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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Jul
21

Summer Birthdays and Celebrating Learning

via GIPHY

In the Sharritt family we have 70% of our birthdays in the span of 7 weeks in June through August. It’s both a joy and a challenge to buy gifts, get together to celebrate, and prepare birthday feasts and treats for 7/10 of my favorite folks on the planet. I have even celebrated my January birthday in July for the obvious reason that it won't be cancelled due to an ice storm. 

Gifts this year have ranged from a nose piercing for my daughter turning 16, power tool batteries for my son turning 33, and a train trip adventure for my granddaughter, turning 4. 

Requested (and surprise) treats this summer include:

  •  A Victoria Sponge served with local peaches for Grace who is both a fan of the British Bake Off and all the fruit
  • Brownie sundaes for Victoria turning 17 
  • Kouign Aman pastries for my daughter in law, Lisa (also BBO lover)
  • Chocolate Pie for Ben
  • Anything with sprinkles (Nevaeh and Maggie are kindred spirits on this one)
chocolate cake with sprinkles spelling out the number 16

To celebrate, we have had take-out barbeque on the porch, visits to Chicago, and one of the teenagers is going to have friends over for a giant hide-and-go-seek-in-the-dark at the farm this week. 

Each element of the celebrations connect with each individual and their personality and ongoing story. Even though these are my people, there is something new to be discovered in their identities each year.

We are a few weeks away from returning to school and if you are a teacher you will begin to discover the identities and stories of a new group of students. Edutopia  recently posted  an article and video about connecting identity to learning through language, STEM, and the arts. In the video I noticed the way that each student felt heard and respected, and thought about how each must feel celebrated as well. 



Project-Based Learning is also a great way to add Universal Design for Learning in your classroom. Our PATINS specialists can work with your district, school or department to train your team on these methods. 

Students thrive when they are known. Consider taking the time to work some celebrating into your lessons this fall. We’d love to help you plan the parties! 



 

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Apr
21

Did You Want to Talk About the Weather?


daffodils in foreground surrounded by snow on the ground. Farm house in the background
It’s mid April, so I put away my husband’s heavy Carhart coats, my winter boots and all of the hats and gloves clogging up the entryway and the mudroom. It felt amazing saying “so long!” to fleece and wool. Did I mention that it’s mid April in Indiana? Right on cue, the day after my ceremonious dumping of the hats into the back of the closet, Indiana came back with an inch of snow overnight–on a Monday morning no less. 

The snow melted gradually throughout the day–gone by evening, but it left a little frostbite on my psyche. As a Hoosier, I have trust issues with the natural universe. My weather app predicts 80’s by Saturday, but I’m thinking this wild swing into sweatiness will also mess with my head. 

To quote one of my favorite actors, Bill Murray, in one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day: "Did you want to talk about the weather, or did you just want to chit chat?"



For Hoosiers, maybe it’s less chit chat, and more talk therapy. 

Predictability, in general, helps us all to flourish mentally. At PATINS, our staff has a brief weekly meeting where we report progress on our professional goals and ask for anything we might need to move forward. It has become an important ritual for me, and a way to connect with my coworkers as we work remotely all over the state. You educators reading this likely have daily/weekly rituals in your classrooms that make your students feel secure. Would love to have you share some of these in the comments!

rear car window covered in snow with the word
Indiana educators have missed out on a well-loved summer ritual in the past two years as Summer of E Learning events were canceled. For summer 2022 these are being revived as Summer of Learning Conferences. Our PATINS staff will be presenting at many of these events and excited to reconnect with you in person. 

It will probably be a warm day that we’ll gather. Or hot. A storm might blow up unexpectedly. Not ruling out an F5 tornado. I predict 100% we’ll gain some new knowledge or add to our professional network.  But dress in layers.


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Jan
20

A Girl, a Frog, and Accessibility

20220120-004655frog-dissection-and-iPad-Pro A student with blue plastic gloves completes a frog dissection using an iPad to enlarge her view of the task.

Once upon a time there was a girl in middle school. She was like every other middle school girl, in that she wanted to succeed in school. She was also like every other middle school girl who wants to be noticed but is painfully averse to being singled out. 

Her inner heart cried out, “Look at me!” and “Everyone is staring at me!” at the same time. 

This fairy tale intro is one that I’ve heard throughout my years as both a PATINS specialist and a teacher for the blind before that. Adolescence is hard. Needing to use large print books that don’t fit in a backpack and using a magnifying device to see the board makes it harder. 

Most of the students I’ve worked with have been able to move past the “everyone is watching me” mindset. Once I got a teen girl to use her magnifier because she had a cute student teacher and she could see him in hunky detail with it. Another teen girl used the technology for some mean girl antics, inviting a peer to her desk and zooming in on other peers to make fun of them. This made me cry, not because she misbehaved, but because it was so normal. When you have a disability, feeling normal can be a luxury.

The advent of one to one devices and built in accessibility has been a game changer for all folks with low vision, and especially for the teenage folks feeling all the feels. Now students are able to get digital texts delivered to their devices through the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) and facilitated by their district’s Digital Rights Manager (DRM). And whatever is projected onto the board at the front of the room can be sent electronically to the student’s device. 

All of the platforms continue to race like a fairy tale hero on horseback to outdo each other with built in accessibility features like enlarged/bold format, enlarged mouse/cursor, special color filters for folks with color blindness, and many ways to have text converted to speech with more and more human-sounding voices

I received the cover photo for this blog from one of our stakeholders of an 8th grade girl using an iPad Pro clamped in a stand to enlarge her frog dissection in science class. She wrote, “In observing her during the frog dissection lab it was evident that her confidence and efficiency with the task grew using the tablet clamped to her lab table.” She went on to describe how the student took the lead in the dissection where before she would have been dependent on the partner to report observations. 

This also made me cry because 

  1. A CONFIDENT adolescent is more beautiful than any Disney Princess. 
  2. When I was a science teacher at the Indiana School for the Blind from 1996 - 2000 all we could do was buy the extra jumbo frogs from Carolina Biological Supply. 

This student and many others are benefitting tremendously from new technology. Here’s to their continued success and just the right amount of getting in trouble so that they can live happily ever after. 

Masked female student looking at a frog dissection through an iPad Pro


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Oct
21

New, not Normal

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I stopped knitting in March of 2020. It was a small thing that happened amidst some big things. There was this new thing called a pandemic. We were all blinking like Dorothy staring out into Munchkin Land. My daughter and her family moved in with us. We had a toddler in the house and a daily wifi supply that needed to be stretched between two high schoolers, one grad-schooler, and 3 adults with full time jobs. So the knitting got shoved into a cupboard because we had to figure out grocery pick up and all the Zoom features.

Then time became blurry. The initial event felt a little thrilling like being stuck at home during the blizzard of ‘78. Then came the slump of daily reality. We stopped making homemade bread and added routines for checking the numbers in our county and the emails for school status. We’d pause while ordering another box of masks on Amazon and ask, “are we in Season 2 of the pandemic or have we moved on to Season 3?” 

In my work with PATINS and supporting teachers for the blind the pandemic has caused me to view my stakeholders in a new way. I had always known that the 140 or so itinerant teachers for the blind in Indiana struggle with feelings of isolation. When your caseload is spread over several districts or counties and you’re also educating staff about a low incidence disability, isolation comes without “unprecedented times”.  

Now they were being called to work in isolation from their students, and find ways to teach tactile skills remotely over a visual medium. They kept going, and they kept calling asking for ideas. We established some online professional learning communities to share obstacles and ways to overcome them. New strong bonds forged between teachers and families. Many who were hesitant to learn new assistive technology for braille were now forced to get a crash course, and finding they could stare down their fear of the blinking braille curser.

Many teachers and districts were forced to look at the accessibility of their online content. They worked to learn how to post and curate higher quality lessons and materials. The daily showing up to do the next impossible thing has generated better methods for future education. 

I’m trying to restart knitting. The weather is turning cooler, and life is feeling cautiously calmer. I have mastered the grocery order, which I will stick with post COVID. It saves time, I waste less food, and I’ve learned that it is much easier to leave the M&M’s out of my virtual cart than out of a real one.  I can make it to the Zoom meeting like a champion, putting on my earrings and lip gloss 2 minutes before it starts. 

I’m not sure why I’m restarting now. The daily showing up doesn’t feel much different, and I can’t say that I feel like the crisis is over. I’m hearing the phrase “new normal” lately like we used “unprecedented times” in the spring of 2020. “Normal” isn’t a real thing, right? But I can see glimpses of “new” on the daily, and will continue to look for them. 

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Jul
22

Making Room for Eureka!

Light bulb with lights inside that look like fireflies

How is your summer going? My kids’ preschool teacher, Mrs. Callahan used to look for scrapes and bug bites to determine if the kids were having a good one--evidence that they were getting outside and having fun. 

After a year plus of COVID griefs, fears and stress, I’m thinking we Indiana educators may need a different measure than how many boxes of bandaids we’ve purchased to determine the quality of our summer. The bumps and bruises on our psyche are evident and it’s time to stay off of the monkey bars for a day or two.

My turn to write the blog for PATINS staff is coinciding with a vacation to Lake Michigan. Our plan was to:

1. Find a place close to the beach.
2. Stare out at the waves.
3. Resist the urge to make other plans

So far, we’ve accomplished steps one and two, but step 3 was derailed by the fact that we forgot a couple of crucial items—I forgot my prescription and the teen girls forgot their bathing suits. So we’ve spent more time in CVS and Meijer than staring at the lake. One of the teens whose birthday is today started throwing up yesterday evening. Our rental is really nice so we may just huddle here with all of the chocolate that we somehow remembered to pack. (Update: she’s recovered on day 2!)

I do not wish a barfing teenager on you at all to force you to slow down, but I do hope that you are making room for some “nothing” time in your summer. Research shows that our brains need down time in order to reset and come up with new pathways. Rest is essential for creativity. I’ve been working on content for new trainings to present for this school year with my focused brain in the past few weeks, but this week I’m letting my diffuse brain take the jet ski handlebars and drive. 

I know when I return to my laptop next week, I'll revise with some fresh ideas.

Are you focusing on your return to the classroom this fall? Take some time to walk, meditate or just stare blankly. If you find yourself mopping a bathroom floor in the middle of the night, prepare yourself for the jolt of creativity that only comes when you make some room for eureka

If your idea keeps floating around and you need some help pinning it down, give one of our specialists a call. Check out our professional development guide or training calendar for opportunities to learn something new. Registration is open for our PATINS A2E state fall conference. At PATINS we strive to practice the UDL methods that we preach and encourage creativity and participation for a deeper learning experience.

We have a wonderful opportunity to frame this coming school year with all of the new strategies we’ve discovered through this challenging time. Join me and the PATINS staff in creating new opportunities for Indiana students.


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Apr
22

From Ireland to Arizona


From Ireland to Arizona

three young women hiking the Grand Canyon in shorts, tank tops, and hats. The sky is blue with a few white clouds.

If you are reading this from Indiana, you may, like me, be looking out at tulips in the snow. It will be gone by this evening, but not soon forgotten in this year of adapting because you really have few choices over your circumstances. 

I had the pleasure of meeting our PATINS guest bloggers for this week at our Mid-Winter Online EdCamp. Ellie Sear and Nina Koeppen are juniors at Butler University studying elementary education. They participated in our sessions about assistive technology to learn about resources and shared their own pandemic story of needing to adapt when they found out that their year of studying abroad had been cancelled. Ellie and Nina met as freshman roommates and here is their pandemic adventure story: 

Ellie and Nina smiling from a beach with some street food

Late at night in our freshman year dorm, we would lay in bed dreaming about studying abroad our junior year. By sophomore year we had put together a plan to leave Butler in the fall of 2020 to continue our studies of education in Northern Ireland. We researched about what type of clothes we would need to pack, what classes we could enroll in, and even watched videos about the accents people in Northern Ireland may have. Our dream was becoming a reality. Then, COVID-19 took the world by storm. We received the heartbreaking email that our study abroad dream was no longer a reality. It was devastating. 

Rather than adventuring to Northern Ireland in the fall of 2020, we moved back onto Butler’s campus. While we were disappointed by the effects of the pandemic, we were determined to make the best of the situation. So, we started brainstorming ways we could travel and experience new things safely and responsibly. 

We reimagined what studying abroad meant and created our own experience. During this semester, Spring 2021, we have traveled across the United States. We enrolled in online classes and planned to live in Florida, Arizona, and Colorado. Since January, we have lived on the beach, in the desert, and the mountains. Along the way, we have stopped at National Parks and breathtaking cities and monuments. We have learned how to broaden our horizons despite the unforeseen circumstances 2020 would throw at us. While it is not Europe, we have come to love exploring the United States.

Unlike study abroad, where you would still have a college campus to call home, our semester-long trip has been completely remote with no “home base”. Our connection to school has been solely Zoom meetings, Canvas assignments, and our lifeline of Google Drive. 

We were somewhat used to remote learning from the unforeseen circumstances of March 2020, but fortunately, all of our classes were in person during our Fall 2020 semester so going back to remote was an adjustment. This journey has taught us a lot regarding how much technology means in the world of education and how it can be a powerful tool in building connections. 

Luckily, we have been able to keep in contact with professors to work on projects remotely, maintain relationships with classmates over Zoom and FaceTime, and still feel a part of the Butler family we have back in Indiana. We would have never been able to have these social, historical, and cultural learning experiences if we did not have this technology to connect us. 

We both are planners. We have both had a four-year plan since the first day of freshman year, with most of our classes being taken together. This trip seemed like the perfect way for us to step outside of our comfort zones with someone we felt safe with. Both of us can agree that we would not have seen this much of our own country had it not been for taking this chance. Being from Illinois, the prairie land, we have pushed ourselves to hike the Grand Canyon and Ski in Colorado. It was easy for us to accept the fate that seemed to be in front of us, no longer being able to study abroad, but we wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to grow our independence and awareness of the world.

A far off silhouette of Ellie or Nina on top of a sand dune at sunset

I (Bev) hope these ladies land a teaching position in Indiana. We need great planners like them who are also willing to release the plan, face a hardship, and embrace adaptability. Ellie and Nina have become participants at our Tuesday night Twitter Chat. We hope you’ll join us too to hear more about their teaching journey.

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Jan
21

Helen Keller in Color


Color photo of Helen Keller as an elderly woman. It is a head shot and her gray hair is pinned back with some waves in the front. She is wearing a white buttoned up shirt and pearl earrings, and she is looking into the camera and smiling
I am not a TikTok user. I did try to learn a dance during the early days of Covid as a way to get my family to exercise. I’ll spare you the video, but share that the teens in my house burned a bunch of calories by laughing. 

One of those teens recently shared a lie that’s been propagated on TikTok and other social media at my dinner table: “Hey, you work with people who are blind. Did you know that Helen Keller was fake?” I barely choked down whatever I was chewing along with my anger and confusion. Then, while (mostly) calmly addressing this with my foster daughter, I took the opportunity to cover truth, verification, and empathy.   

After our conversation, I did some research and found out the falsehood  originally started as a “joke”, and bloomed into full blown conspiracy theories. These theories center around the ableist notion that Helen Keller couldn’t have accomplished all that she had in her life, because of her disabilities. At their worst, they deny Keller’s existence altogether. 

With respect to all 15 year olds, I do admire healthy skepticism. In researching this blog, I discovered that Keller herself was among a minority that believed that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him. While she did publish 12 books in her life, her manuscript about this topic was rejected as the fake news of her day. This astounded me as I’d always thought of Helen Keller as enlightened in every way, but she latched onto a trendy outlying academic group that saw “coded” text within the plays as a pointer to a different author. It also humbles me to challenge myself to root out any big lies I might be buying into because of my biases. 

The Niagra Falls of information flowing over our brains from the internet daily is overwhelming. We are finding for Gen Z what that deluge is doing to a generation of children expected to learn, but addicted to the consumption of screen time. This clearly mandates teaching about media consumption, and giving resources to students for finding and verifying information

This particular instance also mandates the difficult work to overcome ableism. At the heart of my foster daughter’s rejection of historical facts was her disbelief that someone having experiences so far from her sensory experiences could learn anything. I told her about my 2 summers of training as an orientation and mobility specialist under a blindfold. My brain was forced to do some very different things, but my brain was still my brain and also did the things it always does when it is learning. Here are some ways to discover your own ableism and work towards understanding differences. 

We will be listening as a family to Helen Keller’s autobiography to hear it from the source. I also told my foster daughter about some of the folks with deaf blindness whom I’ve met and taught, and about others I’ve followed on Twitter. Haben Girma just published her story of being the first person with deaf blindness to graduate from Harvard Law School. She uses braille technology to access communication, literacy, and her employment. I wonder if she has a TikTok account?

Haben Girma, a woman with light brown skin looks into the distance. Her dark hair is pulled back and she is wearing small gold earrings.
I hope that by connecting to their stories my family and others would see and respect their differences, and know their humanity is not a hoax. 


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Oct
22

A Letter from 2020


Dear PATINS stakeholders,

I hope this letter finds you well. I want to tell you how much I miss you, and a letter seemed appropriate. There are many reasons for angst at this particular point in time, and honestly, most days in the past 7 months I haven’t been able to pinpoint a specific reason for why I’m feeling sad or anxious. I just remind myself that this is normal in a pandemic, and keep putting one foot in front of the other from my home office to the kitchen and back. Today, though, I am missing driving down a scenic Indiana State Highway, enjoying the fall splendor, and ending up in a school parking lot.

I miss walking in and being greeted by the friendly office staff, and then meeting you in a class or conference room to train you in person on a Braille display, or magnification solution. I miss meeting your delightful, thoughtful, eager students who often take off with an AT solution before I’ve left the building. I miss the banter and the physical connection of hand under hand instruction. Also, I even miss the occasional unfriendly office staff.

I miss your faces, looking up from tables in the library, some smiling and attentive, some bored, some zoned out after a full day of teaching, as I tell you about Universal Design for Learning or electronic media. I’ve seen your faces on Zoom, but in the library--in person--I feel a stronger sense of you as a person. I miss driving down the street in your small town and trying the pie at your local diner. 

I’m grateful for Zoom. I can’t comprehend the isolation during a Pandemic before the luxury of the internet and the corresponding agony of doom scrolling... I suppose folks wrote more letters. 

sepia tone photo of two women sitting on a bench wearing cloth masks circa 1918

I searched for “letters from quarantine” and found that folks going through the Spanish Flu in 1918 were just as bored, frustrated, fearful, and sometimes desperately funny as they are on Twitter today. It is a small comfort to read their similar thoughts, complaints and hopes. Here is an excerpt from a letter written by Annie Clifton to her brother at war in Europe:

“Brother, Norfolk is some dull now,” wrote 16-year-old Annie Clifton on Oct. 21, 1918. “All of the moving pictures and theatres are closed on account of the Spanish flu. … I’m not working now [and] school … had to close, too.”

Here’s where I suppose I should add some optimistic thoughts and feelings about the positive things that are happening because of, and in spite of Covid 19. If you contact me or any other of our PATINS staff with your needs, we’ll find some creative way to work with you from a distance.  

On this painfully beautiful October day, though,  I’m going to stick with what I’m genuinely experiencing, and say again how much I miss you and the motion of my car speeding down the road to be with you. If you are feeling depressed or exhausted, that is o.k., and if you are feeling vibrantly hopeful, that is also o.k. Writing about any of it from any century is a good way to cope.

Pull out that journal. Better yet, write me a letter. 

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Jul
23

All the Colors are Welcome


In addition to serving as PATINS specialist for blindness and low vision, I am a part time flower farmer. My husband has a full time job off the farm as well, but between the two of us, our daughter Grace, and another part time employee, we grow, cut and assemble 70 - 100 bouquets/week to sell at an Indianapolis farmer’s market. Roger makes the dirt fly, and I cut and assemble bouquets. Every week I get to design with a new palette of colors and textures as different varieties come in and out of bloom. 

Right now, in the technicolor heart of July, we have the most variety, from the cool blues of forget-me-nots and cornflower to brilliant coral zinnias. We have found that certain combinations sell every week, so we assemble what we call “The Rainbow” and “The Rhoda” (named for a former employee) every Friday evening. They sell, but they’ve become boring to make after many years.

The Rainbow and The Rhoda:

bucket of bouquets with rainbow colors featuring sunflowers, cynoglossum and zinnias

bucket with 6 bouquets featuring red, purple and yellow flowers including sunflowers, hydrangea and zinnias

We make these standard sets, then we turn our creativity loose and play with the colors. After many years, I’m realizing I have certain biases in what I will and won’t use together in a bouquet. I’ve never been a fan of putting a lemon sunflower together with a gold one--although others in the crew do this, and the flowers sell. Same with coral and burgundy. Just writing this down makes it seem pretty ridiculous, unless you consider the science of color and perception.

I’ve been trying to push past my color biases this season by intentionally putting together things that don’t appeal to me. Here is a set I did last week: I like orange and blue together, but adding the dark red/brown foliage was difficult. I desired to add a sunflower, but I’m working on moving away from that requirement. I wanted those delphiniums to get noticed! bucket of 6 bouquets with purple, blue and orange flowers featuring delphinium, marigold and celosia

As I disengage my color autopilot, I hope I’m uncovering all of the crazy rules that I’ve accumulated for shades and combinations. I don't want to miss any possibility of beauty because of my bias.

Have you been examining your biases lately? It’s hard to accept that we have any kind of unfairness expressed in our brains subconsciously, but we all do--a part of being human and big-brained. If you want a glimpse of what yours might be, you can take a series of online tests. Knowing what your subconscious is doing humbles you, but might also transform you. 

When my colleague Jessica posted this blog about bias built into assistive technology I had a scales-falling-from-my-eyes moment that made me want to just lay down and cry. I had a similar sensation when I listened to this podcast about the watershed legal case Brown vs. Board of Education, and the shameful racist history I had never learned about my profession, and its impact today on the field.  

When my daughter Grace got married we, of course, did all of the flowers. I kept trying to pin her down on a color scheme. She had just come home from a year of study in Ghana, and from that influence told me in her best Ghanain accent, “All of the colors are welcome.” She’s human and also has biases, but her bouquet creations are varied, bold and spectacular. 

At PATINS we welcome all, and want to break free from any racist biases we may have and serve all. Here is our recent statement to that effect. We hope that you will join us in this work, and hold us accountable to these words. 

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Apr
23

Big Dreams, Small Spaces

laughing child sitting in a garden with purple catmint blooming
I hope this blog finds you healthy and coping well with this not-in-Kansas-anymore life. I was looking at my work calendar from a couple of months ago, and looked at an entry where I traveled, and thought, “Logansport seems like a distant universe.” 

Many of us are escaping to places (other than our snack stations) by watching Netflix. We are all sharing the shows we’ve been bingeing on the streaming platforms. It is spring on our farm, and I am re-watching my favorite British gardening show. 

“Big Dreams, Small Spaces” follows the famous British gardener, Monty Don who guides 2 different garden makeovers per episode. (He’s also an excellent follow on Instagram if you like dreamy garden images.) On the show, the participants share their ideas for a dream garden in their tiny backyard, and Monty checks in over the course of a year to counsel them, and lend some hands-on help. It is the opposite of sensational--there are no bodies found buried in the gardens. There are no cash prizes, and the often very small budgets are footed by the gardeners. 

British gardening guru Monty Don holding a watering can in his garden with his 2 golden retrievers at his side

But many of their dreams are indeed big, including turning their back garden into an enchanted forest, or creating a community vegetable garden for their neighbors. One of my favorites is an episode where parents are designing a garden for their son who has a disability. 

It would be fair to say it is boring, but I also would describe it as compelling. Watching someone dig their own pond with a shovel, and hearing them describe how it has helped them battle depression is a medicine that is working for me as I look for hope wherever it can be found.

My PATINS stakeholders who are contacting me are living in their own “Small Spaces” right now. But like the gardeners, they are dreaming big of taking their limited resources and turning them into a thing of beauty. They are forging stronger relationships with their students’ parents, spending hours communicating how to take their child with blindness on a mobility scavenger hunt, or how to enter math homework using a screen reader. They, like Monty Don and his gardeners, are giving me hope that continuous learning will grow and evolve into something surprisingly lovely. 

At PATINS we’re here to support your big dreams in small spaces. Check out our special resource page or visit our daily office hours with your questions and impossible ideas. 

I'll make the tea. (I guess you'll have to make your own tea if we meet on Zoom. . . but you get the sentiment.)

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Jan
16

Blue Crayons


12 blue crayonsJanuary is when I go for my annual eye exam, and as a specialist for issues regarding vision, I suppose my optometrist braces himself for that lady who has all the questions about eyes. My eyes are worsening each year, in no small part, due to screen use for work and I admit, due to viewing flowers, babies and political nonsense on social media. I’m working on reducing my screen time, and literally, taking a longer view, by scheduling time to look out the window.


My traveling views over the dashboard this winter are taking me frequently to my hometown of North Manchester. Manchester Community Schools is one of the several districts receiving our PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant this year, and I have been assigned to help them with guidance and training. I’ve enjoyed visiting, and being reminded of my childhood in this small college town. The sledding hill at 5th and East Streets looks impossibly smaller than when I was 11. The injuries I sustained couldn’t possibly have happened there. The playground next to the little league field at the old Thomas Marshall School no longer has maypoles or tether balls. If you don’t know what either of these are google “playground hazards from the 1970’s”. Mr. Dave’s restaurant remains the same as does their tenderloin recipe. 

Part of the grant for Manchester’s schools provides specialized assistance with finding the right communication device or system for a student with more intensive needs. Jessica Conrad, PATINS specialist for AAC and I consulted with a teacher and speech therapist about a student who had puzzled them for a while. 

The student had a few words and some gestures to communicate but they felt like he had much more to say. Using picture communication had been inconsistent for him. As they described the student I started to hear some behaviors consistent with a cortical visual impairment. Cortical visual impairment, or CVI is where the eye itself is healthy but the visual pathways in the brain struggle to process an image. When the teacher mentioned that the student always chose a blue crayon or marker for a task, I was pretty sure that CVI was a possibility. Students with CVI often have a strong color preference (although it is usually red or yellow). 

cover of book titled Cortical Visual Impairment by Christine Roman showing a student viewing colored clear pegs on a light box

The teacher contacted his parent to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist. The student’s team also immediately began to offer the student assignments copied onto blue paper. They changed the settings on his iPad so that a blue overlay would cover the display. They used communication symbols highlighted in blue. 

The team was excited to report after only a couple of weeks that they were seeing dramatic improvement in the student’s attention, engagement, and accuracy in pointing at communication symbols. 

view looking over a boy's shoulder at his iPad and school assignment printed on blue paper.

The brain never ceases to amaze me. As educators and humans, we need reminders of how perception can vary so widely from individual to individual. Whether it is the filter of perception through color or through the lens of long-term childhood memories, our view is highly individualized. Keeping this in our awareness as educators can only lead to better results in our work. The staff at MCS are also benefiting from an initiative in Indiana called Project Success that supports higher academic achievement for students with disabilities. I’m grateful for this initiative and the educators at Manchester Elementary who hadn’t given up on finding out what could give this student a voice, and a means for academic success.

graphic logo for Project Success


How are your eyes? Where are you looking?
How are your perceptions expanding?
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Nov
14

What I Love More Than Pie

pie 6 pies including pecan, raspberry, pumpkin, apple cream and cranberry chess

I am well into my 5th year with PATINS, and I am wondering how I’ve made it this long without a focused blog about pie. How did this happen?


I love pie. 

My top 3 flavors would be chocolate, wild black raspberry, and apple cream. I enjoy making pie, but through my travels across Indiana as a specialist for PATINS I’ve decided I enjoy HUNTING for pie in small towns even more! I even created a pie map of Indiana, marking the coffee shops and bakeries where I’ve found good and great pie. 

Pie is a food about memory for me. I remember picking wild black raspberries with my mom as a child, and pouring our berries into a bowl to have enough for a pie. I remember my sister, Patty teaching me how to smooth out the ball of dough completely before beginning to roll it out to prevent cracks and tears in the crust. My enormous extended family has served pie instead of, or in addition to, cake at several weddings, and I remember joyful forkfuls from these celebrations.

When I find a new place on the road that serves homemade pie, I always think about the memories behind the recipes, and the stories of the folks in that town whose hands sealed the edges of the crust.

Yesterday, I scored big as a specialist in Jonesboro, IN. I met a new Kindergartener who is learning braille, and the brave paraprofessional who has signed up to learn to use a braille embosser, braille translation software, and a braille display device. Together, along with a wonderful general education teacher (who has welcomed the loud embosser into her room!) they will discover how to make a way for learning. It's Kindergarten--what's a little more noise?

I was instantly impressed by the paraprofessional who had loaded the software and connected everything correctly, but humbly confessed,

“I can’t figure out how to load the paper.” 

“And I hate asking for help.”  

She was intelligent, kind, and already talking about how she would help her student become more independent. I confessed that I didn’t understand the embosser either. (They keep changing the buttons!) So we dove into the manual translated to English from Dutch, and failed our way to success. 

Afterward, I also scored a delightful piece of cherry pie at Kammy’s Kafe in town. I sat and enjoyed my dessert while reflecting on the morning of training, knowing that this student will be included in her school and community. And I decided that I love determined paraprofessionals even MORE than pie. 
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Oct
10

The Intersection of Literacy and Joy

IMG_071_Smiling girl showing her book on her iPad written for her
book cover for Where the Red Fern Grows with boy and his two hunting dogs running through a field

“I cried when I read Where the Red Fern Grows in 4th grade.”

“My first grade teacher was stern, but when she read aloud she used funny voices.”

“Non fiction is my favorite. I’m still all about the facts.”

“I followed the hymnal at church while listening to my mom sing.” 

“I loved Dr. Suess. . . comic books. . . Harry Potter . . . mysteries . . . .

I’ve had the joyful privilege of working with Indiana teachers in trainings about making and engaging with books and literacy this summer and fall. An introductory activity that I did with groups was to ask them to place 3-4 influential books on a timeline of their life, and these were comments I heard during share time. For most of the presentations, I had to interrupt lively heartfelt discussions because the participants didn’t want to stop talking about books.

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a book.” – J.K. Rowling

Something magical was also happening during those discussion times. Folks were connecting over shared experiences and writing down titles for books they had yet to discover. It reminded me that any learning task is made more meaningful with emotional engagement. Our brains get primed for the what and the how if we are taken through the door of the why.

door opening with a bright light behind it
We spent the remainder of the trainings looking for sources for books in electronic format, and making both electronic and tactile format books to take back to all students, no matter what access they may need to engage with a book. 

I’ve received even more joy via photos and stories of students with the books their teachers found or created for them. 

smiling boy reading a book on his iPad with headphones

I’d love to see your face light up at the mention of a good book. I’d also love to hear the particular challenges you face when providing opportunities for improving literacy for students in any setting. Give me or another PATINS specialist a shout if you’d like to bring a training on engaging literacy to your district or educational team!

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin


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Jul
04

Getting to the Root

Bev holding the Uprooter and a tree removed with the tool
Growing up on a farm, and working part time for over a decade as a flower farmer, I thought I had seen most garden tools available to be grasped by green thumbs of the world: every kind of spade and hoe with unique blade shapes, specialized plates for zinnia planting, and cool Japanese beetle traps that may or may not bring every beetle in a mile radius to the bullseye center of our field. 


My horticultural paradigm was knocked off center, though, when I spent a couple of afternoons working with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired horticulture program removing invasive species from their campus. I was assigned to the group removing small trees and introduced to the UPROOTER, a.k.a. tool of my dreams. 

As shown in this video, the Uprooter grasps small trees at their base, and provides a long bar/lever to wrench the tree out, providing the most gratifying sensation of feeling the many-fingered roots pull up easily from their depths. If you’ve ever tried to pull even a half inch tree out of your landscaping by hand, maybe you, like me, have resorted to just cutting it off at the ground only to have the tree grow back in a month or so. It’s either that or back surgery. With my very own Uprooter, though, I have removed even the gnarly hackberry tree that I had just been cutting to the ground for the past ten years. 

My most successful consultations through PATINS generate a similar satisfying vibe. A Teacher for the Blind is preparing for a new educational need, or transition to middle school for a student and wants to explore technology options. They have a toolbox full of great devices, strategies and ideas, but want more training or to make sure they have the most up-to-date device. We spend most of our time talking about the student, and their unique needs, and then process our conversation using a great leveraging tool like Joy Zabala’s SETT framework. When a teacher knows their students well, and I am able to connect them with a new accessibility technique or gadget, we reach a moment when the barriers seem to loosen and slide out of the substratum of complexity.

Pinkish red zinnia
What are some barriers you’re facing this school year? Do you need to weed out any old practices that you’ve hoped would just disappear without addressing the root? We’d love to hear from you! Let a PATINS specialist be your Uprooter! 

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Mar
29

Behind the Scenes of April Testing

Behind the Scenes of April Testing Chalkboard with math equations.
I’ve spent a lot of my time in the past month or so interacting with teachers for the blind and low vision who are preparing for the new ILEARN test that will be given starting in April. I love being called to drive to Valparaiso or Connersville for these visits. Connecting with these teachers is the musical equivalent to attending an amazing jazz performance with masterful improvisations.

Fingers on the keys of a saxophone
The new test is built to test students online so that we can level or adapt the test to the user, giving us a more accurate picture of proficiency. Leveling also lowers the stress on students as they are quickly sent to questions at their level or ones that are slightly harder or easier.


The state has provided an item repository for all subjects and grades to try out in advance, so that students and teachers can know how to tweak the many accommodations offered to match the features they use in their daily work. Accommodations include things like using a Braille display, enlarged display, different types of contrast, or text to speech for students with BLV. Many other accommodations are available to students with other disabilities, such as closed captions for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Technology moves quickly and teachers for the blind have to keep up with both Braille and low vision devices while often working in multiple districts with multiple platforms for students of multiple ages. If this were the subject of an ILEARN test question, the answer would look like:

complex learner X many devices X all the subjects
= explosion of detail management!

chalkboard with math equations and symbols

The folks I’ve visited with are courageously forging ahead into new territory with technology, and working overtime (read on their spring break), to figure out what will be best for each of their students. They are choosing to engage with technology outside of their comfort zone, becoming vulnerable to ask for help from a team member or from PATINS. At each visit, they are teaching me new things and engaging me in new questions about giving students the right setting, environment, and device.

More than focusing on technology for the test, they want materials and devices that support real learning. They don’t need the fanciest tool, but the one that really works for their students. They want to set each student up to become the best versions of who they are and engage with the world independently. Most folks who interact with students with blindness first instinct is to assume dependence, so these BLV teachers are constantly whispering (or shouting), “let them do it!” They wear the “mean teacher for the blind” badge with pride.

They are learning subject content with their students like AP chemistry or braille music notation, even if they don’t read music in the first place, because some of their students dream of becoming scientists and Broadway stars.

These teachers wouldn’t ask for it, but I’m shining the spotlight on their hard, unglamorous, day to day work. I see you, and I’m grateful that you keep showing up for your students.



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Dec
20

The Gift of Growth

We welcome a guest blogger this holiday week, Julie Bryant, who is a teacher for the blind and low vision serving in Dubois, Spencer, Perry and Pike Counties. I love Julie’s style: she’s direct, funny and a fierce advocate for her students. I turned her loose to choose a topic, and I’m not surprised that she’s chosen to share stories of her students and their achievements:

Julie Bryant and her husband Bill.
When Bev asked me to participate in the PATINS weekly blog I decided with Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas quickly approaching I felt that it was important to talk about the blessings that being a BLV teacher has afforded me. I am blessed to meet my students when they first enter preschool and remain with them until they graduate high school and if I’m lucky, beyond. I have students that still call me when they have a question, concern, or just need some advice after moving on to college or the workforce. Watching these students grow and blossom is the greatest gift. 


As BLV teachers when our students succeed or fail we feel those joys and sorrows right along with our students and their parents. The technology that we now have for our students has come a long way over the last 10 years that I have been in this position. 

Technology has helped my blind and low vision students feel more like their peers and given them access to more information, books, and careers. My blind students have BrailleTouch devices, MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones that have allowed them to be more independent. 

One of my students in high school wants to be a lawyer and if his ability to argue his case with me daily about anything and everything is any indication of his abilities, I know he will be amazing. He gives Sunday sermons at a small country church once a month (I’ve said for years he should be a preacher!), as he seems to inspire others. He would eventually like to get into politics (ugh), but at least I know he will be an honest and upstanding politician! He is an inspiration not because he is blind, but because he doesn’t see himself as different and gets upset when people treat him with disrespect because he is blind. 

I have a student with low vision who is attending IU. She is part of the IU singing Hoosiers and has an amazing voice. She is also studying to be a psychologist. Being part of this exclusive group was a goal she worked hard to attain and she has a work ethic second to none.

I have tried to impress upon my students that they can do or be anything they want, but they have to put in the work to achieve those goals. Some think I am pretty tough, but if being tough helps my students succeed then I will continue to push my students.
 


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Sep
13

When Life Overlaps (With More Life)


two teen girls jumping on a trampoline at the Sharritt's farm
Have you ever felt stretched in more directions than you ever felt possible? This summer was a season of challenging and unexpected beginnings for me, which is kinda funny because in my last PATINS blog, I used the phrase “bring on the possibilities!” (shakes head at 3-months-ago self). Here’s the summary of summer for specialist, flower-farmer, foster mom, and new-grandma Bev:


A challenging beginning for my full time job at PATINS was to create meaningful trainings for ALL educators for the summer of eLearning conferences, given that my specialty area is with blindness and low vision technology. Most of my participants may have one student in their whole career with this disability. I came up with “Close Your Eyes and Imagine UDL” and “Electronic Books for Elementary Students”. Check these out as fall webinars by searching the PATINS training calendar.

More and more, the boundaries of special education and regular education are dissolving into “this classroom works for everyone.” I met many educators who are doing this creative work. They enriched my specialized views with their ideas for taking accommodations traditionally available to students with blindness and low vision and considering how they could help any student.


My part-time summer job as flower farmer became both harder and easier when my Mad Farmer husband Roger, planted 20 new perennial varieties. I loved having a larger variety of textures and palettes when making bouquets, but it also increased the number of times my back had to bend to cut those beauties. We are already negotiating on limits for next year, but I’ve seen some new dirt flying in the perennial field when Roger thinks I’m not watching.

close up of black-eyed Susan flower; black center with gold narrow petals
In late June, we suddenly welcomed two foster daughters ages 11 and 12 into our house. This led to having more than one kind of cereal in our cupboard, and other oddities like an unexpected evening of putting together a trampoline as a thunderstorm approached. The trampoline
does block my view of the perennial field. The volume of life has increased for the Sharritts with this addition of both loud laments/bickering and high-pitched joy/hilarity to our lives.


With great anticipation, I awaited the title of grandma this summer with a due date for Margaret Rosemarie on August 3rd. Then in June, the news that her dad would be a working in Indianapolis, rather than Michigan, threw new possibilities and logistical challenges into the mix. My son-in-law moved in with us to start his job and look for housing (buy more cereal). We worked on squeezing in visits to our daughter while she finished her job, and waited to deliver in Lansing. Then we all waited 9 extra days for the girl while she took her sweet time to make her entrance.

September and structure are my new favorites. I’ve never been more excited for school to start. I’ll be a little sad when the frost comes and kills the zinnias--but only a little. I’d even concede that I’m looking forward to socks again. We’ve all landed softly (or continue to bounce on that trampoline!) after a chaotic summer. The heaviness of the stress when many roles overlapped, eventually found a balance with something lighter. Or I yelled for help, and someone stepped in. Or I just yelled. 

I witness educators being pulled in many directions as well. If it is a season of extremes for you, I wish for you a good team, and a willingness to look for growth in the stretching.



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Jun
06

Summer: A Time to Create (and Eat Kohlrabi)

purple kohlrabi ready to harvest in the garden

“Beginnings. I detest them.”


This is the first line I wrote in a journal I kept for my first creative writing class in high school, circa early ‘80’s. I was sixteen, so my first inclination in reading it all these years later is to reach back in time and pat myself on my big, feathered,1981 hair and gently say, “oh honey, turn down the drama.” I was, after all, sixteen, so maybe there was only one setting.

photo of Bev's creative writing journal from 1981
In reading the whole journal entry, I sense that what I was really feeling was fear. I liked writing, and other teachers had told me that I was a good writer, but I was nervous about measuring up for Mrs. Bales, who had a powerful reputation in our school. She was known to be quirky, funny, creative, and to set the bar high. I had even heard that she arranged the desks in a circle on certain days--gasp!

She wrote back to me in the journal feedback, “beginnings can be beautiful and new!” which turned out to be true for her class, where I felt challenged and nurtured as a writer. It was also the place where the seeds were sown for my career in education. Mrs. Bales paired me with classmates who struggled with editing, and pointed out that I was good at helping them without doing it for them.

37 years later, (with much smaller hair) I’m thinking about the beginning of summer, and the beginning of my 3rd year with PATINS.

Summer starting:

  • Slicing the first kohlrabi from the garden
  • Walking through the entrance of the amusement park and deciding which roller coaster to ride first
  • Opening the first page of the book you haven’t had time to read
  • No socks for months and months ahead
  • The garage freezer is full of Klondiketwo rows of sunflower plants in the garden Bars
  • Betting with my husband on the first sunflower bloom
  • Porch swing cinematic view of an Indiana storm bowling in
Beginning a new year with PATINS:
I know in September I’ll be ready for structure again, but for now, bring on the blank pages, the possibilities, the bare feet!

outline map of Indiana with pie stickers placed where Bev has traveled for PATINS and found good pie
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Mar
01

March Towards Hope

March Towards Hope

The calendar has some quirky coincidences in 2018. The somber first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, when folks in the Christian faith acknowledge that yes, they are
going to die, fell on Valentine's Day: a frivolous celebration of worldly love. Easter is on April 1 this year. I don’t envy the ministers and theologians who will have to work on that Sunday. It seems like they’ll have some extra explaining to do. And now my turn to write the PATINS blog falls on March 1st. Ugh.


Not true everywhere, but in Indiana March is the worst month. Don’t let that iconic shamrock on the calendar fool you, there isn’t much green to be found anywhere. We’re surrounded by gray skies, flat beige landscapes, and still wearing thick socks. In March, there might be a 70 degree day or two where you are lulled into thinking winter is loosening, but it will be followed by a lockdown-drill of freezing rain.

road 2125828 960 720 2
There is the big basketball tournament to distract us, but as I write this, Purdue has dropped from the top of the Big 10 standings, and it seems that having not one but two 7-footers on the team wasn’t enough to propel the Boilermakers from our mid season winning streak to tournament favorites. I blame March in the midwest. I know, not rational, because all Big 10 teams are in the midwest, but before you all message me and gently suggest that maybe Bev needs some medication, I’ll let you know that I do have strategies for surviving March.

First, seed catalogs = hope. Slowly page through them and drink in the colors. Or, while you’re at the home improvement store finding replacement parts for your sump pump (March floods) stop by the display of seed packets, pull out a packet, gently shake it by your ear and hear the sound of presumed life. My second strategy is to pretend I’m somewhere else; otherwise known as Mr. Rogers make believe medicine (I know, maybe consider medication). I put on my colorful bathing suit, lime green swim cap, and swim at the Y once or twice a week. And I imagine that the water is heated by a tropical sun. This week: Belize. My final strategy was a gift given to me by my friend Kelly. She created a Pinterest board for me called “March Madness Prevention” and she posts images or links to my favorite things: Bugs Bunny cartoons, snapdragons, and porch swings, to name a few.

The PATINS blog calendar lottery has also slotted me into a point in time where schools and teachers are looking out at what could be described as a bleak landscape. Fear seems to have enveloped schools, and infected the debate about how to keep all safe in the sacred space of the classroom. I’ve laid awake at night with the debate about violence in schools ricocheting around my brain, but haven’t been able to come up with much that doesn’t sound like more noise.

I’ve decided to follow Kelly’s lead to offer you a Pinterest board of sorts to share some images of hope. As a PATINS specialist I am in and out of many Indiana schools each week, and I see so many lovely things happening despite all that seems against us. Here are a few snapshots of hope happening in schools. Right now. Despite March:
  • My colleagues in Bluffton who work every day to hold high expectations for all and ensure that each child in the room has a voice. Follow the joy: @asheetsroom14 on Twitter.
  • An art teacher friend shares this story
painting created by high school student of bare trees with snow and shadows
  • One kindergartener telling another to take a deep breath when they can’t seem to figure out the reader app I’m teaching them. I followed her lead.
  • Students from STEM and robotics clubs finding solutions for students needing them. I was fortunate to meet members of the Mishawaka Penn High School Robotics Club who presented at a national assistive technology conference.
  • Pre-teacher in a Butler training determined to reach middle-schoolers, despite showing a depth of understanding of the middle school psyche. Felt like a hope earthquake under my feet.
  • Students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired discovering healthier food by massaging kale with avocado, and planning a new cafeteria garden on their campus. (I repeat, seeds = hope)
If you have an image of hope, please share in the comments!

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Nov
23

A Universally Designed Thanksgiving Gathering

black raspberry pie
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The Sharritt’s have already stuffed themselves once last Sunday as we hosted my husband’s Kincaid cousins, and we’re on our way to Lansing today to feast with our daughter Grace, her husband Chris, and their family of choice at their church.


I hope you are on your way to a gathering filled with love, moist turkey, and many kinds of pie. It’s a time for human to human contact, something we may feel a little uneasy about in these days of personal interaction mediated by devices. We’ve been seeing Cousin Cyndi’s baking wins and fails all year on Pinterest, and now it’s time to sit down and actually break some honey twist bread with her. Uncle Mickey has been lurking on Facebook all year, and while we haven’t seen him, he’ll know much about what we’ve been up to by monitoring our newsfeed.


It is a new and ever-changing social dynamic we’re all figuring out together. I thought I’d share some tools I’ve discovered as a Specialist for
PATINS that might help you navigate this tricky digitally disposed world.


There are many apps designed to help folks who struggle with social skills. And I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a family gathering to make you feel like your social skills have been set back a couple of decades. A Jeopardy-style game called 10 Ways helps students learn to recognize idioms, sarcasm (also known in our family as decoding what Uncle Roger is saying), and how to start a conversation, among other things. These are mainly developed for people with autism, but who among us couldn’t benefit from choosing “listening for 400” or “personal space for 100” and learning some pointers to help us improve at getting along?

gameboard for 10 ways app showing the categories body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, personal space, and eye contact

Working with students who have blindness or low vision, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to help these kids find ways to interpret social situations without the benefit of seeing body language and facial expressions. A new viewing device called the
OrCam helps them to not only read print in their environment (signs, menus, books), but can also be taught to recognize faces of their friends and family. The lens on their special glasses sees who is present when they enter a room, and voices names into the user’s earphones. An app for your phone called Seeing AI does this as well with the phone’s camera, and goes a step further: you can train it to not only recognize “Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture, but you can train it to recognize “Angry Aunt Ethel” and “Happy Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture with those facial expressions. Then when you walk into the kitchen you’ll know if she’s discovered that you broke into the fudge stashed in the pantry before she yells at you.


screen from seeing AI app showing boy aiming his phone at a girl with the text

I don’t have low vision, but this app is helping me to remember which one is Auntie Mid and which one is Auntie Rene (same enormous nose and sweet smile) just by discreetly aiming my phone their way. Honestly, it is helping me keep track of names for folks I may only see a couple times per year at the family dinner. At PATINS we are promoting a movement in education towards
Universal Design for Learning and this app is a good example of how one tool designed for a special need or task can evolve into an improved learning environment for all (including those of us who have 51 first cousins!)


There are new instant captioning apps for the hearing impaired that use voice recognition to put speech into text. This is huge for both students in a classroom, and also for Grandpa who is struggling to hear his granddaughter speak to him over the football game.

There are three major principles for Universal Design for Learning: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. Engagement entails getting someone interested in learning, like this little cheer my son Ben did with his younger cousins to get them get motivated to help dry dishes.

Representation is the practice of presenting content in many different ways. For Thanksgiving, this obviously translates into having as many flavors, colors and textures of pie as possible. You also might want to contrast with a cheesecake or flan.

The final principle, Action & Expression is easily illustrated at any family gathering. Look around the table at the beautiful diversity that came from the same bank of DNA, and embrace all the forms of expression that we have to share what we know.
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