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.