The Centre for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 110 children are born with autism and it is 4 times more likely to occur in boys than girls. This means that in the coming years educators are going to be expected to program for the complex needs of these learners with a much higher frequency.
I work in a very unique environment and it is my aim to share our experiences with the world. My classroom is what is termed a “Cluster” where we have gathered 17 students from surrounding schools with an Autism Spectrum diagnosis and brought them to one school where we can provide inclusive learning with added supports. Our classroom is like a “home-base” and the students go from there to classes with their same-age peers.
We recently acquired a set of iPads through a grant from Education Matters and we are learning how to fully utilize this tool for all of our daily activities. We also have 4 desktop computers and have recently added a Wii to the room!
This website and associated resources aim to provide teachers with technology tools that can support students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in the classroom. With the advent of assistive technology comes the ability to provide specialized tools as well as opportunities to re-purpose existing tools for the needs of ASD students. As we move towards a fully inclusive educational system in Alberta we must build capacity in our schools to program effectively for all students and I hope that you will find this resource helpful in this endeavor.
Please feel free to leave questions and/or comments. I will do my very best to get back to you as soon as possible.
For the past 3 years I have dedicated my time to completing my M.Ed. in IT Leadership at the University of Lethbridge. On Saturday I will be presenting my final paper about using technology to support students with ASD in the classroom. I always struggle to find just the right tool for presenting – you have likely read posts about these struggles! I think I have commitment issues with presentation tools. This time I decided to create an infographic that I can present. I am posting it here to share – although I know it is hard to see all of the detail here – when I present I can use the actual software to show it so that it will be much clearer. I am also very likely to tweak and change this at lease 40 times between now and Saturday – in case you have thoughts or suggestions
I may have just fallen in love with Piktochart. I thought I loved Prezi – I may have just begun the world’s most complicated presentation tool love triangle. You know those really fancy infographics that are all the rage these days? Piktochart has created an online infographic creator that is easy to use but preserves a professional look. I have spent the entire morning creating an infographic display to present my final paper for my Master’s degree. The tool is so easy that I could have probably done this a lot quicker but I am being sucked in with all of the fun I am having. This might not be a tool that has immediate classroom applications but I am already scheming how I will use it to present, create handouts, and explain complex ideas in the very near future. A few of my students are pretty skilled at seeing how ideas fit together but they struggle to explain it in writing – perhaps I can get them to create some amazing infographics to communicate their ideas.
While I am making it – it is saving online and when I am finished I will download it as a .png file for presenting. In the future I might look into making presentation handouts and getting them printed as well.
One of the best things about Piktochart is the fact that they have reduced pricing for students and teachers. The regular pricing for the Pro Membership is pricy but for $1.99 I got an educators account! It feels like a steal of a deal.
Stay tuned for my post of the Piktochart I am making today – it’s going to knock your socks off!
Wordia is a great little internet tool that gives teachers the opportunity to create games and activities to reinforce vocabulary in any area. I have a strong belief that there is no sense having the students learn extensively about a topic if they have not mastered the basic vocabulary in an area. I find that this is especially true in highly technical areas like science and social studies where the students may have limited exposure to a given subject. It is also true when we read novels or short stories together. Wordia lets me use my own word lists to create activities that the students can play with to become familiar with vocabulary.
I just realized that a lot (if not all) of my recommendations to date have been focused on tools for students. Behavior Tracker Pro (BTP) is for those of us that self identify as “adults”. More specifically, adults that need data to support IPP planning and reporting and responding to student needs on a daily basis. Recently I discovered BTP and I think I might be a bit smitten with this little app. In years past I have kept behavior tracking sheets that allowed me to gather snapshots of target behaviors. Behavior observations are busy events and it’s important to be accurate to make the data useful for future use.
BTP allows me the opportunity to record a number of behaviors at once and will keep data over a number of weeks and provide a graph of the data anytime I need it. In addition it has an option to record a video while I am doing the observation. The video is helpful because I can review it with stakeholders (parents, other teachers, behavior strategists, psychologists, etc.) at anytime in the future. Sometimes complex behavior requires a second, third, fourth or fifth set of eyes to find a trigger or antecedent event that the first set of eyes isn’t seeing. This app has essentially cut the time it takes to gather behavior data in half – this is precious time that I can now dedicate to other tasks. This is not a free app – it costs $29.99 in the iTunes store but for the value it’s providing I think it’s money well spent.
Today I will not be posting about any sort of high tech tools because something even more awesome happened today. We had a visit from the PALS Dogs in our classroom. This visit had been arranged months ago and was meant to be part reward and part therapy. The reward was for taking such good care of our iPads – not a single one has gone missing or had damage since we got them. The therapy was for social interaction and to discuss anxiety. One of the dogs suffers from terrible anxiety during thunder storms and we used this as an opportunity to normalize anxiety and talk strategies. Did you know that there is a special compression shirt for dogs with anxiety?! There is.
Needless to say the dogs were a huge hit! We had a Golden Retriever named Madi and a Border Collie named Lacie. Both of the dogs responded well to being showered with love and attention for an hour. I am a dog lover so I understand how therapeutic they are but I have a new appreciation for them after today. I think I had made predictions in my head about who would enjoy the dogs most and who wouldn’t and for the most part I think my predictions were correct but there were a few surprises. The dogs seemed to lull a few of the students into a relaxation trance – it was amazing. One student sat calmly combing a dog for about 20 minutes – I have never seen this level of concentration and stillness. Now I want a classroom dog full time.
The iPads did come in handy. We now have no less than 100 pictures and 50 videos of us loving the dogs. Our next task will be to turn all of these into a thank you letter and/or thank you video. Thankfully we have a number of great apps to help us do this – and very soon I will blog about them
So please forgive me for not providing a new tool today. There are some things that technology cannot replace, and for those things we have dogs!
Who doesn’t love a good game of Bingo? I have recently downloaded two Bingo! games that seem to have caught on. Both are from the same developer, ABCya.com, and they have some very fun features. The apps allow the students to create a character that they use as their player in the game. The app then keeps tracks of the number of games they play and rewards them with “bugs” that can then be used to play “Bingo Bug Bungee”. You have no idea how great this is. Normally (as I have mentioned before) I spend a good portion of my day just motivating the students to complete their work and participate in the daily goings on. An app that has packaged that all into one is a HUGE time saver. The students now have a little competition between one another to see who can earn the most bugs in a week – yes I typed that – they are doing math for leisure! When they finish other work they are begging to practice math facts – it’s pretty great. They can practice all 4 mathematical operations and for a real challenge they can practice all 4 at once which really keeps them on their toes.
I am forever working to motivate my students to participate in the daily activities at school. I am always looking for new engagement tools and strategies and one of my favorites is a token economy. In the past I have used tickets (the kind you tear off a roll) as a means to keep track of rewards earned and privileges “spent”. I find that the whole concept works well with a lot of students. It makes sense – we all like to get “paid” for the work we do. We live in a capitalist society and kids learn the idea of being paid for their work early in life. This method of tickets is good but in knowing how much I like computers, iPads and the like I just knew that there had to be a better solution!
Lo and behold I now have not one but TWO Apps for the iPads that are helping with this.
The first is iReward. iReward lets me set specific goals and attach them to a specific number of stars that need to be earned to get the reward. It will even let me upload (or take) pictures of specific goals and rewards. I have a few students that need rewards and tasks laid out in a really specific manner and so far this app is meeting those needs. I can take a picture of a student playing Wii with his friends and then use that as the Wii reward photo to help remind him exactly what we are working towards. Even more helpful is the ability to take a photo of the desired behavior or outcome and attach that to the reward to further reinforce the concept. The app keeps track of the rewards we are working towards and gives a summary of where the student is in regards to actually earning the reward. The app can be password protected to prevent any “inadvertent rewarding”
The other app is called iRewardChart. iRewardChart functions more like a traditional reward chart that allows teachers/parents to create rewards and set the number of stars to earn the reward. There are fewer photo options which means that it seems less personal for students but it also seems to suit older students a little better for this same reason. I have to say that I really like the way the app asks students to “Pay Out” stars as though they were real currency – it’s the little things that make these tools fun.
Some have argued with me that a reward system doesn’t set the student up to be an independent learner because it provides external motivation. I agree that our work would be much easier if every child came to school with the will and enthusiasm to engage in all tasks with fervor. That is not the case. Some parts of the day are not “fun” or “rewarding” in and of themselves. Just like some parts of being an adult are not “fun” or highly rewarding. It is those tasks that I make myself complete and often reward myself for. I don’t enjoy house work (sorry Mom!) but I do it because I own a home and it’s necessary (thanks for teaching me this Mom!) so I have developed a little system to reward myself with some knitting time when the house work is completed. Is it not our goal to eventually teach our students to do this for themselves? I’m really not concerned if they don’t know this at age 12 – it’s a skill that can definitely be taught.
There is something to be said for practicing basic facts in mathematics. I don’t believe that math begins or ends with basic facts but knowing the basics can make math easier later on. Sometimes the only way to make those basic facts really “stick” is to just dig in to that repetitive practice. I do not believe that this needs to be torture or really unpleasant, in fact, I believe that it SHOULD be as much fun as we can make it. In the classroom I really enjoy math games and there is a lot of research that shows that when students are having fun they learn more – go figure! When I have a number of students practicing a skill |(back in the day when I had a room full of students learning math) I would often use Box Cars and One Eyed Jacks. Who knew that a basic deck of cards and a few dice could make math so much fun!
These days I usually have 5-7 students with me at any given time but they are in all different grade levels working on different math outcomes so it makes it difficult to facilitate a lot of games. This is where Carrot Sticks comes in! Please don’t ask me why it’s called Carrot Sticks – I tried to find out – I don’t know. For about $13 I can get an unlimited membership that covers all of the basic operations up to about a grade 5 level. Students get to create their own little character that completes all of the exercises. They can “compete” against themselves or against a student who is also online at the same time.
Carrot Sticks Avatar
There is nothing really earth shattering about Carrot Sticks and I think I should include a “use with judgment” clause in this entry because, again, basic facts are not all there is to math. Some students will always struggle with these basic facts, whether it be a math learning disability issue, a visualization issue, or for any other reason. Some students will need a calculator to do even the most basic facts – some adults need one too! There is no harm in trying to teach and learn these basic facts because there is no denying that they will make mathematics more manageable at the higher levels and/or grades. I do have a strict policy: There is no crying in math. Meaning: If it’s causing grief to the level of tears we need to re-think our approach. Perhaps we need to go back to manipulatives to provide support, or use a lower level in Carrot Sticks, or any other method to make the math more manageable. The goal is to make these concepts automatic, not to make them the enemy
Ok it’s an oldie but a goodie. Big Huge Labs provides an interactive suite to do just about anything with digital photographs. Some of the things you can do with the photos are a little kitchy but for the most part they are fun and engaging and can definitely be used in the classroom. One of the very fun tools lets you create those motivational posters that you see everywhere. One of the ways that we are using them in my room is to create posters that help remind us of a calm, safe, place that we like to go to when we are feeling a little overwhelmed. The posters let us each have our “place” up on the wall to help remind us that this place exists and that we can picture ourselves there even when life is a little crazy. Once images are created they can be downloaded to your computer to print or they can be ordered through Big Huge Lab’s online printing service. To be honest – I have never used their printing service – I just print them myself at school or take the images to a printer if I’m looking for something a little more professional looking.
There are limitless tools that allow you to be creative with your images. I like it because I can incorporate highly visual tools into just about anything I am creating for the classroom and it’s definitely easy enough for my students to make their own creations.
Some of the tools we have played with:
- Trading cards with different facial expressions on them. Each student has their own set of trading cards with pictures of them demonstrating different facial expressions and they can be used in games like go fish or to communicate with each other how we are feeling in a situation.
- Magazine covers that celebrate a new skill we have attained or goal we have reached
- Game cubes with different activities on each face – this is especially fun for therapy exercises that need to be done. Each side of the cube is a picture of the student doing an exercise and we roll the dice to find out which exercise will be done next.
- A movie poster about a book that we read as a small group.
I often just use my iPhone or one of the student’s iPads to take the photos – although we do have a digital camera in our classroom I always forget to use it and it saves me having to connect it to a computer to get the photos off if I can just email them to myself and use them right away.
Today I was on my way home from a delightful brunch with my aunt and on the radio they were discussing The Noun Project. I wondered how I had not heard of this before today! It is essentially a database of icons meant to represent nearly every noun available and it is always growing. At this stage of the game the creators accept new icons from users and if they meet the criteria they are added to the database. All of the images are well vetted through a process that tests to make sure that people can easily recognize the icon as a representation for the noun it is meant to represent.
Granted – I just learned of this today so I have not had a chance to field test these with my students but it’s not difficult to predict that this is an invaluable resource. All of the images are fully downloadable and it seems as though they have found a way to represent some really complex nouns through really simple images.
I can’t wait to put these to good use with some of my struggling readers next week!