Assistive Technology on a Budget

Image of students working with a laptop.

Sometimes we only think about computers when someone mentions technology.

When you think about using technology in the classroom you probably think about students using computers, chromebooks, or iPads. At times some students just need a little support with technology to help them with using a pencil. Whether you’re in a general education classroom or special education you have probably experienced that child in your class that hates writing because it is uncomfortable or perhaps struggles with letter formation that is so poor that you have difficulty grading the students work. You could always contact someone that can provide assistive technology for a student but that takes time and we want to provide immediate support so that our students can feel comfortable and grow.

Adaptive techSo, how do we meet the needs of learners as soon as possible? We can try affordable tricks and do-it-yourself assistive technology.  Assistive technology is any equipment, devices, and services along with the changes made to the environment to help support students. There are affordable low technology devices that can perhaps help all students. Many students struggle with fine motor skills  in part, because this generation of kids are used to playing video games or using a tablet versus past generations of children that would simply coloring to build those fine hand coordination skills. Examples of assistive Technology could be anything from special lined paper to pencil grips. There are many forms of pencil grips and some students may work better with some types of grips versus others. If you go to your local Home Depot and Lowes you can get a small piece of foam tubing in which the pencil goes inside the tube and allows the student to have a much larger pencil to grasp. Another device is a wrist brace, which runs about ten dollars at Walmart or any drug store.

I have included a video for creating a weighted marker but it also works for weighted crayons or pencils. The best part you can buy all supplies needed at a local Home Depot or Lowes. The only two items you will need in hex bolts and rubber bands. This allows the top of the pencil to be weighted to help students that hands are shaky when they are writing. In addition to modifying devices there is also simple ways to modify the surface students are writing on. By incorporating slant boards in the classroom you will be able to support those students with fine motor skills. You can affordably have slant boards for all students. A typically 2” or 3” binder will do just fine and either leave in closed or flip it open. Students can do their work on the angled service which benefits students with their fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and posture.

STEM With Magnitude.io

Picture of students watching balloon launch

Mr. McCarty’s class says goodbye to the high altitude balloon!

What fun it has been working this year with our SUSD partners at Magnitude.io. This company has three different STEM opportunities that your kids can learn with, including; ExoLab, CanSats, and High Altitude Balloon (HAB) Launch. Each of these activities had our classroom using their reading, mathematics, writing, engineering, and scientific skills to explore the world around us.

For the past two years my classes have participated in the ExoLab program. This includes a customizable electronic growth chamber where students can grow various seeds and plants. The chamber has many sensors in it that track live amounts of Oxygen, CO2, Humidity, and more. Did I mention that astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are participating in the same growth chamber experiment?! How cool is that!

With the CanSats (Can-sized Satellites) have multiple sensors, once linked with a battery, can provide real-time data that students can use for live experiments. My students have collaborated and selected eight different projects to focus on during this coming spring. Magnitude.io provided our classroom with eight individual CanSats. These soda-sized cylinders will be used to; create a weather tracking station, track students course during their mile rune in PE class, and determine if plants grow differently when surrounded by varied levels of CO2 and/or Oxygen. These experiments and accessibility to live data, changes our classrooms for the better. It changes our classrooms ‘for NGSS’. These are student driven activities and projects that are helping my students to start thinking globally, as well as locally. What project will your imagination lead?

Picture of the instrument box.

This box contains the instruments that were carried by the high altitude balloon.

Finally, one of the most exciting activities we have participated in this year, has been the High Altitude Balloon Launch that we completed on February 22nd. In preparation for this project, my students researched the layers of the atmosphere, and then presented some of their findings to other students at our school. This program contained multiple projects, such as; experiments, engineering and design applications, data analysis, and more. Our experiments included sending up a raw egg to space, to see if the pressures, temperature, and increase radiation in the atmosphere would cook or freeze the egg. The kids also sent up a batch of various plant seeds, that we intend to plant in our classroom’s hydroponic garden. We will now plant both seeds from Earth and seeds from space and determine if leaving the various layers of our atmosphere would alter the seeds or cause them to grow with any mutations, or not at all! On the final day of launch we had students from all grade levels attend our event out on the school field. Even our friends over at Commodore made the trek over to our school to watch the balloon launch. Come through any time!!

A picture of young students watching the launch.

Younger students from Hoover and Stockton Skills came out to watch the launch!

 

A picture just before launch.

This was the scene just seconds before launch.

Ted Tagami (Mr. Ted) and Tony So (Mr. Tony) head up the team from Magnitude.io that is working with SUSD teachers. It is because of their efforts that my students have been exposed to opportunities they might not have known existed. They have been so helpful and supportive of our students and we continue to be amazed by the programs they offer. I encourage any teacher looking for some unique ways to bring real-world STEM into their classrooms, to look for these programs in the future.

And special thanks to Justin Swenson from SUSD for the great photos, and a website he made for our event that can be found here

 

Older Adults and Technology

by Austin Cushman

Everytime I see my dad, born in 1933, using his smartphone and messaging on social media, I say to myself “I never thought I would see the day.” As the emergence of the PC was happening he was a big believer, yes he bought my first Mac, in personal technology.

So, let’s start with defining “older adults” in relation to technology.  Most surveys will use age ranges to define “older adults” and I will reference some of those surveys. I view it as any generation that didn’t grow up with daily access to a PC.  

250px-apple_iieMy experience started with the Apple IIe with the 5¼ floppy disks that was a glorified typewriter and a simple game console.  It slowly grew with the home internet connection, AOL, and continued with the PC, smartphones and apps.

Most of my adult ESL students easily learn the computer basics necessary to access Google Drive, G Suite and the web. However, there are some students, when first learning the basics, feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Occasionally a student will come in with no experience with computers and the web, but will quickly adapt and succeed through daily practice and peer assistance. Older students and those in the workplace have to quickly learn and adapt to the ever changing technology that connects us. Parents must be familiar with it to assist their children or check grades. Employees must be familiar with the basic skills necessary to adapt to any system found in the work environment. The “baby boomer” and previous generations have had to learn how to use technology as adults, bearing the learning curve and expense associated with buying a PC and now smartphones/tablets. With the growth of e-commerce and social media access to information and technology has become more and more a part of our daily lives. It has become more important than ever, though some would argue not required, to be proficient in the basic uses of technology.

So with the growth of technology we see from this survey, the older the generation, the lower the percentage of people who use technology.

Chart showing percentage of adults that go online.

Graph showing use of various devices by seniors vs. all adults.

04-seniors-more-likely-to-own-tabletWe continue to try and bridge the gap, while implementing the new and ever changing technology, and make sure our students and the “older generations” are ready for the 21st century demands.

 

 

 


Source of all graphs: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/older-adults-and-technology-use/

Image of Apple IIe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_IIe

Spanish Commercials on Campus

By Adriana Cruces

Giving students body cameras that will allow them to record real life conversations on campus and display their real live conversations during assemblies and parent meetings can assist assessment and growth. What do you think: survival skills or applied pedagogy?

My Students

Students in my course are first time Spanish-speaking learners who would otherwise not use their learned language or  never have spoken other languages in their home environments. Students in my course are learning how to be bilingual or multilingual and are learning how to become world travelers, however, at times these skills are only available in their classrooms. Students are exposed to multiple cultural activities which assist them in embracing their learning and are encouraged to seek and find these learned skills within their communities. Students seek outside the classroom opportunities to ensure they are exposed to real life conversations which are most of the time limited within their neighborhoods. Students are transitioning to an all technological classroom and as such require extra support and extra resources in technology. Bridging the gap between home and school, and facing the limited resources available for students it is imperative as an educator to develop opportunities in which students feel excited, have fun, and use the language they are learning and that will allow them to speak with 80% of the worlds bilingual population.

As passionate educators it is believed that students must be exposed and experience first hand using their new learned skills in order to own their Spanish language and to speak with real people outside of the learning environment to be able to apply skills learned in class in a more personalized and real life situations. Currently, schools do not offer language labs, nor provide opportunities to walk around campus creating conversations, thus creating video commercials and guiding students to interview others on campus not only will ensure students master their skills but also strengthen their fear for public speaking.

Are our schools ready to welcome technology so as to allow students to use body cameras to develop activities on campus that would expose students to critically think and use the classroom curriculum in real life scenarios!?… Aren’t we as adults seeking to learn skills that can quickly be applied in the real world?… Haven’t we limited resources for students in such way that hinders their ability to expand their creativity!  Why not adopt tools that all humans love and need to use: body cameras bridge the gap and closes the lack of real life conversations in a semi controlled environment. Do you agree?

Black History Month: Tech Diversity

February is America’s way of righting the incorrect image of inferiority projected for centuries upon the people labeled as “ Negro, Colored, Black, African American”  by mainstream America.  One way to Celebrate “Black” history month is by educating others about influential contemporary African Americans in the tech industry.

Provided below are short biographies of the following contemporary tech trailblazers: Anthony Frasier, Brian Watson, Kimberly Bryant, and Ken Coleman. They  are 4 influential African Americans in the tech industry. Let these quick bios serve as a starting point for student discovery. In addition, culturally responsive pedagogical strategies are provided that utilize tech for lesson delivery.

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Ken Coleman was one of the first African Americans in Silicon Valley. He served in several senior management positions for Hewlett-Packard.  In 1982 he became Vice President of Product Development for Activision. In 1987 he joined Silicon Graphics where he held several executive level positions. He continued his impact in the Silicon Valley raising venture capital funds in the millions for software companies he founded. Today at the age of 69 he is a member of the board of directors of city national bank, MIPS technologies, and United Online.



Anthony Frasier is the co-founder of The Phat Startup with co-founder James Lopez. The Phat Startup is an integrated media company that produce content for entrepreneurs. This tech entrepreneur is from Newark, NJ. Before his current success, he was the co-founder of  the mobile startup Playd and the game review site entitled, “TheKoalition.com.”

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Brian Watson is the Director of Experience at VSCO. VSCO is a photography app and sharing platform that allows users to apply filters on their pictures and post them to their profiles.  VSCO was established in 2011 and headquartered in Oakland, Ca They also have another office in New York City, prior to this position he was an analyst for the Union Square Ventures investment team.


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Kimberly Bryant is the founder and executive director of Black Girls CODE (BGC), a non-profit organization dedicated to “changing the face of technology.” BGC introduces girls of color (ages 7–17) to the field of technology and computer science with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts. Prior to starting Black Girls CODE, Kimberly enjoyed a successful 20+ year professional career in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries as an Engineering Manager in a series of technical leadership roles for various Fortune 50 companies such as Genentech, Merck, and Pfizer.

Culturally/ Linguistically  Response Strategies for learning about influential African Americans in Tech

  • Create a Webquest – create a series of questions that students must research online about various influential African Americans in Tech. Students can work in small groups and report out their findings by creating a multi-media presentation
  • After researching the individuals, a student representative from each group can represent that person in a mock talk show( create costumes and props). The host can ask questions about the impact of tech on world issues and also ask about how they managed to excel in an industry that is not very diverse.
  • Students can develop a list of questions and write to these trailblazers.
  • Students can create an infographic of  the biography.
  • Student digital presentations can be added to the school’s website or newsletter.
  • Share these bios on the school loudspeaker during morning announcements.

Top 5 FREE educational websites every teacher should be using in their classroom

It amazes me how time has flown so quickly in my career as an educator, but what I find most fascinating is the leap technology has taken in the past 8 years. Eight years ago, I thought the most innovative tech in the classroom was Accelerated Math published by Renaissance Place. Back then, you needed a lot of hardware and scantrons to use the software. Reams of paper were used to print out practice problems (poor trees!).

But as we enter 2019, the amount of technology students have access to both at home and school is quite remarkable. From Chromebooks, Ipads, Ipods, Iphones, tablets with Android software to Android devices, students and families do have access to a lot of technology. The graduating senior class of 2019 was born in 2000. The kindergarten class that just entered the 2018 school year was born in 2013. We as educators have to shift our mindset to teach and train our kids around technology in becoming positive, proactive “digital citizens.”

The purpose of this blog is to encourage teachers to use technology not only as a reward for good behavior during free time to play games. We as educators have to start seeing Chromebooks and tablets in our classrooms as equitable tools to help advance our students educational abilities and see computer applications as a means of “customizing” our students’ education so they can maximize their full potential.

The top 5 FREE educational websites that I am recommending are engaging and will promote a love of learning in your classroom through the use of technology.


5: Nitro Type

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Nitro Type is a typing practice website that allows students to strengthen their typing skills by competing with one another. As students press the correct keys typing, students cars increase in speed. Student feedback from previous classes and my current class love to compete against each other and it is quite engaging. This is valuable for teachers to promote a love for typing, but practicing typing in the correct way. It forces students to practice correctly to increase their speed.  With Nitro Type, students practice typing about passages that are educational and can learn interesting facts. Students have an option to purchase a membership to customize cars, buy options for their cars, and alter the appearance of their car. This could create a great classroom activity for all students to better themselves and to practice true 21st century skills.


4: Prodigy

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This is a great way for students to practice math problems and to target content specific skills that are also engaging at the same time. Prodigy also keeps track of student success and tracks areas where students struggle, which is relevant data for you to pull small groups to do mini math lessons for students who all struggle with the same concepts. Great website for student engagement and data collection to drive your math lessons!


3: Khan Academy

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Khan Academy is not only a great resource for teachers but a great spiral/on grade level support for students as well. With a little time, teachers can sync their google classroom accounts to Khan Academy and assign assignments to students based off of academic needs and MAP scores. If teachers are using Eureka Math/Engage New York, Khan Academy has a section devoted to on grade level support that pairs well with the lessons along with practice problems that students can earn badges and points to advance and change their avatar. Great website to foster a love of math and much-needed math support.

2: Epic

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Epic is probably one of the more engaging websites I have come across that students really love. Students have access to an online library at school with countless books, read-to-me books, audiobooks and educational videos that students will gravitate and spend hours on. I have used this in 3 different classrooms and all kids love the ability to read books and choose different types of books. The only drawback to this program is they can only access it for free at school, but parents can pay $8 a month for their students to enjoy access at home. This is a huge selling point at conferences to encourage reading. On the educator side, you can assign books and make quizzes on books online for your students to take and track the data of how well they are doing.

1: Google Classroom

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By far the most game-changing application personally for me in my classrooms I have taught in the last 3 years. Google Classroom is essential for the 21st-century teacher and for students to be exposed to technology that will be seen in high school and in the college classroom. Classroom allows teachers numerous ways to optimize lesson planning and create class work for students without always running to the copier and duplicating worksheets throughout the year. It also allows teachers to build in the perfect scaffolds to optimize instruction for the most advanced students to students who need the most support. Classroom, in my opinion, is the ultimate game changer in a 21st-century classroom, especially because it is able to be downloaded as an app on all devices and makes it easier even for parents to track student work and build a strong school to home relationship.

I hope this encourages teachers to incorporate more technology into the classroom. It is crucial in the times we live in that we optimize technology to prepare students for the 21st-century world that is around us and that is truly evolving every day.