Sunday, February 19, 2017

3 Fun ways to use Assistive Technology in Special Ed. Classrooms

Assistive technology (AT) is super important in special ed classrooms because it gives kiddos the ability to communicate and access the curriculum. Although AT is important for academics, I love to use AT in fun interactive ways to encourage kids to communicate and work with each other.

Greetings are an important social skill for all kiddos to learn! I like to use a GoTalk9+ with students' pictures for kids to greet a specific kiddo/ staff member. We also use a BigMack (or any single switch) to record a single greeting. I change out the BigMack greeting daily and change the GoTalk greetings on a weekly basis. My students love when I say the greetings in silly voices and when I use fun/ silly greetings like:

  • Waaaz up?
  • How you doin'?
  • Hey girl, hey!
  • Hi/ hello in different languages (Hola,  Guten tag, Ciao, Namaste, Bonjour, etc.)
  • Sup?
  • How's it goin'?
  • What's shaking?
  • Yo!
  • Good day, mate

Jokes are so fun for the kids AND staff in the classroom! For kids who are non-verbal, I use a TwinTalk or BigMack  to tell jokes. For my students use a TwinTalk to tell jokes and we focus on sequencing the "first" and "second" part of the joke (the first part of the joke is recorded on "1" and the punch line is recorded on "2"). You can use printed jokes with picture supports for your kiddos who can read.

SymbolWorld has a TON of free jokes you can download and print. You just have to create a free account. (To get to the jokes, click on "entertainment" and then "jokes".) You alsofind ideas ando download 20 free jokes for free from BreezySpecialEd here.

I was recently in a 3rd grade general ed classroom when I saw the students giving peers fun little cheers. I loved the idea and how excited the kids were, but I had to find a way that my students could participate in the cheers. Since most of my students are non-verbal, I started using a GoTalk4 to record cheers. It's so fun because now my students can give other students cheers when they're working hard or got an answer correct!

You can find some of Dr. Jeans amazing cheers here. Sugar Blossoms also has great cheer ideas with video examples!

What are some fun ways you use AT in your special ed. classroom?

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Cheap & Easy Task Box Ideas

Making task boxes is like therapy to me... there's nothing like spending a few bucks at Target or the Dollar tree and making new tasks! Here are the latest we've made in my classroom!
Great for fine motor! Could do this with or without a clip/ clothes pin

I bought two books (because they were only $1) to make this, but you could also buy 1 book and make color copies of the pages and laminate them!

I cut the top off the plastic Easter eggs, glued them to the bottom of the box to make a great color sorting activity!

These cups were 4/$1 at the Dollar Tree and the little cubes are re-freezable ice cubes!

This is great for fine motor- Kids have to open the plastic eggs, put the same colored small egg inside and close it.

One of my paras made this- It's just paint samples cut into hearts and glued onto a paint mixing stick from Home Depot. 

These are small pencil sharpeners (they were 6/$1). I glued them shut and they make a great level 1 box!

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

3 Life-saving tips for using iPads in special needs classrooms

Technology is HUGE in most classrooms and most students love any tech time. I've found a few life-saving tips for making iPad time more meaningful for my kiddos and less stressful for staff.

1) Buy iPad stands
I have a few kiddos who want to run around the classroom with the iPad in their hands and a few students who have physical disabilities that keep them from holding the iPad. iPad stands that clamp to tables/ counter tops have been SO awesome to help all of our students be more independent when using the iPad.

A few tips for when picking a stand:
-Get one that attaches to the table with a c-clamp. The suction cups don't stick well, kids can pull them right off!
-Find one that has little clamps/hooks for the corner of the iPad.
We have this stand and LOVE it. Here are a few other affordable options:
$20 option 
$27 option 

2) Use the accessibility/ guided access to your advantage!
I'm not sure how many people know about the accessibility options with iPads, but they're awesome! I use guided access to "lock" my kiddos into a specific app or to keep them from clicking on certain parts of apps. Guided access can keep kiddos from stimming by changing or closing/opening apps, from opening ads, from going into game apps when they should be in academic apps, etc.

To turn on guided access: Click on settings > general > accessibility >  guided access. Then turn guided access on and set a passcode. Last, turn "accessibility shortcut" on. Your accessibility settings screen should look like this:

Now you'll be able to open an app, triple click the home button and then circle what parts of the screen you don't want kiddos to be able to access/ use and then click "resume."  If you don't circle spots on the screen that you don't want students to be able to use, then the iPad is just locked into the app (the home button won't work).

To get out of guided access, you just have to (quickly) click the home button three times, put in your passcode and click "end".

3) Set volume limits!
I have a few kiddos who refuse to wear headphones and always want to turn the volume up all the way. Some teachers might be okay with this, but when it's free choice time and 3 kids are in different apps with the volume maxed out, I go a little crazy. There are some volume limit settings within the iPad settings, but I quickly realized that it only works with certain apps. We got tired of prompting kids to turn it down so I found the app, Volume Sanity. It's only $3.99 and it let's you set a max volume for the entire iPad. It's seriously life changing.

Do you have any awesome tips for using iPads in special ed classrooms? I always love to hear other ideas!

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

3 Tips to Avoid Burnout in the Special Ed. Classroom

The burnout rate for teachers is scary, and even worse for special education teachers. It makes me so sad to hear special ed teachers leaving the classroom on a regular basis. I still have my days when I think to myself, "Why am I still doing this?" and "How much longer can I handle this?" but most mornings I wake up excited to go to another day in the classroom. Over the years, I've found some things that help me cope with the stress and excited to tackle another day.

1) When you're really stressed out- stop teaching....
Instead, play games, do puzzles, or read with the kids... Be SILLY and have FUN with the kiddos to remind yourself why you went into the profession! It might sound simple, but taking a 15-30 minute break from teaching to really play with the kids will almost always put a smile back on your face!

2) Keep a smile folder or box
I realize you can't keep every letter, card or gift from students, friends and family... but make sure you keep a few for when you're feeling down! I have a little box and a folder in my classroom full of things from previous students, my husband, friends, etc. that always make me smile. If I'm feeling super frustrated or overwhelmed, it's so nice to be able to just open the folder and look at a few things inside.

3) Never take your computer charger home!
I think it's a little unrealistic to tell you to never bring home work, but a few years ago, one of my mentors told me to always leave my computer charger in my classroom. Her rationale was amazing- if you leave your computer charger in your classroom, you can only work as long as your computer battery will last without being plugged in (probably only a couple of hours). This will let you  get all the super important work done at home but will hopefully keep you from spending 8 hours on a Sunday planning.

What tips do you have for avoiding burn out and staying (relatively) sane?
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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tips for working with students with multiple disabilities and a vision impairment

Before last school year, I hadn't worked with many students with multiple disabilities including a vision impairment/ blindness. Last year, I got my first student who was completely blind and now I have 3 kiddos with vision impairments. Along the way, I've learned some awesome tips from our vision teacher and some modifications that really help my kiddos!

-Texturize, texturize and texturize some more!
We texturize all of our books, name tags for circle time, voice output devices, schedules, basically everything that our students with visual impairments interact with at school. You might be surprised at how much ALL of your students will like the added textures.

-Assign each kiddo with a vision impairment a tactile cue
We give each kiddo a tactile cue (a felt triangle, a foam circle, etc.) then we label all of the student's things with the tactile cue, including their locker, desk, chair, work materials, etc.

One of my students isn't completely blind, but his vision is pretty low. At first, I was stressed out with all of the materials we had to contract, but now that I have the hang of it, it's getting easier! It's pretty simple to put brightly colored materials on black paper or to use a highlighter to outline task boxes.

What tips do you have for modifying materials for kids with MU including a vision impairment?

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Task Boxes Glore

Here are some of the task boxes I've knocked out since we went back to school after winter break. Most of the materials came from the Target dollar stop. If you need a few tips for making task boxes, check out this post!

I found these cute little guys at IKEA for $3.99! They make a great color matching/ fine motor task!

The little mailboxes are from the Valentine's Day section of the dollar spot at Target. The balls are also from the dollar spot!

I removed the lids from the mailboxes (above) and used them as color sorting contains for these little foam heart pieces (also from the Target dollar spot). 
I love these little textured balls from Target. They make a great put-in task for my kiddos with visual impairments. 

Super easy Valentine's Day themed task box! Just printed 2 black and white coloring sheets, colored them and BAM!

These little winter/ Christmas themed erasers are on clearance at Target and are great for a sorting task.

Dominoes and coins make a cheap and easy sorting task. 

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