, and even golf tees for golfers.
Here's how it works.  Have an adult (or two) work the food preparation table with all of the ingredients (e.g. flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and etc.).    Each person takes a jar and a picture card to the table to request each ingredient.  The best way, I've found, is to have each student take turns requesting only one ingredient until that layer is completely done by the group.  Then move onto the next ingredient.  And the next.  And so on.  After we put the lid on, we finish off the jar with decorative cloth filled with polyester fill (you can buy it at a craft store).  Then we tie on the recipe card with twine.  That's it!

Gluten Free M&M Cookies from
Off the Wheaten Path Blog
Here are a couple of ideas that I've learned along the way to add to the activity:
  • Use wide mouth jars to make the pouring easier.  Many times, I get the jars (quart size) donated to me by fellow educators.  Other times, I search Craigslist for free (or cheap) jars.
  • For secondary activities, have the student cut the fabric into 9 inch circles.  You can pre-make a cardboard circle to trace on the fabric.  Additionally, you can have the students cut recipe/ ingredient tags out and paste the directions on the tags.
  • I've either had the students make these for gifts for their parents or we've sold them at our Holiday School Party (or Santa Store) for $5 each.  We use the proceeds to donate to a local charity like Special Olympics.
  • Always make sure you follow proper sanitation rules when handling food.  Be cautious when allowing students to carry glass jars too.  I had one student who like to see things break.  We learned this the hard way--twice.
  • Read the free Gifts-in-a-Jar Book for more detailed information on each recipe.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Keeping Age Appropriateness with Students

There's one thing for sure--kids, no matter their ability, should be treated with dignity and respect.  It becomes increasingly more difficult, however, when you have older students with cognitive and developmental disabilities.  This holds true with students who may be in regular education classes, but display other disabilities.  It should go without saying, but I think it is important to repeat.  Students should be treated just like their peers no matter what their disabilities are.

It's taken me time, but I do see how Barney & Friends can be educational.  I have three kids under six years old and they enjoy it.  I, myself, am just old enough to have missed the Barney craze as I was raised with Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, and the Electric Company.  It really irks me though when I see Barney used as a theme or as a supplement to teach manners or social skills to older kids.  What's really tough is when you have a student with autism that has been attached to a character his whole life and now it is no longer age appropriate.  I can't say I have the answer to that one, but I can say that there are alternatives such as transitioning it into something more appropriate.  Lucky for you--there are lots of resources out there for finding age appropriate games and activities.

If you're stuck on characters for your games and activities, consider researching and finding ones that are liked by others in the same age group.  You could do a Google search or you could go right to the source and find some kids.  I have a couple of go-to sites that narrows the search by age, subject matter, media type, and common core standards.

Much of what I do applies to both classroom teachers and speech language pathologists.  As always, it might take some flexibility and creativity to work it into what you're already doing.  I tend to use technology for a couple of reasons.  First, the resources are limitless if you know how to find them.  Second, kids love SMART Boards, iPads, computers, and other technology. I use these to supplement curriculum vocabulary, content support, visual examples, interactive activities/manipulation, following directions, and showing experiments to name a few.

Here are a few of my favorite sites that you can find age appropriate activities including videos, interactive games, and other great information.

Common Sense  Media is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide kids and families trustworthy information and education in the media world.  The site ranks games, apps, movies, tv shows, websites, books, and more.   Most of the media is rated by both adults and kids.   They rank the educational value, positive messages, positive role models, violence & scariness, sexy stuff, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs & smoking.  That pretty much covers what adults are looking at before introducing it to kids.

Here's what I really like.  I'm always getting asked by teachers, parents, kids, and anybody else about which apps are best for this or that.  "Do you know of any apps for middle school language?" or "I'm looking for a math app for my middle schooler, but I don't want it to be to baby like."  Common Sense Media has a feature called Learning Products Quick Finder where you can choose the age (2-17yrs), category (apps, games, websites), subject (language & reading, math, science, social studies, arts, and hobbies), and skill (thinking & reasoning, creativity, self-direction, emotional development, communication, collaboration, responsibility & ethics, tech skills, and health & fitness).  Follow them on Twitter for up to date information @CommonSenseNews.

These three sites are similar in that they've taken out the middle man and have already sorted and categorized the media for you.  All you have to do is search and select your areas of interest.

If you're an educator, then you've probably heard of Discovery United Streaming.  This website is a collection of educational media resources for different age groups and subject matter aligned with core curriculum standards.  Included are curriculum resources such as a lesson plan library, weekly thematic focuses, and even professional development.  This website does require a subscription.  You should check with your school because it is likely that they subscribe to this service.  This site is a major step up from YouTube.  If you're thinking of looking something up on YouTube, try Discovery Education or one of the following websites.   Follow them @DiscoveryEd on Twitter.

PBS Learning Media is another great site for finding age appropriate activities for students.  Again, you can narrow a search by age group, and media type.  I probably stumbled upon this site searching for some Bill Nye "The Science Guy" videos to supplement some weather activities for my severe cognitive impaired students.  Being that PBS caters to kids as young as pre-school, you can find activities for all age groups.  PBS Learning Media also provides documents, audio files, images, videos, and interactive media.  It's amazing to find activities that supplement what you're doing in the classroom.  I found one that you have to find the right clothing for different types of weather called Gerald's Weather Wheel.  What's great about PBS Learning Media is that it is free.  You do have to sign up for an account.  I love this website and use it all of the time to search for age appropriate games and activities for students of all abilities.  Go on there and search your current subject to see what appears.  Follow them @PBSLrnMedia on Twitter for more information.

Watch Know Learn is another great site to supplement classroom activities with videos.  These videos are taken from various sites such as YouTube and TeacherTube and are organized by age group, subject, and common core standards.  This site along with the others that I mentioned above are great ways to find age appropriate materials.  Follow them @WatchKnowLearn on Twitter for up to date information.

Hopefully, this will give you some ideas of where to look for age appropriate activities.  Get creative.  Think of ways you could incorporate interactives, videos, and games into your lessons.  

This blog post is also posted as a guest post on  Be sure to visit their website for innovative ideas, resources, and employment opportunities.  Follow them @PediaStaff on Twitter for more information.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Happy Place

Have you ever been to a funeral of a person that you've never met?  Well, I just did--on purpose.  It was a clown funeral.  Yes, you read that right.  I can't really explain it, but if you know me then maybe it would make sense.  I'm 36 years old and I went to a clown funeral and it was probably the best funeral that I've ever been to.

When I was a kid, I used to go home after school and plop on the couch to watch a show called Happy's Place.  I think that as a kid I was mesmerized by talented entertainers. When I say talented, I mean jugglers, unicyclers, dancers, magicians, and stunt performers.  Just the other day I was showing kids videos of Felix Baumgartner and Evel Knievel   Creativity is an art form.   When you're able to creatively draw kids to you, then you have an opportunity to teach.

At the life celebration, several people spoke about Mike Fry (aka Happy the Hobo) and how he influenced them.  Here was a guy whose self proclaimed job wasn't to be a clown or inventor, but to "make smiles".  It touched home for me.  Life really is all about the people and relationships you build.

What made me drive nearly 4 hours to go to the life celebration of a man that I've never met?  It had to be his energy.  His message.  And his positive outlook on life.  
Wake up and have fun.  When you have fun, kids have fun.  I guess my reasoning for writing this post is that without even realizing it, I was influenced by a person whose mission in life was to make people smile.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Survey Says: Engage Your Students with Vocabulary Games

The idea of push in wasn't really a choice for me when I took my first job as a speech language pathologist out of graduate school.  I like to think that the school district that I worked for in Colorado was ahead of the game by using speech therapists as actual "teachers" and co-teachers.  Put it this way--instead of 20 minutes once or twice a week in a cramped speech therapy space--I got to work with the same group of students for two hours per day for five days a week.  That's unreal!  Guess what?  I had to figure out ways to "do speech" for those kids as a whole group.  That experience changed how I work with students in schools today.  Of course you will always have the kids that need individual intensive therapy.  If they need it, then they get it.  Let me also say that many of the kids with speech therapy services in high school have likely had them since elementary school.  With that said, many of them are tired of "going to speech".  

Okay, what's next?  Where do I get my material?  First off, my best resource is the classroom teacher.  Why reinvent the proverbial wheel when the class is already working on something.  I like to call myself a "skill builder".  I come in and supplement what the teacher is already doing--vocabulary, paragraph writing, character maps, and so on.  Ask your classroom teachers for their lists of vocabulary and try to adapt some of these games to fit their needs.

These are my 3 favorite vocabulary games to play with a whole group:
Blurt! is a game that I stumbled upon in an old therapy 
materials closet.  The game cards have brief definitions of words (two per side).  One side is easy and the other is more difficult.  I like the game because it supports what I teach the kids in regards to defining words.  It states the category, descriptors, and examples.  Like most games, you have to adapt it so that the entire class can play.  I usually divide the class into two teams.  Sometimes I play the game with only the cards themselves, but other times I add in curriculum vocabulary directly from the classroom teacher.  I previously talked about how learning vocabulary The Crucible can be (i.e. boring) for students (especially boys, in my case).  When you add a game component, it suddenly becomes fun.  It's a hidden trick.  Don't tell them.  To spice up the look of the game, I make scoreboard on the SMART Board using a real scoreboard (Google Images) from a favorite team (usually the Detroit Tigers for us).  In SMART Notebook, you can search "scoreboard" and import it on top of your picture.

Most people have heard of Scattergories.  This is a fun way to get the entire class involved in another game format. If you remember the official rules, you have about two minutes to come up with one answer for twelve categories in about two minutes (and to add to the difficulty all of the answers have to start with the same letter).  Well, if you know "speech and language" kids like I do, then you know that this task is very difficult.  I throw all rules out the window and make up my own.  The biggest change that I make is taking the time limit away.  I present one category at a time and then walk around the classroom with a pad of sticky notes in my hand to write down words if anyone has difficulty spelling.  If a student needs help, I provide them with the type of prompting required.  I tell the kids that spelling doesn't count, so long as they know what they wrote.  I work with a wide variety of skill levels and some students need more assistance than others.  I've even got students that use communication apps on their iPads.  If I have kids with communication devices, I make sure that I pick words from their vocabulary files.  You can either buy the game and use the cards or you can find just about any list of categories online or in speech therapy language books.  We use copies of the answer form, but you can easily just have the kids number their papers to ten.
Here are the rules in a nutshell:

  1. Write one word for each category.  You want to try and make your answer uniquely different from the other students.
  2. If you have the same answer as someone else, then cross it off.  If you are the only one with the answer, then you circle it and you get a point.
  3. The person with the most points at the end wins!
*You can score each round one at a time at first.  I usually do this for the first couple of categories and then I transition to doing six rounds (i.e. halftime) before we go over the answers.

Family Feud
There are several ways to play Family Feud.  This is most definitely a class favorite.  Believe it or not, there are so many ways to get the game.  Here's how you can get it:

I'd personally suggest one of the online versions to play.  The Powerpoint template is good if you want to personalize it to something specific.  For example, I did one for Huck Finn vocabulary and comprehension questions.  It went well.  It did, however, take me forever to figure it out and make sure that it ran well.  You can probably find templates out there if you look--maybe in SMART Exchange or Boardmaker Share.  The only caveat of playing the game is that you don't know what questions you'll get.  That makes it interesting and also makes you think quick on your feet.  We usually pause the game to give no time limit.  If the computer wins the face off, then we pause and brainstorm all of our possibilities if we get the chance to steal.  I also like Family Feud because many of the questions open up opportunities to solve everyday problems.  Overall, it's a great language game to play with students in lieu of paper and pencil tasks.  

On a side note, you can play the computer version and project it on a SMART Board.  You can also use an iPad and travel around to each student and let them type in the answers (word prediction feature included).  Sometimes I use a document camera to quickly project the screen on the SMART Board.  Get creative.  Think of ways to have the students involved and interactive.

*By the way, I play this game at nursing home facilities too.  They still love Richard Dawson.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Very Visual Vocabulary

If you are like me or like my students, learning vocabulary can be tedious and boring.  Have I said that before?  Boring.  Fresh off of a conference called Dynamic Vocabulary Instruction in Secondary Classrooms by Dr. Anita L. Archer, my confidence in what I do with my students was reconfirmed.  In a nutshell, she spoke about engaging the students and providing "student-friendly" explanations of vocabulary.  I must say that she was the queen of classroom management and keeping the students engaged.  She was able to use techniques to get the students to think for themselves, stay on-task, and actively participate.  Her techniques also gave students time to work with partners and give each student the opportunity to develop answers, which puts the kibosh on that one student that always answers every question.

I'm a big proponent of using visualizations when learning vocabulary such as real pictures and student drawn illustrations.  After introducing the word and introducing the meaning of the word comes the time to illustrate the word with examples.  Dr. Archer suggested using concrete examples, visual examples, and verbal examples for checking comprehension.  With that said, I'd like to show you a few websites/activities that are both engaging and a great way to illustrate vocabulary.

Shahi is a visual dictionary that pairs definitions of words with images from Flickr, Google, and Yahoo.  The free online dictionary uses some sort of fancy, special formula to bring out the definition plus images using Princeton University's Wordnet, Wiktionary (a wiki-based open content dictionary), and Flickr (plus Google & Yahoo).  However they do it, it's pretty cool.  Another neat feature is that it keeps a running log of the words you look up.  So if you type in your 10 vocabulary words, they'll be on the same page to view.  As with anything you look up on the web, you should be wary of inappropriate pictures when you use online sites.  You should be careful and pre-screen your words just in case.  I hardly have any issues, but it's always good to err on the side of caution.

Tag Galaxy 
Tag Galaxy is another great way to put pictures to words.  It's a very visual way to present pictures to students using Flickr photos.  If you don't know what Flickr is, it's a social photo sharing website.  Basically, you post any of your pictures and then tag them with any associations that the picture may have. You can leave your pictures out there for anyone to use or you can have copyright restrictions if you'd like.      .

Well, Tag Galaxy takes it to the next "galaxy" by allowing users to search a term or "tag".  What's really cool is that you can continue to travel through the galaxy by narrowing your search.  This is great for a couple of reasons. First, it teaches students how to improve their searches using the internet.  And second, it provides words that are similar (i.e. synonyms).  For example, after doing a lesson on Felix Baumgartner, we searched the term "skydiver".  We narrowed our search by adding the tags "parachutist" and "skydiving". Once you find your desired result, you click on the planet.  After clicking on a planet, a disco ball-like planet appears with your photos intact.  You can rotate the planet to view more photos and click on individual photos to enlarge the view.  This would be really cool on a SMART Board.

Many people have heard about or seen Wordle.  It's a super creative visual way of displaying ideas.  There are limitless possibilities on how to use this, but I'll tell you a couple that relate to vocabulary.  In order to use Wordle, you need to compile a list of words (or tags).  You could do this as a classroom activity or with just one student.  Think of synonyms, examples, and associations.  Have the students brainstorm and write as many words that they can that they associate with the term.  Do this as a class or have each student pick one vocabulary word and then have them present it to the others.  Print them all off and copy a packet of vocabulary Wordles for each student.  The other way that I use Wordle is to have the students look up the words on various websites.  You can use a variety of online dictionaries or wikipages.  Copy the text from that page into the Wordle and see what appears.  As a side note, the more the word appears, the more prominent it will be in the Wordle.  I would suggest typing the vocabulary word many more times just to add an emphasis on your Wordle (see my example below).  The result is pretty cool.  You'll see a great visualization of your vocabulary!  If you want to try something really cool, then copy and paste a student's essay into Wordle.  It will immediately visualize the entire paper!

Tagxedo is just like Wordle, but with different options.  You can actually put your words into a shape.  Not only can you use one of their shapes (heart, cloud, Lincoln's head, & etc.), you can actually import any picture and make your words take the shape of the picture.  Another feature is the ability to insert a webpage's URL and Tagxedo will automatically import the words to make the picture (see the example below from using  Another addition to Tagxedo is the ability to hover over each word with a mouse pointer (or on a SMARTBoard) to highlight and emphasize a particular word.  

Get creative!  Think of how you might have your students create and demonstrate vocabulary.  Think of how you could use it across subject matter like science or social studies.  Have the students create these instead of copying down definitions.  I can tell you from experience that you'll have much more engagement and participation from students when you use creative visual examples.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Pinterest SMART Board Activity

I have to give total credit to Ms. Lane's SLP Materials Blog for creating this activity.  Being the techno-nerd that I am, I recreated it to work on the SMART Board.  First off, I can't emphasize enough how great social media is for finding activities.  I came across Ms. Lane's activity on Pinterest.  Yes, I'm a guy and I'm on Pinterest.  And no, I'm not on there sharing my favorite hairstyles or wedding dresses.  I guess there are two parts to my blog post.  First, get on Twitter and Pinterest and start following people that are super creative.  The second part is to share this fairly simple activity from Ms. Lane, but with The Speech Knob cranked up to eleven.

Basically, the idea is to follow positional directions and manipulate the various characters onto the "haunted house".  When you touch the magic window, a direction appears.  Keep hitting the magic window for more directions and manipulate the characters to decorate the house to make it haunted.

Here's my SMART Board version:

You can download a two-week trial version of SMART Notebook or you can use their free web-based version called SMART Notebook Express.  Download my file and then open it using either version.  As I write this post, I just saw that SMART Notebook now has an app for the iPad!  Yes!!!  Think of other activities that you could do like this.  Ms. Lane has some other ones for other holidays.  Check out her blog for more ideas!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Family Guy, South Park, & High School Vocabulary

Okay.  Learning vocabulary in school can be very boring.  Here's your list of words: ideology, paradox, theocracy, villainy, hearty, quaking, trepidation, dissemble, and so on.  You get the picture.  Not exactly exciting for teenage boys.  The key is to get these kids engaged.  You have to tap into their interests, which usually includes video games, cartoons, sports, and tv shows.  It's important to keep your finger on their pulse and make sure you spend lots of your own time catching up on Spongebob, Family Guy, Super Mario, and Cartoon Network.  Just kidding.
The SMART Board has become a tool to get these kids engaged.  It's much more than an overhead projector replacement or a place to write notes.  My job is to get a group of high school boys in a cross-categorical special education classroom (learning disabilities, speech language disabilities, emotional handicaps, & etc.) to learn high school curriculum vocabulary.  Through my experience in special education, I can tell you that the kids love to play games and be competitive.  Honestly, it really doesn't matter what the game is so long as it's "a game".  It's all about the sell.  In fact, I've been able to take vocabulary from The Crucible and spice it up by adding Family Guy soundbites as rewards for completing the activity.  Remember those words?  Now copy them down, look up the definitions, and write them in a sentence.  BORING.  You lost me at The Crucible.  So how do I do it?  Very, very easily.  The activity is already in the SMART Notebook software and with that you can whip out one of these games in under 30 minutes.  Most of the time, just so you know, I introduce the vocabulary beforehand by having discussions and showing visual examples of each word.

Here's what you need:  a list of words, a dictionary (try a visual dictionary like Shahi), SMART Notebook software.

In SMART Notebook, there is an interactive activity called "keyword match".  It's in the activity gallery (the icon looks like a little picture frame).  It is really, really easy once you figure out that it's in the gallery.  Just type in "keyword" in the search window and it will appear in a folder down below in "Interactive and Multimedia".  Then, all you have to do is type in the words and definitions.  My version of Notebook lets me do six words.  If you want to do more, then you can create a new slide with another game.

Now, for the Family Guy part, I go to Google Images and copy and paste the picture of each character.  To make them look clean and crisp, click the down arrow on the picture and click "Picture Transparency".  Use the dropper tool to get rid of the white space surrounding the picture.  Place them on the screen, lock them, and voila!  You now have a theme to your game.  You can take it one step further by going on the interwebs and finding mp3 soundbites for the characters.  This does take some time and you absolutely have to make sure that they are appropriate before attaching the sounds. has a ton of free clips.  You download them (remember where you saved them) and then attach the sounds to the pictures in your themed slide.  You do this by clicking the down arrow on the picture and then selecting "Sound..." toward the bottom.  Browse and choose your file and then you are all set.  Make sure that you check the box for "object" instead of "Corner icon" that way when you touch anywhere on the picture, the sound will play.

The kids don't even know that they are learning about The Crucible, yet they are engaged in a very simple activity!

These are pictures of some of the other templates that I've created.  Not sure what to create?  Ask your students!
Simpsons Example
South Park Example

Cartoon Network Example

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!