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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Apr
25

Thanks Harry!

Thanks Harry!

Here it is, time for me to blog. It is my understanding, that as a PATINS blogger, I am to reflect on those things in my specialty area. For me as the ICAM Technical Specialist, it involves getting material from the NIMAC, Learning Ally, how to deliver digital content and what to do when it just doesn’t seem to go as planned.

Anyone who has followed my other blog postings probably didn’t absorb much of that content. I prefer to be a little more whimsical in my writing. I enjoy sharing more on a personal note just because it’s my blog!

On Easter Sunday, we had the whole family together consisting of my two daughters, their husbands and my five grandchildren.

We enjoyed the traditional stuff that we have always done like an Easter egg hunt, Easter baskets, a big dinner, etc. Everything went off without a hitch.

Jeff's 5 grandchildren on Easter
What was different about this Easter was the interaction and independence of the grandchildren. Ranging from one and a half to seven, each had a very different way of experiencing the festivities. Sure, age had something to do with it but it was how different each one got to the same or similar level of enjoyment.

What I noticed that day was even at the most earliest of ages, each child had their own way of discovering, sharing, cooperating, conveying their excitement and disappointment in ways that were not directed by adults.

What I saw was an unspoken use of Universal Design OF Learning. Each child using their own talents and not being told what to do be it right or wrong, but enjoying the moment.

This holiday experience reminded me of a Harry Chapin song Flowers Are Red. Some of the lyrics are as follows:

The little boy went first day of school
He got some crayons and he started to draw
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw

And the teacher said, "What you doin' young man?"
"I'm paintin' flowers" he said
She said, "It's not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red"

"There's a time for everything young man
And a way it should be done
You've got to show concern for everyone else
For you're not the only one"

And she said, "Flowers are red young man
And green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen"


I am not the type to spoil the rest of the song, but I think it’s worth listening to because it sums up just how to incorporate UDL into any classroom, as well as our lives outside of the classroom.

As I listen, I gotta say…Thanks, Harry!


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Jan
13

Can you hear the Echo?

Last summer on our family vacation my daughter brought along her Amazon Echo. She set it up in the main living area and said, “Dad you need to get one of these."

Between my daughter, my son-in-law and my grandkids, it was a fight to demonstrate just what the Echo could do. “Alexa, play Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles." Sure enough the Echo played it and before the song was half over, another request, “Alexa, what’s the temperature?” “Alexa, tell me a joke.”

This went on for about an hour. It was impressive even when Alexa didn’t know the answer or request the Echo said so with, “Hmm, I don’t know the answer to that question." Not many people will fess up to that.

Alexa was busy all week playing music, responding to joke requests now and then and miscellaneous questions to stump the Echo.

When I got home I didn’t rush out to get an Echo although it was tempting. You see I like technology and most of all gadgets, but I looked at the price and thought I’ll give it some time.

Sure enough a few months later my daughter texted me to let me know the Echo was on sale. Temptation took over and I ordered one. It was delivered and I set it up, got it connected to the Internet and started asking requests like I had no idea of facts or music. My wife and I rambled on until we looked at each other and decided we were done…for the moment.

One little caveat about the Echo is depending on what name you give it, Alexa, Echo or Amazon you should be aware that if you are within an ear shout of the device and inadvertently say the name, it will try to answer you. Most of the time it replies, “Hmm, I don’t know the answer to that question”.

Fast forward to before Christmas.

There were a lot of sale opportunities for the Echo models, one of which was the Echo Dot 2. It is about the size of a hockey puck with a small speaker but the price was about a third of the larger Echo. For as much as everyone seemed to enjoy the Echo, I thought I’d get everyone a Dot. It was a stellar idea because everyone liked them, which brings me to the point of this blog.

My son-in-law has a cousin with Cerebral Palsy. She is wheelchair bound and uses a DynaVox device for communication. My daughter asked me if the Echo would work with the DynaVox. If you know me, you know where I went from there.

I don’t have a DynaVox, but I did have an iPad. I pulled it out and installed a simple Text to Speech app and started playing. The first thing that you must do is address the device by name and for me that was ”Alexa." When it lights up it is ready for your request. I typed Alexa and my request, tell me a joke. I took my iPad close to the Echo and tapped Speak and sure enough I got a joke.

I played around many times with different requests and noticed that sometimes the initial “Alexa” command needed a bit more time before the request could be processed, so I added either a comma or two or a Return entry which put a little pause before the request was spoken.

The request should be made with a 5 to 6 second window for the Echo to respond to the request. I have Proloque2Go on another iPad and added an Alexa joke request button to the default  "Joke" folder and it worked as well. Here is a short video of what I did with my iPad and Proloquo2Go sample.

In theory, any device that lets the user create phrases like I had done on the iPad and Proloque2Go should have access to the Echo’s ability to respond. Every device is different and there might be some tweaking to do. However, the independent interaction of accessing endless amounts of information and entertainment at the request of the user is worth the effort.

The Echo can also be linked to control environmental devices like lights, switches, thermostat and the list is growing. I am sure this was not my sole discovery, but if it gets the interest of someone else, it has served its purpose. I will work to get this in the hands of my son-in-law’s cousin. Stay tuned.

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Sep
23

Simplicity

For Grandparent’s Day a couple of weeks ago, I spent the morning with my grandson, Dean. His first grade class had prepared a song to sing for us. After the musical presentation, they proudly lead all their respective grandparents to prepared artwork and individual lockers. A sense of enthusiasm was evident as the students pulled out their iPads to show the elders all they could do. It was at that point I noticed slight bobbing and cocking of heads accompanied by many uh hums. The first graders were flipping through icons and pausing to stop at one and then another, swiping to the left and to the right. The grandparent’s heads kept bobbing and sounds of the uh hums became more obvious. 

Being one of the senior PATINS staff members, I’ve been around to see technology metamorphoses into a variety of different forms. It started with a handful of cause and effect programs, switch access here and rudimentary AAC devices there. There were big CCTVs and various keyboards. It didn’t seem to change very much over time. However, technology today is expediential in how quickly it is surpassing itself. To me that is mind blowing! 

Perhaps out of comfort or habit, this senior staff member tends to think “old school”. This old dog sometimes doesn’t mind following through with the same old tricks. It might be as simple as needing a piece of paper to physically hold onto...to connect my mind to something tangible. I’ve realized that many things that have become habit for one may not be an easy habit for others. 

I have five young grandchildren and every day they are acquiring knowledge that is new and is truly in its simplest form. I have been fortunate to have acquired a good technology skill set over time and I feel confident in sharing that knowledge with them and with others. In my position with PATINS/ICAM, I receive calls, emails and in person requests for the most simplest things. Often, I remind myself that even what one person sees as simple is another’s struggle to understand or grasp. My takeaway is to never underestimate the simple; it might just be the roadblock that might keep a person from moving forward. 

We live in an age where we experience so much in the digital context. Cell phones, the Internet, news and social media, etc. offers immediate access to content that is at our fingertips. Is that tangible enough for us to absorb in a way that we can fully process all of the content? For some, perhaps not. 


I’ve bounced around some senior insight, but in that moment of watching the head bobbing and uh humming at my grandson’s celebration of Grandparents, a thought crossed my mind. I don’t think it was the confusion of what the grandparents were seeing and hearing with the iPads. I think it was the amazement of what our grandchildren are experiencing. These first graders made their experiences seem so simple…at least to this grandparent!  
Jeff and his grandson
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Jun
29

My Quest for Gold

It’s time for another blog entry and after posting my previous one it got me thinking about what I do.  I moved from the PATINS Central Site Coordinator position that I held for 17 years to become the ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) Technology Coordinator just less than a year ago.  It has been a year of learning the details of what happens when a student qualifies for digital print materials and how we get it to them.  As a site coordinator I would troubleshoot with the Digital Rights Managers as how to use the technology they needed to open files like NIMAS, ePubs, PDF, etc. for use with their students.  My current position offers me the opportunity to get the digital content from the publishers, the NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Accessibility Center), Learning Ally among other sources.  I also process orders and still offer technical assistance when needed, which is often, but hey that’s the job and I like a good challenge now and then.

If you read my first post, “Mimi, would you read this to me?” you know my confession, but more importantly it was about how crucial it is for children especially young children to be read to.

Sometimes things come full circle and I’ll explain.  We had a family vacation not long ago to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  We have been there 4 times before and last year my wife thought it would be worth trying an audiobook for the drive so she downloaded the first chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I’ll be honest again, but driving through the mountains of Virginia at night and trying to concentrate on the road was much more than I had in mind.  Needless to say it was over before chapter two.  She wanted to try it again this year, but had planned to do a couple of chapters when the stress of driving was minimal.  Together we worked at logging on to our local library, downloading the Overdrive app on her iPhone and selecting an audiobook.  The process was relatively easy.  The audiobook that we chose was The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.  Once on our way and traffic tolerable, we popped the auxiliary jack into her phone and started with the Preface.  I have always enjoyed sports through participation or observing, but never thought of just listening to what was being described.  For the first time in a long time it was enjoyable.  The anticipation of the next chapter was figuratively and literally just around the corner.  We listened to half of book on the way there and the other half on the way back.  I know what you’re thinking, why did you wait a whole week to finish the book?  Again, it was anticipation for me.  It was something to look forward to during the boring part of the drive.

I opened this blog with what my job description is in a nutshell, but this experience was one that the students with a print disability and even those that don’t experience every day.  It was a glimpse for me to walk in their shoes if only through one book and to really feel what I have been a part of over so many years had come to fruition. 

There are many “tools” for supporting access to digital content and selecting one or two might seem like a daunting task, but the PATINS Project and ICAM staff can help with making that easier with the right background information.  It’s not your quest for gold, but it is for your students.

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Apr
18

“Mimi, would you read me this book?”

Reading…not one of my favorite pastimes.  A difficult confession and one I am embarrassed to admit.  It is something I have struggled with all through school and beyond.  Call it a lack of interest, being uncomfortably forced to read out loud, a missed diagnosis, etc. I don’t know for sure.  Don’t get me wrong I can read, but more out of necessity than pleasure.
I know the importance of reading for a variety of reasons and in my current role it is even more imperative that gaining access to materials in a variety of formats is important.  With all of its importance that’s what led me to do this blog about Mimi.  Mimi is the name my grandchildren call my wife.  I know her as Rita, but not when the grandkids are around.  Being a teacher for more than 30+ years (sorry Mimi) she has always taken great pleasure each semester to take the time to read a story out loud to her class.  Sometime funny and sometime serious topics, but stories that held the class riveted to her every word.  It’s one of the things that alumni students remember vividly about her class.  I can’t say that happened when I was in school, besides that was too long age. Mimi reading to three of her Grandkids.Which brings me to Mimi and my grandkids. We have 5 ranging from 6 years of age down to 6 months.  From a very early age, Mimi would “read” picture books to each one.  It only has a picture and is wordless, but she would describe the picture in a way that would tell a very short story.  As each one has grown older, she would ask if they would like for her to read to them.  “Bring me a book”, she will say if they don’t already have one in hand.  She has never been turned down.  More often than not I hear “Mimi, would you read me this book?”  You should know by now that the answer is an overwhelming “YES”.  It is a blessing to watch how she draws our grandchildren into her world, no their world.  So as I watch this miracle happen, I take pleasure in fact that undoubtedly my grandchildren have found the importance of reading and I have as well.  What a precious gift to pass on.
 
In the big picture, the interest and encouragement we offer to students can go a long way.  It may be a hardback book, digital file, braille, audio format, or just plain reading to them and conveying enthusiasm is key to inspiration.  Just like Mimi.
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