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