Sunday, December 27, 2009

Electronic E-readers - Tracking of infomation

Yes, I know…. I need to update the blog. So here we go. For Christmas, I received a Sony E-reader. I have no real reason to need one but my parents thought it would be an excellent gift because I can read 350 books on one device. I do not read 350 books in a year. Maybe, just maybe I read 100 books a year. It is not that I do not like reading, I really do. I am fussy about the authors or the topics that I read. I have my favorite authors. I also have topics that catch my attention. I will never need 350 books at one time.

In the interesting of using the tool that I really did not know I needed, I started to research book sources. I came across the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It opened my eyes to a conversation that I should be having with the adults that I recommending these devices too. In general, we think it is "cool" to be able to use a search engine and locate our name and we get all excited on the number of hits we have. Honestly, it is very scary to have that much information on the internet about oneself. That information can be used against you as easily as it can be used in a positive fashion. We do not think about the devices that we are carrying that have Wi-Fi capability. What information are we leaking every time we do a search? Everyone knows that Google the largest search engine used today keeps information on you. The searches you performed. We are supposed to be comforted that it helps them find the things we want faster. It helps Google create better tools for their users (spell check).

Google also has their new Google Book Search Project. Now Google, will have their web servers automatically log the books, pages, how long you viewed the page and what books or pages you go to next (EFF). Now as a teacher, I can find many positive reasons I like this. For instance, I can see what books my students are interested in reading so that I can engage them in reading material of interesting. I can see how long they viewed a page. I then can have a conversation with a student as why it took him so long on a paragraph (vocabulary, comprehension or busy talking to a friend). I can then see if my student picked other books that were a reference from the book that was assigned. For example, if my students were reading Romeo and Juliet, did my students then look up information on where Shakespeare was born or lived, Cliff notes, easier reading or totally off task.

On the other hand, it is disturbing to know that a search engine knows so much information about my likes and dislikes. I barely know what I like and dislike. I am thinking for my next job interview, maybe I should have a Google rep with me so when I draw a blank, he/she can jump in with a list of likes and dislikes. The amount of information that is stored on our searches via our computers, hand held devices and now our e-readers (not the Sony E-reader) can be stored for more information.

The conversation that I need to have with my consumers especially my adult consumers is the pros and cons of the device they are looking to purchase. I must now include a conversation about the information that their device may leave behind. Until I read the article on E-Book Guide to Privacy, I honestly did not give it much thought. It is an important conversation to have. I would rather have knowledge of the information that I may leave behind than not knowing.

I am not a conspiracy freak just think that we are far past big brother watching us. Our mobile phones have GPS, our cars have GPS, our cars have E-Z pass and our watches do everything but tell the correct time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Welcome Back to School

Let's all start the school year off with a commitment to decrease the number of worksheets, dittos and busy work that the students are doing. Let's get the students actively engaged in activities that have meaning and show them a purpose to what they are learning.

I know worksheets are easy and fast. Save them for when there is a sub or class time is cut short for some reason. Worksheets are busy work. They don't actually reinforce the skills you are teaching. General education students zip through them and classified or students that struggle with learning either lose them or don't do them. So why waste another tree. Play a game, come up with the a song, have the students demonstrate how the information can be used.

Allow the students to use the technology that they have. If your students have cell phones start using them for activities in the classroom and homework. Check with the parents to make sure the students have unlimited texting or picture capability. There are so many ways that students can use their cellphones without making a call. An example of an activity, find 5 compound words in your environment and take a picture of the object then label the picture. I live on Bayview = Bay+view, newspaper = news +paper, and flowerpot = flower+pot. This is a way to have the student learn that their cellphones are more than just a communication tool.

Have students work on projects. We are in a digital world and students are losing the face to face communication skills, and problem solving on and off the computer. They can still use technology for the projects.

Have the students write a daily blog line. Example: Ms. Van Houten's things we learned today.

JS: I learned the word compromise means finding middle ground in a disagreement.
NB: I learned that 1/2+ 3/4 = 1 whole.
AD: I learned that our state bird is the Eastern Goldfinch. There was one sitting on the bird feeder at the window during math.
CF: I learned that NJ state capital was not always Trenton.

You don't have to use students names or even initials, you can just have a list of things that were learned. It is a way for the students to demonstrate what they learned in the day, practice their writing skills, and share with their parents what happened in school. For younger students you can use pictures or a list of words they can pick from.

Hope you all have a wonderful school year. Try to decrease the number of dittos - worksheets by 2 a week. Although it takes extra planning it is well worth the journey you will have together with your students.

Able Net Looking for Artist

This is directly from Able Net new release:

CTG Conference Scholarships Available for Participating Artists
As part of their "Accessing the Artist Within" project, the Anne Carlsen Center is hosting an adapted art show at the Closing the Gap Conference in Minneapolis, MN. The purpose is to showcase how assistive technologies can empower students to explore the artist within themselves. See how AbleNet and other current technologies give children the tools to express themselves through the arts.

Do you know an inspiring artist who uses assistive technology to create their work? In mid-September, 10 artists will be selected to attend an art exhibit and reception at the CTG Conference. Each chosen artist and his/her family members will receive a conference scholarship and free art and design software. Artists, ages 5-21, who want to participate in this project must complete an application and submit a digital copy of their art to be included on the Anne Carlsen Center's Web site. A detailed list of requirements, along with application instructions, can be found at Also view artwork created by several of their students by clicking here!

For additional information please contact: Mark Coppin, ATP Assistive Technology Director Apple Distinguished Educator Anne Carlsen Center 701 3rd ST NW Jamestown, ND 58401 1-800-568-5175.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How successful is your IEP?

How many people actually evaluate how well a student has performed on their IEP over the year? I do not know many that truly evaluate the IEP as a whole to see how well the student performed. The first thing I do when I receive a new student on my caseload is I evaluate the IEP. The IEP is the contract between the parent and the school district. For me to understand where I might go with a student curriculum and assistive technology, I need the snapshot of what is expected and how the student is performing on those expectations.

The first thing that I find that is frustrating is that progress reports are rarely marked. Why bother writing an IEP if you are not going to mark it? That is like going to a restaurant a famous steak house and ordering a McDonald’s hamburger. If you go to the effort to put your thoughts down on paper, mark it.

The second thing that is frustrating is the lack of data. Honestly, showing me your grade book is not going to show me why a student is not performing. Your grade book is just numbers that add up to another number. What does that final number mean? For me it means nothing at all. Show me the students work. You heard the saying “Show me the money!” Mine is “show me the DATA”. I want to see the inconsistency in the students’ performance.

So for me to do my job, I need to look at the IEP with a tool that allows me to see how well the student is achieving the entire IEP. This is what I do:
  1. Count the number of objectives including the carrying statements.
  2. Count the number of achieved objectives.
  3. Divide the number of achieved objectives to the number of objectives.
  4. Review the achieved objectives. What do the achieved objectives have in common?
  5. Review the unachieved objectives. What do the unachieved objectives have in common?

The second piece requires that the IEP team work with me.
  1. Of the unachieved objectives that have progress marked, do you feel these objectives should be continued? If they are continued, are they going to be the same as before or changing it.
  2. Of the unachieved objectives that have not been introduced, why haven’t they been introduced? If they have not been introduced, are they going to be carried over? If they are going to be carried over, these are the objectives that need to be discussed.

The third piece:

  1. If a student has not achieved 80% of their IEP than there is something wrong with the IEP not the student. A student should be able to achieve a personalized plan especially if it was written with the student in mind. The goals and objectives should be able to be achieved in the time allotted. This means that there needs to be a serious conversation about the amount of time the student has in school. How that time is spent in school. And how the therapist and classroom teacher can collaborate on objectives. It is important to note if something major happened in that year for example increase in absences, complete change in staff or school or medical concerns than it might be difficult to reach the 80% achievement.
  2. My formula to an IEP is; I multiply the number of achieved objectives by 2. That is the number of objectives that should be written into an IEP. If I am writing objectives using the data I have, the student should be able to achieve double the amount of objectives in one year. I would rather call a parent and say your child has achieved their entire IEP and we need to write a new one than sit across from a parent and show them so little achievement.
  3. Collaboration is necessary if you wish for students to generalize skills. It does not matter if the student has a learning disability or the student with signification disabilities. The team needs to work together and keep communication open.

Good Luck, in the development of your IEP's this year. I hope this helps others develop IEP's that are meaningful, achievable and successful in reach our students potential.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Egg tastic

I recently started working with adults with traumatic brain injuries. There are unique challenges for individuals with TBI when it comes to cooking. One of my clients is always looking for something to help her with eggs. Due to her injuries she finds standard timers difficult. While watching a cooking show they showed a very cool egg timer. It is called the Beep Egg.

The Beep Egg is simple to use. The beep egg gets dropped into the water and indicates with a beep when the water is boiling. Now that is great for someone that needs to make pasta. If you are making eggs the BeepEgg will sing you are “Killing Me Softly” when the egg has reached the soft-boiled point.

If you here “I wish I was a Hen” than you egg has reached the medium boil egg. This is where my eggs typically landing without effort because I get distracted. Hard-boiled eggs are typically my specialty however for individuals that need assistance when you hear strains of "Carmina Burana."

This device is not available in the US at this time. I am finding that most of the cool and fun products are only found in the UK. The Beep Egg is available from for £14.95 or $21.20.

I have one on order to check out how it works. I am hoping it helps my client and my father.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What I have learned

When I started to write this blog, work and the field of assistive technology or technology was very important to me. A little over a year ago, my family suffered a tragedy. Over the past year, I have been evaluating what legacy I would leave behind. This past year, I have sat on the sidelines and watched. Today, I am going to share what I have learned this year.


I have learned that family easily has to be your priority. We are so caught up in the things that we are doing that we often forget to pay attention to the people that in our lives. We think that our family will always be there and we will have time to talk, go out or spend time with them, we just have to finish this. However, sometimes we do not have the next minute, hour or day. We need to stop thinking of everything on our To-Do list and spend time with our loves ones. The things on our TO-DO list will be there tomorrow. You have to balance what needs to be done now with what you might be missing with your family. For me, my family is not just my sister, brother, nieces’, nephew or cousins it is the people that have stood by my side and supported me when I could not support myself. They are the individuals that held my hand and pulled me forward. They are the individuals that saw the sadness behind the wall. Family is what we make it.


I have learned that work is what pays the bills. I have learned that work is not what should define who you are. I am a teacher. I am an assistive technology specialist. There are titles that define my job but they do not define me. I do not want people to remember me for my title but for the compassion and love that I have for the individuals that I work with. I treat my students, consumers or clients the way they should be with respect. I do reach out to them when they need me but I have learned that some issues do not have to be dealt with immediately. Before Brittany died, I would feel guilty if I did not answer an email or phone call immediately because someone needed help. Now, although I do answer quickly with 24 hours if it is just a question – immediately if a true emergency (something that can do harm). For the most part, I have learned that my job is 9-5. That after five, it is my family time. I have learned that I do not need to know it all and be the first to tell about it. I need to know what I am talking about. I need to share my experiences. I need to help when no one else has a suggestion. My help and support should be outside the box and not just cookie cutter.


Everyone battles with what be remembered when he or she is gone. For me, it is that I was a good hearted person who cared for others. She went out of her way to help others in need. That her family was the most precious gift she was given. That she fought for the rights of the underdog. She spoke her mind and did not care who was listening. I want my legacy to be about my actions and not just the words that I wrote in a report or blog. I am still learning how to improve my legacy.

Fun and Laughter

I have come to terms that we need to have MORE FUN. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves and the things around us. The economy is horrible but having fun does not have to be expensive. The only cost to fun is your time. When Brittany was murdered, I could not even imagine laughing or smiling again. Nevertheless, those things happened and you feel guilty because the person is not here with you to share it with you however, you suddenly get how important laughter and smiling is. Laughter even in the darkest moment makes you realize that things are not as bad as you think. Take the time to have fun and laugh. You want to create those memories with your friends and loved ones. You want to sit around the table and laugh at the stupid things you have done together. These stories and memories are what life is about. So move away from the technology and have some great fun with the people that love you.


I love technology. But here is the thing… put it down and move away from the keyboard. Your email will be there when you are finished with the important things. Family, friend, and the great outdoors. Technology gives us a view of so much but what is right outside our window. It gives us connections with old and new friends. However, if you spend more time looking at a flat screen than you do a person you are wasting precious time. Make eye contact with the person you love. Really pay attention to the people you pass on the street. OK be careful you do not want to be over friendly or freak people out because of the staring. There are so many great things to do in real time. You want to make connections with real people in real time. Technology changes in a heartbeat but so do the people in our lives. The next best thing is tomorrow’s thing to complain about.

I also learned that technology could be a tool for prognostication. I now mark off times in my day that is email time, FACEBOOK time and web searching. I found that I was spending excessively too much time on things that took me away the important things. So now, I set a timer for 15 minutes for email and FACEBOOK every hour. In that 15 minutes, I get to answer what I can and move on. It sounds crazy but on any given day, I can have 200 or more emails that are from list servs. The beauty of list servs is everyone shares his or her experience and opinion. I do not have to read every single one and I do not feel the need to get in the middle of a disagreement unless I feel strongly about it. This makes me be more accountable to me and what I have to say and share.

This blog

I honestly do not know what this blog will or will not be. There are many things that I want to say but they are not always positive. I get frustrated that the educational system lacking a vision for students in special education or even regular education students. I have focused on students with an IEP. The students that are failing are not the students with IEP’s. The students are falling through the cracks are the students we need to start focusing on. We have students that are leaving our schools who cannot read, write or do simple math but were not disabled enough to have a 504 or IEP.

I am frustrated that we waste money on technology in education and no one wants to admit it. Technology is a tool. It can be a powerful tool but having it and not knowing how to use it is a waste. Do not complain that your school does not have something when you can walk past classrooms and the computers are not being used. Technology is a wonderful tool. However, if you do not use what you have you should not be asking for me.

I honestly do not know what this blog will be or not be. I am taking life one day at a time. There are days that I do not want to do anything. There are days that I am not motivated to leave bed. What I do know is that I am blessed to have individuals that are in my life and I am living a blessed life. If you choose to join me on my journey, I appreciate your patience with me. If you need to move on, I also appreciate the time you have spent with me.

Thank you for your time. Come back and visit if you wish.