Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Assisstive Technology- - Week 9

Our task this week is to choose AT software that was mentioned in Chapter 7 in Bryant and Bryant's Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities. Teachers at Abbott Tech were exposed to Inspiration, a semantic mapping (information organizing) software at our pre-service professional development a few years ago. We made a graphic organizer. We started with a key word or concept, added shapes with other words or concepts, and connected them to each other with lines.  When the map was complete, we instructed the software to create a written outline using the words and concepts in our map.

The software is wonderful for visual learners. An instructor can use any of the graphic organizer tools to demonstrate through pictures the relationships between concepts.  A class or small groups can collaborate on an graphic organizer, adding pictures and descriptions, to better understand a topic. Students who struggle with outlines can use Inspiration to organize their writing.  For conscientious students who want to understand an assignment and produce good work, it is a great tool.

 According to a 2005 Education World review, it takes 30 to 60 minutes to teach the program t a class. Students love to use it during class and for presentations. So many children are visual learners due to the video games and computer time, the software is a natural fit. One negative comment had to do with a lack of boundaries on the page. The pages were endless. Another comment dealt with forgetting steps in the program, then learning it and doing well. 

In order to make a visually attractive product, it takes some time to make a visual map.  As far as individuals using the software for individual work, I have found that only the most motivated and students will use an extra step to do a good job. Even if the student and all of the adults in his learning community are trained, if the process takes too long, he won't use the tool.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Assistive Tech - Week 7

I must say, I was fascinated with Chapter 5 in Beard, Carpenter, and Johnson's (2011) book. Last week, I printed a list of the AT available in our school for our students with high-incidence disabilities. It is exactly along the lines of what is in the chapter. I read the book sitting next to the computer so I could look up the devices and see how they looked and how they were rated by consumers.

If Assistive Technology is "cognitives prosthetics," (Alper & Raharininia, 2006) we all use AT to some degree.  Eyeglasses, planners, and audiobooks are common in the world outside of the classroom. I think it is important to include AT in the general education classroom.

Text-to-speech software is the main AT tool at my school. Being a technical high school, a lot of students are sent from the suburban schools because they are "good with their hands." Many of these students have high-incidence disabilities: reading, writing, and math.

We participate in the Accelerated Reader program in order to boost our students' reading levels. This is a mainly K-8 program. We are grades 9 - 12. In my library, there are books written at the second- and third-grade level that circulate often because there are students who need that support. In contrast, our trade textbooks are written at upper high school and college reading levels. Our AT Specialist has permission to digitize the textbooks on a flash drive along with text-to-speech software (Snap and Read) for the weaker readers through SPED.  In many cases, I think it would be great to expose all of the students to the text-to-speech software because often trade material is so dense, it is hard to absorb on the first pass, especially for self-proclaimed non-readers.

Assistive Technology belongs in the general education classroom because it can bring support to both students who rely on it and students who can get by without it.  Using a planner to keep track of assignments, hearing text as well as seeing it, using a calculator to check work, and having a computer spell- check are independence-giving AT for some, and examples of good life skills for others.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Week 6 Mobility

As a wheelchair user, I would wake up in a completely different home. I would not be able to access either of the bathrooms in my current, "classic," 1960's ranch. Using the standard manual wheelchair measurements in Beard, Carpenter, and Johnson's book, I'm an inch shy, not including my hands!  All three bedrooms are tiny, and there would be no way to maneuver a wheelchair into my galley kitchen and open a refrigerator door that fills the width of the room. I park in the single-bay garage. I could either make my garage wheelchair accessible, OR park my car in it. 

Once at school, it would be a struggle to get in the outward-swinging doors at both the entrance of my building and of my classroom/library. Since renovations in 2008, I have a circulation desk at comfortable sitting height. The book shelves are 36" tall, and though it would be cumbersome to shelve, I would be able to find and retrieve books. I would be able to access the Polyvision controls and turn on the computers. Helping individual students at a computer would be tricky. My storage rooms are difficult to navigate on foot, so I would have difficulty in a wheelchair. Some aspects of my job would be impossible (like delivering equipment carts) but I could manage most daily things. I could get OUT of any room... just not IN!

In order to make my building wheelchair accessible, I would need a handicap entrance at the main doors, the library door, and the faculty room. We already have elevator access to all levels of the building. I would also need to clear out the unused items in my storage rooms. There are many televisions on carts that predate the building renovations. I would not be able to reach the top two storage shelves, so frequently-accessed items will need to be arranged on the lower shelves. The remainder of items would be "self-serve." I would need to rearrange some furniture in my office and around the circulation desk, but most everything is manageable.

One of our teachers was in a "motorized cart" for the first half of the year. I watched him struggle at the doorways.