Apr
04

Finding Your Flock

Finding Your Flock with birds on power lines. Finding your flock with birds on power lines.

A few weeks ago, my colleague, Jessica Conrad, authored a 
blog focused on the burnout that we, too often, feel as educators. So much of what she said rang true for me personally, and it really got me thinking about the reasons behind the burnout I felt at different stages in my teaching career. 


Out of college, I hit the ground running looking for my first teaching job. Mailing or handing out resume after resume, filling out online application after online application was quite a time-consuming and daunting task, but I held onto my optimism. Trying to land my first job in a college town during a time in which the teacher market was saturated equaled taking a job as a Title I aide in an elementary school. 

After the fall semester as an aide, I got my chance to teach my first class as a long-term substitute in a Kindergarten classroom. Yet, as the spring semester concluded so did my first job; there was no going back to my aide position because it had been filled. 

Spring forward a handful of years, through new positions and new schools almost every year, to my first full-time classroom teaching position in third grade. Four school years post-graduation, I had finally achieved my goal. With a variety of teaching experiences under my belt, I was ready to teach my students all they needed to know as third graders. 

It didn’t take long for the honeymoon phase to end and reality to set in. Teaching is hard. I knew it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t truly know how much it would take out of me physically, emotionally, and mentally from year to year. Neither did I understand how disconnected I could feel in a building full of other passionate educators and energetic students. 

Looking back, I can now see that what I needed to avoid the burnout and the tunnel vision was a flock. Sure I had friends in my building and colleagues that cared, but we all had our own set of responsibilities, goals, and classroom and personal challenges. It really didn’t dawn upon me until leaving the classroom that not only could my students and I have immensely benefited from intentional collaboration with the speech and language pathologist, special educators, occupational therapist, etc in my building, but that there are ways to connect with educators just like me or to those who support educators just like me beyond the walls of the school.

Did you know that there are over 15 projects supporting educators, schools, and parents that are part of the Indiana Resource Network? I didn’t until I left the classroom. Many of them provide their services at no cost to you.

Did you know that you can connect with all of us at PATINS in a variety of ways without much more than signing into your computer? I didn’t even know what a PATINS was, let alone that our mission is to support all educators, including those in general education, when it comes to making sure that every student has access to your curriculum. So, please spread the word and let us be part of your flock. No one; I repeat no one should go it alone. Plus, we can come to you in more ways than you may be imagining!
  • Join our crew of 3,975 PATINS Pages eNewsletter subscribers to hear real-life stories from the classroom, learn about the newest assistive tech in our Assistive Technology Lending Library (it's open to all public educators), find the latest in education news, sign up or request training, and so much more.
  • Subscribe to our weekly blog, PATINS Ponders, which has a total: 5,900+ total views to get PATINS/ICAM reflections and info on current education topics sent right to your inbox. You never know when the right blog will show up on the day you need it the most.
  • Like us on Facebook and join a flock of 1200+ followers! We love supporting our followers by highlighting innovative educators and sharing relevant news and information.
  • Grab a snack & your computer to hang out with us on Twitter on Tuesdays at 8:30pm EST. You’ll find us chatting about all kinds of topics at #PatinsIcam. This year alone you could have picked up 26 hours of professional growth points (PGPs) for participating or even lurking in a chat!
  • Check out PATINS on YouTubeA total of 17 new videos have been released so far this school year! The quick clips on tech, tools, & resources from vendors and PATINS Specialists, student success stories, & starfish award winners will leave you excited to try something new with your students.
  • Register and attend one of our no-cost webinars or request a repeat of a webinar you missed! A fellow PATINS flock member, Drew Slentz, commented that a great benefit to attending is the ability to download and explore apps that are shared during the presentation. We’ve hosted 77 webinars on ways to increase access to the curriculum since August with more to come. PGPs are available to all attendees.
  • Come interact with us virtually in Second Life during our office hours. We are there monthly and have hosted 54 meetings in the last eight months. Plus, our first ever PATINS Project Second Life Conference on accessibility is slated for May 14! Be on the lookout for more info coming soon!
It’s weird how lonely it can get in a classroom of 20 or 30+ students, so find your flock in your building, district, or beyond. And don’t be afraid to add PATINS or any other resource networks to your flock, knowing that it is no one’s job to judge you or the work you do with your students. We’re here to offer you a fresh set of eyes and perspectives while wrapping you in support as you chart the path to equitable access for each and every one of your students. Please remember, we’re truly just a phone call or email away

PATINS Project.org logo Virtual Educator Support July 2018 to February 2019

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Dec
27

A New Year, A New Classroom?

Traditional & UDL Classroom Comparison From a traditional classroom to one that is more universally designed.
For many people, the end of the year is laden with traditions. After all, traditions are inherently part of the many cultures that exist around the world, especially when it comes to holidays and celebrations. They are present in a variety of our routines, activities, and schedules at home, work, and school.

Some traditions evolve over the years, reflecting the change in the times, the environment, or the family, while others remain the same from one year to the next. I like to call the latter, anchor traditions. I believe that our desire to observe these traditions not only stems from the definition that they bring to us as a people, but is deeply rooted in the comfort and familiar expectations that accompany each one.

Furthermore, I believe that it’s within this comfort and familiarity that many traditions, good and bad, persist in our schools and classrooms. It’s natural to cling to what we know and what has always been done, but when does our personal comfort begin to impede the learning experience for our students?

I’d argue that more often than not holding onto what we know to be true in a zone of comfort, holds us back from doing the job we truly want to do as educators. That it keeps us in the mindset of teaching the way we were taught, of putting our academic to-do lists before our students more immediate needs, of being resistant to new ideas, of overlooking the value that each student brings to the classroom, of forgetting why we became teachers in the first place.

In fact, as I reflect upon my own teaching and experience, I can admit that I allowed myself to retreat to my personal comfort zone, teaching the way I was taught and projecting onto my students what I wanted for them without asking them what they wanted for themselves.

Had I known then what I know now, there are steps that I would have taken to shift the focus from my traditional, teacher-centered methods solely created to manage my classroom to a student-centered classroom driven by my students’ individual wants and needs.

But how?

I would have started with relationship building. Not the type of relationship building that happens those first few days of school (and includes the obligatory beginning of the year “get-to-know me” poster activity), but real relationship building. The type that takes time, energy, and sometimes a lot of effort and persistence. The type that begins with allowing every student to enter the classroom with a clean slate and without preconceived notions.

I would have asked my students to share how they prefer to learn, what they believed their strengths and weaknesses to be, what their fears were and always given them multiple ways to respond - verbally, in writing, with pictures, etc.

I would have asked my students to tell me what they wanted to learn that year and worked to incorporate their interests into the daily lessons and activities.

I would have asked my students how they were doing and truly listened without judgement.

I would have worked hard to make sure my students knew that I sincerely cared about them regardless of their behavior and even in the worst of times.

Relationship building can be a game changer and is key when it comes to creating a student-centered environment. And though it may be difficult to foster new relationships and leave behind those all too comfortable traditional methods, all it really takes to head in a new direction focused on students is to take the first step. The upcoming new year and semester offers the perfect opportunity to take this step, so will you?

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Sep
20

Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education

In the winter of 2018 at the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando, Florida, I attended a breakout session presented by Thomas O’Shaughnessy and Conor Hartigan, two nearly lifelong friends that are also colleagues in the assistive technology department at the University of Limerick in Ireland. Together they presented, “Assistive Technology in Education: An Irish Perspective.”

Their session opened my eyes to the universal struggles that we face as advocates for equitable access to the curriculum in all levels of education, especially when it comes to the implementation of assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning.

In the time since ATIA, I’ve remained in touch with Thomas and feel lucky to call him my friend. It’s within this friendship that he so graciously agreed to share some of his higher ed experiences and perspectives from across the pond.

- Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education - written by Thomas O'Shaughnessy

Ireland haThomas O'Shaughnessys changed significantly in the last 25 years. It is now seen as a leader in terms of technology, science and medical advancements and is well on its way to becoming a global technology hub. With a heavy emphasis on education, our universities have developed reputations for developing highly skilled graduates in every area of employment from business, technology and engineering to science, the arts and education. These higher education bodies have developed programmes to accommodate a range of learners from different backgrounds including socio-economic disadvantaged, asylum seekers, mature students and students with disabilities.

While initiatives like the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) in Ireland promotes inclusion for students with disabilities at higher level in terms of an access route, are these students appropriately accommodated in Higher Education?

The National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education for 2015-2019 in Ireland was designed to ensure that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population. It discusses the mainstreaming of many supports that currently support this social mix including students with disabilities.

This argues that the current systems are changing and as they further develop we may no longer have a need for specialised supports to accommodate this social mix. Realistically speaking, this is currently still far away from the truth. However, one support that could help alleviate a lot of these issues involved in supporting this social mix is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. It is called Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

However, when it comes to UDL in higher education in Ireland, we seem to fall well short of our American counterparts. I’ve been to my fair share of UDL themed conferences (AHEAD (Irish Organisation), ATIA, etc.) to know that the implementation of UDL in a classroom stateside is one thing, the implementation of UDL in higher education in Ireland is entirely another. Principals and school administrators have far more influence at school level than their counterparts in higher education. Teachers can also take control of their set curriculum much easier than academics in higher education.

Unfortunately, we are now in an era where business models drive many universities and other higher-level institutions where research income and reputation (ranking) take precedence over teaching and learning. We see senior academics buying their way out of teaching to further focus on research. Academics that are needed to help drive UDL change, replaced with younger less experienced educators too inexperienced to initiate any change like UDL.

This business shift is coming from the top down, exactly where the adoption of UDL should originate from. However, since UDL often comes with a cost (time, resources, etc.) are higher education institutions interested in driving UDL forward? Are academics for that matter?

When we do see academics engage it is usually when the push comes from the top down or when priorities arise related to statistics on student engagement or student progression. We could begin to discuss incentivising the UDL approach, but should we have to? Are financial and other rewards the only way we can get buy-in?

UDL requires lecturers to allow students multiple means of representation in order to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge, multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know and multiple means of engagement supporting how learners differ markedly in how they can be engaged or motivated to learn.

While I’m sure in theory we all recommend this framework, do academics have the resources to support this framework and do they have the multiple rubrics needed to implement it? Would they have the support to inform their department or faculty? A colleague of mine said recently “UDL is great if you have unlimited resources and buy-in from everyone” and for me, this struck a chord.

The biggest problem incorporating UDL in Higher Education is the lack of buy-in from the top. UDL will only ever work in Higher Education by employing a top-down approach where the president/senior academics buy-in from the start and where UDL is mandated into every new academic contract.

Unfortunately, interdepartmental politics, accountability (lack thereof) and attitudes make some initiatives hard to employ at higher level. In my experience most academics still don’t even know what UDL is and unfortunately there are many who simply don’t care – they don’t currently see it as a priority or their responsibility. How do you convince a lecturer to spend three times the time (approximate guess) developing class material to support UDL when nobody is requiring them to? They will almost always argue ‘time and resources’ – I know, I’ve seen and heard it.

I love reading books like Dive into UDL, attending talks by UDL experts like Kate Novak and seeing images like (Em)Powered by UDL. My excitement however quickly dampens when I realise how difficult it is to organise UDL at third level and even, at times, in schools. Who will train the staff, who will pay for this, would the staff attend? (even if it is mandatory) Who will drive it?

We have seen some small shift; University College Dublin is making strides to incorporate UDL in their everyday practices although I’ve yet to see how this is being handled and deployed. In October 2018, The Universal Design and Higher Education in Transformation Congress (UDHEIT2018) will be held at Dublin Castle, it will be an exciting conference that will give a proper insight into the current situation. There will be a focus on the creation of the state’s first technological university - based on the merger of Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown.

Apparently all three (yes, I said three) presidents of this new technological university are advocates of UDL and they have put UDL as a cornerstone of this merger. I await this conference with equal scepticism and anticipation. Too often have I attended UDL conferences where the theory didn’t meet the practice, where “UDL practices” were not real UDL practices. Too often have I left more disappointed than when I arrived. I want practical solutions on how it is implemented, not theory on how it could or should work. For me, for UDL to be successful the answer lies with teachers and teacher educators.

Too often these days I hear “give it to the teachers”, however UDL is one area where I generally think teachers can make a real difference. We need to train (our already overburdened) student teachers about UDL and its importance. Let them incorporate its principles in their class through lesson plans and let them show every student that there are multiple ways in which tasks can be represented, engaged with and completed. Let them see the teacher using it and let it become the norm where when their students graduate they will be able to incorporate multiple approaches to everyday issues. Let them use readily available (what will hopefully become standardised) resources to achieve this. Then and only then will we see a change in attitudes and practices needed to fully utilise the UDL framework.


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Jun
15

Next Level Instruction With Captions


speech bubble with 3 dots indicating that text is about to appearA question we frequently get asked at PATINS is, “How can I provide captioned media and content for my students?” We’ve found unique situations within many of these requests. These range from wanting to add captions to the morning high school announcements to providing captioned media 
for a student with this accommodation written into his or her IEP. Often overlooked in each scenario is that captioning has been proven to improve attention and engagement, memory, language acquisition, vocabulary, and level of comprehension for many students, not only those requiring them (Evmenova, 2008).

Thankfully, we live in a quick-changing, digital world that provides us a variety of free tools to generate and curate quality captioned content in an effort to create inclusive, language-rich environments for all of our students.

Let’s start with ways to engage your students. Videos can be a great way to hook your students into a lesson. If you’re starting a unit on fables, try dressing as your favorite character and creating your own selfie video to introduce the new unit with apps like Clips or Cliptomatic, which have the option to automatically add captions as you speak.

Ready to dig further into your lesson? Search for closed captioned videos to support your objectives on YouTube by adjusting the filter after entering your topic. Khan Academy and Veritasium are two YouTube channels that offer captioned educational videos that you may find useful. What if you find the perfect video for your needs, but the captions are non-existant or terrible? Create a free account at amara.org to crowdsource or personally caption videos that belong to someone else.

Now it’s time to give your students feedback on their progress toward the objectives. Using Clips or Cliptomatic, you can record verbal feedback, add the clip to your Drive, grab the shared link, and add it as comment to their digital submission. For a paper assignment, you could shorten the link with a site like bitly.com or tinyurl.com and then write it on your student’s paper. Maybe your students would be amazed if you turned the link into a QR code that you print and include when you return the assignment. Now your students could scan the link with their iOS device camera or an app like QR Reader to find out what have to say about their work.

Do you have students that would benefit from live captions during your whole class instruction? In the latest version of Microsoft PowerPoint and Windows 10, you can activate live captions during your presentations or just simply bring up a blank slide and begin a “presentation” to project the captions onto your screen or wall.

Including captions as part of your daily instruction can greatly increase your students’ access to the content while supporting many functional and academic skills. Furthermore, it shows your students that you are considering and acting upon the multiple ways in which they learn and receive information. Captions are your opportunity to bump up the universal level of your instruction. Because we are here to support you, please let us know if you’d like more information on captioning or would like support with any of these tools or ideas.

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Mar
08

Just One Emotional Connection


I am a podcast listener. They are great for passing the time when I’m driving, mowing, or out for a walk. “Missing Richard Simmons” was the latest podcast that I checked off of my to-listen list, and I learned some things about him that I found fascinating.


The first fact being that his gym in Hollywood was called Slimmons, which couldn’t be a more brilliant name. For some reason, I really enjoy saying Slimmons. Secondly, to attend a class with him only cost twelve bucks. That’s less than I pay for an exercise class with an instructor far from one of the world's most renowned fitness gurus.

Richard Simmons posing in gold tanktop and shorts
Yet, most interesting to me is a fact that this podcast made clear through numerous interviews with people who know this outspoken, eccentric, lovable man-- he has the ability to create a connection with nearly every person he encounters, and these connections don’t feel fake or false as one may expect when meeting a celebrity; they feel authentic and natural. He became the friend who - from states away - would call to check on your weight-loss progress. He was the friend who made you feel important. The friend who could relate to your story, empathize with you, and validate your feelings. The friend that truly got “it”, whatever “it” was.

His gift for making connections got me thinking about the relationships built between teachers and students. Relationships that have the ability to change the ways students think and perceive themselves.

In fact, I learned from watching a presentation by Dr. Lori Desautels, associate professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, that “resiliency research in children has shown that just one emotional connection with a teacher, a coach, an educator of some capacity can change the architecture of the brain of a student who has suffered from trauma.” Changing it in a way so that the student begins to see themselves as a valued, loved, and an important human being.

I would argue that Richard Simmons’s gift for connecting with individuals can be used as an example for the change that can be effected in our students’ lives when they feel valued and validated. He was able to motivate thousands of people to lose countless pounds and to once again put themselves first in their own lives through the bonds he created with them. We can surely connect with our students in deeper and more meaningful ways, remembering that just one emotional connection with an adult can mean a new, more positive outlook for the student.

Armed with this knowledge, take the time to ask a student how you can help, and listen intently and give the 2x10 strategy a try. Employ available community or school resources like before or after school care, the Boys & Girls Club, Girls, Inc., etc. to support the student. Go out of your way to show that you care and are genuinely concerned for their well being, because you may be that student’s one emotional connection that becomes the game-changer.

Image attribution: Angela George [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons



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Nov
30

Searching for the Why

Recently, I was invited to an evening of wreath-making where I would be making a live wreath in the spirit of the holidays. Upon RSVP’ing to the event, I felt excited yet anxious about a new upcoming experience. Plus, I was acutely aware that I’d only know a couple of the attendees, so I was already feeling insecure about my lack of wreath-making abilities that would be on display in front of people I had never met.  

Making a wreath should be easy enough, right? I mean what all would it really involve? These were questions I kept asking the slightly crafty side of myself in an effort to prepare for what to expect.

Now the time had come; I was working on my wreath. Nervously, I gathered eight bundles of greenery, wondering if I was bundling the greenery in the right way, if I was choosing the right combination of greenery, if anyone was watching me, and if it would all come together.Jena & Bev displayed Jena's completed wreath

In the end, with the support and positive reinforcement of my two friends and a mild allergic reaction to the greenery on my hands, the wreath turned out just fine. I even received a text the following day from a neighbor who said she thought it looked great and wanted one of her own. What a compliment!

On that same day with the wreath hung on my front door, I was having a conversation with a couple colleagues about the underlying reasons students misbehave. This conversation made me think of my recent wreath experience.

Most likely unbeknownst to anyone at the event, I was truly nervous and uncomfortable when I arrived that evening. And if I didn’t have the ability to persist through my anxieties with an understanding that in the end I was likely to be successful and enjoy the experience, I may have taken a spot on the sidelines or possibly shut myself off from this experience altogether without anyone understanding why. This potential misunderstanding could have led me to additional feelings of fear and isolation.

Though this comparison may seem trivial, my experience got me thinking about how as educators with standards to teach, lessons to create, and progress to monitor (among myriad other responsibilities), it is easy to forget that each of our students bring their own sets of interests, anxieties, experiences, traumas, etc. to school each day. It is this unknown, the why, that often materializes as challenging behaviors in the classroom that we cannot fully comprehend.

Then in the moments of challenging behaviors like withdrawal, refusal to complete tasks, and outbursts to name a few, we can be all too quick to react without considering why the student is behaving in that way. Not only can the why be so easily neglected in the heat of the moment, but a search for the answer takes time and resources and can lead to a strained relationship with the student or to heartbreaking answers. This can trigger us to build walls for our own protection, along with the reasoning that we have a number of other students who deserve our time and interest.

Yet, I believe it is necessary that we remain compassionate, knock down our walls, and fervently seek out a deeper understanding of the why behind our students’ behaviors. And because the why can be multifaceted and very complex - while still so integral to our understanding and ability to provide proper support - remember that it’s okay to ask for help.

Seek out the programs, resources, parents/guardians, professionals and colleagues in your building or district, in addition to further training. A collaborative approach will ease the burden and better ensure a thorough understanding of the student’s experiences and needs. For it is in this why, that we have the opportunity to replace these behaviors, empower students with the necessary tools to feel secure and in control, and make the difference that so many of us set out to do as educators.
 
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Aug
17

Twitter: Really a Place to Grow My Personal Learning Network?

Illustration of two birds with talking bubbles

In what seems to be a faraway land to many who don’t understand what it’s like to be a teacher, collaboration and camaraderie are vital to our well-being, which in turn positively impacts our students. Yet, sometimes the walls of our classroom can seem isolating, so seeking these connections beyond the school walls is necessary. Luckily, technology is on our side and has expanded the reach of our could-be connections.


Growing our professional learning networks (PLNs) as educators through social media platforms, like Twitter, is one way in which we can relate, share, and learn from our peers. These mutually beneficial relationships can now be accessed in the comfort of our homes, on our computers. The only thing standing in your way is you.

With that in mind, are you ready to fire up your own Twitter handle? Then the first thing you’ll want to do after setting up your account (or remembering your long-forgotten password), is to follow great leaders in education.

Now browse your feed for inspiration, retweet, like, or respond to a tweet, or even privately message someone. There is much information to be gained from just looking around - at different hashtags and individual or organization pages.

Or just maybe you’re ready to jump into or at least lurk around a Twitter chat. There are tons of education chats to choose from, and these chats are where some real-time interactions and connections can be made to grow your PLN.

Chats are offered on a variety of subjects. Led by a moderator who posts questions and allows time for responses as in the example below, they typically last thirty minutes to an hour and are hosted weekly. As seen in the image below, Q5 means question 5 and A5 (or sometimes seen as R5) mean answer (or response) to question 5.


screenshot of 4 tweets in a Twitter chat displaying the question/answer format

You’ll also notice that #PatinsIcam is added to each tweet. This is the hashtag of our project and of our weekly chat that runs from roughly September to June. (The #PatinsIcam chat returns on Tuesday, September 5 at 8:30pm EST. Earn 1 professional growth point for participating!) The chat’s hashtag must be added to each tweet in order for the tweets to appear in the feed of the chat. Without the hashtag, your tweet is only added to your page.

There is more than one way to follow or participate in a chat. I recommend using Tweetdeck. This site syncs with your Twitter account and allows you to follow multiple users or hashtags (among many other options) in separate columns. The benefit of using Tweetdeck for Twitter chats is that you can continue to view the chat in live time while you craft your tweet off to the side without blocking your feed with a tweet box. 6 Steps to Using Tweetdeck to Participate in a Twitter Chat

Below is a sample Tweetdeck dashboard with the user's home page and multiple chat columns.


sample of Tweetdeck dashboard


While there is much to gain from your peers and other educators as a bystander,
you
have information, responses, and ideas to offer as an active participant in your PLN. The connections you can create with others on Twitter are limitless.



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May
11

Expanding the Reach of Assistive Technology


As a general educator turned PATINS Data & Outreach Specialist, assistive technology (AT) has become part of my life more than ever. Before my change in professional roles, my knowledge of AT was minimal at best. To be honest, I often associated it with only the needs of individuals with physical disabilities. What a mistake to make!

Jena Fahlbush looking down at something with students at their desksNow that my exposure to AT has increased tenfold, I find myself wishing I had known more about it while I was still in the classroom. So many students come to mind as I learn about more technologies from low to high. Additionally, I find myself thinking about different types of tech that could or are already benefiting the lives of my friends, family, and even myself.

For example, closed captions are assistive technology for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Though I have typical hearing, the closed captions are permanently on the TV in my bedroom. This is great for when I wake up in the middle of the night and want to watch the TV without disturbing my husband with the sound. Plus, consistently using closed captions at home and in the classroom promotes and supports literacy amongst many children and adults.

The magical realm of AT has broadened my understanding of unlimited access to the world around us. More importantly, it’s broadened my understanding of unlimited access to the curriculum in a classroom setting. Yet, from conversations I’ve had with students and educators around the state, I’ve found that I wasn’t alone in my original thinking about AT. Many of these conversations have yielded a similar perspective - the preconceived notion that AT only supports physical access to one’s world.

Though AT may be understood by many to be technology used to support one’s physical access, it truly offers so much more. Think about your cell phone for instance. Do you ever speak your texts? Have you ever turned on flash alerts, so that you can get visual text notifications in a loud room? People constantly benefit from AT in their everyday lives in ways they may not even realize. So let us as educators, students, and parents begin to think differently about AT.

It’s true; many assistive technologies are specifically designed to increase access to the curriculum for individual students, such as eye-gaze systems for students with limited mobility or communication devices for students who are nonverbal. Furthermore, in these situations, AT must be included in a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) to ensure access to it. However, you will find that many of these same technologies contain an element of universal design or that they can be implemented with other students in more creative ways.

For example, maybe a shy student could break out of his/her shell through the use of a simple communication board. Maybe text-to-speech could help your students who are gifted properly pronounce the new vocabulary words they’ve found through research during an oral presentation. Or just maybe a student with typical vision that struggles with visual decoding skills could learn how to read using braille.
female 3rd grader using a laptop and headphones while laying on the floor

I believe there are three keys to unlocking successful implementation of technology in the classroom. 1) Understand that AT is specifically designed for individuals and that it is essential to find the right piece of technology to support the desired outcome. 2) Remember that many assistive technologies are universally designed or can be creatively implemented to benefit many of your students. 3.) Training for students and educators on this technology is the only way to ensure clear results of effectiveness.

Don’t forget AT and other technologies can simplify your life in the classroom, too! Try using Google Translate to support communication with non-English speaking parents and guardians. Use a screen reader to check online content for accessibility and to proofread your classroom newsletter, professional emails, and self-created materials (your students can use screen readers to proofread their writing, too). Perhaps you could even improve your focus in meetings with the use of a fidget cube or spinner.

Implementing AT isn’t a new trend or just one more thing on your plate; it’s about increasing access for your students. The possibilities are endless, and we’re here to support you along the way. Through the Lending Library (where you can borrow AT without financial risk), classroom consultations and training, and our specialists’ areas of expertise, your students will find increased access to the curriculum through innovative techniques, strategies, and AT. Let us help you!



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Jan
26

How to Write a Solid Lesson Plan


The simple answer… collaborate. But maybe not with someone in your comfort zone. Let me explain. 

As a 3rd grade teacher, I often co-planned for each week with my partner-in-crime, Tracey, the other 3rd grade teacher. We worked extremely well together — her strengths were my weaknesses and vice versa — and our collaboration decreased the amount of time and effort it would have taken us to plan independently. Think smarter, not harder, right?
two nondescript human figures collaborating to push two 3D puzzle pieces togetherNow fast forward to the present. I am no longer in the classroom and responsible for writing day-to-day, week-to-week lesson plans with Tracey. However, only a mere three weeks ago, I discovered the most valuable trick to lesson planning.


It was the last Friday of December 2016. At the request of our director, my colleague, Jessica Conrad, and I were nestled into a corner at Panera, collaborating on an engaging, universally-designed lesson plan. 

I’ll admit that I was a little intimidated by working with Jessica. She’s a super smart and creative licensed speech and language pathologist. What did I know about speech and language pathology anyway; other than my students getting pulled out for their time with our speech and language pathologist (SLP)? Not to mention, I preferred teaching math and science when I was in the classroom. My bet was that she would prefer to focus on the English/language (ELA) arts standards in our plan. 

I was right. ELA standards were on the menu, but she made a kind compromise and agreed to write a plan using third grade standards; standards in which I was the most familiar. 

And so the lesson plan writing began. 

Trading ideas, resources, and strategies came naturally to us both. What I hadn’t given much thought to was everything that Jessica would bring to the table from her role as an SLP. She shared so many awesome resources and techniques — in addition to introducing me to the Indiana Content Connectorsmodified standards written in parallel for each grade for students who are not on a diploma track in Indiana. Embarrassingly enough, I did not know these existed. 

In the end, we created what we felt was a solid lesson plan that implemented activities and resources in a way that would make the content accessible to each student in a classroom.  

Without her expertise, my lesson would have been lacking in its universal design and implementation of assistive technology and accessible educational materials — even though I may not have realized it at the time. 

female student pressing a big switch to activate a toy


So, while I always thought that the lesson plans Tracey and I co-wrote were engaging and creative, many of the students in our classrooms would have had greater access to the curriculum if we had the opportunity to include the expertise of another educator who was beyond the general education setting. 

If you’re reading this and thinking that perhaps your lesson plans are lacking techniques or technology that could increase access to the curriculum, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to another professional in your building. Schedule some time to collaborate on a chunk of lesson plans for a week. Be open to new techniques, technologies, and ideas. Plus, our staff is here for support. Just let us know how we can help! 

Trust me, your students will thank you for it.

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Rachel Herron
What a fantastic reminder to think outside the box, collaborate with many and to occasionally step outside of our own comfort zone... Read More
Friday, 27 January 2017 15:49
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Oct
06

We All Need to Belong


“Jena, how can you be so happy with your ears so big and flappy?” was one of the questions used by my uncles and their friends to repeatedly tease me as a child. I always took it in stride and laughed it off, because I was young and not really worried about the way I looked.


You see, my elementary school friends had always known and accepted me with my “big ears.” I was on the track and basketball teams, and I was a cheerleader. I had a strong group of friends, and I belonged. I LOVED school and couldn’t wait to start at the end of every summer!

belong

So sure, my ears may have been “big and flappy,” but elementary school life was good! And then...


Middle school happened.

Now my friends and I, overrun by hormones, were funneled into a new school with 3 other elementaries frantically trying to figure out where we fit in this new world. It wasn’t easy (at least for me).

There are two things, a moment and an experience, that stand out in my middle school memory:

One - It was the third day of school in the locker bay. I was heading out as a new boy was coming in. As we passed, he cupped his ears with his hands and blew up his cheeks. He laughed hysterically and told me I looked like a monkey.

Two - I was losing many of my friends. All of these new kids kept swooping in like vultures and taking them away. I thought we were closer than that. Guess I was wrong.

School just wasn’t what it used to be… My sense of belonging had begun to disappear. I no longer fit in the way I used to. Maybe it was because of the way I looked.

So where does this leave me today? How much of an impact did these moments and experiences have on me later in life?

Well, at 14 I had bilateral otoplasty, surgery to pin back my ears. At 15 I found a hairstyle that I felt confident with, because it hid my ears that still stuck out more than I wanted. At 25 I attended an event where I styled my hair in a ponytail for the first time since I could remember. And now at 32 ponytails are part of my day-to-day style, and I no longer fear my ears.

The friends that were so easily pulled away in middle school weren’t meant to be my lifelong friends and that’s okay. Two of my best friends are friends from my elementary school years. The rest of my current friends are those that I choose to surround myself, not people that I’m trying to fit in with.

Generally life is good! I am happy being me! I don’t dwell on these moments and experiences, but rather reflect on them in a way that continually helps me to learn more about myself. My sense of belonging has returned.

So where does this leave you and your work with children?

I think you can begin by asking yourself some questions. Have you ever felt like YOU didn’t or don’t belong; what was that like?

Do you foster your students’ sense of belonging? Have you ever asked your students if they feel like they belong to your classroom community? To your school community? To the community at large?

How about your students that get pulled out for special services; do THEY feel like they belong when they are being pulled in multiple directions?
I believe that as educators we must take the time to TRULY get to know our students and support their sense of belonging. Additionally, we must be sensitive to the words that we use with our students. The impact, whether positive or negative, may last far longer than you expect.

kids embracing in circle

In the end, we want ALL of our students and the others that we influence to have positive self-images and to know that they belong.



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Glenda Thompson
I'm grateful you "belong" to our PATINS family. This entry was so expressive and visual in my mind. You took me right to that lo... Read More
Thursday, 06 October 2016 11:54
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Jul
07

Universally Designed Blended Learning

The term Blended Learning is all abuzz in the world of education — and why shouldn’t it be? Our students were born into a digital age, and using technology comes naturally to them. So it only makes sense to use it in our daily lesson plans to give students opportunities to explore online content, allow new forms of expression and displays of content knowledge, and to connect with other students from all around the world.

face-to-face plus self-paced plus online equal blended learning
While we are enthusiastic about engaging our students by implementing technology into our teaching, we must remember Universal Design for Learning. This makes it important to ask yourself — How will I make my blended learning environment, content, and activities accessible to every student in my classroom? Will students who have visual, hearing, motor, and/or cognitive needs have the ability to access my curriculum just like my other students?
 female student using braille reader


Well, making that content accessible without practice is no easy task, and intentional planning is necessary, but I assure you it can be done!  

We know that images and videos increase interest in our content and that many students are visual learners. Yet, in order to make these features accessible to all students, videos should be closed-captioned and images should have alternative text (allowing a screen reader to read a short description of the image).

Fancy fonts can be fun to use, but sticking to a minimum 12-point font size in fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana is preferred. These types of fonts, known as sans serif fonts, can be easily magnified for students with low vision. 

Format your documents with the tools given to you in the program you are using. Avoid using multiple spaces for indenting, creating your own spacing for bullet points, or using text boxes as screen readers will not read these elements correctly. 

I personally love color-coding for my own use, but relying on using only color to convey meaning makes a document inaccessible for students who are colorblind, have low vision, or are blind. 

Blinking and flashing content should be limited to no more than 3 seconds — if not completely eliminated – due to risk of headaches or seizures.

Check out http://webaim.org/intro/ and https://www.ada.gov/websites2.htm for additional guidelines on website accessibility that you can translate into accessibility standards for your content. I expect to find new rules coming down the pipeline over the next few years that will mandate specific accessibility features in state and federal government websites, which includes K-12 public schools and public universities. This could certainly affect how your content is being delivered to your students as well as the content itself. 

In the meantime, making a conscious effort to ensure all of your students have access to the curriculum, will only make following the future rules that much easier. And, of course, we are always here to help you along the way.


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Apr
28

If I knew then what I know now.

Jena and her grandmaFuture teacher, Jena, and one of the
best teachers in her life, Grandma.


We can all likely agree that teaching is not what it used to be. In fact, the profession I found myself in as an elementary school teacher was worlds away from what I envisioned.

I believe that one reason for this disconnect is that I expected to teach the way that I was taught- following along with my teacher’s lesson and directions quietly from my desk; then completing my assignment and checking it twice before handing it in. I hope that some of you can relate; however, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that my preferred method of learning couldn’t sound more like beating your head against a brick wall… Yet to me there’s almost nothing better than being given information, asked to complete a task, completing it to the best of my ability, and receiving praise for my work. Needless to say, I’m a people-pleaser.

Not only did I love being a student, I revered my teachers- such poise, such excitement, and so much love for and genuine interest in their students. They were the bee’s knees to me, and I can proudly name every one of my elementary school teachers. Of course teaching was in my future! Bee clipart

Nowadays, the education pendulum has shifted. For better or for worse, teachers face more state testing, rigid evaluations, changes in general attitudes towards the profession, and increasing daily demands. This includes planning for and meeting the needs of all students.

It is the last of the changes — meeting the needs of all learners — that inspires this blog post. There were many days in the classroom that I viewed this expectation as a mountain I could never climb, especially alone. With so many students, each one with a unique set of needs, how could I ever meet each student on his or her level?? 

If only I could have know then what I know now. You see, as a third grade teacher, I wasn't aware of the wonderfully valuable resources that PATINS has to offer until I left the classroom and found a job posting online for the PATINS Data & Outreach Coordinator. Lucky for me, the position was something I was very interested in; I landed an interview and was offered the job. Now I am able to reach out to educators, who were just like me, in order to offer them invaluable resources that would have been an immense help to me while in the classroom.


For instance, I would bet it's safe to say that every teacher has experience with a student that has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention identify 1 in 68 American children as having ASD. As educators, we know that these students bring a different set of talents and challenges to our classrooms.

One of the most common struggles for these students is social interaction and communication, which can lead to heightened frustration among the student, classmates, and teacher. Check out this video of Dillan, a student who describes himself as “autistic,” as he describes his experience with ASD.



This is an incredible example of the way that we can help you meet the needs of your students. We lend iPads and other devices with text to speech software, so that you can give a voice to a student who may so desperately want one. Not sure how to implement them or use the software? We’ll come to your classroom and educate you, so that you get what you want out of the technology!

If you’re reading this, then you are probably already aware of our lending library and services; yet so many educators across the state have never heard of us, and this is my cause. I am passionate about the services we provide to the students across the entire state of Indiana. I want every educator to understand what we offer and to feel comfortable reaching out when they are in need of some guidance.

Not sure what to do to help a student who struggles with focusing on tasks? Give us a call. Need recommendations when searching for the right assistive technology? Let us know. Have you borrowed an item that you are excited about, but aren’t quite sure where to start? Reach out. The list goes on and on.

We are here for, and because of you! So please help spread the word about PATINS to as many friends, family members, and fellow educators as you can. The more educators we can support, the more student lives we can positively affect. We are here to help teachers climb the mountains that can stand in the way.

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Glenda Thompson
Ahh, Dillan's video brought tears of joy! Thanks for the beautiful post, Jena. We all need to take more time to "open our minds"... Read More
Thursday, 28 April 2016 12:07
Daniel G. McNulty
Jena... YOU are the bees knees to PATINS Data & Outreach, which means that you're also the bees knees to the teachers out there st... Read More
Friday, 29 April 2016 10:56
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