Saturday, August 23, 2008

Classroom Photos

NOTE: Thanks to Patrick Black from Teaching All Students and the Boardmaker and TEAL listservs I was reminded that I only have photo releases for my students for the school-sponsored web sites. I will repost the removed photos as soon as I receive new releases from the kids' parents. Sorry for any inconvenience. I know you understand the need for privacy and my own protection from angry parents.
Alicia 8/24/08

I've been asked by quite a few people to post photos of my classroom and some of the equipment we use. So here we go! Please excuse any mess. We're a busy place and things don't always get put away like they should.

Here is one of the kids using the "leisure" area of our classroom. He is positioned in side lying on the platform part of a Grasshopper positioning system. This is his favorite position and sometimes the only one he will tolerate. The Grasshopper makes it easier for us to move him from place to place when he's having a rough positioning day. He is using a mood light I picked up at Wal-Mart that is attached to an AbleNet Powerlink with a textured switch that he activates with his chin. He is also listening to his ipod. Yes, you see two TVs here. At the time of this photo we were in the process of reorganizing our sensory "room" and the extra TV goes in there.

This is our Communication Center (see previous blog post). Behind it is Teacher Zone. On the left is the 3 drawer system I spoke about. All our voice output devices, switch mounts, etc. are supposed to be kept in the cabinet on the right. The black crate on the left holds our velcro boards. This was where we kept the object symbol bin but we've recently put it away since all our symbol users are now using photos and PCS. The white crate on the right is the current spot for our newly developed "concept books" (more on these later). To the far right in the back you can see part of the cubby shelves I picked up at Wal-Mart a few years ago where we keep the kids' personal belongings. To the far left is the student computer area.
This is another shot of the side of our Communication Center. This is Ben's schedule board. He loves the sensory room but if we let him have it too soon he completely chills out and shuts down and refuses to do anything else. So we made him a reward board. We put symbols for all his required work over the symbol for the sensory room. As he completes each activity he pulls off the symbol, which we also use as transition cues (I've never been very successful using more traditional schedule systems). He has to complete all his work before he can use the SR. Unfortunately for him, he can't rush through and do everything at once because some things happen only at certain times. The wireless mouse I use with the Smartboard is also shown here (the Smartboard computer is actually positioned behind the board; the wireless mouse lets me see what I'm doing when I need to use a mouse vs. the touch screen/board).

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This is the student computer area. This computer has all our adaptations like Intellikeys, Intellitools Classroom Suite, Boardmaker/Speaking Dynamically Pro, jelly beamer switches, Magic Touch touch screen, and the Smartboard software. This kiddo actually HATES computer time but I managed to catch this shot of him giving a big grin after discovering the visualizer on itunes. Teacher Zone is to the right.

Next to the computer station is our swing set/sensory play area. Here you can see one student playing with chimes and other toys hung from a bungee cord on the left. Another student is playing in the toy tunnel. The swing set is by Class Champs, a subsidiary of the Playaway Toy Company that makes the Rainy Day Indoor Playground. These guys are awesome. They custom built the swing set and drove it all the way from Wisconsin to install it for us. The toy tunnel is the Actitunnel from Abilitations. We have mirror panels mounted on the wall behind the swing and blinking Christmas lights everywhere. The LCD projector for the Smartboard also projects over this area, letting us use the itunes visualizer and screen savers for sensory activities.

Using the net swing with a SoftTouch sitter for positioning. There's a Tumbleforms feeder seat to the left. We like the SoftTouch better, can you tell?

This student is using our HOPSA harness. He and another student have such severe orthopedic issues that they can't do weight bearing in a stander. The HOPSA allows them to be in an upright/standing position with as much or as little weight bearing as we choose. The swing set has a slider bar which lets the other student take steps, something she finds very exciting. In this picture you can also see our SparkleFlex lights.

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Here's the toy tunnel in action. We hang all sorts of toys and objects from it. Surprisingly, most of my students prefer highly tactile items over the auditory toys I thought they'd prefer. This student is playing with an inside-out ball stretched over a bag of marbles (no, they are NOT hanging over her head!), a skwish ball, a tangled up bead curtain of mini disco balls, a mylar pom pom, and a set of metal chimes. I'm sure there are a few other things in there as well as she likes lots of toys to choose from. She is using a large Huggz pillow to keep her from falling to her side. To hang the toys in the tunnel we use either link-a-doos (found in the infant/toddler department) or, my favorite, shower curtain rings. Shower curtain rings are cheaper than link-a-doos AND they lock, which keeps the toys from accidentally slipping off. We use elastic hair bands knotted together to give the toys "springiness." There is also a bungee cord stretched along the side where we can hang still more toys. This is especially useful for students who play while in side lying. Other favorite toy tunnel toys include: various tactile/"squishy" balls, koosh balls, tangle toy, metal measuring spoon, a styrofoam ball covered in feathers, wind chimes of all sorts and sizes, and a fuzzy bat I found at Halloween.
The Smartboard in action. It's on a portable stand so it can go in the closet when we're not using it. The LCD projector is mounted on the ceiling behind the boys. They are playing SwitchMan by R.J. Cooper.
This is our "sensory room." It's made up of a PVC pipe frame that is anchored to the wall. We used shower curtains for the sides and a plastic drop cloth for the top. And yes, the weight of the shower curtains makes the pipe bow but everything is glued together and then wrapped in duct tape so it's really stable. Inside we have blinking Christmas lights strung across the ceiling with various mobiles hanging down. We have a Somatron Cloud chair hooked up to a stereo. We usually have a TV in here too. We add other sensory items such as chimes, switch adapted mood lights, etc. as needed. Things like pillows, blankets, and bean bags tend to get stashed in here as well. On top we put the wading pool we use for a ball pool. This year we are going to adjust the sensory room into a "white room" by adding white curtain liners on the inside and across the ceiling so projected lights show up better. The door to the left is our bathroom.

This is a shot of our "kitchen." As you can see, it's not a real kitchen. We don't even have a sink in the main classroom, something I'm hoping will change in the near future as our building is slated for some major remodeling. We are fortunate to have a full-size refrigerator and a microwave. Those are Talking Symbols Notepads from AbleNet stuck on the side of the fridge. We use the bookshelves on the left as a room divider. The leisure area is on the other side. The door to the right is to our closet, half of which is taken up with a transformer and breaker box. The paras have dubbed this "the garage" as it's where they stick the wheelchairs when they're not in use. In the front right you can see our table area. I didn't get a picture of this space, but this wall has several cabinets that I purchased at Wal-Mart to store work bins and work materials, art supplies, etc.

As you can see, we don't have an overly large space. After 12 years here, I think we've managed to maximize what we have. We're hopeful that with the upcoming building remodel we'll be able to get the classroom that's on the other side of the back wall of the kitchen (this is the wall to that room's closet) with a door installed so we can effectively double our space. We're also hoping they'll install a real kitchenette for us. Fingers crossed that this will actually happen!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How we're using our SMART board

We were lucky enough to be given a SMART board by our district when they decided to go with Prometheans. Lucky us! We love it and use it every day. Ours is on a portable stand which allows my wheelchair users access and lets us put it away when we're not using it in order to create more space in my room.
Some of our favorite SMART board activities...

Ben likes to watch the itunes visualizer on the board. He also likes to scrunch down in his favorite comfy chair and use his feet (!) to activate games like Big Bang from Inclusive TLC. Yes, I said his feet. He has this thing about needing to put deep pressure on his hands and extension/ compression into his wrist and shoulder joints all the time. He HATES computer activities because he just wants to chill out and watch, not use his hands (he does actively and readily use his hands for all his other work tasks and ADLs so I'm not complaining too much). But if we let him take his shoes off and use his feet, he'll happily engage in cause effect activities on the board.

Wayne LOVES to play the Priory Woods switch adapted videos on the SMART board. His absolute favorite is the "I Will Survive Alien" followed closely by "Mouse and Cheese" and "Banana Phone." Believe me, we all have these songs memorized. He also enjoys Big Bang, the SwitchIt! series (his favorite is Diggers) and reading adapted books on the board and likes the multimedia group presentations we've been doing.

Right now Nicki just prefers to watch what's going on on the board but when she's really in a good mood she will reach out to activate it for music or visual activities.

Michael likes that the board makes everything REALLY BIG so he can see it. We're not sure how much he sees, but he certainly responds to it.

The best part about the board for Chloe is actually the surround sound stereo that was installed with the projector. She also likes doing group activities with it.

We do morning meeting on the board using Speaking Dynamically Pro and, as opportunities arise, Intellitools Classroom Suite activities.

I do a weekly music class with the kids and their peer buddies and we use the board to show short videos, display song lyrics, and show the itunes visualizer while songs play and we sing along (this tends to keep their attention better).

We do News-2-You activities on the board.

I did para training on the board this year rather than making lots of copies. It let us do some planning activities more easily than if everything had been on paper. It worked so well, I might do my IEP meetings with it too, if only to save on paper.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Favorite Cause Effect Activities

Here are some of our favorite cause and effect activities. There are lots of others that we use but these seem to be the most popular. As you can tell, we do a lot of work with cause and effect.

With switches
Fan to blow on chimes and/or self (Powerlink)

Bubble machine (ours is AC not battery so we use a Powerlink)

Turn on blinky lights (we have a whole collection of different kinds; with Powerlink)

Turn on tape player (with Powerlink)

Change the song on itunes; we use a jellybeamer; one of my students uses a Lilli Nielson HOPSA harness for standing and we Velcro a jellybeamer to the harness so she can do it while standing/walking which she thinks is totally cool

Press and hold (“direct” mode on a Powerlink) to explore between 2 different activities such as music and lights—lets the student have more control than using a timer

Use latching (click once to turn it on, click again to turn it off) to run appliances such as blender, mixer, vacuum, paper shredder, blow dryer, etc. Really nice to work on following directions and sequencing

Voice output switch to request “more” (swing, spin, massager, music, TV, ipod, itunes visualizer, the list is endless; especially effective with activities that have a natural ending like swinging); we like to vary “more” messages with comments so the student has to pay attention to what he/she is saying and realizes they have to hit the switch more than once to get “more”

Voice output switches for “channel wars” when watching TV: one student gets a switch that says “change the channel” messages; second student (or adult) gets switch that says “change that back, I was watching that” OR also gets a “change channel” switch. Let them battle it out. Adult changes the channel as directed

Voice output switches with “go” and “stop” messages when on walks, playing on scooter, etc. It’s also fun to add “faster,” “slow down,” and “crash!”

Voice output switch for gaining attention; especially good for the student who isn’t in the mood to engage just yet

Computer activities
Big Bang from Inclusive TLC
Priory Woods switch adapted videos
Itunes (make cause effect by putting cursor on play/pause or reverse or forward)
Things I’ve made using Intellitools Classroom Suite
Away We Ride and similar programs from SoftTouch, Inc.
The SwitchIt! Series from Inclusive TLC
Sights and Sounds series from Marblesoft-Simtech

Nonswitch activities
There's a lot more to cause and effect than just using switches. So often I find school teams get caught up in the technology for teaching cause effect skills when in reality cause effect is all around us, from hitting a light switch to using PECS to make requests to flushing the toilet. Here are some of our favorite non-tech and low-tech cause effect activities:

Knock the Can on the Floor: a favorite of my kids; simply a metal coffee can with marbles inside that gets pushed off the table/lap/tray onto the floor to make a giant noise; also good for Kick the Can

The novelty toys, usually an animal, with a button to push that makes the toy sing and dance

Lilli Nielson’s Little Room concept: we use an Actitunnel from Abilitations that is dubbed the “toy tunnel”

Resonance board, another piece of active learning equipment

Esseff board: a spring board from active learning; we put ours on a stand vertically and stretch a bungee cord across it and hang noisy toys from it; does all kinds of cool things when you bump it, pull on the toys, kick it, etc.

Wind chimes; my favorites are the bamboo ones because they’re easier on the ears

We have a toy that looks like a big red fuzzy head; when you drop it on the floor or hit it, it jiggles and makes noise; ours is called Cris P. Bacon

Learn body parts with a massager: which body part is this? Or where do you want me to put the massager?

The swing: we use a net swing and an Air walker

Flarp: it’s like plastic play doh that makes interesting noises when you squish it in the container; great for using with Walter the Farting Dog books



Mardi Gras beads on a cookie sheet: really good when using an active learning positioning bench

Shake and Go Crash Ups cars

Playskool Busy Gears toy

Tangle toys

Squeaky toys: OK, I'll admit it, we've found the best ones in the pet aisle; they are easy to activate, durable, LOUD, and just plain cute

Monday, August 11, 2008

Computers Computer Everywhere!

It feels like it's raining computers in my room! Just the other day I was posting a comment to either the Boardmaker or TEAL listserves talking about how challenging it's been trying to teach higher tech computer-based communication using Speaking Dynamically to 8 kids when I only had 1 desk top computer available for student use that was used for ALL student computer activties plus the SMART board. Now all of a sudden, when we're back down to our usual 5 kids, I have the student desk top and the teacher one, Wayne's personal tablet computer, and I just found out I'm eligible for a district lap top! And then we also requested a tablet for Michael on his deaf-blind grant. And since they are really good about funding high end technology, we'll probably get that. Now I'm faced with deciding if I should accept the district lap top. It would be a definite yes if I didn't already have my own personal lap top. Can there be too much of a good thing? And yes, I can think of tons of uses for the district lap top IF I can install our specialized programs on it. And IF I can find someplace to put it amongst all the other tech we have floating around. I have 5 students. This would be almost a 1:1 ratio and since I have one who couldn't care less about the computer and doesn't use it for communication (it's mainly a torture device for him), well.... And yes, I know the district lap top is really supposed to be for teacher use, but everything that goes in my classroom has to have a student use too or I just don't have room for it.

Now to explain why this is such a big deal. Firstly, my assigned district was one of the last of the 9 in the county to get the internet. I was literally the last teacher in the district to get a desk top computer, a cast off from the library that never worked right, and only after taking the issue clear through all of the channels and finally having the director of special ed. get in on the case and raise a stink. It took two years! So this new bounty of technology--fancy LCD screen for the student computer that no one else in the district has, brand new CPUs for the desk tops rather than hand-me-downs, a SMART board, an LCD projector, surround sound stereo--is a bit overwhelming. What to do?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Boardmaker Boardmaker Boardmaker

The Boardmaker listserve has been busy again today. I finally had to make myself stop checking my email so I could get other things done! HA HA Some of the topics that came up today were designing communication materials and choosing content, favorite switch/cause effect activities, SMART board activities, and how do you store all your symbols/pix/Boardmaker stuff? I think I'll start with storage since that is a HUGE issue in my room, which is basically four walls with a bathroom attached. No built-in cabinets or shelves at all. I'll blog about some of the others later.

For all our communication gear, including VOCAs, picture symbols and photographs, object symbols, and the ubiquitous velcro, I purchased a matching set of drawers and cabinets from Wal-Mart. The 3 drawer unit has lesser used picture symbols and photos in the top drawer, velcro supplies in the middle, and non voice output switches and switch-related things in the bottom (each switch is contained in it's own zippy bag to keep it from getting tangled with all the others). The cabinet has all the VOCAs (when they're not in use around the room anyway), switch mounts, and anything that doesn't readily fit in the drawers. We covered the outside of the cabinets with soft velcro and that's where we keep all the pictures we use on a regular basis (grab-and-go format). They are divided into categories, thanks to one of my paras (toys/leisure, social, wants/needs, etc. plus a section just for the 1.5" pictures; the others are all 3"). The cabinets are in the middle of the room in front of the teacher desk so we're able to use all three sides. On top is a plastic drawer that contains our object symbol collection and a bin that holds the velcro boards when they're not in use. In addition there is a box that contains pictures for the toy choices for the "toy tunnel" (an actitunnel from Adaptivation) since we use a lot of Lilli Nielsen's active learning techniques with the kids. In addition to the Communication Center, each student also has a work bin where their curriculum materials are kept. Work bins are also covered with velcro and we stick related pictures there too. Food/meal time related pictures are kept in our "kitchen" area (if you can call a microwave and refrigerator a kitchen). And hallway-related pictures are kept on a velcro strip by the door.

So that just leaves the drawer stuffed with lesser used pictures. We used to store them by categories in envelopes but the collection is so big now that it's easier to make new ones than go find the old ones. This year's project is going to be sorting them all into 3 ring binders using sheet protectors covered in velcro to mount them. I'll stick a (hopefully) color coded piece of card stock inside the sheet protector to give it some stability then we'll categorize the pictures and put them in ABC order. This will also be an opportunity to weed out the pictures that are in bad shape, are no longer relevant, or are the wrong size.

I also have a 3 ring binder just for News-2-you activities. I don't usually laminate these pictures as they are generally for short term use. I stick in a copy of the newsletter plus ideas for related activities. There's an envelope for related vocabulary pictures too.

We also use a lot of environmental communication so there are pictures stuck all over the place, on walls, on equipment, on toys, etc. to encourage independence and initiation. I know I have lots of other ways that I organize pictures for various tasks that will hit me as soon I step into my classroom tomorrow. :)

I don't know that there's any one good way of doing this. You just have to use what works for you. I, especially, am really bad about remembering to put pictures and other communication materials back in their centralized storage place, usually leaving them where I've been using them, and our SLP always manages to hide them in weird places (one reason why I generally make at least four copies!). There is nothing I hate more than having a teachable moment lost because I can't find the picture I need! Grab-and-go works well for us. Other ideas I've seen include using various storage boxes with compartments and pocket charts (I have a special love for pocket charts but can never quite make them work for me).

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Wow! When I opened up my email today there was quite a lot of activity on the Boardmaker listserve I belong to. Long story short, there had been a call for more participation on the listserve. Apparently in the past it's been far busier than it has been lately and I guess with 2500 or so members, they're looking for more diversity in posts. In any case, it got me to thinking about wanting people to read my blog and wondering if anyone is. Then I got an email telling me I had a comment! Was I ever excited!! THAT prompted me to post more on the listserves I belong to (QIAT, Boardmaker, and TEAL--Technology in Education for All Learners). It's been a busy night. I had really intended to sit down and get the Olympics News-2-You adapted and put together the Olympics stuff I want to do with the kids this month. Oh, and start working on some new things for Wayne and Nikki. I want to try some adapted books with them. They did great with the Kansas book I did for state assessments and someone from Boardmaker had posted a website that really inspired me to do some more things like this ( I really need to at least look at the site again and write down my ideas before I forget them and they get reprioritized down the list. I got all caught up with email and blog reading and now it's midnight on my last day off before I go back to school. I'm tempted to just stay up and sleep in tomorrow. Oh wait, who needs sleep? Hmmm....

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Oh the words we use...

On the blog Pinwheels today was posted an article about the use of the word "retard." In my classroom we have launched a campaign to eradicate the use of this insult from our school. It's a long, slow process that is about to become much more difficult with the upcoming release of a new movie starring Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr. I won't glorify it further by mentioning the title here but in short, the movie pokes fun at people with disabilities with abandon and liberal use of the word "retard." The term even appears on the movie's advertising poster ("Once upon a time there was retard..." Give me a break!). My only hope is that our little local theater probably won't be showing it, although I'm sure it will appear in Wichita unless someone influential makes a big stink about it. It's also rated R, although that doesn't seem to stop too many of the middle schoolers at our school. Now, I'm not one to advocate boycotting a movie before seeing it or a book without reading it, but I'm willing to make an exception in this case based on the premise and the promotions.

As I read through the linked blog entries, comments, and discussions, I was continually amazed at the reports of people who would use this horrid term, then be embarrassed when they realized it was overheard by someone with a disability or someone who loves a person with a disability. More appalling, still, are the number of people who use the term everywhere, all the time, without thought. We have a therapist who works with my kids on a weekly basis who uses the term! Of all people, you would think she would realize how ugly it is. Why do people think it is OK to make fun of those with disabilities? Is it because they don't "bite back?" Do we need our own version of Jesse Jackson and the NAACP to help us out? There have been numerous movies that portray people with disabilities in a wonderful, sympathetic, and even humorous light. Forest Gump, The Other Sister, I Am Sam, and even Rainman are just a few of them. Unfortunately, most of the things that get remembered from even the best of these films are the stereotypically "disabled" things: perservated speech, misspoken words, odd behaviors.

Then there are those who say, "oh, she can't understand what we're saying anyway." WRONG! Read this post by Dave Hinsburger for a different perspective on that notion. I know first hand that the kids I work with "get it." They all have "functional levels" (whatever the heck that means) below 36 developmental months, not that we really use that information for anything except pleasing the psychologists, and yet they know they are different and there are things they cannot do. Some of them get angry when they are left out or excluded. Others simply don't give a damn and merrily march on their way. They have no time or energy to spare for those who don't, or won't, understand them and accept them. And, for the most part, my gang are pretty well insulated from the hatemongers and the ignorant. Yes, we get stares out in the community. There are people who change their seats in restaurants because of us and those who jerk their children away as though we might be contagious. But there are so many more who stop to open doors, hold elevators, or move out of the accessible seats at the movie theater. The ones who smile sympathetically when we apologize for someone's "inappropriate social behavior" (a.k.a "I don't WANT to go in that store!" or "I am NOT carrying that grocery bag I don't care what you say" or "I want OUT OF MY WHEELCHAIR and I don't care we're in the middle of a parking lot/grocery store/other inconvenient place; that's not MY problem!"). The people I love the most are those who stop to talk, not just to us but to our kids. And the ones who let us educate their children about people with disabilties. Oh, and the guy who came over in the pouring rain and loaded a wheelchair in the back of the van for us. LOVE him!

I have no idea if anyone out there in blog land is even reading my posts, but I hope you are. And if you do, I hope you will follow me in continuing the campaign being launched around the country to stop the use of this ugly word. If you do read this blog, leave a comment about what you will do to stop the spread of this term. I think I'm actually going to make a giant poster here on my week off and post it outside my room and include a pledge sheet and see how many signatures I get. I may use some of the writing from the pledge site and some of what I originally wrote for our district newsletter but never got published:

We don’t even think about it. Out pops, “That’s so retarded!’ or “You’re such a retard.” Ever stop to think about exactly what that means? A recent incident on the popular reality TV show Big Brother has highlighted this issue. In this instance a person who supposedly works with children with autism referred to them as “retards.” Others took offense, and rightly so. Who could argue with the fact that you should not call a person with a disability such a derogatory name? But what about all the other ways this term is used? The term “retarded” has gained such a negative connotation that even those of us who work in one of the many disability-related fields refuse to use it even to describe a person’s disability. Many of us equate the term with other derogatory words that are so ugly and impolite we can’t even utter them without embarrassment: racial slurs such as the “n” word, or curse words such as the “f” word, etc. Why is it wrong to refer to a person with mental retardation as a “retard,” after all the term is a semi-accurate description of a disability, but OK to use the same term to describe other people and things in a negative fashion? Some of the brightest minds I know belong to people with cognitive disabilities. As one parent I work with states, “We may be slow but we’re not stupid.” It is far past time to eliminate this ugly word from our vocabulary. Think about it.