Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is An Interactive Whiteboard Appropriate for the Early Learning Classroom?

     I have had the privilege to be able to teach with an Interactive White Board over the past couple of years, specifically a SMART Board.  During that period of time, I have worked diligently by seeking out training sessions, mentors, and other forms of PD in order to strengthen my technical skills.  I am now working on developing high quality lessons incorporating best practices.  I love using my SMART Board, my students love using the SMART Board, yet there are still others who do not think highly of its effectiveness in Early Childhood education.  Why, might one ask?  Well, there are many reasons that are given to me, but I am just going to elaborate on a couple of them.  One answer is that because it's not the teacher - and it is taking away from the teacher.  I don't agree.  The SMART Board is not the teacher - I'm the teacher!  The SMART Board - or any other educational technology could never replace the teacher.  It's merely a tool; and how the teacher chooses to use it in his or her classroom is another story.

     A second answer that I have been given is that the children are just too young.  But, are they really too young?  Our younger generation is growing up with technology and they are really expecting to be able to use technology when entering the classroom.  I recently watched a webinar entitled, "Is an Interactive Whiteboard Appropriate for the Early Learning Classroom?" that was offered by SMART Technologies and Hatch. You can access the recorded webinar by visiting the following URL.  https://www4.gotomeeting.com/en_US/island/webinar/registrationPost.tmpl?Action=rgoto&_sf=6 I found the webinar to be very beneficial.  An Interactive Whiteboard is indeed developmentally appropriate for an Early Learning classroom when it is used appropriately.  I have listed below some helpful information that was given during the course of the webinar.

     When considering Educational Technology for the Early Childhood population the following is a list of things to consider.

  • Touch enabled - Having touch enabled technology in the classroom is a big plus.  Touch is everywhere else in our students' lives.  Children see their parents using these touch technologies for so many different purposes in their lives and they want and expect to be able to use the touch enabled technologies too.  Touch is pretty intuitive and natural.  Children enjoy interacting with their environment through touch.  Touch enabled technology is great for younger children who are still working to develop their fine motor skills.
  • Promotes interactivity - It's important that the students should be doing something because we want them to interact with the content to help them retain what they are learning.  We want them to interact with the content and be actively learning. So with younger students, this interactive approach is also going to be developmentally appropriate.    We know our early learners have a limited attention span and are also very active.  Incorporating technologies that engage younger children that allow them to move around and allow them to interact with the content, it's going to be very beneficial for them.
  • Supports multi-sensory learning - The definition of multi-sensory learning  is active learning in which multiple modes of sensory input are used simultaneously.  This includes: Visual, Auditory, Tactile, Kinesthetic ways of learning.  According to research, every person has a different learning style with one mode usually a strength, but we learn best when information is presented using a combination of all modalities.  Finding a technology that will allow you to teach and that will also incorporate multi-sensory learning is also going to positively impact your students' achievement.
  • Universal Design for Learning - UDL provides a framework for evaluating which products have the potential to work best for all learning environments.  The goal was to focus on ways to use computer technology to improve the education for all students.
          Three Technology Design Principles of UDL:
    1. Technology should provide multiple means of representation - give learners different ways to acquire information and knowledge (interactive text, images, sound, video). 
    2. Technology should provide multiple means of action and expression - give students alternatives to demonstrate what they know.
    3. Technology should provide multiple means of engagement - tap into the learner's interest and what motivates them.
     The webinar continued with comparing the use of an Interactive Whiteboard to the use of an iPad, which is definitely a "hot" topic in today's Early Childhood's classrooms.  Although I was aware of the following beforehand, many teachers were not.

Comparing an Interactive White Board with an iPad
Each is best used for a different purpose

What is an IWB good for in the classroom?  
  • Whole group instruction
  • Direct and explicit teaching
  • Modeling of strategies - think alouds
  • Providing guided practice
  • Promoting group discussion
  • Problem solving
  • Collaboration
What are iPads good for?
  • Small group practice
  • Individual practice
  • Creation -students can be creative with the apps
  • Assessment
  • Personalized learning
The bottom line is that each educational technology was designed for a specific use.  It was not designed to replace the teacher.  It is the teacher's responsibility to develop age appropriate lessons for his or her class and integrate the technology when it will enrich the content that is being taught.  It is the the teacher's duty to create a learning environment which will enable the students to be successful learners.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying - the Myths and the Facts

We all know the common phrase, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me".  Yet do we also know that this is a complete myth and it is completely untrue?

Another common thing that many of us are told is that "bullying is just a part of life, and that we just have to grow up and deal with it".  Well, that is not true either.

I just watched a webinar on cyberbulling entitled "Preventing and Responding to Cyberbulling" which was developed by SMART Technologies.  The webinar is offered through the SMART Learning Space and you can access the free webinar by clicking this link: https://learningspace.smarttech.com/Saba/Web/Main.  I must say that I really enjoyed watching this webinar and I learned some important things too.

According to the Canada Safety Council (2010), the term "Cyberbullying" refers to harmful actions that are communicated via electronic media and are intended to embarrass, harm, or slander another individual".  Often, this will include the use of the following technologies: E-mail, mobile phones and devices, online forums, social networking websites, and online games.

Just how does cyberbullying compare with other forms of bullying? It's actually worse and can be even more detrimental and hurtful than other types of bullying.  Cyberbullying can affect many more people in a much shorter amount of time.

   * Often anonymous
   * High frequency of attacks
   * Home is no longer a safe place
   * Unlimited audience
   * 24/7 occurrences

All Forms of Bullying:
  * Can be a criminal offense
  * Accessories and bystanders may not realize their impact
  * Often goes unreported

When thinking about it, I didn't realize how dangerous cyberbullying really is.  I used to think that it was just sending someone a hurtful e-mail or instant message.  Yet I never thought about anything beyond that.  It is so important that we, as educators be proper role models for our students.  I have heard of cases in which employees berated each other through Facebook and have lost their jobs over it.  How can anyone post something like that - and not think about it before hand?

In this webinar, I learned how to recognize cyberbullying as it can be hard to detect.  In order to prevent it from happening, we must teach our students what it is, how it happens, and how we can protect ourselves from happening again.  If it happens, we should not retaliate yet we should report it.  We don't want it to happen to us - and we need to make sure we don't cause it to happen to someone else either.

There is a common phrase which I have heard many times when I was younger, "If you don't have something nice to say, then don't say it at all".

Be a Cyber Hero!

WordFlex Touch Dictionary App

Often children on the Autism Spectrum have language delays. As parents and educators, we know that language delays negatively impact skills in the area of reading, specifically in vocabulary and comprehension. As these children grow, reading becomes increasingly difficult for them. And if they do not understand what they are reading, then they might wonder, why bother reading at all? This was my son’s attitude. For over ten years, he has received therapy for language skills, yet he still lags behind in his vocabulary and comprehension skills. Until a few years ago, my son had no interest in reading. I am indebted to J.K. Rowling for “Harry Potter”. It inspired my son to read, as well as the millions of other children across the globe. When reading “Harry Potter,” I noticed that there were many words that were difficult for him - words such as indignant, pernicious, and fraught. One can usually decipher the message of the text by using context clues, but if there is an abundance of difficult words, then what? For my son to keep a pocket dictionary with him was unrealistic.

Then I discovered the highly rated app WordFlex Touch Dictionary. Developed by Schematix in association with Oxford University Press, this app is beneficial for all students – and even more so for those with language delays. WordFlex Touch Dictionary enables anyone to explore language deeply – but it’s remarkably easy and intuitive to use. Searching a standard dictionary for a word results in the word, its meaning, and part of speech. However, using the WordFlex Touch Dictionary app, the possibilities are endless as the app has an abundance of amazing features. The app uses intuitive “mind-mapping” technology to turn word entries into dynamic trees that can be moved, shaped, rearranged, saved and shared with touch gestures. After a child enters a word to explore, the app opens into a word tree that shows parts of speech (noun, verb, etc.), high-level senses (meanings), and related phrases. Simultaneously, a speaker appears below the main word box and pronounces the word in U.K./U.S. English. In addition, various badges appear providing extra information about the word such as the primary meaning of the word, the word’s origin, example sentences, illustrations, and usage notes. Where available, synonyms and antonyms will be visible. Informal, slang and other equivalents of the word may also appear. These features can benefit a child with delayed language skills as they often have difficulty with slang, sarcasm, and colloquialisms.

My son had a very easy time using this app. In fact, it was a pleasure for him to use it, as he was fascinated by the truly tactile, interactive references. If you are looking for a great “Back to School” app to help your child with reading and language skills, then I would urge you to look at WordFlex Touch Dictionary.


Apps for Social Success

Social Skills, such as eye contact, communication, interactive attention span, and flexibility are important skills for all children. For children with special needs, these subtle skills are crucial for their social success. Most parents of typically developing children take their child’s social skills development for granted. However, that ability to socialize and to create and sustain substantial interactive relationships with parents, siblings, peers, etc., can be a fundamental challenge for children on the autistic spectrum. While it is important to focus on all areas of a child’s development, I feel the first and most important skills to focus on is social development, the ability to socially interact. For oftentimes it is in this area that we are able to create the greatest possibility for change.

Children who have high functioning autism, Asperger’s and/or ADHD face many challenges socially. Although these children are likely mainstreamed with their typical peers, they often have a very difficult time creating and sustaining meaningful relationships with others around them. These children are often challenged by tasks such as recognizing others’ facial expressions, social cues, and most importantly, subtleties in body language that convey emotions and feelings.
The Social Express ™ was developed to address some of these developmental concerns. Created by a team at Social Express, this animated interactive software teaches children and young adults social and life skills. The app uses engaging scenarios to teach users how to think about and manage social situations so that they are better prepared to develop meaningful social relationships and succeed in life.
Many children on the autism spectrum tend to be visual learners, so The Social Express utilizes Hollywood-quality animation to present content to the users. These animations include a social story in which the user is asked to observe the characters in a specific situation as a problem arises. The user must then evaluate how one of the characters is feeling and decide upon a proper course of action to take to resolve the situation. Since not every situation has a black and white outcome, this app helps users to learn subtle nuances that are often hard for them to detect. The Social Express challenges the user to look at the entire social story and make the best choice.

The Social Express is one of the few social skills apps that my son enjoys using – so much so that he actually asks to use it. This app is a bit pricey but for good reason as there is no other social skills app like it. And a child being able to exhibit proper social skills and create meaningful relationships is priceless.

Two Apps Among Many

In the Apple App Store, over 25 billion apps have been downloaded, and the number increases daily. There are many apps in the education market – so many that it has become an overwhelming amount. Prices range from free to over $100 an app. Unlike products bought in a store, apps do not have a return policy. Parents must spend time sorting through apps that will suit their children’s needs from ones that will not. Below I listed and described various apps that I found to be helpful to my son in different ways.

Learning basic multiplication facts is just one of those things that we all have to do in elementary school – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. For some children this is an easy task while it is more difficult for others. My son in particular has a great memory, yet he thoroughly enjoys using this app as he finds it highly entertaining. Multiplying Acorns HD – Tasty Math Facts, developed by Operatio Apps, is a fun, hands-on learning, math experience. The superb HD graphics create an engrossing, manipulative-based environment for a thorough conceptual understanding of the times tables. The game is set up with a token economy system and rewards the user throughout the game as he or she earns coins and acorns for solving problems correctly. The settings are user friendly and can be adjusted the specific needs of the user. I myself have played the game many times and have found it to be addictive. You might want to check this out as it is definitely worth the money.

There are those days where our children are bored and want to watch a video – yet they want to watch something different that is not part of their current selection. Although YouTube features many videos, parents may find navigating YouTube a chore as they try to find videos that are appropriate for their child. It was for this reason that Gube: Kid Safe Videos was developed. Gube provides parents with a catalog of pre-screened, moderated, and safe yet fun YouTube videos. Gube was designed and developed by parents of toddlers for parents with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and gradeschoolers. Thousands of videos are categorized by age group and are completely searchable. You can safely allow your child to easily browse on their own through age-appropriate videos while having the peace of mind knowing they are protected from unsuitable content. Parents are able to save their children’s favorite videos to a list in order to enable easy playback at a later time. When the videos are played, there are no advertisements on the page. You might want to check out Gube as videos are being added on a regular basis. Parents can submit video recommendations to be included in Gube as well.

These are just two apps that I found to be highly beneficial for my son. I would suggest that you look into these apps as they could help your children too. I would be happy to receive your feedback about these apps in particular.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Opening Worlds With Technology

My name is Rebecca Penina Simon and I am a mother of a 13 year old boy with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Since birth, my son has been developmentally delayed in all areas of functioning. His normal behaviors included frequent meltdowns, echolalia, flapping hands, and “stimming,” or fixation of certain objects. Various therapies soon became the norm yet despite all of these my son always gravitated most towards playing educational games on our computer. Until recently, I could not comprehend why. To understand this, one has to consider the behaviors of a child with autism.

Children with ASD experience anxiety which can cause them to act out and misbehave. Children with ASD thrive on predictability -- routine is their best friend. In fact, going through simple motions, such as lining up a series of toy cars, again and again is a part of their daily lives. To peers and adults, these repetitive behaviors appear bizarre. For children with ASD, the ability to predict what comes next in a sequence of events affords them a sense of security and confidence. When playing an educational game on the computer, the structure and sequence of the game are always the same, thereby enabling kids like my son to be more confident in what they are doing.

Children with ASD tend to be visual learners too and they can benefit substantially from visual supports. Assistive Technology of AT devices afford them the chance to learn in a visual way. Through technology, I use many visual supports when trying to teach my son language and comprehension included using the computer to design cue cards with pictures . In addition, children with ASD often have challenges with sensory integration and they often find sudden loud noises and lights unpleasant. When using an AT or technology device, it is important to control the level of noise and brightness to meet the needs of the child.

Children with ASD often have obsessive or narrow minded interests. As parents, we can use these interests as motivators for our children. For example, my son enjoys reading comics. One of our goals for him is fostering age appropriate social skills. So, I have found a digital comic book that enables me to spend quality time with my son and, at the same time, to strengthen his social skills through our discussions about the book’s characters. I find that we can accomplish so much more when we utilize tools and resources that appeal naturally to our children.

Technology, such as digital books, opens worlds for our children. The predictability, visual cues and feedback, and access to information that appeals to children with ASD are easily accessible through today’s technology. Parents should be open to all the ways it can be used to open new worlds.