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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Oct
21

New, not Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan
19

A Girl, a Frog, and Accessibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This also made me cry because 

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

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

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


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