New Heights

It’s that time again for me to blog. If you have followed any previous blogs that I have submitted, you might see a pattern. This one is no different.

I have been enthralled with what my grandchildren have shown me as they develop. It is always a surprise to see the growth every time we get together.

Let me first forewarn you that what I am about share might sound scary and, frankly, a little unnerving unless you are somewhat of a risk-taker.

My youngest daughter and son-in-law have three children, two of which I featured in my last blog, Dean and Logan are seven and five respectfully. The youngest is Hazel, a fearless child, that has made every attempt to be as much like her older brothers as possible.

My wife and I were seated in our kitchen one afternoon. Her phone dinged indicating there was a message. She picked it up, looked and shouted, “Oh my gosh, what are they thinking?” She shook her head with her mouth open.

“Look at your granddaughter,” she said as she passed me the phone. What I saw was Hazel in their backyard tree some 15 feet off the ground and my grandsons some branches below.

Dean checking on Hazel's position in the tree.
An aside here, with all the technology available to kid these days, my daughter and son-in-law have encouraged their children to spend as much time outdoors getting physically active. Both parents were raised that way.


Back to Hazel however. We called my daughter at my wife’s encouragement to make sure someone was closely watching her. Hazel seemed to be having fun, and we were reassured that they were keeping a watchful eye on her.

Hazel in the middle of a tree with Dean and Logan on each side
So, what’s that got to do with the earlier warning and my wife’s concern? Hazel just turned two years old in September.


She had no problem climbing or getting down. It was a personal accomplishment, though a little frightening for us, but not for Hazel.

What I took away from this experience was that even though Hazel is two years old, she had the confidence to climb the tree because her brothers had shown her how. She had her parents’ reassurance that they were there if she needed help. She was offered praise and encouragement for her accomplishment. Hazel is determined to not let failure get in her way.

Among other things, building personal self-esteem in students is as important in the classroom as it is outside of the classroom. They need a chance to succeed by placing focus on their strengths and not so much on their weaknesses.

For some students, what they risk in the classroom is not the same risk that Hazel took, but it is just as powerful on another level. Student confidence is extremely important as it encourages them to move to the next goal. Maybe they are somewhat reluctant but knowing what they have accomplished before can carry them on.

Of course, there will be circumstances that will demand courage to meet the challenges with determination but with the proper support, encouragement and enthusiasm, anyone can reach for that higher branch.

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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.



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The Voice in the Drawer

Red brick background with
Raise your hand if this has happened you.

Actually, don't, because you're probably reading this silently and you'll look silly if you do.

You walk into a classroom or community visit and find your student who uses an Alternative or Augmentative Communication (AAC) system or device doesn’t have it with them. It’s in a cubbie or backpack or drawer. Waiting. Uncharged. In pristine condition. The cellophane might still be on it.

I think if that piece AAC could talk, it would take you by the hand, give you great big puppy eyes and say mornfully, “I was designed to give your student a voice but I’m treated like an expensive paperweight.”

Did anyone care?

My greatest joy of working in education is that we work with people with hearts seven times bigger than the average person. We all care about students, well past our obligated 180 days of contractual caring. We care about their feelings, wants, and needs. We care about them being able to talk.

The issue in this particular situation isn’t usually lack of caring or empathy, it’s a perceived lack of resources. AKA, “It’s just one more thing to remember.” We can empathize with feeling overwhelmed, but not accept that voices are left in drawers.

Here are 5 of my favorite tried-and-true ways to ensure the voice is out of the drawer and in the hands of the students who need it:

1. Do a task analysis of the student’s schedule. Take a look at each period or station of the day and find examples of when teachers and students would use communication. Communication should happen in the bathroom, at math, and in the pool, just like for non-AAC users. Find ways to make those opportunities to communicate accessible through modeling, rich and thoughtful intervention, and access to evidence-based language representation. In other words: there’s no reason why words aren’t available and modeled all day, every day!

2. Provide some supports. Outline in painters tape where the device is supposed to go on a desk to remind staff if that square is empty. Set placemats and inexpensive device holders in key places around the room. Get the student strap or hands-free harness. Get a portable battery pack. Human-made problems (voice in a drawer) have human-made solutions, you just need to find it (or find someone to help you find it).

3. Low Tech with High Utility. Light tech is an easy and cheap way to make sure everyone has access to language. Tape light tech core word boards to key areas like centers, play area, vocational stations, and the bathroom. Give staff miniature core boards on their lanyards or communication supports on their key rings. Wear aprons or core word shirts. Temporary tattoos. Bonus: Hardcore permanent tattoos. Don’t believe your mom, an AAC tattoo is timeless and will look fantastic in your 80s!

4. Come to an understanding: sometimes we need to pause as a staff and deepen our knowledge about AAC best practices. We offer some great services and professional development. Perhaps you didn’t even know what PATINS offers for AAC. Send us an email, we’d love to chat about you’re wanting to do at your school.

5. Last but not least: Does your staff understand WHY we want to design 500+ opportunities to communicate a day? This is my favorite video that captures my why: that our students need words, many words, and words all the time. What is your why? Does your staff know their why?

AAC isn’t another thing to do. It’s the thing we do. We are all responsible for developing communication skills in our students, it’s the bedrock of learning, connection and being human. It is the best work we will ever do, and it does not belong in a drawer.

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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.
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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!

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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.

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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!


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Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


“You gotta have a sense of humor or this career will take you down,” was what Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) said during her training titled: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviors. She hit the nail on the head.

If you know me, you will know that laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whatever means of communication that we have, laughing is a universal expression and when shared, can be life changing in moments. I’ve always told my students that laughing is good for their insides and I firmly believe that. Laughter releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It decreases the hormones that cause stress and even helps keep you healthy by increasing immune cells. Laughter is also believed to be able to temporarily relieve pain.


We have had a few weeks to spend with our students this school year and are busy building relationships, let us remember to get their blood flowing to assist with concentration. This can be done by offering several silly brain breaks during the day for any grade level. For example, each student tells a partner their name and address by keeping their tongue at the roof of their mouth. This could be done for a student using an AAC device by saying a sentence backward.

We are in the midst of offering the appropriate accommodations to meet all of the diverse needs in our classroom and it can all seem overwhelming at times. We all need laughter in some form. We need smiles that beam from the inside out at times. All students need a mode of communication. Laughing can assist students to build relationships and boost self confidence. While we continue to teach our expert learners on an academic level, let’s add a new word to their vocabulary: cachinnate. Not just give them the word, but live it often within the four walls of the classroom.

Let me get you started...
Lady laughing
Contagious Cachinnating Lady 



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Are You Getting The Results You Want Now?

Daniel Presenting

At a recent training I was providing, I began to discuss the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and proceeded through the notion of a framework full of choice and options as well as the necessity of providing multiple and flexible means of engagement, presentation, and interaction/responses. Participants had a lot of great examples of what each of those UDL bullet points might look like in a classroom setting and there was ample head nodding and note taking occuring. I valued these indications of a group of educators looking forward to teaching differently, rather than just with different tools. As I was demonstrating the PATINS Universal Design for Learning Lesson Creator, walking through each of it's sections, I was met with a sense of agreement and excitement! 

Image of children in a traditional classroom facing the front in desk and chairs with one boy raising hand and teacher looking at him.
However, the demeanor in the room quickly took a u-turn when I arrived at the discussion of environmental factors in a Universally Designed learning space! More specifically, I began to talk about the importance of flexible seating options and student choice. Up to this point, everyone seemed very much in-sync with my push to try doing things a different way. We had talked of our mutual belief that all students can learn and grow and, in accordance, there must be a way to teach all students! There seemed to be a shared agreement that, in order to achieve different outcomes, we had to be willing, able, and permitted to teach differently. Yet, when I mentioned the out-dated concept of students being forced to sit at desks, in traditional chairs, facing the front, raising their hands to speak, I was literally and loudly met with laughter. Typically, getting a laugh or two in a presentation, I would consider a positive thing, but this was at a very unexpected time and caught me totally off-guard. However, I continued by asking, "Why do we have this seating requirement in many classrooms...what is the reason for it?" At this point, I was almost knocked backwards in my brown wingtips by the increased laughter and head-shaking, by one table in particular. Worse, this table of participants began to pack up their belongings as if they were preparing to leave at that point in the discussion.  

As a presenter/trainer, this is rarely something you look forward to seeing or hearing. In fact, it's often what a presenter's nightmares consist of the night beforehand, right on-par with forgetting to get dressed and spilling coffee on your shirt! Unfortunately, this was near the very end of our time and I didn't have an opportunity to seek clarification on the laughter and head-shaking. Quickly afterwards however, I began to think deeply about it. I can only interpret that sort of reaction as a strong disagreement with what I was encouraging with regard to flexible seating and other environmental UDL factors.  

One question ran through my head over and over; "what could be the reason that people who are looking for different results are so interested and willing to try a different strategy when it comes to presenting materials in a different way, while being so adamantly against allowing students to sit on the floor?"  

Perhaps, they had reasons that I am not considering. I certainly realize that abandoning what you know and are comfortable with to try something new, especially in front of a student audience, can be overwhelming. Fear is a natural response and sometimes, a natural response to that fear can actually be laughter. Upon thinking even more deeply, it seemed that I found myself settled into one valley of a tough spot between two mountainous forces. Looking to the left, inside that valley, I see the fear of abandoning the familiar. To the right, I see the seemingly insurmountable climb toward different results. If I stay safe in the valley, I experience neither the fear to my left, or the strenuous climb to my right. ...it feels comfy right here in the valley...safe. As long as I keep walking straight ahead in that valley, not veering too far to the left or to the right, I stay safe. However, I also continue to achieve the same results that I always have.  

Tree high upon a mountainous ledge
As I've said for many years when talking to others about trying something new, and have tried to live my own life by "greatness rarely happens when you're comfortable." That tree, the one that you really want to sit under and truly enjoy the view of results, is high upon the hill. Getting to that view requires abandoning the mountainous fear to the left and taking that first step toward making the ascent to the right. It's going to be uncomfortable, but the desired results are there. ...way up there. Further, if you happen to get winded or scared along the way, it's far easier to just turn around and head back to the safe spot in the valley. ...somewhat like trying a different way of presenting information to learners, but deciding that flexible seating is just to difficult to keep climbing. From that spot under the tree on top of the hill to the right, the view of the mountain of fear that used to be to your left looks peacefully at rest in the distance. The view of your former safe spot below seems minuscule now and the differing results achieved as a result of your dedication to the climb is exactly the fresh air needed in the lungs of yourself and your learners.  

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Study Skills

My daughter and I.jpg


As I sat and pondered another topic for my blog, my mind drifted again to my daughter. So I apologize in advance, but I can’t help myself. My daughter is now at Murray State University in Grad School pursuing her dream of becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist. Sorry again to those who have heard this a time or two. She Skyped me recently from her office, in her professional dress clothes, beaming with excitement as she spoke about working with her clients and using terms such as “articulation.” As many of you know the road to this accomplishment was not an easy one. She struggled along the way, but she never gave up.

We spent countless hours on spelling words. We used magnets on the refrigerator, we taped spelling words to our walls all over the house, we used flash cards, and somehow we survived spelling although I must tell you that she is still not a good speller. Luckily because of the technology available, she doesn’t have to be. She uses the tools that I taught her, she asks Siri, she uses spell check, and she loves auto-correct (most of the time)!  Looking back at the many, many hours we spent on those spelling words makes me wonder if this was an efficient use of her time.

My parents and daughter.jpg


She also was not a good test taker. To this day, I’m not sure she has figured out exactly why she struggled taking tests, but she has overcome this obstacle as well. One of the best tools I found to help her with test taking was Quizlet. It allows you to put in the information you need to study and then it has a test generating feature. You can make a multiple choice, true or false, or short answer test and practice! It will even grade it. She also used plain old paper index cards and still does. I would have bought stock in index cards if I would have known how many she would go through in her school days. What I learned along the way was that she preferred using the index cards over the electronic cards most of the time for repetitive learning which, to be perfectly honest, surprised even me.

Another realization for me was that the study skills she needed to succeed were not taught to her in school. This is such an important skill and it is often overlooked. If you need help or want to explore tools to assist in your student’s success, please contact us. You can make a big difference and some day a mom like me will thank you!


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