Monday, December 31, 2007


HAPPY NEW YEAR to one and ALL.
May you have a wonderful and happy New Year. Please remember to hold your loved ones near and dear. Family and true friends are hard to find. Keep love in your heart and priorities straight.

Priorities for the New Year:
1. Family will keep you grounded and remind you when you think to highly of yourself.
2. Friends will keep you moving forward and reaching for the next best thing.
3. Fun is needed. If you cannot relax and enjoy your life you cannot appreciate all the things you have to be thankful for.
4. Financial (Work): We all spend too much time doing work and not appreciating our family, friends and ourselves.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Extraordinary Life

There are times in your life that you meet someone over the internet or face to face that leaves a deep impression on you. For me, this happened two weeks ago, when I was contacted via by Jon Feucht who is the Executive Director of Authentic Voices of America Inc. He had made a simple request of me, please take a listen to the pod cast on his blog page and give him feedback. I listen to podcast and read blogs or other information daily, so listening to another one didn’t seem like any big thing.

So off to the site that Jon sent me to take a listen. I have a tendency to cruise around a website before going directly to where I am requested. Often I do this because you find out more about the person or the company the deeper you look beyond the surface. What I found out is that Jon has written 2 books on called, “Straight Talks From My Desk” and a book of poetry.

From the Table of Contents in "Straight Talks from my desk"there are topics that are often elephants in the room during IEP meetings and transition meetings, How to be an advocate, How to Work with Attendants and Image. These are things that we overlook in educating when a person advocates for themselves it is perceived as they are complaining or expecting too much, if a person with a disability tells someone what to do people feel insulated that someone is telling them what and how to do something. The one that I find extremely important is the Image. We as humans identify ourselves by our image by the way someone looks, the way they carry themselves or who express themselves to be. Image is our marketing tool but for persons with disabilities image often gets lost in the things they use or their disability and no who the person is.

Jon’s pod-cast gives me insight into a world that I am not part of, the world of being non-verbal. If you have ever met me, I often talk too much or even by meeting through a list serv, I have a wealth of information about everything and anything and from Jon’s pod-cast, I see Jon has some of the same qualities. He is such a wealth of information that can help “specialist” understand what it takes to introduce a communication device to an individual, how to help an individual “buy” into their tools and give strategies to special education teachers on how to improve their instruction to a student with special needs.

I think it is time that we have some first hand advice and just not theory on how something should or shouldn’t be. I myself have a learning disability. I was told I would never me be college material. That I should be happy working at Burger King. It is nice to talk to other students with learning disabilities and saying yes I know where you are coming from because I was there one day. Jon is a person that wants to motivate individuals with disabilities and the staff that support them to look at life in a new way. That just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you cannot have an extraordinary full of opportunities.

I encourage anyone that has a child, teenager or young adult that has a disability to listen to the podcast. Everyone needs a role model and Jon is a great one of many that I stand up and give a standing ovation. It is individuals like Jon that make the battles worth while. Jon is not alone in his journey there are many wonderful people with and without disabilities that show us everyday that we can be Extraordinary if we have a passion, a mission to be connected to others and we want to share our souls with others.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Fly Fusion - Updated Fly Pen

I am very excited about the updated Fly Pen. I have the old Fly Pen which I purchased last year for my niece and brother. She needs support with writing while he needed help with his algebra class. It has been a wonderful tool but now the Fly Pen has made another jump that makes it even more exciting.

The added feature that is the most exciting for me is the note capturing feature of the device. For many students with writing difficulties we often use a peer scribe or an aide will scribe for them. With the Fly Fusion pen it stores the written notes in the pen and allows you to upload the notes into digitalized notes. The difference between Fly Fusion then other digital pens or notetakers that I have tried is that it is able to read your handwriting and turn it into editable text. It is not perfect and you have to get use to writing with the Fusion. You need to make sure that your writing is legible, that you leave spaces between words and sentences. If a student has illegible handwriting you will not get good editable text. But if the student has fair handwriting the student will get good editable text that they can correct on the computer.

The Fly Fusion has also gotten into the MP3 market. Although this feature of the pen works and will be “cool” for children and teens I would be ok without it not being a feature of the pen. I do have to admit that although I am not hot on the MP3, I do like the Flytones and chose Keyboard. The pen walks you step by step in drawing a 13-key keyboard, complete with sharps and flats, and an instrument selector, which included piano, synthesizer, and other musical instruments including drums, and rhythms. You can customize your Flytones as reminders such as when the pen turns on, scheduler and notes. I will give you that students may become even more distracted by this feature then the MP3 but at least they are being creative. Yeah, I am one of the users that would find it more interesting creating bad music then listening to the instructor.

Leapfrog has also updated their website so you can download and share materials with others. Not all applications are free but they are simple to download if you pay attention to the directions. If you don’t pay attention you won’t know that it is a two step process to download and sync your Fusion.

My biggest frustration was the on and off for reading. I kept turning the pen off when I was writing. Once you get the hang of it, it works like a dream. It is just a matter of holding the pen properly and getting use to the bulk of the pen. Some issues to be concerned about is the top weight of the device. The device is not that heavy just a few ounces but that is a big difference from a standard pen/pencil. If you are going to have a peer use it for note taking, I would suggest that you allow the student to use it for about a week to get to use to the difference in size and week. It would also be good practice to see how the students’ handwriting is supported by the Fly Fusion.

The gift of this pen is all the features but the price isn’t that bad either. You can find it in the stores for between $80. - $100.00 depending on what packages are features. I managed to get mine on sale for $59.00 a few weeks ago and then I purchased some accessories like paper and carrying case. Yes, that is one of the cons of the device, after all the complaining with the first Fly pen you would think that LeapFrog would package the Fly Fusion with a protection case.

What the Fly Fusion comes with:
English - FLY™ Notes – upload what you write or draw to your computerForeign Language - Spanish Translator Games and Activities - Game Pad, FLYtype™ PracticeMath - FastComp™ BasicsMusic - MP3 Player, FLYtones™, FLY Music StudioTest Prep - Pop QuizTools - Calculator, Controls, Scheduler & Settings, TimeFLY Tour

Saturday, December 8, 2007

MADE FOR ME MP3 Music Player

How young is too young for an MP3 player? Have you seen the MP3 player from Playskool that is for the nursery? The Made for me MP3 music player allows you to download up to 2 hours of music from various sources including CD’s, recording of your own voice as well as WMA or MP3. It comes with 50 songs and sounds on four different play lists: playtime, sleepy time, sound effects and favorites.

I am not sure that I would purchase this MP3 for an infant but I would purchase it from a child with special needs because the play button is huge. It is about the size of a big red. The forward and back buttons are separated onto the feet which are about the size of a spec switch. The volume up and down button is a toggle switch which could be difficult for some children to activate (not always a bad thing) and power on button is about a spec switch size on the front but there is an alternative on/off switch on the side of the machine.

The other reason that I like this device is because it can be mounted with a set of connection jammies. Now I am not sure that the jammies are age appropriate but if you can create age appropriate clothing for the MP3 player using the pattern of the jammies.

You can purchase additional storage units. The software that you use to upload the music to is sorted into the different play list. If you want a song to your child’s favorite then you click on that tag and save the song.

Cost is a factor in purchasing this device. It is $79.99 and $49.99 for each additional cartilage.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

NEW Portable Device with POWER

For the past 6 months I have been using the beta version of the StudentMate. The StudentMate is a Linxus based portable word processor with all the power of a computer. The device is lightweight (2 lbs) and has built in wireless capability. As soon as your turn on this device you know you are in for a treat. The fist think that impressed me was the color LCD touch screen. The LCD is crisp and clearer then my PALM. The StudentMate screen size is 6 1/2” wide by 3 1/2” tall.

The StudentMate has all the options you could want for your students. It is extremely easy to icon based navigation. You can use the stylus or your finger to move from one icon to the next. The icons are fairly large, easily recognizable (word processor a pencil, calculator the mathematical signs).

The StudentMate also comes with a full featured word processor. Your students can import graphics, use assorted colors and fonts as well as formatting their document to the way they want it to look. It will not lose formatting when you move your files between the device to the computer and back to the device. The spell checker has over 100,000 words. It does not have a phonetic spell checker so your students that stump the spell check may still need some support from you while using this device.

The StudentMate also has a full featured spread sheet. It works and feels the same as Excel. Excel is not used as often by students in the classroom but for the students that are struggling with math (alignment, writing number) the spreadsheet is an excellent tool to use. There are over 300 calculation functions built in to the spread sheet including data analysis, calculations and stats. For students that are younger you can import graphics, draw on the worksheet using the stylus as well as use the symbols and shapes that are pre-installed.

The StudentMate devices interface with the teachers computer via Student Administration Module (SAM) - The StudentMate Administration Module resides on the teacher’s networked PC and allows the teacher to monitor students’ activity on their networked StudentMates. It also allows teachers and students to easily exchange homework, tests and other files between the teacher’s PC and the StudentMates.

The StudentMate hands down is one of the best web browsers that I have seen on a portable word processor. Often the devices open web browsers slowly and then you are disappointed that the pages cannot do flash player. The StudentMate not only opens quickly but it also handles graphic intense sites well also. There is also a 128 BIT SSL (secure socket layer) encryption. The StudentMate was able to handle Webkinz website as well as other sites. Don’t worry; you can block websites so your students can’t visit them doing the school day.

One of the features that I think educators will like the most is the iRespond AnyPlace Web. It is assessment tool to give teachers the full functionality of real-time assessment, grading, and reporting. Teachers can create text, fill in the blank, multiple choices, multiple response, and survey, yes/no, true/false, extended response, and short essay questions and organize them in tests. The iRespond automatically analyzes scores of an individual student or group and generated reports with graphs.

Another great feature of this device is that there is a Student Summary List that allows the teacher to view all of the student’s activities that were completed on the device during a specific time period. Now you can see what tasks they completed and how long the student worked on an assignment.

The organization of files, you have to love a device that lists your documents in a separate tab. On the homework tab a student can list their homework assignments as well as deadlines. This is very similar to the feature To Do List on the DANA.

The StudentMate has a calendar. You have the options of looking at a single day, 5 day or 7 day, as well as the monthly view. For students that struggling with their agenda this is a nice feature to have at their finger tips.

Hands down if you are on the market for portable word processing device, this is a device that you want to check out. It gives you all the features of a computer without the problems of a computer. The price is reasonable and the device is durability. I would take the company up on its 30 day trail to check out the device yourself.

The good:

  • Adjustable font

  • If your student cannot use a stylus and doesn’t have great fine motor skills for touching the icons, they could always use an external USB mouse.

  • You can save information to a USB or Memory Card.

  • Zoom feature – you can zoom into text and graphics.

  • MP3 player – can music as well as electronic text files that are converted to audio files

  • Built in interactive typing tutor.

  • PDF viewer

  • Full screen calculator: conversion calculator, in temperature mode is shown to the right. Distance, area, volume and weight modes are also available.

What is missing:

  • Cannot install your own software

  • Text to speech – Coming Soon

  • Paint program - Coming Soon

  • No word prediction at this time

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Tabletop Photo Studio

If you work in the field special education with students on the spectrum or students with cognitive disabilities at one time or another you had to take photos of real objects. The key to good photos is to have a clean background. You want no visual distractions around the object that you are snapping a photo of. In a classroom this can prove to be difficult. You can try to put your objects on a solid piece of white paper, black cloth or in the corner of your room so your wall is the backdrop.

While looking through one of the million in one catalogs that have arrived at my home this holiday season I came across a tabletop photo studio. It comes with two backdrops, a compact light box with an integrated diffuser screen, and two high output lights with adjustable, retractable legs. As you can see from the photo it is a neat little package. It folds up into a nice little storage bag so you don't have to it out all the time. I really like this for object pictures. However, I cannot justify the $80.00 cost even if I like this. This Tabletop Photo Studio can be purchased at

Here is a way to make a least expensive version of the same Tabletop Photo Studio. I would first find a box. I would paint the inside of the box white left and right walls white. I would paint the inside bottom gray and back wall gray or black. The tripod can be purchased at Target for $5.00-$8.00. The lights can be RayoVac 2D Swivel Flashlight which cost about $12.00 - $15.00. To make your own table top photo studio you it cost you maybe $23.00

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Color Bug Coloring Toy

Can you tell what time of year it is by the theme of my post? Well here is a toy that I have been waiting for since I saw it on Oprah last year. It is called Color Bug Coloring Toy. I am very excited because this toy opens some fun doors for children and adults (if they like to color). This is idea can be improved upon if they changed the remote to having IR capabilities. If it had IR capabilities because then people with disabilities could control the Color Bug with their communication devices. As of now you have a standard radio controller to move your Color Bug around the paper which still makes it possible to work on skills.

There is no doubt once I get my hands on these little bugs that I can figure out a way to adapt the toy so more of my students can have fun with the toy. I just see so many possibilities for this little toy. Taking a skill that the student is bored to tears of doing, this would change up the activitiy so that the student is motivated to do the task again.

For example: You can have Color Bug Draws a straight line. Or you can see who can make it to the end of their paper the fastest. You can also work on stop - go - left - right. You can work on identification of objects or pictures by placing three pictures on a pieces of paper and the student has to move their color bug to the correct picture.

Where to purchase:

If you have one of these new toys - let me know what you think.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Kookey - Interactive Web toy

I am sure you have heard about Webkins. The cute little plush toys that come with a secret code which unlocks a virtual play land. Well there is a new kid in the block and they are called Kookey's.

Kookey's are cute, plush toys just like webkins but the big differences are on their website. Unlike Webkins Kookey's were designed with an educational purpose in mind. There is KooCollege. KooCollege has a curriculum of 18,000 questions and six varying grade levels, which were designed by a former Teacher of the Year. You can adjust the curriculum for your child to allow focus on their specific needs for improvement in certain skills. Challenging problems are offered in such classes as History, Math and English. KooCollege earns 3 times as much money as playing the games or getting a job.

The site will be available to all on December 1st. Until then, anyone who pre-registers their purchased Kookeys before November 24th becomes a member of Kookeys exclusive KooFounder's Club! The Founders are so important that they will receive an automatic 10,000 KooCoins, other prizes and their name listed in the KooFounders Club for everyone to see. In the meantime, you may browse the neighborhoods in search of your perfect home.

I am sure these toys will struggle to pass Webkins. The age group that is targeted is 5-12 age group. As an educator, I like the concept of this toy because it is going to reinforce academics something that so many virtual toys don't. Because it has an educational piece to it, once Kookey land opens up and I can see how it works and if the educational pieces are there that reinforce curriculum this might be the purchase I make for my niece and nephews teachers to give out as prizes. (Back door into getting technology into the classroom and leveling the playing field for all students). Just an FYI: The opening music is annoying. I suggest turning it off.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Duck - Duck - Duck - Goose - who is the right candidate for me?

When I was growing up I couldn’t wait to I was old for my first right of passage to adulthood. Most are probably thinking it was the right to get a drivers license but that wasn’t it. I couldn’t wait for real adult passage, the ability to vote.

We are now getting our ducks in order to find the goose. There are so many candidates that are running for the office that how can you tell which one is the right candidate for you? It is so hard to find out where the candidates stand on the issues that are important to me. There are two websites that help you find the candidates that have similar view points as you. The first website was

Connect2Elect is a website that allows to widdle down the candidates that have similar views on topics that are important to you. So often American’s stay within their party affiliation. However, just because they are part of the “party” does it mean that they really feel the same as others and more importantly you? The key issues are in four categories: candidate attributes (time served in office, religious beliefs, etc), social issues (global warming, stem-cell research, etc), political issues (health care, social security, etc), and core beliefs (stance on taxes, foreign relations, etc).

In this day and age we need help guide use to candidates that are like us. I feel lost in the sea of candidates that don’t always speak from the heart. They speak from the polls and what they think others want to hear. If they aren’t listening to the citizens of this country which is obvious with the mess we are in. Then start talking about what you really believe. Try being honest. You have one shot to make an impression.

I tried another program that also helps widdle down the candidates. I have to say that I like
Glassbooth better for its ease of use. Not because of the information that is offered but for the ease of use. The information that is shared is equal to the information that Connect2Elect.

I liked that I didn’t have to sign into the site to start the process. You start your rank of the issues that are important to you. How you use your points indicates what issues are important to you. When you are finished a list of 3 candidates will appear with your number one candidate that is closest to your political interest. You want further information on the candidates’ click on their name and read the information. There is also a list of quotes and how they voted on issues in the past.

These sites are not about giving you a final choice it is about helping you work your way through the candidates and giving a snapshot into where they stand so you can do further research.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Scriptovia - Student collaborative tool

Do you remember ? It was a tool for students to collaborative on their writing assignments. Well the creator of Thinkessay has grown up (he is now 18) and now has a new space that is called About us

"Scriptovia is an online community for students to collaborate and receive feedback on their academic work. This includes essays, notes, lab reports, presentations, and everything else students create to advance their knowledge." It reminds me of a portal of information. Students can turn to this site help on any subject that they may need support in. This site is new so the bulk of literature support.

The more the students participate the higher their ranking. The member rating system can be found at
Scriptovia . Members are awarded different colored apples based on their involvement in the Scriptovia community. Apples are awarded based on the amount of member points that each user has accrued.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Karito Kids - A wonderful new product

My nieces’ birthday is coming up and she wants something special for her birthday. Her idea is a new laptop so she can play Webkins without being in my office. Sorry to say, “This is not going to happen.”

So now we are onto her plan 2. She wants an American Girl Doll. This plan sounds like a better then the first one she thought of (at least cheaper). The only issue that I have is that I can’t convince myself that another doll is something she needs. The biggest conflict that I have is that my mission to have my gifts be gifts that give back to the community. The American Girl Doll company does not fit into my mission of giving back to the community. So it is my job to come up with an alternative plan that would meet her need to have a doll and my mission to give back to others.

You would have thought this journey would take many hours of searching on the internet but in reality it took only 2 different google searches and I found this article “Doll teaches kids about responsibility, charity”. I couldn’t believe my luck. I found exactly what I was looking for in Karito Kids.

Karito Kids is the mastermind of two women that wanted more out of the toys they were giving to their children and make a difference in the world we live. It is a doll with a storybook just like American Doll but it has a Webkin features. This is a win-win for me and for my niece. She loves Webkins, wants a pretty doll and I want her to learn to be responsible for the community. As soon as she logs on she needs to pick a cause from the four offered. The four causes are growing up healthy, learning, habitat or livelihood. The child receives an e-mail updating them on what progress they have made toward their project goal.

The dolls are a little more expensive then American Dolls but the little extra is worth the benefit of giving back to the world we live. It also is worth the little extra money because it is teaching her about the world she is living and making a small impact while having fun.

Here is the doll that she has picked


When you look at the device to the left, I am sure you are trying to figure out what it is. The first time I saw it I wasn't sure if it was a little video camera, some type of toy gun or just another toy that would land up collecting dust.
The Eyeclops is a single 200x magnification setting microscope. This little green hand held device allows you to turn your TV into a large view finder. The Eyeclops cost only $50.00. It runs on five AA batteries. Accessories include a holder for examining live bugs.
I am very excited about this device because it now makes a powerful microscope available without a hefty price. But it also allows teachers to demonstrate what students should be seeing in a microscope viewer in real time.
For more information:


Have you seen this? You may think this is a printer for your computer but you would be mistaken. This is a printer that doesn't need a computer. Yes, you have read that correctly. No computer needed. The Presto from HP allows you to receive emails and photos like you would receive a fax. The difference between a standard fax and this printer is that your friends and family send information via an email address that is set-up through the Presto mail server.

One of the questions that you may have is about SPAM. Since you set up a safe list of senders unless an email address is pre-approved, you won't receive SPAM via your Presto email address.

Another neat aspect is that you can decorate your email to your loved ones or friends. Presto has various styles of borders, special announcements and even calendar formats that you can add your photos to.

In this day and age you maybe asking yourself why would you need something like this. The simple answer is for members of your family that does not have access to a computer because of where they live, they do not know how to use a computer or the cost is prohibitive.

I recently purchased one for a nursing home as a gift of giving. I set it up so the residents could receive special messages from loved ones. I paid for one year of email service for a general email address for the whole nursing home. So far the residents are loving the Presto. They feel in contact with their families. They are getting emails from their grandchildren, photos and artwork that otherwise would never be seen by them.

Learn more :

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Voice Activated Grocery List Organizer

SmartShopper Voice-Activated Grocery List

This device was designed to make your life simpler so you can keep track of your errands, grocery list as well as other things. The device has a library of 2,500 items that can be deleted so you can create your own custom list. The device comes with a thermal printer that doesn’t require ink cartridges. The description says that the LCD is bright and easy to read. I will have to go to the Sharper Image store to see it in person.

For students and adults that struggle with keeping track of their assignments, activities or things they need to bring this device might be the tool that can help them moving forward and being independent. The price is a little high $149, depending on the student or person this might be worth every penny that it cost.


Ok it doesn't look like much. But if you love to read this is just a very cool gadget. The Thumb thing fits on your thumb like a ring for the first joint and simply used spread the pages of the book open.

I purchased my thumb thing at a small book store. I found it a great little tool for reading while in bed. I can hold the book and not worry about the pages folding over while reading. I also found it immense help while tracking while reading as a line reader with my niece. When you are done reading it is an awesome bookmark. (Wholesale only) You can contact them to see where you can purchase them in your area.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ear Muff Headphones

For the person that loves their music but hates the cold these are the ear muffs for you. For this product I was thinking a little more outside the box of just the cold. I work with children that one their heads are too small for a standard headset or they don't tolerate the headsets these ear muff headphones might be the solution I have been looking for. I found them in two places on the Internet the first was Urban Outfitters. I really like the way the quilted ones look like. They look warm but not so warm that the poor kids ears would melt off in the classroom.

The other place I located a set is at Hammacher Schlemmer. This set looks very warm for the outdoors but I would say too warm for the classroom.
Both sets of Ear Muff Headphones cost $30-$35 without shipping and handling. With the holidays you might not have S/H. If you want to save a little more cash, you can look at how the Urban Outfitters constructed their Ear Muff Headphones it might give you an idea how to create your own. I am not very handy with a sewing machine beyond a simple stitch so I would purchase the pre-made ones.

Portable Reader

There is a new portable readers market. Sony recently updated their reader which can be purchased for $299. So now a competitor has entered the market. Amazon is releasing the Kindle on Monday. There has been some buzz about this new device but most has been speculation. Amazon has kept this device close to the vest. Information would be "shared" here and there but for the most part Amazon has been tight lipped.

The Kindle will retail for $399. There are a few differences between the two devices. The first is that the Kindle will have WiFi capabilities, a headphone port and it's own email address. The Kindle owners are expected to be able to select from a long list of publications for automatic download (50 and 100 newspaper publishers). Amazon has the larges e-book collection and the bundle that your device comes with is impressive.

E-readers have not been the hot ticket Sony thought it would be. In the area of technology the device really was a dust bunny catcher. I am not sure the Kindle is going to feel any increase in the success. If this device was meant for the road warrior there are some major flaws:

1) Wifi Really? But again like the IPhone, I have to go with a specific carrier. Sorry, I already have my cell phone carrier; why on this graying earth would I want yet another carrier.
2) Thank you for email address but why do I need another email address.
3) It has no capability to highlight, make notes on the book I am reading or book marking. At least if I am using my computer, I have the capabilities.
4) It is OMG ugly and bulky. I am hoping the picture leaked from the FCC is just a pro-type and the thing is going to nice and shiny for it’s coming out party.
5) I am not sure if you can zoom into to make the text appear larger.
6) The cost of the device. The device is expensive no matter how you slice it.
7) External light - why didn't they do back lighting. It just seems like something that will get broken when sliding in and out of my bag if I was planning on getting one.

Price is a huge factor for me. I can purchase a high end Palm to read e-books and have all the additional features that I would like to have in one device such as my calendar, email, web access, music and address book. If I am going to spend $399 for this device it needs to offer me something more then an alternative reading format.

The other red flag for me is that the storage of material. If I purchase from an online vendor, I want a storage vault with them. The old saying is Not if but when technology fails. If I am traveling with my device and for some reason I want to re-read a book or share the book with a friend, I don't want to have a back up on my home system or laptop. If I am using an e-reader, I want to be able log on and swap books. These devices are for convinces, so make it convenient for me the user.

I hope that I am wrong about this device. But I have a sinking feeling that this is another dusty bunny babysister.

Make your list .... check it twice .... send a card to a solider

With the holiday’s fast approaching, I ask that you take the time to remember the men and women that are recovering at the medical centers around you. Even if you disapprove of the War / conflict in the Middle East, these soldiers have injuries that were sustained while they were at work.

As you make out your holiday cards take a few minutes and write a letter to a solider recovering at the hospital. There is nothing more depressing then being in a strange place, being in pain and not knowing what the rest of your life may bring. Allow your hopes, wishes and appreciation to shine through during this time of year. Let the men and women that allow you to still have your freedoms that we take for granted everyday know that someone is thinking of them and wishing them well.

A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue,NW
Washington,D.C. 20307-5001

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Feeding the World is a website that was designed by a gentleman from Minnesota to help support feed people in third world countries. To date this gentleman with the help of the internet has given 1,897,053,670 grains of rice to I love the fact that we are helping the world with the basic necessities of life while helping use practice build vocabulary. I like this dictionary because it will pronounce the word for you.

I have found myself using the each day. It is my task avoidance tool. I allow myself to do 5 words before I go back to work. I then allow my niece and nephew to work on 10 words together using SOLO or Ultimate Talking Dictionary from . The purpose of them doing the activity is not about learning the words for them. But it is about learning to use a dictionary and sharing with others.

Another site that helps feed the world . For shopping with this site, I have donated over 200 cups of rice for doing Christmas shopping that not only helped others but also helped me give gifts that have meaning.

Here is another great site or store. This website has some unique items that make wonderful gifts. You have to read the write-ups on the artisans.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Storytime Theater

How cool is this? A unique storytime projector for literacy time.

The projector shines the story on the wall for easy viewing and reading. You can control the projector with a remote. The projector has 3 settings: Story Time, Read Along and Bedtime mode, which plays the entire book before automatically shutting off.

There are a limited number of stories at this time but this is a great little device. I can't wait to see if I can adapt the device for switch users.

The projector is $39.99 and $14.99 for a story. With the purchase of the projector you get 1 book and 1 cartridge.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Wifi Rabbit

This is my type of pet. You don't have to walk it, you don't have to pet it and you don’t have to worry about feeding it. You also don’t have to worry about the bunny multiplication.

The rabbit communicates by lighting up using upwards of a 100 different colors, wiggling its ears and singing or talking. The Rabbit is always connected via Wifi so you can place it anywhere in your home.

Now I am sure you are saying WOW that is cute but why do I need another gadget? There are a few cool things about this little bunny.

  • How about spoken and musical messenger (Incoming messages sent via the web, email, SMS, phone, spoken messages, MP3 music clips, Text-to-speech, rabbit-to-rabbit communication through ear movements). You can actually have your emails read to you without having text to speech software.

  • Ability to create and program your own content and events. You can create your own channels and broadcast them to other rabbits; application programming interface.
    Some fun free things to keep your bunny happy:

  • Talking Clock: Forget about your alarm clock, the Nabaztag will speak out the time on the top of every hour and will sing you awake to your favorite MP3 or sing you lullabies at bed by.

  • Taï Chi:You think that your Nabaztag is a little static? That he needs some exercises and needs to relax his ears? Offer him some Taï-chi classes.

  • Wake-up rabbit: Just select your favourite MP3 and Nabaztag will sing it to wake you up. You can ask Nabaztag to send you to bed too.

To learn more go to :

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gorillapod Camera Tripod

This is a very cool tripod that allows you to mount a camera in funky secure ways. But I am thinking that this would be a wonderful tool for positioning switches for students or other items that are lightweight. So often we struggle with switch mounting for some students because there is no where to secure the switch whiles a student is in a specific device like a stander or even some adaptive seating equipment. This little device allows for various positions that increase possibilities for switches, tools and whatever else our imagination can think up.

I love the fact that now I can position a camera on a child’s chair at their eye level and they can take pictures. We now can get a feel for what our students are seeing and their interpretations of the world around them. The beauty of a digital camera is that pictures can be deleted or merged together to create an collage with our students actively participating.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

ATIA Conference - January 2008

It seems that my blog has turned into conference central. There is more to life then conferences but I think it is important to share information on conferences that offer intermediate and advance training.

If you missed out on Closing the Gap you will have another chance to go to a large well established conference in assistive technology. The
ATIA conference will happens January 30 - February 2, 2008 in Orlando, Florida.

I have to be up front, I have never had the pleasure of attending ATIA. I am hoping to go this year. So I cannot talk about personal experience just from the feedback of others that have attended.

I like the fact that the exhibitor hall has unopposed time which means that you don’t have to miss a presentation or workshop to go the exhibit hall. One of the biggest frustrations that I often hear from participants at Closing the Gap is that they have to make a choice either presentations or the exhibitors. And if you have guess, participants pick the presentations.

Another thing that I have noticed is that ATIA builds in a lunch hour. Now this doesn’t seem like a big deal but let’s acknowledge the fact that we often skip meals because there are more important things to do. If you do not nourish and hydrate your body your brain will not be able to be nourished. This hour also gives you a chance to rest your body and mind.

I also like that ATIA has set up conference planner so you can plan your conference sessions out in advance. For some people this isn’t a big deal, for me I love a plan. I can deviate from the plan but it is nice to have one.

The biggest draw for ATIA seems to be the type of presentations that happen during the conference. Closing the Gap is more of an educational based conference. Many of the presentations center on Pre-K through 12. ATIA on the other hand has a nice sampling of presentations in various categories which include Advocacy and Policy, Independent living, blind and visual impairments,
literacy, employment as well as transition to "post-secondary" education.

It also doesn't help that the conference is in the warm location of Orlando. You can learn about AT and see Mickey at the same time.

I hope others will share their experience of ATIA or other conferences.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Next Conference to Look Forward too...

Professional development can be a difficult thing to find when you are beyond a beginner and not yet an advance user. Closing the Gap has kicked off their preconference sessions yesterday and today. I personally love preconference sessions. It is a chance to get emerged into one topic for 8 hours. You may come out of the session exhausted but you have acquired invaluable information. I know people that just attend CTG for the preconference sessions and leave afterwards. Not what I recommend.

So if you are like me and missed CTG you maybe asking yourself what conferences are on the horizon that I can professional development outside of my knowledge or skill range?

The first conference to consider is the TRLD (Technology, Reading & Learning Diversity) which is held in San Francisco. This conference is owned and operated by Don Johnston. Inc. No, it is not a Don Johnston. Inc dog and pony show.

The conference is not just about assistive technology it is a conference that embraces general education topics and presenters as well as assistive technology. As a participant, you have the opportunity to be in small presentations with leaders in the field of technology and implementation.

Let's face it, assistive technology tools are just that tools. But to get true implementation and consistency you have to understand the inner workings of the tasks that are being accommodated. Many of us know how to work around reading but few of us understand how to remediate struggling readers or understand the why the person is struggling. The same can be said about any of the core areas such as writing, math, and organization.

The TRLD conference is a small intimate conference that doesn’t get much press but I honestly believe that everyone should give it a try at least one time. Trust me; you attend once you want to attend a second and third time. It is a conference that is rich in research based experiences and knowledge and the presenters are in the forefront of the field of implementation.

The other plus side is that San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. The location of the conference is central to all the hot spots in the city. The Hyatt hotel is one of the best in the city. A great view, spacious living area and bathroom, the food is very tasty (especially the breakfast), expensive. It is in the financial district of the city. You also can’t beat the location: Across the street from Walgreens and Starbucks (if you like coffee). OK so if you never have been to SF, I will let you in on a little secret: there is a Walgreens on virtually every corner.

You may think I am kidding there are 57 Walgreens in the city of San Francisco. There are less expensive hotels in the area.

I have to tell you, I had the pleasure of staying at the Monticello InnMonticello Inn. The room was not overly large, clean and reasonably priced for San Francisco. It takes 5-6 minutes to get to the Hyatt by bus or if you can get the hotel car shuttle (free) to the hotel. It is located in the Union Square section of the city. There is a wonderful diner that has the best milk shakes and good. One word of caution, it is near the Tenderloin section of the city. Don’t venture too far from the hotel at night into the Tenderloin section during the day it isn’t too bad but during the night, the story changes drastically.

Another hotel in the area of the Hyatt is The Harbor Court Hotel. It was a pleasurable stay. The cost was reasonable for San Francisco. The room size is on the small size but for SF that is considered normal.

San Francisco is a city that sleeps. Union Square and the financial district go quiet pretty early in the night. I would say by 8 you are done unless you go to the wharf.

Ghirardelli square is worth the journey for the warm chocolate chip hot fudge sundae.

There is one restaurant down in the Wharf that is a must try especially if you like excellent seafood. It is not the typical tourist place. Scoma's Restaurant is a hidden little gem.

If you plan on going to Alcatraz, order your tickets early. They often sell out quickly. I prefer the night tour to the day tour. You get more interaction with the Park rangers. It is also less busy. I recommend purchasing tickets directly from the source and not from the tour companies: Alcatraz Tour .

If you like to have a little fun at night and like paranormal activities check out the Ghost Hunt. The tour guide is a real character and knows the history of the city. It is worth the three hours that you walk around to hear the rich history of the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco.

There are many things to do in SF after you have attended the conference.

Just an FYI: January is rainy the rainy season for San Francisco. Don't let that dampen your time. There are a TON of things to do while the weather might be wet.

Monday, October 15, 2007

AMDI and News-2-You

AMDI and New-2-you are now have a partnership. This is great news. AMDI is a communication system company. The pairing allows New-2-You users to have pre-made communication boards that will help parents and educators facilitate language with meaning if they are using an AMDI product.

This is part of a news release sent out today.

AMDi has created new Smart-Ease activities for the Smart/Speak and Smart/128 entitled News-2-You to go along with the pre-existing Smart/Talk activity, Lets Talk: Current events. Each of these Smart-Ease activity page sets has everything needed to participate, answer, and comment about current News-2-You topics. In addition to the ability to participate in common News-2-You activities such as recipes, knock knock jokes, and Joey’s locker activities, the News-2-You Smart-Ease also provide customizable areas to add weekly vocabulary words and much more. The News-2-You Smart-Ease activities will come with preprinted overlays containing important vocabulary needed to participate as well as a flash card containing pre-programmed messages for each level. Simply pop in the flash card, slide in the overlay, and allow your user to become a full participant in News-2-You!

I hope other AAC companies join in the partnership. More of our AAC users will have an opportunity to have conversations about every day news events, interactions with others with jokes or talking about what is happening in recreation leisure activities.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Closing the Gap without me

Hello! Everyone

I was very much looking forward to CTG this year however my plans needed to change. For the past 7 months I have been dealing with IS joint dysfunction. It has been one major pain in the Gluteus maximus. I am having radiofrequency neurotomy . I am looking forward to being up and around again. Laying flat on your back the majority of your day isn't as exciting as you would think. No matter how over worked you may think you are months on bed rest isn't really all that exciting.

In reality it hasn't been all horrible. I was able to watch hours and hours of court TV. Still scratching my head about how Phil Specter wasn't found guilty. I am not sure what it takes to convict a "famous" person in California. I have also had a chance to really explore all the software that is often recommended for students with significant disabilities. I even had a chance to make some activities for the core curriculum of New Jersey.

Please stop by Judy Lynn software and say Hi! to Karen and Elliot. Take a catalog and tell them that Jeannette sent you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Take a LOOK ……. What is new and hot for Closing the Gap

This is the short list of the exhibitors that have new or updated software or hardware coming out this season. As I find out more, I will share with everyone.

Slater Software:

Web Site:
Booth: Booth(s) 220, 221
Location: Main Hall in the last row – all the way back.

Judy Lynn Software:
Booth: 206
Location: Main Hall first row, make a right. We are directly next to SoftTouch.

Mayer – Johnson:
Booth(s) 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118
Location: As soon as you walk in the first exhibitor hall.

Aimee Solutions, Inc
Booth: 327
Location: When you make your enterence into the Main Hall, make a left go straight into the side room. Make a right down the first row. Last exhibitor on the left side.

Intellitools Software and Kurzweil (Cambium Learning Technologies):
Booth: Plaza 1 Location: Down stairs in the same hallway as presentation hallway by the coffee shop.

Assistive Technology, Inc: (STAGES SOFTWARE)

Booth(s): 110, 111, and 112
Location: First exhibitor hall next to Mayer-Johnson.

Don Johnston,Inc:
Booth(s): 262, 273
Location: Main Hall first row directly across from Judy Lynn.

Ablenet, Inc:
Booth(s): 247, 248, 249
Location: Main Hall as you come in the doors.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Less hazard - Get the cables organized

I was walking around Staples a while back and I came across these great little donut shaped cable organizer. They were not located in the cable organization area (which would make sense). The GE Clams were located in the lamp section of the store.

I am often frustrated by cables. There is this little cable fairy that comes around and tangles all my cables. The most frustrating cables outside of computer cables is the long cables for switches. No matter how you try to wrap them they seem to get tangled and twisted or caught in things. The GE Clams takes the struggle out of cable organize because you just leave what is needed out, if you need more you can quickly unwind the cable.

GE Clams:

Pros: fast and easy to use, perfect for thin cables or wires

Cons: not good for thick cables for the computer, difficult to find in stores

Places to purchase:

Socket Pocket

While searching around the Internet for things that might organize my life. I cam across this very neat little gadget. It is called a socket pocket. For most of use we have cell phones to charge, PDA's or other small gadget. Most of the time our devices land up laying around on the table with this little handy device you can have the device right where it needs to be charged. The socket pocket is the wall outlet cover with a little pocket for your electronic.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Cue™ Electronic Classroom Scheduler

This is a nifty little gadget that I have found to be very helpful for students that need to be kept on track of their schedule and events in and out of school but need and want independence. Although the blue color isn't my favorite most students don't mind. For the students that do mind cover the screen and buttons with contact paper and spray paint that sticks to plastic. It is about the size of a palm pilot but with a larger viewing screen and can fit right in the student’s pocket. With practice some students can learn to program this tool themselves for personal needs such as going to the nurse, therapy or toileting. The two-step data entry process it also has over 50 pre-programmed everyday classroom activities. It has 2 types of alarms light and/or sound alarms for every event, digital clock and calendar. I have used this with students in the first, third and fifth grade. The student that is having the most success with this tool is a student with a TBI. He would often forget his daily routine even with a visual schedule. Since this device has an auditory cue he looks at the device and he is off and running to his next location.

Places where you can purchase these devices:
Learning Resources
Beacon-Ridge * This company is often represented at Closing the Gap, you might be able to see this device in person*

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Downloadable Files

This is a image of the 10 labels. This is the one that I use when I am at a conference because it let's the exhibitors know what I am looking for.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Attending Closing the Gap like a Pro 2007

Welcome to My Point of View…..

WOW, look what time of year it is again. I know every one is gearing up for the school year 2007-2008 which also means that we are also anticipating the first conference of the season. Last year, I wrote “How to attend CTG like a Pro”. I have been asked by a few people to re-send out the information from last year. However, I am taking a leap of faith and stepping into the area of blogging to share this information. I am updating the information and adding a few helpful tools for people that are attending. So please be patient. This is going to be a long post.

Every year there are new people entering the field of assistive technology for personal reasons or because the job was thrust upon them. Closing the Gap is the first conference of the conference season for professional development for beginners, intermediate and advance AT specialist. Closing the Gap happens every year at the same time of year, same state, same hotel. This is very convenient for planning purposes. You can always anticipate when it will happen

Where: Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: Pre-conference: October 16-17th Conference: October 18-20th

No matter if you are a newbie or an old pro attending the conference, it is an exciting time. It happens at the time of year when you have to get your head into the game for training, implementing, evaluating and thinking of the students we are working with or will be working with. The conference is an awesome conference to attend and learn about the technology and how others have used a strategy or tool.

If you are attending the conference for the first time or you are a pro, it is or can be an overwhelming experience especially when you start to read the website ( for the list of workshop opportunities and exhibitors that will be attending.

The experience is a jumble of feelings. You feel excited (when you are approved to attend), panic (especially when you find out that the school hasn’t paid the bill to CTG or the hotel can’t find your reservation), anxiety (when you realize your bag was left in the last hall you were in which is on the other side of the hotel) and shear exhaustion (when you had to run from conference to conference hall). Just remember that you are not alone. You are in a community that is feeling the same thing as you are.

Every year, Closing the Gap offers some of the best presentations and presenters that you will ever have a chance to hear. You have access to presenters that are the experts in their field. They return to the conference every year so they can share their knowledge and experiences but also to learn from others. Closing the gap is about energizing your batteries for the school year. It is about motivating you to push further than you did the year before for the children and adults we serve.

There are 200 or so presentations in a 3 day period it is suggested that you develop a game plan. I personally find it is important to develop a plan because there is no way you are going to be able to attend all the workshops you want or need. Planning is the only way that you will be able to cover all your bases in just period of time. To be honest, if you don’t do some planning you are going to be running around the conference floor like you have just landed late for a connecting plane and you landed in Gate A and your connecting plane is in Gate F. No matter how much you rush and run, you will still miss the plane.

Devising the PLAN

I admit it, I like planning. I like details and crave order when I am going somewhere. There are people that are spontaneous and can function with great ease. I on the other plan like to see everything mapped out and organized. For me, it decreases the anxiety that I feel when I am spending someone else’s money. I want to make sure I that I use my time wisely, get everything that I need and want from the conference. I also want to make sure that I didn't overlook something. Just because I like to plan doesn't mean that I don't swerve from the plan. Best laid plans are doomed to fail.

Typically if you work for an agency or a school district you are going to be attending with at least 1 other co-worker. Although each of your may have your own interest (Voice Recognition) and needs there is a common thread that both need to cover for the cooperative group. I suggest that you devise a plan of attack that best supports your parents, teachers and your own needs. The first step is visiting the Closing the Gap website. Look at the name of the presentations and presenters. DO NOT shy away from names you don’t know. Sometimes they are the best presentations. After you have an idea of the presentations and exhibitors start to think about the students, staff and parents you need to support.

There are many ways that you can do it. For me, I found it helpful to use index cards one index card for each student that I am currently working with. The index card has the students name, school, and needs listed. Before the conference I will visit or call the staff, parents and student and ask questions that help me understand their concerns for the coming school year. Such as (standardized testing, alterative assessments, transition, life skills, etc).Not only does this help give me a purpose when selecting workshops, exhibitors but it also opens dialogue about the parent and professional fears, expectations and hopes for outcomes. The other benefit of having these conversations is that between the list servs and the conferences I can begin to brainstorm and problem solve some ideas. I make my index cards on the computer in MS Word. I try not to write unless I have too. I have more control in word then I do with handwriting. I can fit more on the card, color code, and create a table for organization. Below is the color coding I use for the index card system.

  • Yellow: Access
  • Purple: Communication
  • Blue: Vision
  • Green: Writing
  • Pink: Reading

A second method that is helpful is breaking things down into categories for the exhibitor hall or workshops. I love check list. I have uploaded my divide and conquer worksheet that you use.

Technology that is currently in place. Are there any presentations that will help you implement these tools in a more consistent way or maybe even begin using this tool that has been collecting dust?

Train the trainer: We are often in charge of training teachers and parents. These sessions give helpful tips to others.

Data: Yes, that is the four letter word that we all hate to hear. But it is becoming more important by the day.

AAC implementation: It is an area that so much information and training is being offered especially around writing, reading and communication beyond choice making.

Reading: How technology can support reading for all and showing how TTS can be used for more than auditory comprehension.

Math: Is there any presentations or exhibitors that are going to talk about math. We think that mechanical writing has gone to the wayside but wow have you looked for math solutions.

Science and History: Every child that is part of an inclusion setting happens to be placed in these two subjects yet we have so little AT that supports these areas.

Access: There is always something new and exciting. There are some great workshops on two switch scanning and alterative access methods.

Now you don’t have to have a game plan. You can flutter around like a butterfly looking for its next meal but honestly to get the most out of this conference or any other large conference the inside secret is: planning. With all the excellent workshops that are happening you can’t be in all the workshops and exhibitors you want to see, there is no way it is going to happen in the 24 hours. So devise that plan, conspire with co-workers or friends that you have made on the list serv to cover as many of the workshops as possible. A network is an excellent source of information. It also gives you a reason to head to the bar (shhh) at the end of the long day.

How to make it a great conference experience

Comfortable clothing and shoes. You are going to be sitting and walking around so be comfortable.

Bring a sweater for the rooms. It is hit or miss, either you will be cold or hot.

LOTION: The air in the hotel is very dry. The hotel lotion smells nice but it really doesn't help with moisturising your skin.

The hotel does not have free Internet access. There is free WIFI in the lobby it is often very congested. The cost of Internet access is $4.95 per hour or $9.95 for 24 hour period. It still amazes me that hotels charge for Internet access at 3-4 star hotels. But you can stay at the Days Inn and get FREE wifi.

Understand your need. What is your area(s) that you want to gain knowledge about and enrich your professional life? What are the obstacles that you are facing at work? Who is that one student that you have tried everything and still can’t get meaningful access? All these questions and concerns can be addressed within the workshops.

Turn off the CELL PHONES or at least put it on silent mode. We are all important to someone but there is nothing worse than a cell phone going off while a person is presenting. It ruins the flow of the presentation and it distracts from the other members of the audience.(Sorry pet peeve)

Give yourself permission to have some breathing room. There are workshops that are running from 8:00am to 4:00 PM. Remember to take care of your body. Keep hydrated and nourish your body while nourishing your brain. Trust me; your body will thank you.

Bring snacks with you. The hotel often has apples near the front desk. In the past some of the exhibitors have hosted afternoon snack (Chocolate).

Although there are water stations around the conference area, consider bringing a water bottle with a lid with you. The water bottle can be filled with ice in the AM and your water is cold all day long. When you are in a packed conference room and you are stuck in middle, it is often difficult to climb over people to get to the water jug. There is also that little issue of electronics. Nothing says Pop, crackle, fizzle like liquid on electronics.

Give yourself some decompression time to digest what you have learned or seen throughout the day. A nice brisk walk in the Minnesota air is always helpful to make you come to your senses.

Know that there are some popular workshops and presenters these presentations get very crowded. Get there early if you can. Sit right up front (the presenters do not bite). Fill the room. Have a BACK – UP to your presentations. There are times that it can be standing room only. There are some rooms that you feel like you are on the New York Subway in the height of rush hour. Freebies and handouts – we all love the free things.

If a presenter is offering a freebie be considerate - take only one, if they have extra I am sure they will let you take a second on (they don’t want to have to carry it home it was enough to get it to the conference). However, if the presentation is packed the people in the back of the room often leave empty handed. If the presenter is organized which many are, CTG post handouts on the website after the conference! It is important to remember is that the presenters pay for all materials that are being shared. The cost of a handout can vary greatly. Many of the presenters will tell you that you can burn your own copy of a CD or photocopy a handout, or even email them and they will send you the file.

Be patient and generous with the presenters. It is not easy getting in front of a group of your peers and sharing information. There is bound to be a technical clique or misplaced item. Just roll with it. Offer constructive feedback and don’t fault a presenter for technology issues or an off beat moment (we have all had issues that we wish never happened). The feedback presenters get helps them improve their skills as well as new ideas for presentations.

Be considerate of the presenter’s time. Often the workshops run back to back and the presenters need to pack up and move out. Most presenters have a few minutes for questions and autographs. But if you want a lengthy explanation or conversation ask if you can talk to them after they packed up, can you meet with them later (before the bar) or email them your question.

The elevators at the end of the day especially when the exhibitor hall closes are a utter nightmare. Everyone rushes to the elevators. There are three that hundreds of people are trying to cram into. I have a few suggestions:

  • DO NOT try to take the stairs the fire doors do not open when you are going up. So you might make it to the 5th floor to have to turn around and come back down the 5 flights. After the first time, I haven’t tried it again, so this may have changed.
  • Go down stairs and chill at the Navigator for about 20-30 minutes. It will be well worth the wait. You won’t be crammed into an overcrowded elevator and you won't be stressed that you have to wait so long for an elevator.