Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quickie Christmas Activity

This post was inspired by the need to find some easy activities for my students to do this week (and because lots of people are gooling for Christmas and Smart board activities) and evolved into more. A Christmas Carol is a terrific theme for some awesome differentiated learning activities. Everything I've put together here could be created in a couple of hours or is simply downloadable/printable/playable and could be done fairly quickly. Maybe when I have some time (she laughs maniacally) I'll further develop this into a real unit. Meanwhile, if you have ideas to share, please do....

This has been a big week for my program. My new high school student has been visiting with her teacher. Today we had a video party with another class in the building (the "alternative learning" class) where we watched the "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." Well, really, the movie played and everyone ate the snacks the other teacher brought. My kids showed off some of things they can do and the ALC kids gained an appreciation and understanding of others. It was a pretty cool experience and one or two of them want to come back and play video games (after he saw my wii one of the boys, who had kind of sat off in a corner and not said anything at all, asked if he could bring his playstation, which was in his back pack, and come play with the kids; that led into a discussion of how "my" kids play video games, what games they like, etc.; now we have a "date" for Friday and I think a ready-made incentive opportunity for this struggling student). Tomorrow and Friday my new student and her para are spending the day with us while the teacher packs up and moves all the stuff from her program. On top of all that, one of my favorite paras ever decided the job she had left us for was not for her. Her first day back was yesterday (yay for us!), but this, among other things, necessitated a long overdue team meeting. I've been writing progress reports and planning for the upcoming program changes. We've also been trying to consolidate, down-size, and generally make space for all the stuff we're getting from the other program. Oh, and we have a birthday party to throw tomorrow.

Because I knew the adults were going to be pretty well tied up, as far as programming goes, I needed to come up with some activities the kids could do with minimum assistance but that were still meaningful. Then Kate posted this article about Speakaboos including the link to A Christmas Carol. Perfect! Then I remembered that Pete's Stuff had a sensory story about Scrooge (for another fun Christmas activity from Pete try Norbert the Green Nosed Reindeer). And I found an AWESOME unabridged recording of the book on itunes read by the phenomenal Jim Dale (who reads the Harry Potter series, my kids' favorite audio books; mine too). So we're using the sensory story and Speakaboos on the Smart board during morning meeting and then letting the kids listen to the audio book at times when the adults are tied up with the multitude of other things going on right now. If we have time on Friday we'll watch the movie too.

Other activities you could quickly put together to do with this book:

Make a "humbug" (scroll down to "undirected craft time)

Recreate the characters with paper sack puppets

Make paper chains for Jacob Marley

Make a Christmas wish list for Tiny Tim (we would use Boardmaker PCS and pictures from toy catalogs)

Discuss the emotions of the various characters (happy, sad, scared, mad, etc.)

Compare Christmas traditions from the Victorian Era with today (presents; family get togethers; Christmas trees; crazy shopping days; dancing; etc.). If I were to do this with my students I would create representations of major traditions using Boardmaker. Then we'd create a chart or Venn diagram on the Smart board and help the kids decide if the activities should go in Christmas past, Christmas present, or both.

Vote on your favorite character from the story and make a bar graph using pictures (Scrooge, the ghosts, Jacob Marley, Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchitt, etc.)

Make Victorian bonnets or top hats

Use some of these ideas for Victorian Christmas crafts

Or play some Victorian era Christmas games

Gee, all these ideas, that I found and/or came up with in about a 15 minute search, make me wish that we had time to do them! Maybe next year...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Favorite Christmas activities

Recently it seems a lot of people have stumbled across SMD Teacher when searching for information on Smart boards, Christmas activities on the Smart board, and, the number one item, cause and effect activities. I thought I'd share some of our favorite Christmas activities both with and without the Smart board, with an emphasis on cause and effect as this is also a great time of year for more involved projects.

SwitchIt! Christmas by InclusiveTLC is a top favorite. Great for vocabulary building, sequencing, and discussion. Like all of Inclusive TLC's products, it is adaptable and accessible to any user, and of course focuses on cause and effect. It looks awesome on the Smart board too.

Some of the kids' favorite activities were created by me (and others) using Intellitools Classroom Suite including: Christmas Words Cause Effect, The Happy Reindeer, and I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, which I couldn't post to Intellishare because of copyright (too bad because it's cute, and annoying, which means it's the number one most played activity in my room right now). If you search on my name you'll find a bunch of gingerbread activities I did too. There are TONS of other great Christmas activities available on the Intellishare site. And ICS works great on the Smart board.

I haven't had the time to use any of them yet, but Mayer Johnson's Adapted Learning site also has some fun-looking Christmas activities.

Listening to Christmas music has been a top activity for everyone in my room. We have used itunes, but when my computer started protesting about memory issues, I switched to Pandora. Pandora is part of the music genome project and it's free. It lets you create custom radio stations based on your music preferences. Just type in a song or artist into the "Create New Station" blank and Pandora finds you music that matches your request and plays music by artists with similar characteristics. You can also listen to "genre" stations. You can't repeat or download the music, although you can pause and fast forward (cause effect if you engineer the mouse and a switch correctly). What I love about it is that it has allowed us to explore music in new ways and discover new artists that we really like. Know a kid who's "stuck" on the same artist? Try Pandora and see if you can open up their world a bit. There is an amazing number of artists available including such kid favorites as The Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana, Disney, and Raffi. No visualizer available, but we just turn on the one from itunes when we want visuals. (Don't worry, itunes, we still love you. Couldn't run our ipods or play DJ without you).

Other favorite cause effect activities:

Of course, Christmas lights paired with a PowerLink is a must at this time of the year. We have them year-round in our multisensory area. The ones with music are even better, especially since they drive me INSANE, making even my least motivated student more than happy to hit that switch over and over and over and over.... If you have room for a small Christmas tree, consider hooking its lights up to a PowerLink (I'd love to do that but we'd have to hang it from the ceiling...hmmm....chandelier?).

We have a whole collection of singing, dancing cause effect Christmas characters. You know, the kind where you push a button and they boogie. I've had the best luck finding them at Wal-Mart and sometimes Walgreens. We also have a switch activated snowman that lights up with music that was given to us by an SLP years ago, but I have no idea where she got it.

Jingle bells of all sorts are always a huge hit. Get the right kind and it takes hardly any movement to get a big reward. The best ones are in the holiday section of stores like Wal-Mart. I tried to find a link to show you but wasn't very helpful. Our store has lots of wreaths and other items made out of jingle bells.

As you can probably tell, music is a BIG THING in my classroom. Nearly everything we do has some sort of music component to it, even if it's just me making up something silly just for kicks. Some of my favorite "teaching" songs for Christmas (or anytime, really) are on Geof Johnson's Songs for All Seasons (totally worth the investment; I got my copy from itunes). We love "I Hear Santa Clause" (lots of Ho-Ho-Hoing on voice output devices) and "We're All Going to the North Pole" (in which we are continuously attacked by polar bears). Another favorite is from our friends at Super Simple Songs. If you work with special needs kids or English Language Learners, you HAVE to check these folks out. Awesome stuff! For Christmas we like their songs "Santa Where Are You?" (I "hide in plain sight" either Santa dolls OR Boardmaker pictures of Santa for the kids to "find") and "What Do You Want for Christmas?" (This brings to mind that I need to write a post on my current favorite kids' music that I use in my adapted music classes for ROCKO).

Another favorite activity involves recording the names of favorite songs on a switch and allowing a student to use step scanning to force--ahem request that Alicia sing a song as LOUD as she can (or in a squeaky voice, or like Dracula, or whatever else my paras can think up). After a couple of hours of this it can sound really interesting. Celine Dion I am NOT.

We are also known to label the toys in the toy tunnel with specific songs for our low movement students. Each time he or she touches a toy, we sing that song. It was awesome to see some intentionality and repetition emerge.

We also like recording an actual song in bits onto a step switch, either by singing it or by recording from a CD. The top favorite of one of my girls? Madonna's Santa Baby, or course.

It's always fun to read Christmas and winter themed stories complete with sound effects and props. If You Take a Mouse to the Movies is a big favorite. So is reading and acting out The Gingerbread Man or Gingerbread Baby. I'd recommend any of Jan Brett's books (Night Before Christmas, The Mitten, The Hat, Trouble with Trolls, Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?, etc.). (Look for a future posts on my favorite children's/picture books, based on those in my somewhat extensive collection; my husband HATES that the Sci Fi-Fantasy section in our Barnes and Noble is right next to the Children's section).

No Christmas season would be complete for us without a rousing game of "red light-green light" with some friends. Great to do with a Little Step by Step or an italk2 (gotta get me one of those!).

Another fun activity is to make gingerbread men and hide them around the school (we program a step switch with "go go go stop!" for our kids who can't mobilize independently; when we stop the student is asked if he or she wants to hide their gingerbread man in that area and give them choices about specific locations). Then we post "wanted" posters around to encourage other students to locate the missing gingerbread men, write down their locations, and bring them to our room for a small prize.

I have a ton of other fun gingerbread-themed activities we've done as well Polar Express/trains, snowman, and bears. If you're interested post a comment and I'll work on posts to share with you.

Well, there you go. A few activities to share with you right before Christmas. A number of them can also be done after Christmas as part of a winter-themed unit. Have fun!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Check it out

I just added an index list of sorts to my side bar. As I said before, I've noticed a few trends when looking a my stats. I thought this list might make it easier for visitors to navigate through my blog posts as well as highlight some resources. If there is anything you would like to see or questions you'd like answered, please leave a comment on this post.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Some of my favorite things

The theme for this month's Assistive Technology Blog Carnival is "My Favorite Things," specifically things that can be used as AT gifts on a budget. Here are a few of my favorite things.

  • USB flash drives: I use these to back up communication boards for a student to send between home and school, to load photos to send home, and to transfer projects done with SwitchIt! Maker so parents can use them at home

  • Abilitations Actitunnel: I've mentioned this device before; it is one of my all-time favorite pieces of equipment; it is light weight, collapses into a managable and storable size, and provides a whole lot of fun for every child I serve

  • Little Step-by-Steps: communication fun for everyone

  • All-Turn-It Spinner: a terrific way to include every member of the family in game night

  • Digital picture frame and/or digital photo keychain: share slide shows of school and family events with others, use with photos of family members as a calming device, add scanned pictures from a favorite picture book for a portable digital book (granted there's no sound unless you want to spend bigger bucks, but isn't a picture supposed to be worth a thousand words anyway?), put PCS or other communication symbols on a photo keychain to be used for easy communication in the community, load photos of community places and/or PCS symbols to use as transition cues for people who need that kind of structure

  • An mp3 player: these are the number one most popular item in my classroom; while we have ipod nanos there are now many on the market that can be obtained for a very reasonable price; perfect for listening to favorite music, audio books, and even messages from familiar people created using a program like Audacity

  • Hand held massagers: relaxation anyone?

  • Swifty switch adapter: will make any computer with a USB port switch accessible with no extra software; plug and play is awesome!

  • Batteries: seems like an odd gift, I know, but anyone who has kids knows their value

  • Crayola Glow Station: I haven't actually played with this yet but it looks soooo cool; a terrific toy for kids with low vision and what a fun partner activity for kids who might not be able to access the light wand independently but could make choices about what to create; a great addition to a multisensory space

Monday, December 1, 2008


I have really enjoyed using Stat Counter to monitor activity on my blog. I have noticed some recent trends. Not surprisingly I get a lot of traffic from the U.S. The UK, Canada, and Australia also have strong showings. People have been very interested recently in cause and effect activities and have located SMD Teacher through various google searches. Another recent topic of interest seems to be sensory activities and multisensory rooms. In the next couple of weeks I'll put together a post on our favorite sensory activities as well as some photos of our multisensory spaces, including our newly redone "white multisensory room." The awesome multisensory rooms you see in catalogs (like Snoezelen) are wonderful, but in general completely unattainable on the classroom budgets available to most of us. If we're fortunate we may have access to grants that let us purchase some of the more expensive items (like our Somatron cloud chair, for instance). But for the most part we have to figure out how to give our students these multisensory experiences using very limited means. There is more to multisensory spaces than a bean bag, a CD player, and some Christmas lights. Keep checking back to see what we've done. Meanwhile Kate at TLWMSN has a couple of nice posts on multisensory rooms here and here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I am thankful for

It's Thanksgiving Day here. I'm watching the Macy's parade while the turkey roasts in the oven, waiting to go over to my in-laws' house (just behind us) to eat. And playing with the new labrador puppy I got my husband for Christmas. And I'm catching up on my blog reading. An overwhelming theme, not surprisingly, has been "thankfulness." I have read posts by special needs parents who are thankful for what they have, posts by teachers who are thankful for what they do, and posts by others who are just generally thankful. And I decided to share one of the things for which I am thankful.

This may seem to get a little off-track, but trust me, it will all connect. This past summer I decided to hold a giant Birthday Bash in our classroom as a way to celebrate the ending of the summer term. We had several summer birthdays between students and staff and, well, it just seemed like a fun thing to do. We had a special lunch, I put together a fun birthday-themed music "therapy" session, one of the parents brought a pinata, and of course there was cake. It was a blast. About that same time I discovered the blog Micropreemie Twins: The Story of Holland and Eden and read this heartfelt post. A short while later I came across this post by Robert Rummel-Hudson, author of Schuyler's Monster and the blog Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords. These posts really brought home to me the difference between being a special needs parent and a special needs teacher. For Eden and Holland's mother, the day they were born, their birthday, is one of the saddest, most difficult days of her life. She still struggles with the grief, guilt, and even disappointment of that day. And while her family recognizes and honors her daughters' birth day, they celebrate their Coming Home Day. How cool is that? One of my summer staff members who also worked as a nurse for her student's family, had recently complained about how the student's mother didn't really do much to celebrate the little girl's birthday and how unfair she thought this was. Prior to reading Billie's post I would have been a bit appalled by this myself. But Billie helped me see more clearly what this parent might be dealing with. She had a beautiful little girl who, she was told, wouldn't live long. And on top of that, she was told she was incapable of caring for her child herself and had to have outside help from critical strangers. Through Billie's words and willingness to share her own experience, I was able to empathize with this other parent and understand that her daughter's birthday was most likely accompanied by painful memories and tremendous guilt and grief.

Robert Rummel-Hudson put it very succinctly in his post and shared quote from a key note speech he gave (read the speech; whether you are a parent or a teacher, it is worth the time). I can't say it better than he does:

"It might be the most striking difference between our experience with the world of broken children and yours. As special educators and experts in assistive technology, you have sought out the monsters. You’ve armed yourselves with the knowledge and the tools to fight them, and you’ve gone into battle with your armor in place. For parents, the monsters have found us, in most cases sitting by the campfire in ignorant bliss, totally unprepared."

Wow! I had never really thought about it like that. From a professional stand point it can be so easy to be superior and critical about parents and how they choose to raise their special needs child. It is easy to forget that I went to school to learn how to work with kids with special needs, that I have had extensive training in all the latest techniques and "best practices," and that I have access to the resources that are available. Parents don't get that. Most of them find themselves with the world of disability suddenly and unexpectedly dropped into their laps, all those dreams and desires inexplicably crushed. It's hard enough trying to figure out how to parent a child, let alone meeting the often complex needs of a child with disabilities. I can't even imagine the difficulties of navigating the maze of medical institutions, diagnoses, treatments, side effects, therapies, services, early intervention, constant fear and worry,.... Oh, and taking care of the rest of the family, tending to the house and yard, maintaining a job, planning and preparing meals, walking the dog, and, when time permits, caring for yourself too. My 8 hour work day is spent dedicated to meeting the needs of that special needs child, every minute of every hour. I have few if any other responsibilities during that time. Believe me, when I go home at the end of the day, often exhausted, I am grateful for the fact that I can actually sit down and put my feet up. Not so for the parents I work with. They come home from a long day at work and have to reposition, toilet, feed, bathe, entertain, and keep safe their child with disabilities and tend to the needs of the other members of the family. These parents are consumed by this world 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no break. And they always feel guilty for not following through consistently with school programs. So what? Their child is happy, healthy, growing, and developing. If I do my job right, they should see positive changes at home even if they aren't able to work very hard on it. And when I start to feel resentful about the time ROCKO takes from my "personal" time, I remind myself that those parents don't get personal time. It's a small gift I can give them, letting them know that their child is safe, well-cared-for, and happy for a few hours so they can squeeze in a little time for themselves.

So, back to what I am thankful for: the parents of special needs kids...

Thank you for having the strength to persevere through the surprise and shock of learning your child has special needs.
Thank you for choosing to bring your child into the world when you knew he would have special needs.
Thank you for choosing to adopt your special needs child.
Thank you for fighting "the system" on behalf of your child. It takes unimaginable energy and persistence to struggle against obstacles like pessimistic doctors, selfish insurance companies, and convoluted government programs.
Thank you for being a strong, vocal, loud, obnoxious, demanding advocate for your child. That advocacy makes me a better teacher and your child's education more effective. It makes the world that much better for your child.
Thank you for supporting me as your child 's teacher, and pushing me when I need that push.
Thank you for sharing your child with me. Thank you for your trust and your belief in me and what I can do with and for your child. That is such a huge risk for you and I enter every day well aware of the gift you give to me and strive to honor it in all that I do.
Thank you for including me in your journey through life. It is a true honor to walk side by side and hand in hand with you as we both love your child into the future that he or she deserves.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Be careful what you wish for...

Back at the beginning of my blog (oh so long ago in July) I wrote a post about Ben and his journey out of the darkness. Well, he is completely and truly all the way back into the light. Most of his "old" behaviors, especially all the ones we didn't want, have reasserted themselves. He's HAPPY now. He was doing the "river dance" when he was mad; now he does it when he's happy too. Paired with the excessive raspberry spitting and you have a true river dance on your hands, and face, and clothes, ... HA HA. The spitting means he's super super happy, or trying to "mark" his (and your) food so no one else eats it. He's back to responding consistently to transition cues and using his environmentally placed picture symbols to make requests. He is helping himself again and initiating interactions and requests. Did I say that he's happy? He's even interested in doing more than just sitting on his hands. Yesterday at the movie theater while watching Madagascar 2, he decided to ride his seat like a pony. He accidentally made his seat bounce, got a very intense look on his face, then very carefully and very deliberately DID IT AGAIN...and AGAIN...and AGAIN. Had me and his para slitting our sides laughing. And the other day I off handedly remarked that he needed to bring his chair to morning meeting, more to cue the para than anything, and turned around to find him CARRYING HIS CHAIR across the room. He's NEVER done that before. The boy has a severe hearing impairment. He almost never responds to even simple verbal commands like sit down. WOW!

Now for the not-so-fun side of Ben waking up. Yeah, the spitting is an issue but it's one we can deal with. The real problem is his inner bully has reasserted its big bad self. Right now Ben is being very territorial. The treasured sensory room time? Bah! Who wants the sensory room? Ben wants the SWING with chimes to kick and swing into. Not only does Ben want the swing ALL THE TIME but he also doesn't want anyone else to have it. He will happily leave the swing to go do his work, eat, bathroom, or whatever else we ask, as long as no one else gets in while he's gone. Remember, I have 4 other students at the moment, two of whom use the swing set for standing and one who likes to swing as much as Ben does. He got VERY VERY MAD today when Nicki got the swing at the end of the day. He spent 45 minutes variously shoving picture symbols at us (didn't matter which one, he was bringing them all to us; remember our grab and go system? It got grabbed and went today) and grabbing someone and dragging them over to Nicki in the swing and insisting we take her out and let him in (mind you, he'd probably spent over 2 total hours in the swing today). When that didn't work or we ignored him, he would go over and try to pull Nicki out himself. As we discovered, he is actually big enough to do this now (don't worry, Nicki was never in any danger). Meanwhile Miss Nicki was merrily hitting her step-by-step that alternated between saying "more swing" and singing "I've got the swing and you don't, nah nah nah nah nah nah) and laughing her head off (every time Ben tried to pull her out of the swing she got a free push). We took Ben on walks, gave him alternative activities to do including some favorites he hardly ever gets, offered special snacks, and anything else we could think of. Finally I had to get right in his face and tell him quite firmly ("mean teacher" face and voice) that he was NOT getting the swing and to GO AWAY. He looked at me, river danced, then turned around and STOMPED to his favorite comfy chair and pouted, for about 5 minutes. About this time Nicki had to get her coat on to go home so got out of the swing. Ben promptly ran over to get in. I got there first and put the swing out of reach (his bus was due). What does the little bugger do? Does he get mad? Does he request the swing? NO. He happily snorts, spits, and goes to his comfy chair and LAUGHS. His problem was solved as far as he was concerned.

So now we get to enjoy the odyssey of teaching Ben that he does not rule the universe and that sometimes he has to share. Nor does he always get everything he asks for when he requests it. Sometimes the answer is "no" and you have to move on. We spend so much time teaching these guys the power of communication through offering the opportunity to request what they want then giving it to them immediately. When they finally "get it" the rules change on them. Pair that with dealing with a very stubborn and very strong teenager, and, well, things can get very interesting. It's so hard to grow up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Adapted Learning

I was able to squeeze some time in today to play around on Mayer Johnson's new Adapted Learning site. Very cool although it took me a little bit to figure out how all the features work (I know, I know, that's what the "support" button is for). I was able to make a couple of friends and join the Yahoo group. I also saw a number of boards I'm interested in so I marked them in My Files although I haven't had time to download them yet. I did find the file browsing function a little frustrating but I'm sure they'll work that kink out soon. Kudos to all the beta testers. My goodness what a huge amount of work they went to to have so many boards up and ready for sharing. Every one of them had to be "zipped" and uploaded. I'm contemplating sharing a few of mine but I'm going to have to find the time to "proof" them, remove personal info, and zip them. Maybe over Thanksgiving break? Or Christmas? Or....??

I'm looking forward to backing up all my BM files (and those of my students) to the site. I have one student using BM at home so I think I'll try forming a "group" for him too so Mom and I and the SLP can communicate more easily and share boards back and forth and work on them without having to fight over the jump drive (or forgetting to upload or download to and from the student's computer).

Look for me on the forums. I'm "aodom." Feel free to ask me to be your friend. We can all use a buddy here and there. :-)

Monday, November 17, 2008

As the world turns over...again

In the next installment in the never ending soap opera that has become her program we see how Alicia's classroom will be undergoing yet another change. Previously on SMDTeacher we saw Alicia lose all her paras in the 6th week of school and start over with all new staff. We watched her struggles as she searched for replacements and have caught glimpses of the turmoils of training a whole new staff in the midst of IEPs and the usual student test, test, and retest of new staff. And now, the next episode of SMDTeacher...

Yep, you got it. We're about to undergo yet another transformation. As of January 5 we will officially be a combined middle and high school program. The high school SMD teacher in my cooperative is leaving at semester and there isn't a replacement for her. She only has two students on her case load, one of whom is homebound. Plus, her facilities are woefully inadequate, at about 1/4 the size of mine. There was no way she would be able to manage the needs of my oldest kids who are very equipment and space intensive. With all that in mind, my cooperative director decided to take me up on my offer to run both programs out of my room. WHAT WAS I THINKING?? Actually, I was thinking that this move is in the best interests of the kids and the program at the moment. I'm also thinking this is a good way to [almost] guarantee me the promised extra space in my building and [fingers crossed tightly] a "real" kitchen [dare I dream?]. I was also thinking that I'm really not ready to "give up" my kids yet; I still have a lot of things I want to accomplish. AND this means I get to work with one of my favorite families again. YAY! It also means I get to know a new-to-me student as well as a new-to-me-para (who I didn't have to hire--Yay!; and who I didn't get to hire--ummm...) and fit them both into a functioning and happy, if not always balanced, family. This student's IEP is actually due the first part of January, which is a good thing. I can focus it on the kinds of things she'll be doing through my program where she'll be part of a group with different opportunities than are available when you only have one student. Plus I'll have complete input on what her state assessments will look like.

So, now I get to rethink my program and how we approach curriculum for high school vs. middle school. What should be the focus for the older kids? How do I provide what I consider to be adequate levels of service to an even greater diversity of students? How are we all going to fit into the vans for community outings? Where can a snag a bigger classroom table (and where do I put it when I find it)? And then there's the whole topic of transition [cue dramatic music]. Transition is a huge issue in my cooperative right now, especially in how it relates to writing IEPs (dotted i's, crossed t's and all that). Apparently the state auditors are coming down hard in this area and we're falling a bit short.

On top of everything else, I've been revamping our classroom procedures and, to some extent, our curriculum, or more specifically how we approach our curriculum. I had let my new staff kind of veer towards the 1:1 philosophy ("that's my kid, he's your kid). I really believe firmly in everyone working with everyone so wanted to find a way to steer away from those tendencies. I have noticed some real strengths in different areas in all of The Girls so decided to approach instruction from that view point. So now, for morning work tasks, we are going to have curriculum "specialists" for Academics, PT/APE, Communication (that's me), Technology, and Sensory/Active Learning. I will be requiring them all to gain expertise in at least one secondary area as well. The kids will rotate between us during the morning work session for 20 minutes of structured activities at a time. Some will HATE it (you mean I have to work?) and some will LOVE it (wow! I'm actually getting attention!). It's a tight schedule that will be highly dependent upon everyone's cooperation, and really needs another adult to make it go smoothly. We're going to try implementing it tomorrow. It better work as it took me two hours to figure out the schedule for 2 days! Fortunately we can basically repeat the schedule from week to week even if we change activities. The rotations are mainly dependent upon who is using standing equipment when as we only have one of each type (2 kids using each type) and the kids are generally tired after standing. Pair that with minimizing "in and out" transfers and it got a bit complicated to say the least. I think the system will be good for the kids and it will allow me to do more hands-on and 1:1 training with the staff. I haven't even had time to teach them how to take data yet. YIKES! Fingers crossed....

Saturday, November 15, 2008

30 Day Better Blogger Challenge continued

I've been faithfully participating in the better blogger challenge, just not necessarily posting about it. I've added an RSS feed to the blog, put in Clustr maps, and considered feedburner. Today I added an email contact. I actually used my husband's hotmail account for now as my "regular" email address would reveal too much about my location. I'll eventually get around to setting up a gmail account and posting that instead. You can also contact me through the comments and possibly through my About Me page. Comments is actually the best as I can get them at school, whereas yahoo and gmail are both blocked. Other challenges included a blogroll audit (I think mine is fine) and decluttering the side bar (since I don't like a whole lot of "stuff" there, that was an easy one). I've introduced myself to more than one blogger and reviewed my blog in various formats. I'm a fairly frequent commenter on others' blogs, depending on the week and content. I also invited a guest blogger, who will hopefully get me the entry soon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

More about switches and environmental control

Kate at TLWMSN sent me this link to one of her blog posts: 60 things to do with a single switch.

And Barrie at sent this link to a nice instruction manual about instructing switch use and using environmental control.

And I have a previous blog post on our Favorite Cause Effect Activities.

Any other contributions out there?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What can you do with a PowerLink?

Questions I've heard a lot recently:
What is a PowerLink?
How do you make a PowerLink work?
What can you do with a PowerLink? Or Why should I get one?
How do you use your PowerLink?

After hearing these types of questions from more than one special educator, some of whom are fairly savvy in the world of assistive technology, I did some quick research to see if AbleNet or somebody else had put out an idea list for a PowerLink similar to the ones that are out there for switch use and using a Big Mack. I was surprised to find NOTHING. Nothing? No ideas whatsoever (OK, that I could find in a 30 minute Google search) for one of the most versatile and easiest to use evironmental control units on the market? So I decided to make this the topic of my next blog post.

First, an introduction to AbleNet's PowerLink 3 environmental control unit. It is basically a box that allows you to adapt electrical appliances and devices so they can be accessed using switches. There are four basic modes of operation: timed seconds, timed minutes, latch, and direct. The timed modes allow the device to run for a set period of time (0-60 seconds or minutes) after the switch is activated (also known as press and release). The latch mode is basically an on/off switch: one switch activation turns the device on, the next turns the device off. Direct mode requires the switch to remain activated to cause the device to run (also known as press and hold). The PowerLink 3 allows you to connect up to 4 different appliances (2 on each side) with 2 switches (which means that when the right switch is pressed both appliances on the right will run at the same time). Some of the units allow for wireless control using an Airlink switch. You can also achieve wireless control using a jellybeamer transmitter and receiver (my preference because you don't have to have a direct line of sight between the transmitter and receiver). Essentially you can plug any electronic device into a PowerLink, but there are some limitations to the amount of juice it is able to handle. For instance, I think a large TV would overwhelm the device and I don 't think it could handle all the Christmas lights on your house, although it did just fine with the Christmas tree. It opens up participation possibilities to kids with physical and other challenges in a host of areas including daily living skills (cooking, cleaning, personal care), leisure activities and play, vocational skills, and artistic expression. I couldn't live/teach without it (as noted in a previous blog post). In fact we have four in my classroom with an additional out on loan and they are used every single day.

Now for the question of what to do with a PowerLink...

Use the timer to work on cause effect skills using a tape player and a tape of favorite music or stories (sorry, CD players do not currently work with a PowerLink because interrupting the power flow to one completely stops the play; would love to see AbleNet or somebody else work out a solution to this; the "adapted" players I've seen out there only allow for latching/on-off activation and they are battery hogs). Works great with a radio too.

Use latching to allow a switch user to control the music during a game like musical chairs.

Use latching to allow a switch user to control the pacing of an audio book or to pause the story when given a cue by the teacher so the class can engage in discussion.

Use either timed seconds or direct mode to operate a hair dryer to:
  • dry hair after swimming or bathing
  • dry paint on an art project
  • dry dishes
  • participate in science experiments

Use to adapt appliances like the mixer, blender, or food processor during cooking activities.

Attach blinking lights and place on direct mode to allow a child to explore switch use (see Two Switches to Success by Linda Burkhart, et al). Or use timed mode to more actively engage a passive student in sensory activities.

Use latching and a paper shredder to work on following directives during vocational training (turn it on now; OK, turn it off).

Using direct mode, attach two different toys/devices to allow a student to explore (two switches, two uses). Direct mode allows for greater independence than timed. In timed mode the first device activated will continue operating for the preset time no matter how often the student activates the other switch. Direct mode removes this exploration obstacle.

Allow the student to operate his own electric toothbrush (if it plugs in) or water pik during self care.

A water pik can also be used in a water table or to water plants, just be sure to keep the electicals safe from water intrusion.

Use the mode of your choice and attach to a vibrater/massager mat (we found ours at Wal-Mart) so the student can control the activity without getting overwhelmed.

We like to hook our bubble machine from Wal-Mart up to the PowerLink and blow away.

Adapt a fan for a student who overheats easily, who likes to feel moving air, or to blow on and move a mobile.

Attach to a lamp using latching mode so a student can signal for assistance during nap/quiet time or simply control the amount of light in his environment (like in a multisensory space).

Allow the student to work as a partner with someone else to operate a vaccuum or dust buster.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Can I just say...WOW!

Patrick Black from Teaching All Students recently posted about the website Pete's Stuff. I just spent a couple of hours (yes, I said hours) checking out the site and it left me absolutely floored. I've seen some of Pete's stuff before on the Whiteboard Room site and my kids really liked the sensory stories we've done. His work inspired the Monster Mash sensory story I did for our Mad Scientist Party. The Pete's Stuff site is even better. The sensory stories located here are well-done, loads of fun, and thoroughy explained. Best of all, they are FREE! Pete asks for nothing in return except an email to let him know how the story went. I downloaded two to look at: Gobbin Hood and The Wizard of Oz (OK, I'm from Kansas, how could I NOT look at this one!). Gobbin Hood was a blast but I stopped in my tracks when I went through the Wizard of Oz collection. It is a COMPLETE UNIT and absolutely beautiful! Pete has done a phenomenal job of simplifying and synopsizing (is that a word?) the story to make it readily understandable to people with severe learning differences without losing the flavor or making it babyish. He has included a list of props (and where to find them, although a few of the cooler ones like the scented Vortex cubes, may be a bit tricky to get here in the States, but ooohh how cool), extension activities (art, cooking, core content), printables, and computer games for switch users (work well with touch screen too). All of it will present well on an interactive whiteboard (in fact, will present BETTER in a projected format). I always try to do something special in January in honor of Kansas Day and I've found this year's project for sure. My first instinct was to rush and try to do the unit NOW because I can't wait to share it with my kids. BUT, if I wait a couple of months I can put all the resources together including the props (I'm nearly certain I can find dolls for all the characters plus the Flying Monkeys at The Kansas Store) and effectivly plan extension activities (how do you convert UK recipe instructions to a US version and what the heck are "digestive biscuits?") AND get The Girls involved in the planning so they have some ownership and get as enthused as I already am. I will certainly be downloading ALL of the sensory stories Pete has so generously made available and implementing them with my students. It's going to be SOOOOO much fun!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Can't live without it

A teacher friend of mine told me this week that her husband is being transferred and they are moving to Texas over Christmas break. That got me to thinking about what I would do if I suddenly had to start over again. Although my husband and I have absolutely no plans of going anywhere, especially since his parents moved to a house right behind ours, it's still not an unreasonable thing to think about considering how many natural disasters have happened in Kansas in recent years that resulted in the destruction of schools. I'm pretty spoiled with my very resource heavy program. So what if I did have to start from scratch? What tools and resources do I use all the time in my classroom could I not function without?

Probably the singular most important piece of equipment would be an accessible computer complete with Intellitools keyboard or Intelliswitch and a touch screen. We use our computers (yes, that's plural) all the time every day. They are essential for communication and instruction as well as for accessing resources and communication tools such as email.

Along with a computer would be Boardmaker. Boardmaker is probably the most used piece of software I have. And, of course, I'd need a good quality color printer to go along with it.

My digital camera would have to be on the list. We use it to take photos of objects and places, etc. for communication books as well as to document activities, accomplishments, etc.

A Powerlink to adapt a variety of devices in addition to at least one switch. Powerlink = Independence and Participation in my classroom.

An ipod. We have three that are used in my room and the kids love them. They are set up with their favorite music plus audio books. The kids love being able to listen to what they want without interference from others, creating their own play lists, and just generally doing the same thing as their peers. Plus they are infinitely portable and contain a HUGE amount of music and stories.

At least two Little Step by Steps. My kids use them for everything from simple cause effect social communication to telling jokes to giving instructions to two switch step scanning. They are constantly in use in my classroom.

Velcro. There are more uses for this awesome material than I can count.

Intellitools Classroom Suite. I make lots of adapted learning activities and digital books using this program. It would be high on my list of essentials.

An Actitunnel, especially for my particular students. We have multiple students using ours throughout the day and it is one of the top favorite pieces of equipment for the kids (the ipods are the other top favorite).

At least one "blinky light," whether it's Christmas lights or a mood light of some sort.

My list of favorites on my computer (can't access social bookmarking at school; basically if it's considered a "social" tool, it's forbidden).

I know there are other things I would miss tremendously if I didn't have them (Easy Stand stander, Somatron Vibrosonic music chair, active learning equipment, swing set, our collection of cause effect toys, the Smart board, jelly beamers, ...) and there are probably one or two things I've missed. After 14 years of teaching, 12 of them in the same place, I've collected a lot of stuff. But the above are probably the true essentials to effective instruction in my classroom (assuming that all the needed peripherals for basic positioning and caregiving would be in place). What would be on your list? What tools and resources would be indispensible to you?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

30 Day Blog Challenge Days 5 and 6

Yesterday's challenge hadn't been posted yet before I went to bed so I'm combining both that one and today's into one blog post.

Yesterday's challenge was to add a widgit, specifically something like clustr maps to see where visitors hail from and if you should add other features such as a translator button. I think the clustr map widgit is cool and there is something similar in Stat Counter. I found it interesting that I've had visitors from Australia, the Netherlands, the UK, Brazil, Israel, and Germany as well as the expected U.S. and Canada.

Today's challenge was to have your blog looked at by somebody with "fresh" eyes. My blog really hasn't been up and running for all that long so I wasn't sure how helpful this would be. I know what I like and don't like from other people's blogs and that has guided me in making decisions for mine. For example, there are soooooo many fun and cool widgits out there, but I think there can be too much of a good thing. Too many widgits make the blog look crowded. Pretty much, if I'm not going to use them for something I'm probably not going to add them. My husband recently spent some time on my blog for the first time. He seemed to like it, was most interested in the photos vs. the "non-kid" content (he knows "my" kids and since we do respite care in our home has spent time with several of them), and had no trouble navigating my (very simple) blog. I've been trying to get him to work on the blog I helped him start (he's restoring a WWII era military vehicle to add to the collection at the World War II History Center he is helping to develop), but so far we haven't moved passed the set up stage. Maybe now that football is over....

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What a day for democracy

If you haven't voted yet, what are you waiting for? If you already voted, YAY for you! If you chose not to vote or just didn't make it to the polls, I'm saddened that you've missed this opportunity to be a part of history.

As you've probably guessed, the election was the center of school today, both in my classroom and throughout the building. Believe me, the debates between middle schoolers can be just as intense as between adults about who should be President. Even myy students, who certainly don't understand all the issues and probably haven't had as much exposure to the campaigns as their "typical" peers, have formed strong opinions. Some of them I think are based on what they've heard their families discussing at home. Others made their choices for different reasons such as they liked the name or how the candidate looked or how his voice sounded or even because, like typical teens, they want to do the opposite of what's "expected" of them (asserting that independence from their families). Not too different from the general populace, in my opinion. I think we did a good job as adults in my room about not prejudicing the kids' choices or trying to unduly influence them. Yes, they have heard some good discussion about the merits, or perceived lack thereof, of the various candidates. Yes, the four adults in my room are evenly split about who we support, with some of us being more vocal than others. But in the end, I think the kids really did choose who they wanted. We had a good time learning the basics about the election, who the candidates are, and how voting works. I adapted last week's News-2-You about the 2008 Election which we read and discussed together. Then we participated in a school-wide mock election being run by the 7th grade social studies classes complete with election booths, "real" ballots, and exit pollsters. Building-wide, the election went overwhelmingly to McCain/Palin, not too surprising for a very conservative Kansas community. In our class, the election went to Obama/Biden by a margin of one vote.

Whichever candidate comes out on top tonight (or tomorrow or next week or whenever the "final" count is made), I hope he is able to be an effective leader for our country and can bring about the substantive change that is so desperately needed. So best wishes to both sides, but I really hope "my side" comes out on top (and he'd better do a good job if he does)!

30 Day Blog Challenge Day 4

Today's challenge was to consider protecting your blog content using Creative Commons licensing. At first I thought, I don't mind/care if others use my work. Then I thought, wait! I have photos of the kids on here and, while they are mine to share, they are not mine to give away. And then I thought, you know, I work pretty hard to do the things I do and I think my writing is half way decent. I don't really want someone else taking credit for that (note to self, learn how find out if someone is "borrowing" from my blog and not giving credit). So I signed up for a CC license. Easy Easy Easy Easy. And you get a nifty badge to display on your blog. I decided to be very restrictive with my license. I don't really mind if others take what I write and rewrite and adapt it to make it their own, but the license doesn't differentiate the content (narrative vs. images vs. audio, etc.) and I decided the photos needed better protection than that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

30 day blogging challenge days 1-3

Kate Ahern of TLWMSN brought this challenge to my attention on her blog and it piqued my interest. Patrick Black from Teaching All Learners decided to accept the challenge and I became even more intrigued. Then, today, on day 3 of the challenge, Kate chose to write a thank you message to me (!!) and I decided to bite the bullet and participate. I'm not sure if I'll end up doing all 30 days. We'll just have to see. Here are entries for days 1-3.

Day one: The About page--Who are you and what is your blog about?
I think I have a decent About Me page--enough info so that you know who I am and my experiences but not so much that I'm just hanging out there in the breeze (it's good for a girl to keep a little mystery, right?). I doubt I make too many changes to it right now. Most of that "getting to know me" stuff can happen through reading my blog entries. As far as the purpose of my blog, when I first started it I had no idea where it would go. I was originally inspired by Kate's blog and had toyed with the idea of doing a resources-type blog, but I feel like Kate's blog is SOOO good and SOOO thorough, that I really didn't "need" to do that. I could just reference her blog. Then I got to thinking that there just isn't much out there on the practical aspects of teaching kids with severe and multiple disabilities. I always have people asking me for ideas and I'm a really strong "ideas" person, so why not make the blog about what I do with my students, the day-to-day nitty gritty? So far, the parent feedback I've received has been really positive because the blog has allowed them to connect with me and their kids and their kids' school experiences in a new and meaningful way. They also like to see what their kids have been doing and don't mind one bit sharing with the "rest of the world." Since I do my best to protect their identities by not revealing their true names (mine is the only "true name" I will ever use on my blog, at least for the characters in my life) and keeping our exact location as "secret" as I can, everyone seems pretty happy and feels fairly safe. It's also been fun to hear from other people "out there" who do similar things to me and who are also looking for inspiration and collaboration.

Day 2: Stats
I just recently added Stat Counter to my blog. It's intriguing. I have to admit, it's a bit of an ego booster to see that people actually do come and read my blog and I find myself checking my count every day just to see how many visited, where they're from, how they found my blog, and what they seemed interested in (obsessive, who me?). As I gain more information from my stats I hope to use them to make my blogging better. I'm not certain I'll stick with Stat Counter and honestly can't remember why I chose that one (probably because it was used by one of the other bloggers I follow, which is where I get most of my widgits). A couple of other people use Feedburner. Might be worth checking out at some point.

Day 3: Write a thank you note
I want to say thank you to Kate Ahern for both being such a wonderful resource for those of us in the area of special education and especially intensive needs as well as being the primary inspiration for me starting my blog. Thank you Kate! You truly have been, and continue to be, an inspiration to me. I am completely "wowed" by the amount of work you have put into your blog, wonder how you have the time to locate all those awesome resources, and deeply respect your dedication to your students.

I would also like to say "thank you" to Patrick Black for being the very first blogger to link to me on his blog. That is just "way cool," Patrick. Thanks for networking with me.

Finally, I would like to say thank you to Lon Thornburg for not only writing a great blog with resources and personal experiences in the field of AT, but for also reaching out and creating the Assistive Technology Blog Carnival and encouraging me to become a contributor. I've received more "hits" from his references to my blog than from anywhere else (so far). Thanks for helping me step past my shyness and reticence to really put myself out there.

And, I want to say thank you to my students. They are the true inspiration behind my blogging. If you can't tell, I adore what I do and who I do it with. I am truly and deeply honored to be given the gift of the opportunity to work with these wonderful young people. This is not a "job" for me, it is my life. It is what I have wanted to do ever since middle school when I met my first person with a severe disability. Watching their growth and development, seeing them master new skills, and celebrating all the small, really important things, are the great joys of my life. I love every minute of it and wouldn't trade it for the world. Thanks guys!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Look Out! It's a Mad Scientist!

The promised photos of a group of Mad Scientists. We had an absolute blast all day!

Check out those intestines!

Alien Slime and sensory bottles

It's a brain!

Flubber experiment

Playing with "oobleck"

For those of you who are curious, I took most of the photos so this is the only one I'm in. I'm the one with the wild hair third from the right.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Still More Mad Science

Thought I'd share our mad science preparations in this post so the next post doesn't get so long. This is our classroom door. Found the door curtain at Oriental Trading.

We spent the end of the day transforming our "work" area into a "Laboratory." I don't know who had more fun: the kids who were watching the video Young Frankenstein (a couple of the kids were doing awesome imitations of the monster noises and then laughing and laughing; another kept activating step-by-step that had various screams recorded on it; it was all too funny!) or the adults who were playing with a variety of solutions and mixtures and concoctions to create the lab (more on that later). The cabinets and table are covered in white shower curtain liners left over from our sensory room make over.

Here is the "Nevermore" raven I found at Party City keeping watch over the tray of monster parts for the sensory story. Below are a bunch of sensory bottles (more info below) and other creepy lab experiments including Alien Slime (awesome stuff! It's even scented!) and a variety of test tubes and beakers (really intended for sand art but for the price they were perfect for us).

Another view of our "experiments" including the Mad Lab Kit, and a color changing brain and heart. I picked up the electo-static ball years ago at Wal-Mart. I stuck one of our other "mood" lights up there too, just to add to the effect.

The large flask has green tinted water with ping pong eyeballs. The flask on top of the "burner" has purple tinted water with dish soap suds.

A closer view of the sensory bottles and Alien Slime.
I got the idea for the sensory bottles from and then went my own direction. They are concoctions of various combinations of water, Karo syrup, baby oil, dish soap, and hair gel (the orange ones) with food coloring, glitter, confetti, and small objects added in (the orange bottle in front has hair gel and rubber eye balls). One or two just have loose beads inside so they rattle. We used the same technique to fill most of the flasks, beakers, and test tubes. They turn out really cool and the kids have fun manipulating them and watching what happens when you turn them over. I used Gorilla Glue to secure the lids to the tops of the bottles for safety. I left the flasks and test tubes open so we could recycle them but the kids won't get to play with most of those.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More Mad Science

I just finished doing the powerpoint and script for Mad Monster Lab and it turned out too cute! Many thanks to my wonderful husband for showing me some of the tricks to powerpoint 07. I will post it here as soon as I figure out file sharing. It was unbelievably easy to do. Link to powerpoint.
Link to script (in Word) You'll need both documents. My kids are controlling the powerpoint using either the Smartboard or a jellybeamer. You could also add fun with messages on voice output devices (ooh, that's scary; look out!; what gonna happen now?; I'm scared; that's creepy; etc.). Have fun! Just a note: when I tried to download the powerpoint to another computer using 4Shared not all the sounds came through, which kind of ruins the effect. When I checked the presentation the sounds weren't even listed. If you can't get it to work correctly leave me a comment with contact info (or email me) and I'll send it to you directly. Try this link to the powerpoint to see if it works better.
Well, that didn't work either. The download still leaves out 4 of the sounds: storm, lab, shock, and Monster Mash. Works just fine on the original on my PC so not sure what's going on (I'm not that tech savvy, sorry). Here are the links to the missing sounds so you can add them yourself. I found the first 3 on and Monster Mash in :

Here are the words to Spooky Hooky:
Put your [body part] in
Put your [body part] out
Put your [body part] in and shake shake shake shake shake
Do the hooky spooky and
Wave your arms around
Then make a Halloween sound!

We use finger bones, foot bones, leg bone, arm bone, head bone, and the favorite rear end bone as well as whole skeleton.

I have a body parts PCS board already made for the Hokey Pokey that the kids take turns choosing from. Ahead of time they get to come to the computer and choose a spooky Halloween sound from my collection of wav files and record it on an AAC device (either tablet PC or step by step). Makes for lots of noisy fun as they don't usually wait for the end to activate. :-)
We also do "wave your arms" instead of turn around because our space is limited and turning around gets really challenging with all those wheelchairs!

I also have a copy of the song "What Do You Like About Halloween" by Sue Schnitzer (search her name on itunes; awesome stuff; I also like Oh the Bats, great use of a balloon and really just everything on her Halloween CD) that I just did a board for. I tested it at ROCKO this Saturday and it was a huge hit.

What do you like about Halloween?
What do you like about Halloween?
[child selects button that says "I like ___"]
[Child's name] likes [selection]
That's what we like about Halloween.

I put the board in Boardmaker/Speaking Dynamically on a tablet PC that we pass around to let the kids choose. My scanners can either step scan to their choice or use a non-tech mode to tell us what they want before we sing the verse. Now that I know the tune I can think of infinite ways to use the song: holidays, seasons, the weekend, working with our SLP, shopping, ....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mad Science

I will be the first to admit, I love Halloween and always have. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of making my own costumes and going out on crisp fall nights to trick or treat, watching the Walt Disney Halloween special, and trading candy with my brother. Now that I'm all grown up, and don't have kids of my own, I generally get my Halloween fix with my students. I have a huge box of props, manipulatives, and toys. I think I must own every Halloween-themed kids' CD out there (my paras counted today and I think they came up with 10; that doesn't count what I've downloaded to itunes). We typically do lots of Halloween-related activities like going to the local pumpkin patch, carving a pumpkin and playing in pumpkin guts (fun!), designing our own costumes (last year's favorite was a pirate complete with a pirate ship-stroller and a treasure chest treat box, oh, and the parrot, can't forget the parrot), and having a Halloween party. This year we have decided to have a Mad Scientist party instead of the more traditional Halloween classroom party. This came about for several reasons. First, Lon Thornburg of No Limits to Learning fame is sponsoring a "Mad Scientist" theme for October's Assistive Technology Blog Carnival and I really wanted to enter it so got "inspired." Second, I have at least one student whose family does not "do" Halloween so we always have to adapt. I've been fortunate that these families have not asked me to restrict the Halloween fun for the other students (and staff), but they prefer that their child do non-Halloween activities. Third, at the middle school level we are constantly striving to "age up" the kids' activities. So often they seem "stuck" at a preschool interest level and to some extent we allow them to appreciate their favorites (tops right now are Handy Manny, Tigger and Pooh, and SpongeBob). However, we also expose them to as much of the pre-teen/teen culture as we can. The Girls and I all agreed that a Mad Scientist party would not only be fun, but could work to meet a lot of our goals with the kids and still let us enjoy Halloween fun without tromping on anyone's beliefs. I mean, what middle schooler wouldn't want to dress in weird clothes, listen to loud music, and play with weird concoctions? Pretty much an average day around our school.

We had to get creative with our activities to accommodate the kids' sensory issues, especially with science experiments. The exploding volcano project (which would be cool coming out of a beaker) just would not be a big hit with so many kids with vision impairments and I don't think anyone would get the rubber chicken bone thing. Here are the activities we have planned and the assistive technology we will use to support the kids in all the fun:

Ahead of time
Reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in audio book format

Watching Young Frankenstein just for kicks (that will be on swimming day) complete with our own versions of the sound effects or "movie watching" social scripts programmed onto Step-by-Steps (Chloe and I would rather do a fun interactive version of Rocky Horror Picture Show but somehow I don't think that would fly real well; maybe I'll snag her and go to the Orpheum Theater in Wichita to do the real thing)

On the day
Dress up as mad scientists with wigs, gloves, and other props (we have a nurse and a trauma surgeon in our parent collection so I'm sure we'll get some good donations to the cause)

Sensory story on the Smart board based loosely on The Monster Lab Game and work by some folks in the UK (The Advisory Unit Plasma Screen and Whiteboard Room is definitely worth a visit!); the kids will have step-by-steps for appropriate sound effects, use the Smartboard or a jelly beamer to turn the page on whichever software product I decide to use (Boardmaker, Intellitools, SwitchIt!, or powerpoint), and explore all the smelly and ooey gooey props that go along with the story. This will take the place of our usual Morning Meeting activities

Play with a host of "Laboratory Equipment" like a static ball, different light toys, exploring sound effects and creepy music, and "beakers" with different things inside

Cook lunch which will probably be spaghetti and meat sauce (so we can use some of the spaghetti in the sensory story of course) and our favorite pumpkin pudding; I'll have to come up with an appropriate name of course. Hey! Green beans would make good "fingers," hmmm...

Do a Mad Science Experiment, probably making "oobleck" with bright colors (3 parts cornstarch to 2 parts water; fun stuff to play with); I think a mixer (adapted with powerlink) will work with this stuff; guess we'll find out!

Create our own "Frankenstein's Monsters" or robots and use our communication devices to make choices, adapted scissors to cut, etc.

Do the "Spooky Hooky," our version of the Hokey Pokey. The kids use either pictures or step scanning to choose what body parts to shake shake shake

That will probably fill up our day. I doubt we do any "trick or treating" as most of the kids either don't eat by mouth or have dietary restrictions that mean no candy allowed. We'll also create the right "atmosphere" with one of our creepy sounds CDs playing through the surround sound (including the itunes visualizer on the wall) and props set around the room, given I can find some "on the cheap." I'm sure the science teacher next door and the school resource officer will also make an appearance. They go all out for Halloween. At least they don't Vaseline my door handle anymore (learned their lesson after one of the kids ate the stuff! Kid is OK, adults a little sheepish).

I will post photos after the Big Event but wanted to get the initial post done in time for the Blog Carnival (submissions are due Oct. 27). Who knows? We might inspire you to have some Mad Science fun, or maybe you have some ideas to contribute to make our day even better. Consider submitting your own entry to the Carnival. It's painless and NOT SCARY AT ALL. It's a terrific way to share and to get word out about your blog.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

News-2-You Fun

Just about every week we read the News-2-You adapted newspaper (see previous post). I always try to plan at least one extension activity to go along with it. Here are some of the projects we've done so far. Please note that while many of these projects are arts and crafts related, I also look for science experiments, cooking activities, and games.

Hubble Space Telescope: We made our own versions of space nebulae. We used BioColor paint to balloon stamp on coffee filters. The NASA website had a fun activity that gave examples of different space formations that have been seen using Hubble. The kids chose from those to decide what shape to cut their nebulae into. (NOTE: We attempted the project as described on the website but our markers wouldn't "bleed" on our coffee filters. I had planned to let the kids choose colors and make random marks then spray water using a switch adapted water pik. We had a big mess and a lot of wet fun but no projects.) The entire website has some fun projects which will be perfect when we do our more in-depth space unit this spring to tie in with state assessments. Balloon stamping has to be my favorite way to paint. I learned about the technique on the BioColor video which came with my first order of paint. Basicially you place 3-4 small puddles (about dime size) of paint touching each other in a triangle/square then stick an inflated balloon in the paint and stamp onto your project. It's something everyone in my room can do, a "no fail" outcome, and just looks really cool. The paint washes off of and out of nearly everything. Mix it with some liquid soap or detergent and you have awesome fingerpaint. There are recipes for puffy paint and other projects as well.

Iron Chef America: I was so excited when this came up as a News-2-You topic because I love this show. We had a blast this week. I was able to find some on-line video of the show to share clips of. Then we had our own Iron Chef Showdown. The secret ingredient was pudding mix. The kids chose between various ways to make their pudding and different ingredients to mix in. Everyone then taste tested everyone else's and voted whether or not they liked it and which they liked better. This was mainly based on yes/no responses and/or how enthusiastic they were about eating/tasting the sample and requesting more. The surprise favorite was vanilla pudding mix combined with whipped topping, bananas, blueberry pie filling, and crushed chocolate chip cookies. I took the kids' recipes and votes and made a recipe card using Boardmaker.

Political Conventions: This was a fun week that allowed us to talk about current events. We learned about the two candidates (and yes, I stayed nonbiased in my presentation, for those who know my political views) and talked about the two-party system. We then did an art project where the kids chose between making a donkey or an elephant. They had color choices of red, white, or blue for each piece of their chosen project, could choose whether to use stickers. etc. We all laughed when every single kid chose a donkey, including the one who would later wear a McCain-Palin shirt at least once a week. The art projects come from I LOVE this resource and use it all the time. It is rare for them not to have something that supports a lesson topic.

Olympics: This was one of the first topics of our school year this fall. We had just finished summer school by holding our own version of the Olympics and inviting friends from some other classes to participate with us. We spent lots of time watching the Olympics, viewing the very exciting Opening Ceremonies, learning a bit about China, and playing various games. For this project we used small paper plates to make our Olympic rings. Although the kids did not get color choices because I wanted to stick with the "real" colors, they did get to choose to use finger painting or a paint brush. They also chose 1-5 favorite Olympic sports using PCS symbols, which we cut out and glued onto the circles cut from the middle of the rings. I think the projects turned out pretty cool and they are still hanging in our room.

Last year I sent the News-2-You worksheets and related projects home every week. This year I decided to collect them to make portfolios. We can look back at what we've done before, I can compare performance on the worksheets to look for growth, and I might just be able to use some of this for state assessments. How cool is that?