Sunday, March 26, 2017

Teaching Typing/ Keyboarding in a Special Ed Classroom

A lot of the teachers at my school are teaching kiddos typing/ keyboarding skills... I loved the idea of having my students type because it's such an important life skill and some of my kiddos struggle with the fine motor skills involved with using a pen/pencil... but I had NO idea how I was going to teach my students with moderate to severe disabilities how to type when some of them don't know all of the letters yet. So, I did a good ole google search and ended up finding some color-coded keyboards like this one. The color-coded keyboards already out there are okay, but they definitely aren't going to give my kiddos the visual prompts they really need to type... so I decided to just make my own adapted keyboard!

First, I ordered a keyboard with larger keys that already had some color-coding. Then I made a template using Powerpoint to color-code each letter on the keyboard. I printed the little letter pieces out, laminated & cut them out and then hot glued them to the keyboard. Then I used the template to create little color-coded word strips that are a visual prompt for kiddos to type their names and basic CVC words.

I was super excited to try the keyboard out with my class, but I had no idea how well it would actually go! I have a few kiddos who can type their name and a few CVC words independently with the fancy keyboard and word strips!

I found my keyboard on Ebay for $20, so make sure you shop around a bit before you buy one! I just looked around Amazon, eBay, etc. and searched "large adapted keyboard." Here are some pretty reasonably priced keyboards:
Amazon $30
Office Depot $38
Walmart $29

You can download the template for free here! With the template, you can print out the letters for the keyboard and you can also use it to make visuals for kiddos with their names, words, etc.  Do you have any tips or tricks for modifying computer/ iPad equipment so students with moderate to severe disabilities can type?

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Starting a Classroom Business in a Special Education Classroom

It's a fact, many classrooms are underfunded and it's EXPENSIVE to run a classroom! So, why not start a classroom business? A classroom business is a great way to teach students important functional AND academic skills that will help them for the rest of their lives and can also avoid taking money out of your own pocket for your classroom. 

I have numerous teacher friends who run coffee shops in their classrooms, but I just wasn't super interested in opening a coffee shop in our classroom... Mostly because there's a coffee shop right across the street from our school and I didn't want to have to commit to opening up shop to sell coffee at the same time every day/ once a week. 

Our story:
In December 2013, our class made a piñata to celebrate Las Posadas. Since I always seem to have super creative paraprofessionals, our piñata turned out beautifully! When teachers at our school saw how pretty our piñata turned out, they started asking us to make one for their classrooms. After a few requests by staff and parents in our school, our classroom team had the idea to try to turn it into a business... and that's how Exceptional Piñatas was created! Along the way, we kind of go through busy and slow spurts... we will make 10 piñatas one month and then 1 the next month, and we are okay with that! If kids or staff are feeling a little burned out (it's happened, trust me) of making piñatas, then we take a break and slow the business down for a few weeks. Typically, we make piñatas based on the season or an upcoming holiday, and then parents, teachers, or community members can buy the piñatas we have created. However, we will also take special orders and are always willing to create something specific for a customer. 

A few tips for starting a classroom business:
1) Think about demand in your school and/ or community
Is there a cheap coffee shop right across the street from your school? Then don't open a coffee shop. Is there a weekly student store ran by the PTA that sells popcorn? Then don't open a classroom store selling popcorn. Think about about the goods/ services that people at your school might want and try to cater to that! It's also important to think about the time/ money you will need to put into the goods versus how much money you will make. Thankfully piñatas are just newspaper (free), watered-down glue and tissue paper (both pretty cheap) and don't take too much time/ work, so we make a pretty good profit. 

2) Talk to your principal
It's super important to talk to your principal about your business plan before getting started. Make sure your principal is on board with t he idea and talk about the incoming money before you start! A few questions to ask: Can the income go directly to your classroom funds/account? Do you need to open a bank account just for your business? Do you need to submit the money to your school secretary or can you just keep the money in a save place? What about tax info? 

There are some AMAZING things about having a classroom business. It gives you money to spend in your classroom! So you can stop opening your wallet to buy glue sticks, Velcro and food for cooking lessons. It can give you the freedom to cook more in your classroom, to go on more field trips, to hire special speakers to come to your classroom and SO much more! A classroom business is also a great opportunity to teach kiddos about money math, budgeting and giving back to the community! Students get paid for working for the company and then get to spend their money when we go to gas stations or the grocery store. We also teach our students the importance of donating money. We have donated money to our PE teacher to raise money for a 5k she was putting together. We have also used our money to purchase and then sell breast cancer awareness bracelets to raise money for a teacher at our school fighting breast cancer. 

If you want to see and hear more, click the picture to check out our Facebook page ;)

Do you run a classroom business that is out of the ordinary? I'd love to hear more about how other classroom businesses are run! Let me know if you have any questions about our business! I left a lot of info out of this post about our business, but I'm more than happy to write more about it.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Spring(ish) Task Boxes

I love making new task boxes to keep these fresh for my kiddos. I try to make a few new boxes a month. Here are some of our latest spring(ish) task boxes. All of the materials are seasonal items from the Target dollar spot, but they aren't super springy.
These little colored gummy/ squishy creatures are from the Target dollar spot. My kiddos love them!

Target dollar spot Legos as a put in task for the win!

Extra Legos from the package and 2 old Easter eggs= an easy sorting activity. 

These adorable little chicks are also from the Target dollar spot. I love them because they're soft and give kiddos a little tactile input.

I got one package of these little wooden chicks and one package of butterflies and used them for 2 boxes. 

The same little butterflies and chicks but as a sorting activity! The little plastic trays are actually the contains that the chicks & butterflies came in!

Ok, maybe this isn't really screaming "spring" but I realized that the salad containers from Costco make awesome sorting trays!

Also, I finally made a teacher Facebook page! Click the icon, check it out, and follow my page!

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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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