PATINS Logo
Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Mar
12

Sunrise or Sunset?

Is it a sunrise or a sunset, it is all in your perspective.

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to tell you all that I will be leaving the PATINS Project. I have accepted a position as a Various Exceptionalities/Exceptional Students Educator for Largo Middle School of Pinellas County Schools. 

beach clouds dawn dusk

It is my time with PATINS that has influenced my desire to return to the classroom. When I left Seymour in 2012, school corporations were on the brink of large changes. These changes would affect both the general and special needs classrooms. With PATINS I have seen 1 to 1 computers. The explosion of the iPad as an accessible, multifaceted AT device. I have seen renewed desire to provide all students with the least restrictive environment. Classrooms are more diverse. Options for graduation are diversifying and with that a renewed interest in how schools transition students into society. With technology, so many more students are able to receive accommodations where they once would only receive modifications. Differentiation is becoming Specially Designed Instruction and Universally Designed Instruction is on the cusp of becoming the norm.


With my PATINS experience I found myself wondering what kind of teacher I would be today. I am excited to find out by going back into public schools to teach, support and lead others in these practices.

Thank you for the insight and hope for greater things that you have given me. If it were not for the exposure and experience of working with Indiana’s exceptional educators, I would not be returning to public education. These experiences along with the fellowship and exceptional intellect of my peers has made me capable and hungry to share these skills with students.

Thank you all!
Sandi Smith










1
  1948 Hits
Sep
27

Power in Listening

Recently, I found myself trapped in a hallway with a coworker who likes to talk.

He launched into a long story about his kids, his weekend plans, his new project, his car trouble, and his recent injury. I felt as if it would never end. I was smiling and nodding, but I wasn’t really listening. I was thinking about all the work I had to get done. 

Later that day, I felt terribly guilty for not having listened attentively. I ended up talking to him again after work, and I was stunned when he thanked me for being such a good sounding board. I didn’t feel that I was at all.

Since then, I’ve been trying my best to actively listen to others in my circles. 

It seems our world is fighting to be heard. But there is power in listening. In fact, we may say MORE by listening. Listening tells people that they matter and worthy of your time and attention. When we listen, we have the opportunity to hint at our confident identity and willingness to put others first. Listening is foreign to the world at large. Maybe that’s why it’s so effective.

While working in a First-Grade classroom this week, I heard the teacher ask the class, “Do you have your listening ears on?" Maybe that’s a question we should ask ourselves at the start of each day.

1
  767 Hits
Aug
29

Winning the year!


Does/Did your family take a picture of you and your siblings as you left for the first day of school each day? Some do, mine didn’t. When I started looking I found Makenzie.
Here are her 12 years of school. They talked about how old she was what she was looking forward to. All of her answers were about friends and Junior year being able to sleep in! It was poignant watching her age forward and then backward.

We have seen numerous videos of servicemen and women surprising their children at school, which makes me cry every single time!

#GerryBrooks tells us all how to navigate all kinds of school situations from creating fake “how to avoid students and parents apps” to how to handle the first week of school stress. Lampooning the amusing side of school behind the scenes.

One school I saw had big “athletic like” pictures of students just being themselves on the walls. No trophies were won. Just day to day interaction caught and immortalized.

Cheer sign with many cartoon figures celebratingWhat I have noticed is that there aren't many videos of teachers and students doing their favorite activities. I get that you need permission for the pictures, but how great would it be to have a YouTube site, podcasts or blog where we see you and students engaged and working together. This year, be the cheerleader you and your students deserve and show us all how it is done! 

If you do take this suggestion, let us know!
We will cheer with you!
0
  1855 Hits
Jul
18

The End...Or Is It?

This is a bittersweet week. I am leaving The PATINS Project on Friday to head out on a new educational adventure supporting students in a similar, yet different capacity, for multiple school districts south of Indianapolis. Leaving the team is a decision that was not made lightly. Being a Specialist for the PATINS Project has been an opportunity that has changed me professionally and personally; it allowed me to partner with some of the most innovative and knowledgeable educators I have ever known. It has exposed me to dynamic and creative professionals who have what I consider to be the key to helping students -- a mixture of extreme passion, ability to transfer information to educators and always knowing WHY they do it.

Being a part of the PATINS Project has armed me with the ability to access an entire world of no-cost resources than I never imagined existed. I have learned from the best in my field, and have also been exposed to so many ways that expand my educator world without ever going outside my school office. It is my honor to impart some of these things to all of the blog followers out there.


Twitter 

If someone tweets in cyberspace and no one hears it, did it ever happen? 

When I was hired as a PATINS Specialist, I had a Twitter account -- @RachelH872 for those of you who do not follow me but absolutely should! Truthfully, I rarely used it and quite frankly had no idea why or how it could be a networking tool. I followed the Indigo Girls, Ryan Reynolds and some of my friends who seemed to lead interesting lives, but it was just something else to check. 

What I found as I started to delve into the “Twitterverse” absolutely changed my life. My Personal Learning Network (PLN) expanded beyond my wildest dreams. I took the time to figure out who I wanted to learn from and who to follow. I joined incredible weekly Twitter chats where I could learn from the experts and threw myself into moderating and participating in the PATINS Twitter chat. If you are interested in learning in a fast-paced, information-packed way, join the team every Tuesday at 8:30 EST for a half-hour chat where you can gain a PGP point for participation. The chat can be found under #PatinsIcam and is well worth your time and I will see you there! I plan on engaging and energizing each week in this chat next year!


Trainings and Webinars

I think this is one of the most incredible services offered by the PATINS Project and I plan on not only attending webinars and sessions in the future but bringing more live sessions to my new districts. Team members host in-person and web-based trainings each week delving deeper into topics that are important to educators and provide PGP points for attendance. Webinars are given at convenient times but the staff even offers private viewings and in-person trainings if the times don’t work. 

I know from experience that this is a fantastic way to connect across the state and a platform for educators to gain and share information. It is mind-blowing to me that these services come at no cost to educators. Team members will even take topics, research cutting edge information by request and produce a fantastic and informative session. Check the PATINS Project calendar for a listing of webinars and trainings! I have my eye on learning even more about accessibility this year and cannot wait to dive in!


Lending Library

The extensive Lending Library is a lifesaver to those out there, including myself, who like to “try before you buy.” No one wants or can afford to purchase an expensive device only to discover that it is not the perfect match for a student. The library not only lets educators check out devices, software, apps and other AT beauties, but also pays for shipping back and forth to further make it an economical choice for schools. There are also two virtual librarians who are extremely knowledgeable and willing to help! 


Newsletter/Blog

If you are reading this, you are probably already signed up to receive the blog. In my humble opinion, it is a fantastic weekly read. I love the fact that each team member is given the opportunity to bring a different perspective on education and what might benefit our valued educators best. In addition to this, the newsletter keeps stakeholders informed of new products and trainings on the horizon while highlighting some of our exceptional educators and students across the state. 



Conferences

I believe the PATINS conferences are the best networking experiences that Indiana has to offer for classroom implementation, Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. Long before I worked for PATINS, I valued these genuine experiences full of national and local presenters. After experiencing the inner circle of these events, I am convinced that they are worth the time and funds. The annual Access to Education (A2E) conference is the only PATINS’ event that has a registration price tag, but in exchange, educators walk away with meaningful interactions, are exposed to state of the art presenters and flavor from the country as well as local expertise.


AEM Grant

Before I was hired to work for PATINS, I was a proud member of a school district that was accepted for the AEM Grant. My husband asked me multiple times what I was talking about, believing that our team was participating in the AMY Grant...big difference!






The AEM Grant stands for Accessible Educational Materials Grant and is a great way for school districts to bring the policies and procedures up to speed while respecting individual student need for materials given to them in the form that works best. Past school districts who have participated in this grant have shifted the paradigm of learning and increased the inclusive culture of their communities! It is a great way to support students and to help teachers with such an important charge. The grant application is still open until July 29, 2019 at midnight!

I am not sure how to end this blog entry or this chapter of my educational journey. I will never be able to thank my team enough for the experiences and knowledge I have gained from them. I am absolutely grateful that as an educator in Indiana I will be able to continue to reap the benefits of their tireless work. Thank you, PATINS for helping me become the best educator I can possibly be through your collective expertise and passion. I am so excited to work with the team in the future now that I have a true understanding of the breadth of what they have to offer! You should too!
3
  1118 Hits
Jun
21

People First Language

While Spring cleaning this week, I came across a Syllabus from a Journalism Class I had nearly 40 years ago. It included a discussion on People First Language (PFL). This professor I had called it “A Person, not a Problem”. We were learning how to write descriptions of people without making their backgrounds or beliefs an issue. As the professor explained various phrases we shouldn’t use, there was one piece of advice that really stuck with me. It was this: “Don’t refer to people as being a certain thing.” The professor explained, “Write about them as people who have whatever IT may be.” Such as:
  • A woman who has cancer, not a cancer victim.
  • A man living in the county illegally, not an illegal alien.
  • People without homes, not the homeless.
  • A returning citizen, not an ex-con.
  • A woman with a mental health condition, not an insane woman.
Fast forward 20 years as I started working in Education. I applied this PFL mindset to persons with disabilities, with one realization. Words do Matter. I was bothered by the phrase my professor used “A Person, not a Problem”. My unscientific study of language revealed that the #1 word used about people with disabilities is “problem.” And the problem with “problem” is that it’s also the #1 word that activates exclusion.

Here are a few more respectful PFL examples:
  • People with Disabilities instead of Disabled or Handicapped People.
  • Student with Autism instead of Autistic Student.
  • Woman with a Visual Impairment instead of Blind Woman.
  • Accessible Parking instead of Handicapped Parking.
To learn more on People First Language, check out ARC of Indiana and Disability is Natural.

1
  714 Hits
Jun
06

UDL is Natural

This has been a lively few months at the lake. I have seen wildlife for the first time and welcomed back regulars. What a year! Our new visitors include unusual ducks- the Bufflehead and Redhead, a red fox trotting in our yard before going over the frozen lake; a deer in the yard (and in the past, deer swimming across the lake). A turkey flying from a tree over the marsh behind our house, an orchard oriole. Some old friends include the Bald Eagles fishing over open water at the edge of the frozen lake, wood ducks, 2 Loons, Baltimore orioles and the noisy spring peepers/bullfrogs.

Reflecting on these friends from the animal kingdom, I realize I look forward to their seasonal visits and delight in their individuality, listening and looking for their sights and sounds. In the same spirit of appreciation, I am glad to see regular visitors including robins, hummingbirds, cardinals. In the summer, the purple martins fly low over the lake at dusk to catch mosquitos and other tiny airborne critters and the occasional kingfisher will find a tasty fish. A regular year round visitor is the great blue heron. I call our home “Heron House”. So yeah, cool stuff in my mind. 

Common Loon     Bufflehead Duck
 Redhead Duck     Wood Duck 

Orchard Oriole     Baltimore Oriole     Spring Peeper
       
Bull Frog    Bald Eagle     Wild Turkey in Tree
Red Fox    White Tail Deer in yard

I cannot help but draw a comparison to my work. There are seasons to working with schools and school systems. Each year, in the spring, I reflect on that school year as my thoughts move to the next school year. This happens with a comfortable regularity. I think back on individuality even within a system, district, school and classroom. I look for trends for what worked and what did not work and how drawing general conclusions may lead me to miss the mark on some things. For example, back to the birds. Orioles like oranges and jelly. They do not like orange marmalade. Thinking that I could combine two features into one solution proved to be an epic failure. I had not truly individualized what the orioles needed.

I am also struck by Universal Design in Nature. Everyday there are many options available to the animal kingdom for food, housing, and development. Those options are always available, not pulled out occasionally. Sometimes, new ones are provided (i.e. jelly, nectar, birdseed, corn). The key is that not each animal needs all that is available, but all animals need something from what is available.

So, taking a cue from my friends in nature, let’s make materials available in the classroom so that what is needed for each unique learner will be at the ready when our students make their seasonal return. What I wish for is the same delight I have in watching life being nurtured outside my windows, be the same delight in having student and staff nurtured, inside the classrooms, with what they need to thrive. After all, a bird is a bird, but a heron does not need what the oriole needs.

Have a fantastic summer! Rejuvenate, Revive and Return! Contact PATINS to help you achieve some classroom Universal Design. Here is a good source for learning more about Universal Design for Learning  (UDL).

Photo credit: Common LoonBufflehead Ducks,Redhead Duck,  Wood DuckOrioles, Spring PeeperBull FrogBald Eagle Wild Turkey,Red Fox,White Tail Deer, and Alamy Stock Photos -Wild Turkey Roost.

1
  866 Hits
May
23

Jump in, the water's fine!

       2007 Indianapolis 500 Starting field formation before start.

       Stick figure person running through door with

School is ending, the Indy 500 is this weekend, and pools are open for the summer! It’s time for a little relaxation. Oh, wait...this is a blog for educators. Back it up.


Odds are that you will be doing some kind of professional learning this summer. Is your district hosting a Summer of eLearning conference? Will you be participating in a book club with your colleagues? Maybe you are just planning on relaxing and reflecting. I would like to challenge you to do something this summer that is totally not something that you would normally do. If you are at a conference, attend a session that you normally wouldn’t, even if you don’t think it applies to your classroom. If you normally read fiction, read a non-fiction book or vice versa. Are you a knitter? Learn to sew. You get the picture. Just get outside of your groove.

pool frog floaty.
There are a couple of good reasons to try this. New experiences create new ideas. This could stimulate your brain and give you some creative leaps for next year. But, did you know that some scientists believe that the perceived passage of time is connected to the amount of new information you feed your brain? In other words, by filling some of your time with new experiences and thoughts you can make your summer seem to slow down.
 If a longer summer break sounds good to you, this may be the answer! Give it a try, even if it’s a total disaster, you’ll have a new story to tell!

shark
Watch for the PATINS Specialists at the Summer of eLearning conferences around the state. Come up and say hi!


Oh yeah, remember to take some time for yourself this summer too. Reconnect with what makes you, you. Have a great break!


0
  2230 Hits
May
02

Better Together

“I’ve got it,” my eight-year-old daughter Zoë frequently says when I offer to help her. I am completely on board with her show of independence, although sometimes I have to fight the urge to help her do “it” the same way an adult would. She actually mowed the front lawn on Friday...she was so determined and excited. Yes, the yard looked like crop circles and she had to contend with a low-flying helicopter parent, but she felt accomplished and proud.

Zoe mowing the lawn
I love that she wanted to do it on her own. However, here is the rub. How do humans balance learning and growing when one of the best ways to grow is to seek help? Especially after we discover that we are way better together when we share our gifts with one another.


Consider the gift of discovering that someone already created a form, saving you hours of time and hard work. Learning a strategy from a veteran teacher of how to streamline lesson planning and collaborating with others should be wrapped up with a bow. My favorite gift arrived from a former teacher of a student who was struggling in my class. Incredible suggestions on how to help allowed me to offer the best support possible. I know how important these gifts have been to me.


For those of you who know me, you know I have moved around a lot. I never dreamed when I started teaching the small middle school classroom designed for students with Emotional Disabilities in Indiana that my life would change so drastically and look so different from year to year and from state to state.


I taught a cross-categorical classroom in an elementary school in Gambrills, Maryland. I taught high school at a separate day school for students with significant disabilities in Edgewater, Maryland. I taught self-contained and collaborative classes on the high school and night school levels in Chicago Public Schools. All of this was before I decided to take a leap to become an Assistive Technology Specialist for the city of Chicago. Moving back to Indiana I was an AT Specialist for seven school districts as well as a behavior consultant for another district.


All of these experiences specifically taught me how to change, to learn, and to reinvent.


None of this, however, have I done alone.


When I found myself in a classroom where my principal was not a fan of encouraging words and teaching a man to fish, I learned a huge lesson on what collaboration could do. I viewed it as a punishment when she called in the “big dogs” to teach me how to do reading intervention and how to structure a classroom with so many demands. The class had 13 students and ranged from a student with limited communication who became physically aggressive toward the other students repeatedly throughout the day to students who had dyslexia and would pop in for extra help. I had one assistant and I was drowning.


When the “Big Dog” sent to save me, entered my classroom I felt defeated. I knew she had been sent there because I could not keep my nose above water. What I didn’t know is that this dynamic, brilliant and compassionate person would literally turn around every thought I ever had about education. She would work by my side, not in judgment, and forever alter my path as an educator. I could have said, “I’ve got it.” and completely dismissed her support in fear of seeming unskilled or incompetent. Look what I would have missed!


The PATINS Project also does not want anyone, not a single educator, to move through life without a collaborator. I am so proud to be on a team of specialists who are dedicated to learning everything that they can and sharing even more. My best hope is that you take advantage of the in-depth and informal training sessions, conferences and the vast Lending Library we share with you! So many educators have already taken advantage of these services that are, almost completely, no cost to educators. Just this year:

  • 1,242 educators received classroom training sessions led by PATINS/ICAM specialists on Universal Design, accessible materials and/or assistive technology.

  • 800+ attendees learned from and networked with local and national leaders in education at our Access to Education conference & Tech Expo.

  • 1,797 items borrowed from the Assistive Technology Lending Library. Trialed items support communication, vision, hearing and executive functioning in the classroom.

  • 167 in-depth trainings held for publicly funded district, school, and cooperative employees throughout Indiana.

Never do alone what you can do better together. Collaboration is what teachers were born to do! We want to be a part of that collaboration!


PATINS In-Person Educator Support July 2018 - March 2019 Infographic.
3
  965 Hits
Mar
21

Socks

This may seem like an odd topic to come from a professional staff member of a Project that helps students and teachers learn and teach in a fun, accessible way, right!?… not really. Here’s what I have noticed.

Socks can be fun. I have always enjoyed expressing myself through my sock selection. I’ve even noticed our Director, Daniel, enjoys wearing creative, colorful socks. We’ve had a few enlightening conversations over socks. In fact, I decided pink flamingo socks would be the perfect birthday gift for him last year and he concurred with his reaction once received.

My Kindergarten grandson just experienced Silly Sock Day at school. Ok, I get it…people young and old(er) get a kick out of showing off their personalities through their chosen socks.

Socks can be accessible. What? 

Let me explain. This year, I came across John’s Crazy Socks. I read and felt inspired by John, a young man with Down Syndrome. I read his story and mission which screams accessibility. The key statement John makes regarding accessibility is: We want to show the world what is possible. We want to show the world what people with differing abilities can do when given a chance. We know that people with differing abilities are ready, willing and able to work. We make this happen in ways large and small.

My interest was piqued when I learned of the late President George H. W. Bush’ involvement with John’s Crazy Socks. President Bush has longed championed the rights of people with disabilities. John’s desire to connect with people through socks led John and President Bush to form a bond over their love of crazy socks and their commitment to the possibilities in all of us.

Come to the PATINS/IN*SOURCE Tech Expo on April 4th for a chance to win a pair of John’s Crazy Socks. It’s not too late to register. Four pairs of John’s Crazy Socks will be part of the lineup of many Door Prizes available to our attendees. 2 pairs of Autism Awareness Socks and 2 pairs of Down Syndrome Awareness Socks. 

We will also have Exhibitors available to you for those specific disabilities and many more. Please join us for a day of professional learning and fun.

Today is a meaningful day to post my blog…March 21, 3:21 World Down Syndrome Day. This is a day we celebrate all who have Down Syndrome. We celebrate their accomplishments and the joy they bring to the world. World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated on March 21st for 3 copies of the 21st chromosome (which is what causes Down Syndrome)

Happy 3:21!

   



1
  767 Hits
Feb
28

Where's A.T. "Waldo"?

We live in great times. The connection between general classroom technology and specialized technology has never been closer. We are increasingly talking about accommodations, assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as regular discourse as stakeholders make decisions for accessing curriculum for students. Technology directors look at means of providing technology for most students. UDL makes sure students in the margins are included and assistive technology takes technology beyond a general consideration and provision to addressing specific needs for students who require these solutions to access their education. It does take a village to accomplish all this.

Given all these considerations and efforts, what does technology look like in the classroom? PATINS supports teachers as they work with students to have access to the curriculum. So, let’s look at a classroom through the lens of "Where’s A.T."?

Classroom with students working at tables and desks and in a group on the floor.
Classroom supplies and equipment fill the room including specific assistive technology tools.

So, the items to look for include:
  • AAC Devices
  • Keyboards
  • Computer
  • Books
  • QR Code
  • Exercise ball/ alternative seating 
  • Visual icon-based schedule
  • Magnet letters
  • Glueing options
  • Keyboard
  • Wheelchair
  • Projector
  • Slant board
  • Trampoline
  • Switches
  • Pencil grip
This is certainly a busy classroom, and that is the good news. Students are engaged, and able to produce their work using a variety of means. This is a great example of a classroom environment where universal design is implemented. Not all students need all of the tools. The tools are available and ready for students who choose to use them and for students who require them. The tools are available everyday and used on a regular basis. Consistent use of the tools sets the stage for increased daily participation in the curriculum and activities. Once a student has appropriate access to the general curriculum, they have an increased likelihood of improved performance on local, district and state tests and assessments.


Now, we need to implement intentional steps toward tool determination and implementation of use. Throwing a bunch of technology into a classroom without considering the range of needs and abilities in students and staff is not helpful. Any implementation must also be supported through training and follow up to evaluate effectiveness. This data will help determine future technology requirements.

PATINS has a UDL Lesson Creator available that will expand the typical lesson plan to be more inclusive of students on the whole spectrum of abilities, including the specialized needs of students who are considered gifted and those who need various scaffolds for support in their learning. We have a Lending Library from which educators can borrow tools before purchasing them. Our specialists can also help educators work through the many options for Universal Design for Learning, Assistive Technology and classroom/student supports.

Given the tools and strategies that are available, this is a great time to be in education! How many Where's A.T. "Waldo's" did you find?


0
  929 Hits
Feb
14

A Reading & Writing App from me to you!

Pink & read M&M candies in heart shape.This Valentine is better than candy!

I learn so many great things every year. I want to pass one of them on to you this time in my blog. Being the Secondary Age Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) specialist for PATINS allows me to introduce auditory reading/text to speech technology and writing supports like voice to text and word prediction to so many Indiana educators and their students. This powerful combination can be the difference between a graduation certificate and a diploma for students with learning or cognitive disabilities. They are capable of so much when they are properly supported. There are many great solutions out there. The correct one for each student depends on their environment and task

Claro SoftwareHere is a new option, ClaroSoftware. ClaroSoftware includes the following apps: ClaroRead for PC, ClaroRead for Mac, ClaroRead for Chromebook, as well as iPad, iPhone, and Android Apps. ClaroRead for Chromebook comes free with both ClaroRead for PC or Mac. This is great if a student uses different devices in different settings. ClaroRead for Chromebook can also be purchased on its own, however, it is not as powerful as ClaroRead for PC or Mac.  Here is a quick comparison of the PC and Mac versions. 

ClaroSoftware is different in another way. I know that it is all about the student and the tools, but sometimes it comes down to....Hand writing COST in blue marker across the screen.
The pricing structure includes a version where the app can be purchased for a one time cost. No subscription, just like when we downloaded software to specific computers for specific students. Now don't go thinking I've changed! I still think it should be on every computer for every student. That's best practice and also increases the likelihood of the students that have to use it, doing so. Now that I have said that, the pricing options across the board are pretty great too! 

More great reading & writing solutions:
TextHelp - Read&Write, Snapverter, Equatio, Fluency Tutor, WriQ, Browsealoud 
DonJohnston - Snap&Read, Co:Writer, and First Author

If this wasn't the valentine you wanted from me, here's another! Baby Shark Valentine
1
  2166 Hits
Jan
24

What is Your Gift?

Last month, while visiting a school in Jennings County, I had an “Aha” moment that made me assess my own gifts.


As I entered Graham Creek Elementary, I could already hear the sound of excitement drifting out of each classroom. Enthusiastic student voices, shuffling papers and the distinct sound of backpacks zipping up indicated one thing....the students were getting ready to leave for the day.


The principal escorted me to the room where I would be speaking to the staff about the Mindful Management of students who are in crisis or have been suffering from trauma. He explained that many of the families who live in the rolling farmland surrounding the elementary schools have taken in children to foster and that they want to make sure staff members are paying attention how to best serve the new set of needs that they are starting to see.


As we continued to walk, a small boy approached us and his face fell as we drew near. The principal stopped him and indicated that he would be right back in his office to meet with the child and that he was looking forward to it. The child’s face immediately lightened and relief seemed to wash over him. I told the student that finding the room would not take long and that he would have his special time, as promised.


The principal turned his focus back to the student and said, “Tell Rachel what your gift is."


Hands holding a small red gift with white ribbon.



The young man smiled broadly at me and pointed to his Star Wars themed shirt. “I know a lot about Star Wars,” he replied. I told him I thought that was fantastic and that I loved Star Wars too. As he turned and headed to the office, his steps seemed to be lighter.


Seconds later another student approached. This time it was an older girl, possibly a 5th grader. She raised her hand to greet us as we passed, and once again, the principal introduced us and asked, “Tell Rachel what your gift is.”


Suddenly her expression changed from one of concentration to an ear to ear grin. “I am an artist,” she exclaimed. She was prompted then, to get some art from her classroom and to show me. It was good. REALLY good. She showed me that the anime character she had drawn actually had special details that only showed up when you moved the paper under the fluorescent lights shining from above.


Later upon reflection, I really began to consider the action of students identifying and naming individual gifts. Yes, it helped me understand the students better and gave them something to be proud of. It added to the overall climate of the school and showed a closeness and sense of community to a virtual stranger. However, it did something greater.


As an adult, I have a hard time sharing my true gifts with others. Not the gifts that others tell me I have, but what I truly value about myself. We have been conditioned in our lives to be modest and humble, which are thought to be great attributes, but upon second glance, are they?


When I was a kindergartener in Texas and was picked to be a Munchkin for Richardson High School’s production of The Wizard of Oz, I discovered that I loved to be on stage, to be in the spotlight, to sing at the top of my lungs and to perform. If you asked me in middle school, after years of being told by society not to “brag” about myself, I probably would not have told you that I was born to have an audience, that I liked my sense of humor and that I prided myself in being able to talk to people even if I was uncomfortable. The short years that fell between discovering a gift and a talent and being shaped by my surroundings certainly took a toll on who I was to the outside world.


I would like to collect some data about these children who are so encouraged to talk about what makes them special and the encouragement and excitement that adults in their lives have when sharing the experience. Does hiding your pride and strengths make you modest and humble, or does it hold you back?


In education we like to celebrate the joys of our students, but do we take the time to sit down and really talk about the incredible things THEY have identified about themselves? How would this empowerment shape the outcomes of kids across our country?


We are being faced with a wave of children who are living in crisis and facing tremendous trauma. However, one huge difference exists from other generations of children born into trauma. Teachers across our country are taking a stand, educating themselves about how to reach students and learning how to empower and connect with them. My challenge to you today is to start the process of discovering the gifts that every student you meet has. Just ask them! They will tell you!
2
  2699 Hits
Dec
07

Never Give Up

This week I have invited a Guest Blogger to share with us. His name is Collin Clarke. Before I share his story in his own words, allow me to tell you how I came across Collin.

I was first introduced to Collin through an A&E TV Special entitled “Born This Way” earlier this year. 

The things I learned about Collin after watching that TV special are:
  • Collin is a fit young man
  • Collin is a bodybuilder. (Men’s Health Magazine sought him out to be featured on this Health and Fitness episode)
  • Collin is from Evansville, IN
  • Collin has Down Syndrome. In Collin’s words: “God made me like this for a reason”
  • Collin has a supportive family and set of friends. Father Carter Clarke said the family has always pushed Collin to succeed. Sometimes that has meant pushing those around him to accept his “no limits” attitude. “We are very blessed with Collin. He doesn’t see any barriers in life. We’ve always tried to avoid putting limits on him. If he wanted to do something, we were always all for it”.
  • Collin’s personality drew me in, kept me glued to the TV and inspired me to never give up on anything I want to do, want to be, want to accomplish.
Now, here’s Collin himself to tell you his story. Enjoy the read and remember to …

Never Give Up.

My name is Collin Clarke, I am 25 years old and I am a bodybuilder. I became a bodybuilder in 2015 after watching John Cena and other bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was over 200 pounds. I competed at 137 pounds after 7 months of hard training and diet.

Collin Before and After Bodybuilding in 2015. Bodybuilding changed my life emotionally and physically. It feels so good to be healthy and to make good changes in my diet and be more active.


I try to inspire others to make changes to become healthier. I have many friends and family who support me and help me when the diet gets hard or I am tired or need a reminder that I am strong.
Collin's Family and Friend 2016. I believe in never giving up and listening to my heart and give it everything I got.


I am inspired by many people. People with disabilities, people in the military, family and friends who want me to be my best.

I love being a role model for young kids, to let them know they can do anything or be anything with heart and passion and believing in themselves. I love when parents come up to me and say because of you my child wants to be like you.

I want to keep bodybuilding and getting better. I look for positive in every day and want others to do the same - believe in their ability and to not get distracted by a disability (label).

I have an extra chromosome, a big heart and will keep dreaming and believing and I will never give up!


2
  2511 Hits
Nov
26

Fantastical Beasts

This weekend I went to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with my daughter and husband. I freely admit to being a Harry Potter fan and was eager to share this experience with them. The trailer says, “Gellert Grindelwald has escaped imprisonment and has begun gathering followers to his cause of elevating wizards above all non-magical beings. The only one capable of putting a stop to him is the wizard he once called his closest friend, Albus Dumbledore. However, Dumbledore will need to seek help from the wizard who had thwarted Grindelwald once before, his former student Newt Scamander.”

What a statement of our interconnectedness! In our work, I can see Grindelwald as a person having low expectations for students who struggle to learn the same content as peers or who have limited ways to communicate what they know. Dumbledore is the supportive person who looks at the strengths of others, even if that person is a bit misled. Scamander is the one who can and did break through the barriers and go on to demonstrate his value to a society that sees him differently. The shows of strength were spectacular. Each of us can be imprisoned when another person wants to stop our contribution to society. Each of us can be supported by both friend and foe. The way support shows up is dependent on one’s reaction and resolution to either giving or getting the support.

So having said that, we as a group, are our best support system. Even if we disagree, have a different perspective, we can all see the merit of high expectations. This system of support is what works. I can do more work with another person than I can alone and I can succeed in unexpected ways when presented with options I have not considered.

Aren’t we all Fantastical Beasts?
1
  740 Hits
Oct
18

Time Machine Moments in Education

The setting was an educational psychology class at Ball State University, the time was sometime in the early 1990s. I eagerly anticipated my masterpiece, a million-page research paper on the brand new fundamentals of why including kids with special needs in the general education was so important. I had been working on the paper for months. I can still hear the click clack click of the Brother Electric Typewriter I borrowed from my roommate to complete the task. I knew it was an incredible paper. I could feel it in my bones. No matter what some professors or teachers from the past might say about my multiple choice test taking skills, I have always prided myself in being able to convey information through writing.

The moment of truth arrived, and my paper was passed back. The score, written on the cover page in a slash of red, was less than enthralling. My mind raced. I had been so confident that my message was clear, my content so developed, my avant-garde approach to education so stunning that my teacher would be showcasing my paper in front of the class...not slipping it to me as he walked by.

red pen markups on a typed paper


I flipped furiously through the pages to find the culprit. On the first seven thousand pages, only a hint of the red color came in the form of agreement, encouragement or an occasional probing question designed to make my preservice mind churn. The last page, however, was a sea of red - waves crashing all over the bibliography I had to include per the rubric. MLA style was absolutely not my friend. All of my innovative ideas and passion took a back burner to something I had been taught but had not learned.

As a person who has been in the field of education for a long time, I feel like part of the overall job is never to stop learning. Ever. It is part of what we preach, and part of what we should do. However, continuing to learn new things and expanding horizons often comes with a price. A price I like to call, “Time Machine Moments,” or TMM for those of us who love acronyms.

To be specific, Time Machine Moments refer to when directly after learning something new or better one thinks, “I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and teach that again.” This does not mean that there is anything wrong with what I taught, especially taking into consideration what I knew then. I did what I did at the time, because it was what I knew and I always tried my best for students.

I also do not want anyone to confuse these moments with regret. I refuse to beat myself up for not knowing about or having the resources to do something. I can be aware of the fact that I always got marked down in college for MLA or APA citing style issues, and as a result I could spend time being furious that I did not have a tool like Snap&Read Universal that actually generates the citing mistake free. I could react by either shaking my fists to the sky, screaming, “WHY?!” OR teach students to use the tool, sparing them from the defeat of turning in a fabulous paper marked down by something ambiguous to most students.

When I speak to teachers across the state about writing tools and devices, a frequent reaction held by the attendees is one of frustration. The response to the Livescribe Note-Taking pen is almost always, “Where was that when I was in college?’’ The response to APA, MLA or Chicago style citing tools is one of disbelief. Is it possible that so many people with so many good ideas might have missed an opportunity to shine due to a technicality? My philosophy on when we introduce text readers or word prediction software with auditory feedback to children is in the same vein. How many years did I drill decoding into a student who wanted to read Harry Potter? A text reader with a highlighting tool would have allowed the student to be reinforced of the words and text while auditorily reading on a level of extreme interest. The way to get better at reading is to...you guessed it...READ. Bring me that time machine now!

How many students would I have helped if I had been figuring out a way to get original ideas out of them instead of asking them to do something technical that was not the point? Traditional teaching models I used were good for some students, but truly figuring out what would have helped them discover inner brilliance would have been the best gift I could have given them.

Time machine selector pointing to present
There will always be time machine moments for educators. There will always be an advancement that will make a teacher run for a “Back to the Future” type Delorian and start wildly punching in dates. I think the thing that balances it out, however, is having an open mind in the present. Being innovative and outside of the traditional teacher comfort zone is what it is all about.


3
  928 Hits
Oct
11

Inclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

On July 1, 2012, I became a PATINS Coordinator. At that time we each had our own library of assistive technology and were assigned to assist educators within a certain region of the state. I was fortunate enough to find myself in an office within the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Administration Building. The special education department welcomed me and assisted me with my transition from a K-12 educator to a PATINS Specialist. At the forefront of that welcome and assistance was Dr. George Van Horn. So, typical to form, when I asked if he would like to be a guest writer for the PATINS Ponders Blog he immediately agreed to share his thoughts. 


George Van HornInclusion: The Ongoing Illusion!

George Van Horn, Ed.D., Director of Special Education, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation


street sign the corner of perception and reality







Image reference


I have long believed in inclusion. Inclusion is a school environment that welcomes all and provides what is necessary for all students. But believing in inclusion is not enough. Many people don’t realize that P.L. 94-142 did not create special education, it created general education. In an effort to allow children with disabilities access to the public school system, states and local districts started with the assumption that the environment was focused on educating only students who were already educated in public schools and a system needed to be created. Hence, the creation of general education. Prior to the passage of the federal law, the system educated “all” students. Through P.L. 94-142, “all” was expanded to include children with disabilities. In order to accomplish this, the system in place was kept, named general education, and continued to serve students. However, to educate students with disabilities, a parallel system was created because the existing system was viewed as only being for students without disabilities.

Venn diagram on mainstreaming with 3 areas: general education, special education and high ability. None intersect











As time moved on it became clear a separate system for students with disabilities was not effective and the initial solution was “mainstreaming”. Students with disabilities were still a part of the separate special education system, but would “visit” general education classrooms. This practice was useful in introducing general education educators and students to students with disabilities. But, the “home” for children with disabilities still remained the special education classroom and they were not members of the general education environment. This practice led to the next step in educating children with disabilities – inclusion.


Picture shows Mainstreaming with student going into a classroom and Inclusion showing an arrow where students can leave for support and service
Image Reference

Inclusion means all children are members of one educational environment, meaning there are no more general education and special education systems. As I reflect on the many years I have supported inclusion, I have come to the conclusion that in reality what many of us have accomplished is advanced mainstreaming. In most educational environments, children with disabilities are still viewed and treated differently. Many educators continue to struggle with the concept of equity versus fairness. Inclusion is not about giving all students the same (fair), it is about providing students what they need to be successful (equity). While progress providing equitable opportunities for all students has been made, there still remains two educational systems, general and special. While this is not our goal, it is a step toward achieving the goal of creating truly inclusive educational environments. What’s next?

Photo of students in classroom.

The barrier that has not been addressed is the need to create education environments that remove barriers and create options for instruction, assessment, and most importantly student learning. Until this occurs, it does not make sense for students with disabilities to be placed in classrooms where failure is probable because we have not changed why we do what we do, how we do it, and what we do. The focus in education needs to shift from the individual as disabled to the environment as disabled. I suggest the framework for accomplishing this monumental shift is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL is a framework that begins with several assumptions:
  • Variability is the norm
  • Disability is contextual
  • Focus on the learning environment and curriculum, not the students.
Through the use of the principles and guidelines of UDL in designing learning environments, educators can identify barriers and create options for ALL students. UDL is not about some students, but instead, focuses on improving learning outcomes for all students. Educators know that students come in all shapes and sizes. Variability is the norm. We know the students we work with will all be unique. In addition to variability, we also know that all students have strengths and weaknesses depending on the activity. Hence, disability is contextual. Everyone is disabled depending on the circumstances. For inclusion to become a reality, we must create one learning environment for all students that allows the students to choose what option works best given the activity. The creation of an environment where all students have a sense of belonging and ownership is our ultimate destination. While this is not an easy shift, it is necessary if we truly want to educate all children.


1
  5488 Hits
Aug
29

Tea anyone?

teapot with cup and milk
I’m a tea drinker. I appreciate tea. Tea making has been called many things: a celebration, an ancient rite, refreshment for the stress of life. 


My late grandmother taught me some tea-making secrets, such as knowing that the preparation of the tea affects the taste. Traditionally, the milk was poured into the cup first, then the tea. The taste is much different when you pour the tea first and follow it with the milk.

I always enjoy watching as the tea is immersed in the water. Every inch of exposed tea is saturated. Almost magically, the water begins to change color. First, there are light amber ribbons of tea color. Soon they become larger and deeper. The water is infused with the rich brown flavor. Slowly, the water becomes something new to be savored and enjoyed.

The miracle of a cup of tea reminds me of the way the process of learning can change a life. Like the tea… knowledge, experiences, conquered tasks, access to content, enhanced senses are all part of that process that permeates the very heart of each learner. Slowly at first, growing stronger as we apply what we learn, our lives begin to change…infused with something new…something better.

This week we kicked off our 18-19 AEMing for Achievement Grant recipients, eight new Indiana school districts, as they strive to bring their respective districts into compliance and improve student performance with the assistance of PATINS.

Enjoy a cup of tea this week with me.... cheers!

3
  1002 Hits
Aug
16

Transition Times

Transitional times, like back to school can bring pleasant opportunities for reflection and change.

yellow Nasturtium flowers in bloom

At my house, the Nasturtiums are in bloom. Nasturtiums are beautiful as a garnish and completely edible with both leaves and flowers giving a peppery flavor.

There are two transitional times of the year for me; the end of the school year and the beginning of the school year. Approaching the end of the school year, I always say, “ I have run out of year.” I mentally begin moving on to the next year. I reflect how the current year prepared me for the upcoming school year.

"Finish each day and be done with it. You ahve done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I keep in mind this quote and set my sights on to the next year and a centralized focus. I have my goals, my hopes, and, dreams in place. If I can establish a routine, all the better. If I can schedule ahead, great. My goal is to create usable forms and personal procedures. When I do this, I can be flexible and responsive. I am a happy camper!

coffee mug with the words Happy Camper

If I start the next year all up in the air without a centralized focus, all I will have to guide me is luck and frustration.   I don’t want to live that way.

The word chaos repeated and scattered around a white background

I can only imagine that I am not unique in this. Everyone would appreciate a system that is flexible and responsive to change.


My tips on how to do this:
  • Follow a schedule to keep track of what needs doing and when. What can step aside for an immediate need but not forgotten later?
  • Annual and/or Quarterly planning
  • Monthly chunking
  • Weekly reflection
  • Daily updating
  • Pick a system that is easy to use, intuitive and fits with all the apps and software you use.
  • Use a system that will sync with all the devices you use.
  • Use a system that will provide the accommodations needed.
  • Speech to Text
  • Text to Speech
  • Searchable Handwriting Recognition
  • Handwriting Recognition to Text
  • Use of a stylus
  • Word prediction
  • Alternative keyboards
  • Sometimes free is best. MS Office (Office 365) and Google, have calendar/planner/tasks options. Look for add-ons or extensions to make them more flexible.
PATINS is a great place to find out more. The PATINS Lending Library has organizational tools available that may help. PATINS Specialists can assist with finding your focus. We can help create plans that are flexible and specific. Address your unique details related to organization and executive function. Even set up tracking systems to measure progress.

1
  1251 Hits
Aug
03

We are all starfish!

Happy New Year           
Both as a teacher and as a student I have always thought of the days up to the first day of school as the real new year! The countdown is slower, but the ritual of making resolutions is the same.

New ChalkAs a teacher, I would be setting up my room and getting all of my lessons ready to go. I’d go to the office store and the teacher supply store. I would buy new things! New organizers! New pens! New decorations! This year I was going to try this. This year I was going to be ahead of that. Next came THE FIRST TEACHER DAY! It was the only day the entire corporation staff would be together! I would sit beside my best friend and listen to the instructions and pep talks from the superintendent and meet the new additions to the staff. Then back to the building and the principal where we would receive more encouragement and find out what was going to be different this year. It all boiled down to it’s a new year, take the best of the last and make resolutions to grow and improve this year. Think of the students and make this their best year ever.     

Colored Pencils

As a student, it was similar. Off to the store to get new folders, the newest binder/organizer etc. I was ready! THE FIRST STUDENT DAY! Every teacher was new. They all told us how to do well in their class. I was jazzed! I was going to try harder. I was going to pay better attention. I would turn in all of my assignments and I would read harder and read all of the material assigned. I was going to be the student everyone knew I could be! This year was going to be so much better than the last!

Flash forward 2 weeks…


As a teacher, all is going well. The pens are being used, the decorations look great and the organizer is either working or the parts that were have been added to last years model and are helping. I may be a bit behind on somethings, but I feel great and am excited about the year.

As a student, it was similar...to all the years before. I was trying harder, paying better attention, reading harder and organizing all of my material that was assigned, but I was starting to get lost. I know this path and if I can’t figure it out, I’ll get another D in math (just barely). I’ll squeak by in my other classes. I’ll get A’s when I am engaged in the content, I’ll get C’s when I’m not. I’d feel horrible about it, because I hated to let anyone down. I was fortunate. My family didn’t give up on me and neither did I. I would start over every year.

Happy New Year written on a sign behind a plane
As a teacher, I knew that student, just like me, was in my room. I structured my classes around this student. I taught with this student in mind. Soon I met other students, ones that were different than me, but had needs that I could structure into my daily plan that would help them do their best. Every year my methods became more diverse, more engaging, more student-centered. Every new year as a teacher, I tried to work harder, learn more, organize better, so that hopefully I could be the teacher everyone knew I could be.


I wish that at some conference or from some peer I had learned about Universal Design for Learning. The framework would have helped guide me to being that teacher. If you would like to take a try at Universally Designing your curriculum this year, I would suggest the PATINS UDL lesson planner. It is a way to take a long look at all of the thoughtful planning that goes into designing your classroom experience for every student. It shows what it takes to plan for that. Do one full plan and then start to incorporate pieces into your regular planning. Go back again when you are ready and do it for another lesson. Keep pulling pieces into your normal routine. Soon the UDL frame of mind will start to be incorporated into your daily planning. When you think you are doing good, go back for another lesson. Bit by bit, year by year, keep improving. Don’t give up on yourself and surround yourself with peers that won’t give up on you either. If you want more help, I’ll be here! I’ll bring my new bullet journal and erasable pens and we’ll hunker down and work through it together!

Sandi Smith standing on the beach with arms open like a Y and legs spread apartLady Bug on a leaf with the quote,
3
  2333 Hits
Jul
12

Cats, Students and the Gifts They Bring

Whiska sleeping
Upon our family's return from St. Louis several weeks ago, our indoor/outdoor cat, Whiska, barely rubbed our legs before bolting outside. She excitedly dashed between the yard and the house multiple times as we carried in our luggage before reappearing, yowling with joy, as something tightly clamped in her jaw muffled the sound. Although the commotion was confusing at first, it was soon revealed to be a struggling and squawking bird...a bright red cardinal to be exact. My husband, Bill, who comes from a long line of St. Louis Cardinals fans, looked admiringly at the feline and fowl, commending our huntress for the appropriate welcome home gift. I reminded him that no matter how fitting the offering was, it was still Indiana’s state bird.


Our daughter shrieked as she accidentally let the pair into the house and we scrambled, blocked and finally ushered both gift giver and gift out of our home. Whiska communicated through a series of guttural declarations and yips across the screen door that separated us, looking from us to the now inanimate creature on the step, her confusion apparent to those of us standing in the kitchen. Bill praised her for her generous token, and I grabbed the disinfectant cleaner.

As I wiped down the floor, cabinets and walls, I pondered my reaction as a vegetarian and pacifist to the frequent lifeless bodies left on our breezeway step. Countless bunnies, tiny shrews, and a wide variety of birds were out next to the newspaper to greet us many mornings. Sometimes an unexplained larger, more interesting creature -- like the opossum that was not actually playing dead in our yard -- appeared. The mysteries of our slightly feral and fierce feline were vast. Somehow I managed to view her with wonder instead of disgust, cleaning up her sometimes messy contributions.

Whiska’s gifts, though non-traditional, were from the heart. Educating myself on what they meant was half of the battle. A quick internet search on The Spruce Pets website for why cats leave dead animals for their owners revealed, “...when a cat brings you an animal they caught, be it alive or dead, they consider you a part of their family.” She considers us part of her clowder.

My mind drifted to the gifts I have received from students over the years, sometimes equally as foreign and in need of translation:
  • The gift of conversation after a student had refused to do so for hours
  • The gift of a paragraph written after the student learned how to use word prediction software
  • The gift of a classroom discussion after the student was shown how to access and read audio text
...the list goes on and on.

Not all gifts that we receive, or give for that matter, are apparent to others. Much like Whiska’s expression of gratitude for the environment we have provided for her, universally designing a classroom to make sure every student feels as if he or she belongs, has been thought of and nurtured can only lead to larger feelings of community and acceptance.

We, as educators, are repaid for this conscious effort through student participation, work completion, further education, boosts in student confidence and smiles...which are my favorite. Thankfully students, unlike felines, rarely give back the gift of a dead bird.

Whiska sleeping on her back

0
  1235 Hits
Jul
02

Big Plans, Small Steps and A Significant Shift

picture of water with ripples from a skipping stone

Our goal was to overhaul the traditional approach to teaching middle school math in an attempt to excite students about the subject and engage them in new ways of thinking about mathematical ideas.

It had been Bia’s idea for us to team up in the classroom. We’d worked together before and had dreamed of a chance like this. When Bia asked the principal if the two of us could revise the math curriculum and redesign our teaching practices, the principal said yes.

Whoa. This was a wonderful moment. Also a little terrifying. It was one thing to believe in the work to be done. It was another thing altogether to actually sit down and do the work.

I’ve recently been thinking about that work with Bia. In small but significant ways, I liken the process of our mathematics instructional overhaul to the process of implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Although our focus was specific to the learning of mathematics, the work we did required an architectural redesign and a big mind shift.
 
I wasn’t aware of UDL at that time. Resources such as the UDL guidelines (CAST) would’ve been invaluable.

First of all, just getting started was a big obstacle for me. We relied on guiding principles and research about mathematics education, but began this work primarily with a collection of standards, topics, lesson ideas, and a head full of very strong convictions. The process of sorting out big ideas, key concepts and content standards was painstaking; organizing those things into some kind of cohesive teaching flow felt like an impossible feat.

Secondly, the primary goal of our work was to engage students in mathematics. Thinking about access, what it would mean for all students, how to ensure it, and how to make it the rule rather than the exception was at the crux of all of our conversations. We relied heavily on visual representations of ideas, and problems that were embedded in story. However, it would have been amazing to utilize additional strategies, technologies and materials that help lessen or eliminate barriers to educational content.

To note some specifics about UDL (UDL at a Glance):
  • It’s an approach to curriculum, not a prescribed formula to be followed.
  • It’s about honoring all students and their unique ways of learning and based on brain research.
  • A primary goal is to minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students.
  • It necessitates the curriculum be designed for access from the very beginning.
  • The design process must go beyond access to ensure appropriate support and challenge.
These were important tenets of our work as well. UDL speaks to the core of what I believe as an educator and to a vision about how I believe things should work in the world. I think the beauty of UDL is that philosophically it tugs at the heartstrings of every teacher out there, no matter the grade, subject, specialty or circumstance.  

The middle school students (gr 6-8) with whom Bia and I worked were not grouped by age, grade or ability, and inclusion students were a part of each class make up. We wanted to ensure every student would have an entry point to every mathematical task, and that every student would have the means to share his/her thinking about any given task.

Our approach included making subtle changes to the classroom routine and physical environment to give students more choice and responsibility. These changes also enhanced opportunities for small group discussion, hands-on exploration and individual pacing. We implemented contextually rich mathematical investigations that were relevant to the student population we served.

While this was a continually daunting endeavor for us, one thing I can say for sure is that small, purposeful steps make surprisingly huge shifts in the desired direction. Surely the same is true with respect to UDL. The shift will be gradual, but it can happen nonetheless.

A podcast I listen to, “Akimbo” (Seth Godin), is described this way:

"Akimbo is an ancient word, from the bend in the river or the bend in an archer's bow. It's become a symbol for strength, a posture of possibility, the idea that when we stand tall, arms bent, looking right at it, we can make a difference.

Akimbo's a podcast about our culture and about how we can change it. About seeing what's happening and choosing to do something.

The culture is real, but it can be changed. You can bend it."

I love that phrase “posture of possibility.” I love the vision of standing in a "posture of possibility" and choosing to make a difference. Akimbo!


(If you’re reading this, you’re likely already aware of PATINS’ no-cost services, including our UDL support and resources. Let us know how we can help!)

4
  2008 Hits
May
24

Navigating around Barriers

Picture of a Road Map
Did you know that the first week of April is “Read a Road Map” week? Given that emphasis, it seems logical to me that the following week should be “How to fold a Road Map” week!
(I sense you are nodding your head in agreement)


Perhaps the advent of GPS will make road maps obsolete someday. One thing is for sure - no matter what form of navigational technology is available in the future, we’ll always need direction in our lives.

Guidance systems are helpful but they don’t remove roadblocks, do they? They DO assist with navigating around obstacles so we can reach our destination.

Picture of a Brick Wall

Education is like that…there may be barriers to the process of learning but there are ways to navigate around or through those barriers so we can reach our goals. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. If you need assistance breaking through or navigating around barriers in education for yourself or for a student in your life, contact a PATINS staff member for some ideas.

 

1
  1425 Hits
May
15

A Regular Committee Meeting or an Example of Everyday UDL?

I just spent the evening with a group of friends focused on organizing for a project. We ate a lovely carry-in meal and got down to a business meeting and ended with a group effort on a task to start the project. It was good to catch up with people we don’t see very often, share quite a few laughs and work on a common goal. The entire process lasted about 4 hours, which was longer than absolutely required to get the job done, and to be honest, we were all glad to go home at the end, and we left with a feeling of having done a good thing. For me, it had been a long day, as I left for work at 6:00 am and got back home at 9:00 pm after this meeting. We all have those kind of days if we are involved with children or community activities. It is what makes life rich, if not overdone.

Every time I am with a group of people charged with making a plan of some sort, I am reminded that “decision by committee” can be, and often is, loud and messy. I will admit that I was pushed to my limit with 16 passionate people enthusiastically sharing ideas and thoughts, often at the same time, and there were plenty of sidebar conversations. Loud and messy are good and important in this process. It means the participants are active and engaged. Each personality and style had an opportunity to express themselves and folks who needed to keep things rolling felt comfortable to nudge the group along. Those of us who prefer less noise and more structure were empowered to move things along or refocus the group. It was easy to shift any negativity into a more positive outcome and when the group needed more gross motor activity, the meeting shifted accordingly.

As I watched this process unfold, it seemed to me that every person there felt safe and comfortable to share and interact. Respect was given to each member who contributed. Interestingly, this was a blend of two separate groups who function very differently from each other and the results were positive.  

Looking around at the tools available to make this work, I saw low tech pencil and paper, notes on a napkin, a sophisticated daily planner, an iPod. We even had a bell as a signal to bring the group back together. Empowerment was evidenced by the willingness to take responsibility for ideas and assignments. Collective wisdom was respected, and new ideas were considered.

This was a great opportunity for UDL principles to be used and, without knowing it, these adult team members took full advantage. Throughout this process, we reviewed the why, the how and the what. For the Why, I saw examples of interest, sustaining effort and persistence and self-regulation. There is no doubt about the level of engagement in this group. We had a clear purpose and goal. For the How, we demonstrated multiple means of action and expression with lots of opportunity for movement, we worked through a variety of organizational abilities as we had to problem-solve challenges and change course. We provided opportunities to work in a large group, small groups, with a partner and alone. On a practical level, we had a heavy emphasis on auditory as it was a group discussion. Some people had notes from a previous meeting, others had samples and there was a practical task that required problem-solving, manipulation and visual skills, manual coordination and teamwork. Scissors, sticky labels, signage, scheduling, lists and a schematic layout, paper, planners, iPads, smartphones, varied activities, the use of a walker, tables and chairs, and food are examples of universal design that were brought to the meeting.   

The difference in this practical application of an evening meeting and true Universal Design for Learning is that the UDL piece was not planned. Therefore no specialized needs were anticipated, planned for, nor setup with needed materials. What we saw tonight was evidence of how Expert Learners function at an integrated level. Most of us in the group have experienced enough life to know how to meet our individual needs. We were able to locate adaptation in the environment (scissors) to facilitate our work. And team decisions were able to be made with input from multiple individuals.

This was truly a fun experience for me and I had a lot of fun looking at it through the lens of Universal Design for Learning. What would I do in the future to be more intentional? Perhaps provide writing options for those who did not bring any tools/material. Knowing in advance how we can include elderly or mobility limited, or participants with other disabilities. But we also knew we could provide most of what was required because there is a ready supply of alternatives in the building for those who need it and the level of experienced learners we had assembled.

So, what started as another meeting at the end of an already long day, turned out to be a nifty example of the universality of people’s needs and abilities as we work toward a common goal. Quiet, silent classrooms with a teacher providing information via lecture is not always an indicator of an effective learning experience. In reviewing the revised UDL Guidelines 2018 Chart, these expert learners used a variety of means to access knowledge, build upon that knowledge and take these internalized skills to a functional and productive outcome.

Kudos to these participants who demonstrated expert learner skills by integrating purpose and motivation, resourcefulness and knowledge, toward attaining an end result that was strategic and goal-directed.    

Thanks for the fun evening!

1
  1340 Hits
May
01

The Summer Job

Spring 1972. As a freshman at Purdue I needed to find a summer job. I had done the fast food thing before college and worked in the dorm dining room all school year. I needed something different and I needed cash. I trekked across campus to the Financial Aid office to check out summer job offerings.

There was a full-time student assistant job available in South Bend about 5 miles from my house. Perfect! Before taxes I would be making $64 a week! (Minimum wage was $1.60/hour back then.) By the end of summer, I would be rolling in the dough!

So, I started working at the Northern Indiana Children’s Hospital in South Bend. The facility was originally built as a polio hospital for children but had morphed into a facility (aka Institution) for children who were developmentally disabled. A place where families had their children ‘placed’ and, in most cases, forgotten. And while it was referred to as a Children’s Hospital some of the ‘children’ had grown up and now were adults and considerably older than me.

During the summer that I arrived there was a not so quiet battle going on between the Nursing Department and the Education Department. Education believed that the residents could learn and needed to live in a more home-like setting within the hospital. Nursing believed that the patients needed to stay in metal cribs or hospital beds and continue a diet of gruel served 3 times a day. (A dollop of instant pudding on top for dinner!) Since I needed the cash, I stuck it out at the ‘war zone’ for the summer!

I learned a lot that summer about myself; realization of paths that life could have taken me; about society’s view of individuals who were disabled; and my future. I returned the next summer after turning down a job that paid significantly more an hour much to my parent’s dismay. The battles of the previous summer were now more of a cold war. The facility had a name change. It was now the Northern Indiana State Hospital and Developmental Disabilities Center. Some residents were even attending the nearby Logan Center!

And I went back for two more summers to work with the residents. I spent a lot of time teaching and reinforcing daily living skills. I attempted to give the individuals that I worked with dignity and life experiences that they deserved. I vividly remember riding a Ferris wheel with a young man who was in no way interested in the experience and wanted out. Luckily neither of us fell off the ride!

After teaching 6th grade for a year (an experience that a secondary education major/first year teacher could never be prepared for no matter how many courses one took) I returned to Purdue to get a Masters in Special Education. I would be able to bring some of the summer job experiences into the classroom. And as a part time job I worked as a teaching assistant a Wabash Center in Lafayette (a preschool center for children who were developmentally delayed). It was an interesting and exciting time for Special Education. PL94-142, now known as IDEA, had been enacted a couple years earlier. Parents were elated that their children would be educated in a school. No one cringed when the word ‘advocate’ was used!

In the fall of 1978, with my Masters in hand, I ended up accepting a teaching position with the Northwest Indiana Special Education Cooperative. My career with NISEC allowed me to work in life skills classrooms as well as in preschool. In the fall of 1999 I transferred into the field of Assistive Technology working part time as an AT Consultant for NISEC and part time Regional Coordinator for PATINS. During my career with NISEC, I advocated for teachers and children by serving as the Union President and served on the AFTIndiana Executive Board. After several years of juggling AT jobs, I became a full time PATINS employee.

Except for the one-year teaching 6th grade my career in education has been in the special education field spent working with individuals to improve their lives; to make sure they have access; to make sure they have dignity and respect; to make sure they can live and learn to the best of their abilities. And during those years I came to admire the dedication of teachers, administrators, related school personnel, and parents. That drive that everyone has to make sure every student, no matter what ability level, has a free appropriate education has been so energizing!

So what started out as a summer job in 1972 has turned into a 46-year career working with individuals with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. But all good things must come to an end. I will be retiring at the end of this school year and that career will formally come to an end. It is a career that I have honestly enjoyed every day! What started off as a summer job turned into a profession.

How I spend those retirement years is uncertain. But it will be difficult for sure to give up the passion that has ignited me for the past 46 years! Who knows I might be one of those folks who shows up as a walk-in at a PATINS event!!!!!! One thing for sure…the alarm clock will be turned off!!!!!!!!

4
  2337 Hits
Apr
26

A Case for Meaningful Context and Unpredictable Connections


This is a story about James. Actually, it’s a story about James and Mr. Tooley; the two of them were inseparable outside of school.


James was in 5th grade when I first met him. We worked together on math concepts once a week after school. We primarily focused on fractions and decimals, which he absolutely detested.

Generally, on Tuesday afternoons, I went to James’ school, where we met in the cafeteria for an hour. A teacher friend had asked if I’d be willing to help James. She said, “He’s such a sweet boy, but struggling in school.”

I agreed to work with James and soon discovered he was absolutely amazing.

As the week of Spring Break grew near, James’ mother, Ruth, asked if I’d be available to work with him over break. So that particular week, I went to James’ home for our math session.

Ruth met me at the front door, “Hi. Before you come inside, I need to ask if you have any problem being around pets.” I said I was fine with pets and just assumed the family dog or cat would greet me when I walked through the door. 

front porch view of door slightly open
 
I wish I had a picture of my face when James came around the corner with Mr. Tooley on his shoulder. Mr. Tooley was James’ pet crow.

Prior to meeting James, my experience with crows had been minimal. I didn’t know anything about crows except how they looked and how they sounded. I didn’t care for either. Glimpses of crows picking at roadkill tended to disturb me.

What happened between James and me, once Mr. Tooley (Mr. T) entered the scene was the best tutoring I ever experienced. In the name of full disclosure, James was definitely the tutor; I was his tutee. Mr. T was teacher, friend, and comedian to everyone he encountered.

James used our weekly sessions to teach me all about Mr. T. We never met in the school cafeteria again. He and his entire family thoroughly enjoyed surprising me with Mr. T’s feats of wit or ingenuity.

A favorite family game with Mr. T was Hide and Seek. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. I was surprised how clever and engaging Mr. T was, no matter what game we played with him.

Coincidentally, with Mr. T’s assistance, James would tackle almost anything academic, mathematical or otherwise. James was completely invested in any activity that involved Mr. T because he was completely invested in that crow.

James had tremendous knowledge of crows and other birds. He also loved to draw. Although his fingers were not formed in the same way as most of his peers, he was able to use any type of drawing tool he wanted in order to accomplish any effect he desired. His artwork, as well as his imagination was remarkable. 

black and white illustration of man lying on stomach reading a book with three crows near him
Over time, James shared incredible stories with me. They all traced back to Mr. T in one way or another. We worked together to bring his stories to life. He wrote, spoke and drew them into life, then revised and retold them all over again.

There were innumerable ways to incorporate mathematics into our time together. James seemed to love them all. He wasn’t frustrated or defeated, even when we worked on fractions and decimals.

He loved to prepare fractional amounts of seeds, nuts and pieces of fruit for Mr. T’s food and then calculate the percentage of each that Mr. T ate. He was also motivated to figure out the annual cost of owning Mr. T, which then prompted him to do a price comparison of cages in order to lobby for a new one.

For James, the context was meaningful, which made the content palatable, even intriguing.

In the end, I’m sure I learned more from James than he learned from me. I’m also sure he impacted my way of thinking more than I impacted his.

My preconceived notions about crows had been based on physical attributes, limited experience and no real knowledge. My preliminary thoughts about working with James had been based on curriculum guidelines, classroom settings and personal agendas.

Sometimes it helps to have another person invite you into new ways of thinking and new possibilities. James (with the help of Mr. T and his family) did that for me.

I didn’t work with James in a classroom setting, but I still think this is a powerful testimony for employing the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the classroom.

UDL is not about the wit of a crow or a fifth grader’s distaste for mathematics. But it is about what happens when such things collide into purposeful, accessible and motivating ways, allowing students to flourish academically.

At PATINS, we know it’s darn near impossible to stop students from making educational strides if they enjoy or believe in what they’re learning, and when they have the access and means for this learning to take place.

Give us a “caw” if we can help your UDL plans take flight.

American crow in flight with blue sky background


2
  1423 Hits
Apr
20

Expectations

Expectations are tricky things. Sometimes they let you down, sometimes they lift you up! I had expectations for April to be a lot warmer by now, and yet I wait. The warm air may be late, but ISTEP testing, Senioritis, and transition fairs are all occurring right on schedule. This is the final stretch of the school year, expectations are being fulfilled! But the story for each student started much earlier.

ant 1       “Just what makes that little old ant                          
        Think he can move that rubber tree plant

        Anyone knows an ant, can't
        Move a rubber tree plant” *


Let’s talk about rigor in education. I have never liked that word. 
I associate it with the dictionary definition, “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment”, but the education definition of rigor is quite differentThe Glossary of Education Reform is a great place to go when education speak gets in the way of understanding. It equates rigor with educational experiences that are, “academically, intellectually, and personally challenging”. When we challenge our students with a rigorous curriculum that is universally designed and equitably supported by accessible content and assistive technology we are showing that we have high hopes. Our expectations are that each student under our care will be challenged and supported so as to reach their full potential. 

 "But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes"                 Ant looking left


So as this year’s finish line approaches, keep pushing, and search for why they are pushing back. 
Equip them with all they need to access the curriculum for the 175 days they aren’t testing so that on the 5 they are, they know and show their potential. Give them all the skills and knowledge they need to earn the transition of all our dreams!
ant with hands on hips                                               “Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.”*

*Writer(s): Cahn/Van Heusen
Frank Sinatra High Hopes on YouTube

1
  2806 Hits
Mar
23

Spring Break...Or Is It?


We have been looking at websites and talking about the sights and sounds of our upcoming trip to St. Louis, Missouri, for several weeks now! Our family is very excited! I have wanted to take our 7-year-old daughter, Zoë, to the City Museum in St. Louis since her first step -- fearing that if I took her too young, I would spend my time looking for her and being worried. If you are not familiar with the museum, is in an old 10-story shoe factory downtown. Floor after floor, kids (and adults) are encouraged to run, jump, climb and dance through tunnels, cave systems and a circus -- to name a few things. There are over 30 slides. I am bursting with excitement!



suspended pathways and structures on the exterior of the City Museum

My best friend and her family suggested that we rent an apartment near the zoo together, and we found the perfect place! It is right off of Forest Park, where the zoo and so many other activities are at our fingertips! We plan to roam the park that contains a pavilion, which was created with proceeds from the 1904 World’s Fair! I am a huge roadside attraction person and the park is full of monuments and statues from a giant turtle to an elephant reaching for leaves in the trees. We will be able to take our time seeing a huge waterfall created during the World’s Fair, the art museum and planetarium.

My friend ordered brochures that have a huge kid’s map of the city, and we have watched multiple YouTube videos on what to expect when we ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch. We can decide which day might provide the most glorious view of the Mississippi River or the Courthouse greens, depending upon which way we decide to look out.

St. Louis Arch at dusk
If you were my teacher and asked me to talk about my spring break, this is exactly what I would tell you...all of the gorgeous details! I would not hold back on the excitement of what was getting ready to happen! I would unintentionally brag out of sheer enthusiasm for what is going to be the best part about not being in school.

What if, however, you were not going anywhere. What if your family never planned a trip, or had the money to go. What if you got yelled at by your mom if you mentioned doing something over break, or if your parents worked and you were watched for a week by a random family member? What if you were not sure where you were going over break? What if home is not your safe place, and every day you look forward to coming back to school because the stress level seems so much less there? There are a lot of reasons, suddenly, for a student not to want to hear about break and not to celebrate the minutes escaping from the clock as its hands journey toward dismissal.

As teachers, we are born to celebrate the excitement of our students. Sharing what was to come or what happened during a break is part of what has always happened in classrooms. After all, it is fun to talk about these things, for most. Still, imagine for a moment if you dreaded going home for even a night or a weekend and the rest of your classroom was happily counting down to the final bell by crossing off days on a fun calendar? What if your only option during a Language Arts lesson was to write about upcoming plans when it was the source of so much stress? What if your favorite teacher kept on saying, “I can’t wait until next week!” in front of you? How would you interpret that emotion and how it related to you?

As teachers we have to be mindful. I am not sure I processed this enough when I taught my own classroom, but I certainly was attuned to it when I was part of behavioral support team for a small school district. I had many conversations with staff members just making them aware that some students were not celebrating. I saw teachers change their phrasing from “vacation” to “break.” I saw lots of one to one conversations and reassuring moments of us all being back together in a week. I engaged with students who I thought might be worrying and helped them put vocabulary to the emotions they were feeling because it is hard to express things that you don’t have words for.

As school breaks for the spring term, keep these kiddos in mind. They are out there and they are nervous. That does not mean that students are not allowed to express fun times had before and after break, but maybe through more personal conversations and alternative writing prompts and activities that include both vacationers and "staycationers."
7
  1612 Hits
Feb
24

A Matter of Trust


My five-year-old grandson, Rhett, was spending the night with me recently. Upon waking up the next morning in his bed, I heard his little voice say in the darkened house “Miss Kaylan?”. 

You see, Miss Kaylan is his Preschool Teacher. 

Preschool teacher Miss Kaylan with 5-year old grandson Rhett
As I trekked down the hallway to greet Rhett to the new day, I was touched that he chose to call out for his teacher rather than Momma, Daddy or Gigi (that’s me!). He obviously was disoriented waking up in the dark and trusted that Miss Kaylan was there to lead the way for him to a safe place, a comfortable place. 

Teachers are leaders. 

Why would anyone want to be a teacher, anyway? Some seek the position because they enjoy the control of the classroom that almost certainly accompanies. Others become teachers because the rewards seem attractive. Still others accept a role of teacher out of a sense of duty, obligation or pay it forward mindset. 

There is nothing wrong with any of these motives. After all, an effective leader quite naturally acquires power and knows how to handle it. And all leaders should be rewarded for their efforts, right? Furthermore, a strong sense of duty compels leaders to do their best. But too much emphasis on any of the three separates the leader from the people eventually…one more motive is essential, and that is service. 

A leader who has a genuine desire to touch people’s lives for the better, to serve that is – one who sees the needs and wants to be part of the solution – empowers others.

My role in PATINS is to support and serve the Staff and our Stakeholders as they lead all students to an accessible curriculum. You can trust that I am behind the scenes purchasing needed items in our Lending Library, purchasing training resources for our Specialists, planning and implementing our next Professional Development Event to enhance knowledge base and support compliance for student success. All the while, working with the PATINS Director to be fiscally responsible with our budget and funding.

May everything you do revolve around service to others. You are a leader.



3
  1413 Hits
Feb
04

AT Team Development- Worth the time!

We just wrapped up ATIA 2018 in Orlando. There were so many wonderful sessions and so many great folks to network with. My focus was AT Team Building this year. It strikes me that the issues are the same as always and the individuals faced with solving the issues are the same groups of people. The difference in all these years is that our general knowledge has evolved as has the mass, open accessibility to tools. Maybe it is helpful that our funding is increasingly blended, too, making it more obvious that these kids are all of ours, so more folks are naturally involved in the brainstorming.

Stakeholders are all talking classroom accessibility rather than pulling a student from natural instruction to provide access on a tool so special or expensive it has to be stored in a special "AT room" with security akin to Fort Knox. Talk about leveling the playing field! The Cloud; Access to the Same Curriculum; Getting materials in Real Time; Accountability; Showing what someone Knows; Expecting Achievement; and working with General Educators have all facilitated this growth in Access and Communication. If that is not team building, then I have missed something.  

Bridge builders working together on structure

We still need framework, structure, support, training, modeling and followup as we develop this process. We need to encourage individuals with expertise to blossom, find their niche and shore up the structure for staff and student. The knight in shining armor coming in to save the day never really did work because you are still left with the issues, once the knight leaves.  

Let's work together to Level the Playing field for staff working to find solutions and support each other as we support students. In the immortal words of my daughter, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Let's pace ourselves and dig our heels in for a lot of fun as we lope along! It is a familiar path and now we can slow down enough to welcome friends. With the tools readily available, progress can be seen fairly immediately, so this marathon can be a satisfying journey.

The PATINS website has some suggested structure to get you started. Go to the Julie Kuhn Webpage and look for AT Team Development. Also, I periodically host webinars on this topic and you can always contact me to get started on your own problem-solving and action plan!

2
  1533 Hits
Jan
24

Cabin Fever

Snow, below zero wind chill, drifting, freezing temps, ice, sleet, gloomy days, hats, scarves, boots just a typical January day in Indiana. And in my part of the state add in lake effect snow. Lake effect snow is very unpredictable and is caused by winds coming from the north and sweeping over Lake Michigan and dumping inches of snow in one area. All this can be enjoyable but after a few days of wintery weather and Mother Nature calling the shots cabin fever sets in!

According to dictionary.com cabin fever is “a state characterized by anxiety, restlessness, and boredom, arising from a prolonged stay in a remote or confined place.” January 2018 has certainly provided us with numerous reasons to have cabin fever! A string of sunny days above 32 degrees becomes a wish. And that groundhog had better not see his shadow in February!
bench and bushes in a park near Lake Michigan covered in ice.
Think of our students and the cabin fever they may have experienced this winter. They for sure are ready to embrace some change. They have been stuck in the house. It really has been too cold to enjoy typical winter activities such as sledding, building a snowman or having a good snowball fight.

When you bring the definition of cabin fever into the classroom one should quickly realize that the students need some change and variety to mix things up. They need to overcome that “state characterized by anxiety, restlessness, and boredom” found in the classroom. They need to have challenges within their school day to reduce those feelings. Those students need new ways to engage them in the learning process. Learning occurs when the individual is engaged in the activity.

So, take your students minds out of cabin fever mode. Change things up a bit. Provide them the opportunity to learn. Keep them engaged. And just remember each day of winter is just one day closer to Spring!

1
  1647 Hits
Jan
18

Returning to Mindfulness and Reaping the Benefits

clementine oranges with leavesSitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the circle rug in my daughter’s kindergarten class last year, I learned something new. Maybe it wasn’t completely new, but certainly not practiced consistently in the “rush around world” I seem to be living in.

Ms. Indu, the founder of the school, passed around a little white basket of brightly colored clementines to all of the parent-night attendees. She instructed each person to select a fruit, then encouraged us to examine the smooth texture. She quietly described the hands that planted the seeds...hands that were passed down from ancestors, and ancestors, and ancestors. She characterized the process of love and nurturing that allowed it to grow into a tree. As the fruit ripened, sweet and heavy, she discussed the hands that picked it from the green leaves so high up in the tree. How many hands passed the clementine as it was washed, shined, packed and transported to the grocery store. She detailed the careful stacking of each clementine by a person who came from ancestors, who came from ancestors, who came from ancestors. She considered the inspection and selection that you, the consumer, went through to bring this delicious snack home.

As the mindful activity unfolded, I watched my husband Bill’s face out of the corner of my eye. He sat, looking at the clementine and listening intently to Ms. Indu speak. I fought back a sudden wave of the giggles as I wondered what this 45-year-old man would do when asked to eat the delicious fruit. Bill is what I would call a “reformed picky eater.” When he was young, he would reject a hamburger if the plate was sprinkled with parsley. Over the past 10 years he has developed into what I would consider a “typical eater” with occasional moments of adventure. One thing, however, that I knew for sure was that he did NOT like clementines. Clementines, oranges, grapefruit, none of them!

I closed my eyes and concentrated on putting the clementine segment in my mouth. Ms. Indu continued to guide us through the mindful activity of tasting the sweetness of the fruit, savouring the tangy yet sweet ...wait...what did I hear? Was that...chewing? Bill was chewing. Eyes closed, intently listening, and chewing. He was not just eating a piece of the clementine, he was eating the entire fruit. Mindfulness.

Mindfulness, in this case, turned my “typical eater” into a person who now purchases a bag of clementines every time he goes to the grocery store. He is now a person who carefully stacks the fruit in a blue glass bowl on our counter and enjoys the flavor and benefit of this nutritious snack. That moment of sitting on the kindergarten rug with purposeful and guided thought actually changed his pattern of thinking. I think he surprised himself that evening. He certainly never thought of himself as a citrus lover.

As I processed the mindful activity that led to a pattern change for Bill, I started to ponder school environments, students and how simple mindful activities might shape everyday activities. Research has shown that mindful behavior actually changes the neurological patterns in the brain. Mindful activities can promote goal setting and attainment, overall peacefulness throughout a school day and can be a confidence builder for a student who is struggling.

As a teacher, mindful attention to the day can increase student connectivity and might bring attention to the individual gifts students bring to the table with a reduced focus on those items that seem to be out of our control.

I was recently in a classroom in Greencastle where a teacher of students with Emotional Disabilities was detailing some of the progress the students had experienced this semester. She explained that every morning the students took a moment to reflect quietly on the upcoming day, to process through the daily hurdles and to have a moment to gather thoughts of how to navigate. She attributed much of the success of her students to that carefully planned moment in time, and stated that if something happened and that moment did not occur, the day definitely reflected it. The skill she was teaching did not cost money. A student never had to be without it because it comes from within. It was a life skill that encouraged goal setting and personal growth. What more could we possibly want for our students?

6
  1846 Hits
Jan
11

Viral UDL

From the Flu to you!

Sandi is sitting on her couch with a blanket over her and two dogs on her legs. She is typing on her computer and has her sick table materials beside her.
For the first time in a long while, I am sick. The flu epidemic did not spare me this year. As I sit here with my “sick table” fully stocked with my hot tea, Halls cough drops, Puffs Tissues Plus Lotion and Vicks, and a nasty wastebasket full of used tissues, I find myself thinking about things that are infectious and contagious.
 
Wikipedia tells me that, “In the United States, the flu season is considered October through May. It usually peaks in February.” According to the CDC, this year’s flu strain is the H3N2 virus. The estimate is that the Flu shot is only 30% effective against this flu strain, but you are still urged to get it. The Definition of contagious is to move easily from one person to another.

Influenza Activity Estimates Indiana and much of the nation have sporatic outbreak in October. In November Indiana is still sporatic but other states are showing local activity.  By December all contiguous states show widespread flu reports.
Between November and the end of December, the flu spreads rapidly because we are traveling to see out of town friends and relatives for the holidays. We are leaving our normal geographic boundaries and reaching out to others.

Infectious diseases are caused by bacteria or viruses. Great ideas can be spread that way too. I am getting ready to work with a small team of educators that wants to learn more about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). We are going to meet twice a month and discuss how to UDL their classrooms and lessons. We don’t know where this will go, but we are hoping it will become contagious! This is the way PATINS works. Groups of educators step out of their mental geographic boundaries, try something new and share it with their colleagues. The same principles of contagion apply to learning great educational frameworks like UDL as do the flu. The difference is great results for Indiana educators and students.  

I’d love to infect you with the UDL virus! Reach out to me and let’s get some positive educational pedagogy spreading around your school!

2
  2828 Hits
Dec
14

It's the Thought That Counts

a person's open hands holding a small wrapped giftbox

If you celebrate the holidays that take place this time of year, there’s a good chance gift giving is a part of that celebration.


I love to give gifts. I enjoy it even more when I think I’ve come up with something the recipient might actually like. But I usually find myself slightly stressed this time of year, and frequently at a loss when it comes to determining gifts for the people on my list.

Gift giving will be a different kind of experience for me this year. One reason for this is that my son’s family recently expanded to include three foster siblings, (2 year-old boy, 4 year-old girl & 7 year-old boy) in addition to their 18 month-old daughter.

IMG_7401-1.JPG

While I had an idea about the kind of gifts I wanted to give the them, I had no clear sense about how or where to start. I began thinking about the kids, both individually and collectively. I tried to figure out what I knew about their likes and dislikes, unique characteristics, strengths and challenges, and anything else I had come to understand about them.

I factored in the kinds of experiences I hoped my gift selections might offer, as well as elements I thought they’d value and derive maximum enjoyment from. I tried to take into consideration the physical space of their home and the general environment in which they live and play. I did a lot of Internet searching, asking friends and colleagues, and just plain contemplating.

Looking back, I realize my approach for gift decision-making wasn’t scientific or profound. Yet I also recognize the value of working through the process in the way that I did. It allowed me to identify what was most important about my gift selections.

Ah-ha! The connection.

As it turns out, my gift selection process closely resembles the process I used to go through on a regular basis when creating lesson plans as a teacher. I’d start with the general vision in mind (like the goal, standard, topic), then work through multiple layers of available information until I felt I’d reached as much clarity and discernment as possible. At that point I’d feel ready to turn plans into action.

Lesson designing was always a labor-intensive endeavor for me, as I think it is for many teachers. There is much necessary intentionality of design - planning, research, collaboration, and a great deal of deep thinking.

Deep thinking about:
  • the students - what is known as well as what’s unknown
  • the goals - what is intended, hoped for, expected, assumed
  • the obstacles - what stands in the way or threatens to impede the child or the goal

Now, as educators begin looking ahead to the implications of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its numerous endorsements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), I am excited about the improved potential impact. This is because UDL guides the process for curriculum development in such a way that
all students are able to access, participate in, and enjoy rich and meaningful learning opportunities.


At the design level within UDL, potential obstacles are eliminated (or at least minimized); the learning environment is set up with everyone in mind; and students’ variability is not only acknowledged, but also honored. There are no average students, no singled-out special cases, and no exceptions to the original plan. A UDL plan for instruction is intended and designed to be fully inclusive.

The lesson design process may continue to be a fairly labor-intensive process, even with the clear principles and supportive guidelines of UDL. But I believe when we’re engaged in deep thinking about the work we do, and about the students we teach, the process will always be a sort of labor of love.

If you’re curious about UDL or ready to dive in, you can access helpful information from the PATINS’ UDL resource page located on our website. There’s even an online tool to help you create your own UDL lesson plan from scratch. Our PATINS blog, as well as our weekly #PatinsIcam Twitter Chat regularly includes great ideas and insights related to UDL. (You can read archived blogs and chats at anytime!)

Finally, whether you’re just beginning or already implementing a UDL approach in your classroom or school, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us to share your UDL questions, experiences and expertise. We’d love to support you wherever you are in the process of ensuring access to the curriculum for all students!

1
  1587 Hits
Nov
10

Second Life

Immersive

Last week at our annual Fall Conference, people came up to me at the Access to Technology booth with inquiries. It reminded me of how my professional journey started... with so many questions.

If you didn’t know already, I’m a college student working at PATINS. Saying that my situation in PATINS is new would be inaccurate. Many of you who have been following the PATINS Project for years know that a few college students have come and gone (and stayed) through the PATINS roster.

Characters change and positions are shuffled and a new face is always surprising but not necessarily something new. Second Life isn’t new either.

Second Life has been a part of the Grant since 2009 under the supervision of Daniel McNulty back when he was still a regional specialist, and it has been a part of our Grant ever since. Years later, in 2016, it was in my hands as Virtual Space Manager and I found it a little overwhelming.

I had heard of Second Life a few years before but had never gotten into the world since it was not my preferred creative outlet (I enjoyed the Sims!). Now three-dimensional building had to be more than a pastime, and I wasn’t sure where to start. At first, I didn’t want to change any of it. Daniel had put in so many hours just to make the island what it was. There were some things that needed fixing, and others needed updating, but everything still worked. But how was that different from what we had been doing on the island for the past few years? It was mine now, and no Admin. Asst. title before me had ever gotten this kind of opportunity. How could I make it special for a bunch of people who know so much more about education than me?

I treated this like any other learning opportunity and starting asking a lot of questions. I asked Daniel questions, I asked Julie questions, I asked Sandi questions, and I even bothered Jim. When they answered what they could, I asked the Second Life Community questions about everything else. I traveled to different worlds, discovered different kinds of buildings, and participated in the different actions around the Second Life worlds. I sought out answers and sometimes left with more questions.

If I was a PATINS Specialist in Virtual Space, I would have a finished degree and years of experience. But thankfully I’m not. I am the Manager and a college student. I don’t have all the answers about Second Life and three-dimensional thinking. I have all of the same questions that every learner has, and I’ve made and keep up a space that makes me question how it could change a classroom or a teacher every day.

So how should you use Second Life? I don’t have every answer for that. As Second Life’s community has proven over and over again, there are limitless possibilities for the user looking for entertainment and for the user looking for Education. There are schools devoted to learning more about the virtual environment and there are schools that help with specific subjects. The worlds you visit are built by real people who had the same questions and these are their answers.

To quote what Linden Labs has told me to do a thousand times since I joined Second Life, “EXPLORE”. Explore the world, explore the opportunities that other users have provided, and explore your own creativity. And always... ask so many questions.



1
  1399 Hits
Oct
27

The Pie of Life and A2E

The Access to Education (A2E) State Conference, formerly PATINS State Conference, is right around the corner! Woo! Hoo! What does that mean to us? High energy, reuniting with people we haven’t seen for a while, meeting new folks. We will learn so much during these two intense days. So much information, so little time.

There is a nifty chart, called the Pie of Life. I picked it up from a book called Values Clarification (Values Clarification, by Dr. Sidney B. Simon, Leland W Howe). This particular exercise involves a blank circle. The key is defined by what you do in your 24 hour day. You start by listing the activities of your day, and then assign time values to them. Once done, you plot the circle. So for simplicity, I have listed these general areas with four hours each: Leisure, Community, Family, Self, Work/School and Home.  

Pie Chart of 24 hours in a day
It is a lot easier when given tidy parameter such as these.  

When we just list what we do in a day or want to do in a day, it is easier to come up with numbers well off the chart. But even so, given these categories, this individual still came up with 28.5 hours in a day, as noted by bar chart below.
Bar Chart of Hours we think we have in a dayPie Chart of Hours we think we have in a day with percentages
It makes sense of course that work/school and sleep should take up the lion’s share of a person’s day. After all, learning and growing is the “job” of students. The point here is to look at that balance. I think of this when I consider homework for students, and especially homework for students with special needs. From my perspective, it is more of an economy of time and effort and less of a Three Musketeers "All for one and one for all" approach. We know that some of the students must work, some are athletes, active in community/church works, some have medical needs that take time. We know all students must show evidence of learning. So, if some students can access homework or schoolwork differently or produce the evidence of their work at a different time or by a different means, then outcomes of learning may be better demonstrated and measured. As a society we do encourage well-rounded students so they will be well-rounded, contributing adults, participating fully in their communities. So in this scenario, here is what a 24 hour day can look like for students.

Bar Chart of Student 24 Daily hours
As we enter this next week of wonderful exploration into the world of assistive technology, curricular access and attempt to synthesize it all, let’s remember.  You, personally, do not have to know everything about access. Be comfortable in knowing resources are available to assist with solutions that may elude you as you teach a diverse classroom. That is what we do at PATINS. Take advantage of what other conference attendees and presenters also know.

All these nifty charts are intended to show that there is so much for all of us to learn. Both adult and children learners. It is helpful to always view information from a perspective of a feature match. By that I mean, does an item/product/technique match the needs/abilities of the the user and meet the intended outcome? or How will this help my student more efficiently/effectively complete an important task using a useful skill?

When not helping to put on the Access to Education (A2E) conference, I will be looking for technology and supports to help students and staff blossom given their strengths. We know students have had plenty of practice demonstrating the areas of their disability. Now, with my nifty Pie of Life exercise, it is clear that no one has any time to waste reinforcing the areas of difficulty. Let’s focus precious time on growing those well-rounded students so they will be well-rounded, contributing adults, participating fully in their communities with time, energy and satisfaction enough to take on the next generation of children for whom the Pie of Life will mean something.
1
  2146 Hits
Oct
17

UDL for ALL

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has become a commonplace term in the educational field and has been given a boost with the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) and the Dear Colleague Letter of November 2015. And when one thinks of UDL one thinks about student sitting in the general education class with supports. While this is an excellent image, UDL principles should also be applied to students who are typically in life skills or self-contained classrooms.

Educators have been given the challenge to hold every student to rigorous grade level standards. UDL can certainly allow students to stay engaged and show what they know. Project Success has provided educators with Content Connectors, which can guide the life skills teacher allowing their students to work on grade level standards.

Teachers working in the life skills classrooms are demonstrating UDL principles in their classrooms daily. They are constantly looking for ways to engage the students in their classrooms. While it can be a challenge, those teachers know that the reward outweighs the challenge. Life Skills teachers are always allowing their students to show what they know in multiple formats. Most often a tactile, hands on demonstration of their knowledge can easily replace a more standard assessment. They truly know that one size does not fit all.

The PATINS Project has addressed the need to include ALL students in an UDL environment with the creation of the UDL Lesson Creator. Teachers are walked through the process of creating a lesson plan that incorporates the UDL principles as well as considering the learning styles of ALL students.

Just think maybe someday students who are in today’s life skills classrooms can someday be fully included with proper UDL supports in the general education classroom with their peers!

0
  3473 Hits
Oct
12

Lessons from the Past Shape the Future


A friend of mine asked me how my job was going. At the time, I was working as a behavior support person in district where every day was a brand new adventure of finding the best way to educate students with various levels of trauma. I answered her in very general terms...my day had been spent jumping from meeting to meeting with various students, staff members, therapists, parents and social workers and I was exhausted. How could I explain the phenomenon of helping a student in crisis only to find another student, and another student, and another student in line behind the first.


“Wow,” she remarked. “Times have changed. We never had students like that in school when we were growing up. What has happened?” The remark was innocent enough. I began to scan my memory banks for a clue of how to answer her. My mind searched elementary and middle school files as I tried to remember students who were difficult to plan for...students who needed extra resources and consideration. I remembered the challenges of having child refugees from Vietnam in my early elementary school classes in Texas who did not speak English, which was the predominate language. These students were definitely in crisis and had been through trauma, but outside of this group of special children, I could not remember the type of support required daily to so many students with Emotional Disabilities.

I wanted to be thoughtful in my reply, because I did not want to be unfair to the teachers I had in school. I had some really great teachers and I do not have a memory of having a crisis intervention team entering our room to help with students. I don’t remember student disruption occurring beyond minor disagreements. I remember faces of the students who would have been considered as behavior problems. I remember the threat we all had hanging over us of going to the principal’s office. I remember those students being sent and sometimes never returning to class.

Suddenly the light bulb in my brain flashed on.

“Well of course we have always had these students.” I replied. “We just have not always been charged with educating them.” If students had a behavioral issue that was strong enough to be dealt with, the student was removed from school. No one wondered if something deeper, more pervasive was behind the student’s behavior. No one questioned whether the curriculum should be adjusted to try to help students. No one created an individualized behavior plan to try to keep students in school or found a therapist or social worker to help the student work through issues. The student was simply “let go.”

I had a huge realization that day about the state of our country. Students who were once forgotten and disposed of in our educational system are now being helped. Most of my career has been devoted to finding a way for every student to have the opportunity to learn and I am not alone. Across the state, every day, I am witnessing the same kind of compassion and careful planning for students who were once punished or removed. Teachers are looking for resources and striving to connect with students in new and groundbreaking ways.

I recently was given the incredible gift of being able to work with students and teachers of students who have Emotional Disabilities through The PATINS Project. The focus of this charge is to discover different ways to support individuals through technology, strategies and principles of Universal Design for Learning. Already teachers across the state are using relaxation techniques, self regulation processes and calming environments with students who are in crisis. Technology elevates those strategies in order to give students an independent moment with a calming app, self monitoring journal or video of the classroom activities while respectfully being given permission to de-escalate.

Teachers are understanding that along with the Emotional Disability qualification, a student might have an unidentified or secondary learning disability. To have a classroom that is already created to consider different means of expression and reception of materials is such a positive direction for students who might be struggling.  

I am so glad the viewpoint is evolving. Education is a thoughtful field and the endeavor of finding new ways to elevate self growth and understanding amongst teachers is a full time job. Challenging old ways of thinking and finding resources to help face this undertaking is only part of the battle. This is a time of enlightenment and consideration for all students. Placing value on ways to keep students in school, no matter how challenging the behavior, is a passion of mine and I am grateful to be a part of the revolution.

4
  2714 Hits
Oct
04

We Are Allowed to Learn and Change

I saw a colleague of mine from my first years of teaching. We were catching up, and he mentioned that he was teaching the same old thing he always had, every fall for the last 30 years. I am sure his style, methods, and materials have evolved since we taught together. The changes may be subtle, but they have been based on things learned and observed from year to year.

When I speak to colleagues that have known me for a while I sometimes hear:

I remember when you said…
I thought you were against…
You never used to…

and they are right, but hey!

I am not still wearing big shoulder pads & leg warmers. My hair may be curly, but I don’t have a perm, huge bangs or a rat-tail, (I miss that tail.). That said, I still love Ray-Ban sunglasses and when fanny packs come back in style count me in! Those things were handy!

This is the time of year when the PATINS Library gets some big new technology for educators to try with their students. This year I ordered a piece of technology that I had previously found "absolutely no use for". Suddenly, when I viewed this technology from a different perspective, I saw practicality, benefits, and a need.

What I’m trying to say is that opinions can change. Just like fashion, some methods and technologies just get stale or outdated. Changing an opinion on a technology based on peer-reviewed research or a growing use for it does not make you a hypocrite. Your integrity is not in question. It shows that you are reflecting and re-evaluating your methods.

Keep the classics, replace the things that don’t work, and stay flexible!


1
  7188 Hits
Aug
31

De–Clutter Is De-Problem - Lack of Headspace Causes Havoc

Colorful image depicting visual clutter, busyness

My kitchen table is a disaster. The table itself is fine. It’s all the junk on top of the table that’s a problem. Obviously, I haven’t been serving any elegant meals lately. (Clever tactic, if I do say so myself.)

I decided to tackle the semi-organized chaos when my eyes caught sight of a Health & Wellness newsletter that was partially buried. It seemed to be mocking me with its title: The Mental Cost of Clutter. Ironic, I thought.

image of cluttered tabletop

I quickly glanced around the house and determined I was safe - no real clutter around except for this stupid table. I skimmed the article just to be sure I wasn’t harboring some unknown health issue.

According to this article’s source, statistics show that:
  • Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), making our senses work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.
  • Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.
Other negative impacts were cited in the article, but these two caught my attention and prompted me to Google clutter, and declutter.

Apparently, I have more of a problem than I thought.

image of female headshot of smirk expression
Here are some of my red flags:
  • I’ve never been through a 15-step declutter program or 30-day declutter challenge
  • I don’t have a Pinterest collection of Top 10 Ways to Eliminate Clutter
  • I don’t belong to a Clutterless Recovery Group or to Clutterers Anonymous

Admitting the problem is the first step.


I’m actually pretty careful about physical clutter. To be honest, I’m pretty much an organizational freak (which is an entirely different Google search…). Nonetheless, I’m fairly organized - except for my kitchen table area. I don’t think physical clutter is my problem.

However, clutter inside my head – now that’s a different issue. The cumulative amount of stuff running around in the confined space of my head is definitely a source of messiness for me.

This mental clutter consists of new input, old residue, and every drive-by source of stimuli in between which, when combined, ends up consuming too much space inside my head. When headspace has no white space, the result is mental clutter.

If I’m in a state of mind-full clutter, I’m likely to become distracted more easily and focus on unnecessary or unimportant details. If I’m struggling to curate the information in my own head, my ability to transfer new information into learning is minimal.

Note to self: Less clutter. More curation.

Distractibility, excess stimuli, information overload, and internalized stress are all known to be barriers to learning. We may not know how prevalent the issue of mental clutter is, but we do know barriers like these negatively impact the learning process.

image of barrier, barbed-wire fence around a field

In and out of the classroom, we know the advantage and importance of developing strong executive functioning skills. Everyone benefits from support in this area. (Case in point: me. I rest my case.)

I love the way Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation is described by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University:

Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

I sure could use a Captain Sullenberger Level of Executive Functioning right about now. And while I can’t offer a 15-step program for mental decluttering, or a 30-day challenge to eliminate all barriers to learning, I can offer a few resources to support students in the development of their own executive functioning:

Composite Lists of Recommended Apps:
Apps for Mindmapping & Habit Building:
Don’t Forget About Built-In Tools Such As:
Gotta run now - my kitchen table’s overflowing with inedible objects….

What are your favorite resources and strategies? We’d love to hear from you!
Or, feel free to contact us with questions you may have. We’re here for you!


1
  4245 Hits
Jul
28

Leftie or Rightie?

Left arm lifted holding a pencil

Is your dominant hand left, or right? I’m a definite leftie. I am part of the 10-12% in this world that function stronger with their left hand. On the PATINS staff, Julie and Jim join me as lefties.


Some cultures consider left handed people as an outcast. The Anglo-Saxon word for left is “lyft” which means broken, weak. A mere nasty habit to overcome. This might explain why, as an elementary student, I was pulled out of my classroom of peers to go out in the hall and work on writing with my right hand with Miss O’Neil, the “special teacher”. I wasn’t comfortable writing with my right hand nor did I have good results with my right hand. I also remember being sad that I was missing out on what my friends were doing in my classroom with my teacher. Miss O’Neil told my parents that I would always need a pencil gripper to properly write. (That turned out to be incorrect)

In this right-handed world, I have learned to adapt quite effectively. Here’s a few examples:
  • My coffee mug with the inspirational saying? I’m glad you can read it as I drink.
  • Opening those cans with a can opener? I buy the pull tops.
  • Zipping a zipper? Skilled at holding that fly/flap with my other fingers to keep clear.
  • Reading a measuring cup? Mastered the metric system.
  • Spiral notebook? Built a tolerance to dents from resting on the spiral or went for the loose-leaf.
  • Writing over pencil/pen on my paper? Those smudges on the butt of my hand are washable.
  • Cutting with scissors? Not so great UNTIL my first left-handed pair, then perfect!
  • Reading a tape measure? I can read upside down and get the job done.
  • Video Game Controller? Wasn’t any good at video games anyway.
  • Desk in school? I was all smiles when I was introduced to a left-handed desk in college. Until then, I preferred to sit on the floor with my work on my knees or lap.
Studies show that lefties are better at using both hands proficiently over righties. Seems our brains are wired to do this. That explains why I can use my ten-key calculator with my right hand at lightning speed as well as a mouse with my right hand.

If you want some more fun facts on lefties, check out this short video. In the meantime, be mindful of lefties in your circles. If you are a teacher, try to be open to flexible seating options. Keep in mind what it is you are trying to assess and then let the student demonstrate his/her individual ability to conquer the task. If only Miss O'Neil would have checked out my penmanship as a leftie... we both might have put our time to better use.

4
  2551 Hits
Jul
13

Summer Musings, Student Thoughts


Summer. What a great time to store up some natural vitamin D, enjoy the outdoors, and clear our minds from the doldrums and cobwebs that some of us collect during the winter months and look for renewal for the upcoming school year.


At our house, we remodeled our kitchen and, that was an undertaking! It only took three times longer than anticipated but the end result is gorgeous. One does not realize how old something is until it is updated though to be sure, my daughter did try to advise me of this for a while. I took the opportunity afforded by dust, chaos, and disarray to purge the rest of the house. This made the mayhem worse. The saving grace for me was in knowing this messiness was temporary and actually, in my relative control. We have expanded some of the renewal to include new carpeting, which should be installed next week. So it is not smooth sailing yet. Then, of course our family get together is happening before the carpet comes in so it is not “perfect”. There is a lesson in there, too. Perfect is not necessary. 

As I gear up for the 2017-2018 school year, I cannot help but reflect on the daily lives of some of our students. This is not a statement of poverty, class, background or anything else. It is just life. The issue of clutter, chaos and stability crosses all the lines. So, how does this impact our students?   

On an individual level, consider how each of us is able to focus, find things, concentrate, think, create, remember or recall in an environment where we feel we have control, or where we feel we do not. A great example of this comes to mind with the topic of homework. How can homework get done in the midst of chaos? Let alone get done effectively. What does it take to set students up for success when it comes to homework completion? We have to look at individual needs on a universal level.

If we follow the UDL principles set by CAST and follow up work at the UDL Center we have an expectation to facilitate students ability to become expert learners. How can a child and young adult be resourceful and knowledgeable; strategic and goal-directed; purposeful and motivated amidst clutter, chaos, mayhem and limited choices? I think of students with complex disabilities.  Again, the issues cross all the demographic lines. Without a voice or a way to effectively communicate, an individual is dependent on the organizational style, timelines, thought processes of those around them. I do not see how this can promote the development of expert learners.

As an occupational therapist, we look at the whole person, not just the physical aspects of disability. When I see homework not getting completed, there are usually a number of reasons and punitive measures do not seem to get better results. These other reasons can include many issues including significant/subtle learning disabilities, no adult support, poor executive functioning, and emotional issues. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Also, a question that is good to ask is “What is the purpose of the activity?” The answer to that question alone can make a big difference in focusing on critical elements of performance for a student that is useful in growing their expert learner potential. This can even be explored with seating and positioning in the classroom. Without control and confidence of one’s physical state, learning becomes the secondary focus. So, homework, in-class work, whatever the work of a student is we need to know what we are working toward universally, know the student individually, and intentionally plan upfront for all the diversity and chaos eager to learn this year!

Let’s find “techy” ways to help students find their own control and stability in a chaotic world.
0
  1629 Hits
Jul
03

The Hyphen

I never quite realized why I chose a career in special education until this spring. Both of my brothers are electrical engineers and I had a math minor in college. Ending up as a special educator certainly was not my intention when I went off to college. I always would joke that I selected a profession that did not require a government clearance.

Recently, I realized that my mother influenced my career. Mom made it a priority in her life to make sure everyone was cared for, that no one was forgotten. She single handedly took care of my dad for twelve years after he had a debilitating stroke. When I would take her to doctor's appointments she would always take time and ask the doctor how they were doing almost immediately after they would ask her how she was doing. I would often just chalk up this behavior as part of her dementia.

But then it hit me. She knew exactly what she was doing by asking the doctors how they were doing. It was not related to dementia at all. At her assisted living facility I would watch her make sure that fellow residents had everything they needed at meals. She would inform nursing staff if she thought a resident needed some attention. She always had a stash of Lifesaver mints to give to residents and employees. She truly cared for everyone and in her own little way worked to make everyone's life just a little better. For 93 years she had been tossing starfish back into the ocean!

Why did I end up in the special education field? I was destined by my upbringing! I was taught to seek out starfish and return them to the ocean. When I was in the classroom I would somehow always get a challenging student or two because 'I could work with their uniqueness '. At the time I would wonder what I did to make my supervisor continually give me challenging caseloads. I know now that my caseload was based on my ability to see the starfish in everyone. We all need to find the starfish and return them one at a time to the ocean.

I am sure my mom taught me a lot of things. It has just taken me 64 years to realize how she modeled and shaped my life and career. Thanks Mom for your patience with your middle child. You threw me back into the ocean many times!

You always hear it is the hyphen or dash that really counts between your birth and death. It represents the accomplishments, both good and bad, in the course of one's life. Mom has quite a distinctive hyphen, oh the stories it could tell!

Rest In Peace, Mom
February 14, 1924 - June 17, 2017

3
  1956 Hits
Jun
29

UDLabyrinth


On a recent gorgeous summer night the only choice my family had to make was whether to walk or ride bikes through town. The unanimous vote was to walk, and the mile that separates our house on Franklin College Campus to the courthouse on the square was full of colorful discussion. My 6-year-old daughter Zoë was very excited about the adventure. She mused aloud about many topics -- including how high the water was in the creek, why the college boys next door grilled in the rain and when she could host her next sleep-over. As we wandered through the streets of the downtown area, smoky barbecue aroma surrounded us from the annual competition that had taken place earlier that day.


We found ourselves heading south on Main Street toward a labyrinth nestled in a small sculpture garden that Richard Goss, owner of Richard’s Brick Oven Pizza, built in 2015. The labyrinth that started out as foot-tall bushes now loomed over our heads.

Richard Labyrinth
Zoë asked endless questions about the purpose of a labyrinth, what it was used for and what people did once inside. I explained that labyrinths were used for meditation and reflection, moving through the intricate design was personal and people used it for different reasons. We stood at the entrance of the maze together. The only direction I gave her was that once inside the labyrinth walls she could move through in her own personal way, but with a catch. She would have to be silent. I explained that some people (like me) chose to reflect and think in a labyrinth, which is hard to do with people  talking or making noise. She nodded in understanding and looked longingly at the entrance. I asked her if she would like to go in first and she entered, smiling over her shoulder.

I moved onto the stony pathway next, ambling at a medium pace but deliberately taking in every step, trying to clear my mind. As the fog began to lift, tiny granules of thought began to form into larger structures, castles of ideas began to envelop the dark corners of my brain. With every step, every twist and turn of the path, I felt myself sinking into the calmness and refreshment of what the labyrinth meant to me.

I glanced to my right and made out the shape of my husband, Bill, as he followed his path through the labyrinth. Our paths that once seemed very different converged for a brief moment. His eyes never met mine as he focused on a spot on the horizon; he walked slowly and deliberately and appeared to be far away. He methodically moved through the intricate design in total silence. I ached for a moment, wishing I could focus my mind in the same way, shutting out the sound of the breeze, the birds overhead, the occasional swish of my arms brushing against the hedge wall.

WHOOSH...I could see my daughter's pink shirt through the hedge in a blur as she ran by. I could see her curls blowing back in the breeze. My attention turned to the sound of the gravel crunching under her feet in a rapid pace, her head tilted slightly back in sheer exhilaration but still in complete silence. I giggled to myself as she dashed by. She was doing exactly what I asked her to do, but her style was completely contrasting mine.  

Upon reflection I realized that we had one labyrinth and one instruction yet three totally different interpretations of how we were going to complete the task. Was my method any better than Zoë’s? Was my reaction to the labyrinth any less because I was not focused like Bill? We all reached the end with a better understanding of what the journey meant to us. It was personal and uniquely executed but the gains were similar.  

As I walked away from the labyrinth, I considered the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Figuring out the most personal and unique way to increase knowledge while being given a multitude of tools and approaches seems like a never ending task. Piquing interest/designing education in order to engage students who come from so many different backgrounds and preferences in learning is the hurdle that teachers face daily.  

Allowing for differences, planning ahead to make sure that those differences are not only accounted for, but respected every day, is what UDL is all about. After all, it is not how we get to the finish line, it is what we know when we get there. Our journey is the most important part.


0
  1833 Hits
Jun
22

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

David Bowie said it best:

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Don't want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Just gonna have to be a different man”

This has been a big year of changes for me. Some I could control, most I could not. Some I anticipated, some smacked me upside the head. Regardless, they happened and I, like all people had to “turn and face” them. Strange, bizarre, positive or anxiety causing, I see them as a positive disruption of the status quo. An opportunity.

My favorite thing about change is that it makes you think. Without disruption I find myself drifting through a situation, just getting by on muscle memory, prior experience and luck. When you are busy and have many different people/obligations pulling your strings in various directions it can be nice to coast for a bit. Too much of this makes me complacent. I prefer to spend life on the balls of my feet, not the heels.

Change likes to create chaos. It makes you pick favorites and prioritize the rest. It acts as a filter through which you sort your time, space and desires.

Summer break creates a huge change in the daily schedule. Suddenly you find yourself with a totally different arrangement of time. How are you using it? There are lots of great opportunities. Some of them don't even involve professional development! However, you plan on using this time, keep in mind that you can’t do it all. Make space for the things that make you a more relaxed and well-rounded individual. Sort your time through a filter that will help you to be ready for the next big changes around the corner.

If professional learning is on your list, there are plenty of opportunities left. See here for Indiana’s Summer of eLearning. The PATINS specialists are out and about! We take vacations, but we are also available to help prepare for the new school year when you are ready.

The pessimist complains about the wind;
the optimist expects it to change;
the realist adjusts the sails.
-William Arthur Ward                                      

440px 2013 Ahmanson Cup Regatta yacht Zapata II b photo D Ramey Logan




1
  2271 Hits
May
25

The Best Next Step

I’ve had the opportunity this past year to attend several workshops and conference sessions focused on innovative uses of technology in the classroom. I’ve been excited and inspired by the ideas, activities, strategies and suggestions for using technology in meaningful, engaging and thought-provoking ways with students.

These are the kinds of learning opportunities all students (and teachers) should be engaging in and benefiting from. These are not experiences designed solely for the purpose of using technology. Nor have they been designed exclusively for the adventurous, the extraordinary or for those with too much time on their hands. These are experiences designed for content-rich, level-appropriate learning opportunities that incorporate technology.

Yet, in nearly every session I’ve attended, a handful of attendees have commented on challenges they face either with getting technology into their classrooms, or with being able to fully utilize the technology they have. The challenges mentioned include things like inconsistent internet access, restrictive internet blocking, lack of training, lack of training on devices, lack of time for training, lack of technology plans, lack of technical support, and lack of funds.   

A handful of situations where challenges like these exist may not seem like much of an issue, but I wonder how many students are being impacted by each of these situations? Even a handful of these kinds of potential barriers is too much. A barrier is still a barrier for the person(s) being impacted.

This has caused me to think deeply about the disparity that exists between technology-rich and technology-less environments. It doesn’t mean that an impressive and powerful learning environment cannot exist with little or no technology. Nor should we assume that wherever technology is plentiful, the learning will be guaranteed and abundant. However, it does mean we have not yet reached a level of equitable access to technology for every school and every classroom. While I’m sure we can’t afford to be okay with this status, I certainly realize the magnitude and complexity of a viable solution.

Likewise, I’ve been thinking about the notion of ensuring equitable access and equitable use of technology for every single student. As in:

  • All students should have access to technology that allows them to learn and survive in the ways they need.

  • All students should have access to current and emerging technologies and to technologies that extend their own thinking about ideas, experiences and the world around them.

  • All students should be able to use these technologies (not just have access to), as much and as often as needed, with the level of proficiency needed, and in ways that provide similar experiences with the technology as their peers are able to receive.

All students, not just some.

When I think about the question “So what do we do?” I realize there is much that can be done, no matter the particular circumstance. There is always a best next step. One great starting point is to consider what technology already exists and explore how it can be used to improve students’ (and teachers’) lives. No matter what your current situation is, it’s important to clarify (and share) key thinking around the following kinds of questions:

  1. What does it look like to use technology in the classroom in such a way that it becomes meaningfully infused into students’ lives?

  2. What message(s) will we send to students and others by virtue of the technology we use - or don’t use - in our instruction and daily life?

  3. What measures can we take as we design instruction that will incorporate the use of technology to enable and encourage students’ thinking?

Moreover, the best suggestion I can offer anyone is to call upon the expertise, resources and support available through PATINS-ICAM Project. Services are at no cost to Indiana public/charter schools & educators. So borrow an item, seek an in-class consultation, submit a request for refurbished tech; you can request services just because! (No IEP required.)

Here are highlights from my own learning opportunities with PATINS-ICAM, but you’ll want to discover these and others on your own:

Let PATINS help with your best next step!

1
  1658 Hits
Apr
19

The Party's Over

 PATINS staff photo with the words keep calm and smile with friends poster

Last week, PATINS hosted a party. Well, not really a party, but Tech Expo 2017… and it had components of a party:

· Invitation and RSVP
· Theme/decorations
· Food
· Lively conversation
· Meeting new people
· Seeing friends/colleagues
· Laughter
· Activities
· Goodie bag/gifts
· Photo opportunities

As the Event & Financial Manager, it is my responsibility to plan the event in a fiscally responsible manner as well as coordinate the efforts of the venue, staff and exhibitors to serve the attendees to the best of our ability.

Looking over feedback that has come back to us, it seems we provided a valuable day of learning and professional development for the teachers, support staff, administrators and parents that were in attendance. For those of you who joined us, thank you! For those of you who didn’t make it, we will offer Tech Expo once again in April 2018 with an Exhibit Hall full of experts in the field of technology and a day full of presentations exploring how to implement those products and services in the classroom.

Daniel has a phrase he encourages us to use as a focal point in our PATINS positions…Faces, tiny little faces. In my position, I do not get out into the classrooms to see the students’ faces, but, I do appreciate having a hand in a successful professional development event, such as Tech Expo, where I am able to see the faces of eager educators taking away new ideas and product supports to their schools where they will undoubtedly increase student achievement.

Lastly, a party is a celebration and Tech Expo felt like that at the end of the day. We can all celebrate when the students we serve succeed in the classroom as well as outside of the classroom!


0
  1953 Hits
Apr
03

"Crazy"


Charlie Brown and speech bubble with the words good grief
 


OK, so, I missed my blog deadline this time around and it made me think of how crazy our lives can get. I am not so sold on the benefits of multi-tasking. So here is a YouTube link to Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy". At the bottom, I included a copy of the lyrics from the St. Elsewhere Album. It’s really fitting for all of us, I believe. Parents, educators, students, administrators, support staff. Craziness is for anyone who is putting themselves out there to make our world a better place.  


Feel free to slow down and take 5 minutes to enjoy a song not usually connected to what we do, and is inspiring in its own way!

As we all strive for control over our lives, it seems many of us (attempt to) do this through schedules. In our paperless office, I find I still need the print version of a calendar to ground me on a daily basis.

Here is a little of what I have learned over the years:

Digital calendars/schedulers:
  • Great for portability
  • Great for ease of adjustability
  • Easily searchable, depending on how it was set up
  • Easy to set repeating appointment
    • And my favorite
      • Great for color coding/categorizing
  • Downside:
    • Too easy to misdate or delete something
Paper calendars/schedulers/appointment books
  • You can see what you erased!
  • Easier for me to see a week at a glance.
  • I am able to glance at weeks more quickly.
  • Easier to quickly glance on the road.
  • I can make notes right on the document.
    • including…my mileage
  • Downside:
    • If you leave it at home, you are sunk.
Conclusion:
  • There is no one system that works for me and believe me, I have been looking for a long time.
  • About the time I think I have a good system, I find it may be perfect on a desktop, but not on a mobile set up.
  • Or it was better with a previous email system, but not a new one.
  • Or a new data collection system changes my personal coding system.
And it is all good!
OK, anything useful here?
  • First of all, we all have to work with the materials at hand and the resources available.
  • Decide how to visually organize your life and go from there.
  • We also look at ourselves or who we are considering. 
  • So this is where the feature match comes in. 
    • I can be pretty flexible with some basic features and allowing myself to print out a working calendar document. 
    • Anything else is just crazy!
Choices:
  • These are more schedulers than organizers, but the list might get you thinking. These are a drop in the bucket I currently have eleven in a folder on my phone that I have explored.

Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy"

"Crazy" St. Elsewhere Album Lyrics
I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly [radio version]
probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that's my only advice

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you're in control
Well, I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done

Maybe I'm crazy
Maybe you're crazy
Maybe we're crazy
Probably

Uh, uh

Credit AZLyrics 

Thanks! Julie

0
  2586 Hits
Mar
22

Spring

I grew up in a Belgian neighborhood. Most of my adult neighbors were immigrants or first generation Americans. ‘Broken English’ was the neighborhood language, English was the second language. The Belgians take great pride in the appearance of their household and neighborhood. Lawns were perfectly manicured, weeds were pulled. Neighbors could be seen twice daily sweeping the curbs due to cars kicking stones up onto the sidewalk.

The hobby of choice was racing pigeons. Every Saturday they would take a crate of their best birds to a designated location to have them turned loose early the next morning to see whose pigeon would return back to their respective coop the fastest and give their owners bragging rights.

Annually in spring and fall were two very special events……Spring cleaning and Fall cleaning. They would wait for the perfect string of days so that windows could be opened to air out the house. Over the next few days every inch of the house got a thorough cleaning. Furniture had to be moved and every wall in the house was washed. Carpets were shampooed. Draperies were taken down and cleaned! All the closets were reorganized! Windows were washed inside and out! The neighborhood smelled like Spic n Span! Six months later a repeat performance.

Well it’s spring again. The neighborhood I grew up in is now ‘integrated’ with non-Belgians who don’t have the same work ethic as old timers once did. But something can be said about that work ethic. It sort of provided each household with a clean slate that was refreshed and renewed.

As educators, a good spring cleaning may just be in order. With ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and the Dear Colleague Letter, we as educators are being asked to do a thorough cleaning. But instead of washing walls and shampooing carpets in our classrooms we are being asked to refine out teaching styles by insisting that all students live up to high standards and incorporating UDL principles into everything we do. It is not a simple task. Nor is it a task that can be completed in just a few days. Nevertheless, it is an important task. Generations of students will benefit.


And just like when I was growing up the deep cleaning was an annual event held twice a year, we cannot be complacent with an occasional deep cleaning of our teaching style. It, too, needs to undergo a good cleaning and rejuvenation often. So get out the proverbial ‘Spic n Span’ frequently and transform your classroom into a learning environment where everyone has an opportunity to learn. Our students will be grateful for it.


0
  1785 Hits
Mar
17

Getting Lost and Found in Translation

For several hours I was lost in Paris. I was in my early twenties and the world was just starting to expand for me. I had frequently been lost in America, lost in England and lost in my own world, but all of these places shared one commonality...they were places where English was the predominate language. However, THIS moment I was lost in France, only armed with the phrase “Le garçon stupide!” which translates roughly to “The stupid boy!” I began to panic.

That day, I found out that part of getting by in another country was being nice enough to the people there to get them to speak English. It almost seemed as though everyone knew English. Kindness elicited a heavily accented response, sometimes broken, sometimes flowing, in my own language. How lucky I was that they were willing to help an American girl with mascara tears running down her face.  

During those hours of being lost, I discovered a huge difference between this country and mine. My country is landlocked for miles with people who mostly speak the same language and have the expectation that others will learn the language as well. The concept that people living in states as close to me as Kentucky or Illinois would speak different languages is mind boggling. People growing up in France probably learned English, German and Spanish in order to communicate with the people right next door.  

Many years later in America I faced the obstacles of speaking a predominant language and teaching students who did not grow up speaking English. My first year of teaching high school in Chicago found me in a school where 87% of the 3,000 students who attended came from Spanish speaking homes. When I moved to Assistive Technology several years later, I worked with a group of children who had moved from a 16th century agrarian farm setting to the third largest city in America. How was I going to speak to the children? How would I communicate with their families? Software and translators were present, but not mainstream and very expensive. How would I meet the needs of people who could not use kindness to have someone help them in their own native tongue? No amount of “kindness’ on their part would be rewarded by my speaking a language that they understood back to them.

I would like to thank Kelli Suding, another PATINS Specialist, for showing me one of the best apps I have heard about in a long time. Google Translate. Google Translate is free, easy to use and has incredible features. The app translates 103 languages. It translates handwriting directly applied to the screen. A person can speak into a microphone and the app translates what is being said in real time. A phrasebook can be programmed to save translated words and phrases for another time. The best feature, to me, is the camera translation. If you hold the camera up to anything written, it translates the image to the desired language. Imagine holding your phone camera up to a direction sign, or document in a foreign country. Imagine changing the language of a document in real time in a case conference for a family who needs the kindness of someone speaking in their native tongue.

Over winter break I met a woman from Turkey who was visiting her son in Manhattan. As we laughed and talked, I watched her wistful smile as she was not able to join the conversation. I realized after I left that I had the key, and immediately sent them the information on the Google Translate app. A week later, I received the best text of the year. Google Translate was a game changer for the entire family. The text recounted how incredible her trip was and the enjoyment she felt as she was able communicate with everyone. She was able to read signs, converse back and forth and gain independence over her vacation. It was almost as if she was kind enough to get someone to speak to her in her native tongue.


0
  5030 Hits
Mar
08

SETT and the Right Tool

Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 6.57.53 PM I am currently doing something I’ve always wanted to do, I’m flipping a house. I’ve been watching professionals do this for years on TV. I’ve always enjoyed doing things like that. One week I rented scaffolding, repainted a two story great room, stairs, kitchen and bedroom and tiled (for the first time) the kitchen backsplash. I have learned two good lessons through doing these things and I suspect a third.

Lesson #1 - It is all about having the right tool for the task. Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 7.34.21 AM

The available assistive technology is varied and vast. There are as many solutions as there are questions. The trick is not just to figure out the correct solution, but to realize when the question may have changed. I use the SETT Framework by Joy Zabala when trying to help educators and students find the right AT solution.

The SETT Framework works through four specific areas to facilitate choosing the correct solution to fit the problem. SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools. Student, Environment and Task are all considered at the same time in no particular order. These three things are closely connected. Change one of these three pieces and the entire picture changes dramatically. The Tool becomes the answer to this equation.

Student + Environment + Task = Tool

For the past three years, I have been looking at adding an AT tool to our Lending Library. It is a communication device for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It was never requested by a teacher for loan and when I discussed it with teachers and my peers, they thought it would be useful in the outside world, but not as much in school. This year, when considering this tool, we framed it in the setting of transition. In that situation a student looking at college and work interviews would benefit from being familiar with this device so that they could carry it with them to facilitate communication. That change of Environment made all the difference. Now it was a good idea to have this tool in the Lending Library

If we change the task, we are looking at an entirely different tool again. Perhaps the task is reading instead of speaking. Same student same challenges different task, different tool. It's all about having the right tool for the task.

Lesson #2 - It is ok to get some help from the professionals.

I’ve busted some pipes, gotten in over my head on electrical wiring etc. My favorite contractor pays for his golf games thanks to me! Here’s where I remind you to email or call us. You knew that. But really, it is what we do, and we all love doing it.

Unlike my contractor, PATINS provides professional help at no cost to you, but you knew that too. The thing is, the other educators, general and special educators, may not. Help them out. Introduce them to us! Bring them to the PATINS Tech Expo on April 12th!

That brings us the lesson I think I'm going to learn...
Lesson #3 - In flipping houses the person who always makes money is the contractor. I’ll let you know. The bathroom is done and the kitchen is ½ way. A contractor is there painting today. We are hoping to be done at the end of the month.


* Shaved Shih-Tzu update:

UDL (Universal Design for Learning) works in this area too!  
Our haircuts are now uniform and cute!Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 6.58.21 PM
1
  3810 Hits

Copyright © 2015- PATINS Project

Follow Us


Sign up for emails from PATINS!
To Top