Sunday, 11 December 2011

My Butterfly Goes to College

The End of Our Journey Together

Well we have two days left and then Alicia is off to college. It has been a wonderful journey together and after two years I am very sad to see her go. Today she gave me a wonderful gift. A beautiful butterfly with a poem,

"The butterfly is here, then gone,
Its beauty quickly past,
So keep each fleeting moment close
And make each memory last."

Thank you Alicia. I love it and have many wonderful memories that I will treasure for ever.

Monday, 5 December 2011

I Can’t Walk So I’ll Learn to Dance

I Can’t Walk So I’ll Learn to Dance
By Carolyn Martin and Gregg Lewis.

Our school counsellor, Gay Gallagher recommended a fantastic book to me. I Can’t Walk So I’ll Learn to Dance was written by Carolyn Martin an inspiring young woman who was born with cerebral palsy in June, 1946.

Throughout the book Carolyn writes about how she was inspired by Dr Anne Carlsen. The knowledge that someone else with disabilities achieved her goals and and became a success encouraged Carolyn to strive to achieve her best. I hope that one day Alicia will read this book and be inspired by Carolyn’s story.

Unlike Alicia, Carolyn was born in a different era. Alicia is fortunate that the attitudes of most of society have changed and people with disabilities are given a lot more support in education. Carolyn spent most of her life fighting to get a good education. She was frustrated as while her body was disabled she was mentally just as capable as anyone else. She had a strong desire to learn and just needed to get into a school that would and could cater for her needs. Alicia is fortunate to have attended main stream education and because of this is achieving equally with her peers.

I remember the chapter where Carolyn complained about the long waits and paperwork required to get technology to help her. Then how excited she was when she finally received her motorised wheelchair and communicator. She then writes about how much these things improved her quality of life. This chapter made me think of Alicia and her ipad.

She endured some terrible events in her life and struggled through some very difficult times, but her perseverance is inspiring to all. Despite all the barriers set before her and eventually graduated and achieved her life long dream of becoming a writer and living independently. At the end of the book she moves into her own apartment, finds inner peace to wrongs that were done to her and we assume lives out the rest of her life harmoniously.   

Alicia's art work, produced all by herself.
I love the part where she discovers that her art work, like her, was not perfect, but it didn’t have to be. I shared this with Alicia and she has written about it on her blog. On several occasions I have come over to find friends doing Alicia’s art for her. She asks them because she wants it to be perfect. I have to explain to her that Mum and Dad don’t care if it’s not perfect. They want Alicia’s art hanging on their wall, not anyone elses. I think she liked the message Carolyn had about art and told me that from now on she’s going to do it herself, and she has.

This is just one of many lessons one can learn from this book. It may challenge some people’s views on people with disabilities. To anyone who has ever asked why Alicia has been mainstreamed, this book will clearly explain to you. When Carolyn was born a doctor told her parents she was an imbecile. As a family they would joke about it whenever she achieved something special in life. She proved them all wrong, but it wasn’t easy!

Unfortunately this book was published back in 1994 and is no longer available in bookstores. It is not available as an ebook. I have looked online and managed to find a few copies, however they won’t mail to NZ. Also no luck on Trade Me. They have a copy at the National Library if you’d like to read it, and I recommend you do. If anyone find a way I can get my hands on a copy please let me know.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Cyber Safety in Room 16

This year our syndicate has been looking at problems. Term one - disasters, Term two - fair trade and this term in discussion with the students we chose cyber safety as a problem that effects them. Already this term alone we have had a variety of cyber safety issues that children have encounted, evidence that it is a topic they need to learn about. 
We started off with a homework task of researching the Tree Octopus. I had some wonderful assignments handed in with great detail about how the Tree Octopus is endangered as fashionist like to wear them as hats, and about how their biggest predator is the Big Foot.  They fell for the fake website proving the children are far too gullible when it comes to believing everything they read on the internet. It also highlighted the need to use more than one source when researching a topic. We looked into other fake websites too and also spoke about how bias can effect what you’re reading.
Currently Room 16 has been split into four groups and each group is investigating a different issue. (cyber bullying, scams, social networking and the final group is focusing on tips for parents and young children, particularly with internet games like club penguin and mooshi monsters). Each group is making a movie which we hope to show at assembly this week. Then each group will create resources to support their movie. 
One group looking at cyber safety has decided to investigate how to best set up a facebook account. This is a controversial topic as not all children in the class are 13 years old and therefore should not legally be on Facebook. However the problem is that whether we like it or not half the class are on Facebook, and with parent consent. Many children are starting Facebook at primary school. So whose job is it to teach these children to use social media responsibly and safely? In my opinion we can’t follow them home and stop them from using it so best to teach them how. We are focusing on teaching them how to set up their accounts so only friends can see their photos and information, to only become friends with people they are actually ‘friends’ with in real life, to not post any photos or words that may effect them or others in a negative way, now or in the distant future. We also hope they will understand that whatever they put on any social media can never be guaranteed private.
The biggest challenge for me is monitoring each group to ensure they are using their time effectively, sharing tasks equally and producing quality outcomes. At the end of each session the group must record ‘minutes’, a write up about what they achieved in the block and next steps explaining what they plan to do next block. A goal is to get google docs set up so we can keep our group diaries online. 
We have encountered a few technical problems along the way, however generally I am impressed with what most groups are coming up with. They are showing a lot of creativity in their movies and one group have obvious strength in their editing skills. A lot of work yet to be done, but keep watching this space as we hope to share our movies with you soon.

AJ's Progress with her Blog

Well it’s been almost a month since I last posted on my own blog. I have been busy getting Alicia going on hers. She has become very motivated and excited to hear that so many people are interested in reading what she has to share. She loves to monitor the page visits and it’s great to see people visiting from all over the world. I’m impressed with how quickly she has mastered the art of blogging, typical of kids her age. If I had to be honest I’d have to say that I think she’s over taken me in some areas,... ok many! She loves to change the colours and fonts. It’s great that she’s taken ownership of it and what goes on it. She is now in America having a wonderful time and letting us know about her adventures in the USA. We have many teachers following her travels we now need to get more of her classmates regularly checking her posts.
This link should take you to Alicia’s newspaper article.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

AJ's Blog

One of the photos taken by the
newspaper photographer
Alicia has started her own blog and she's made a great start. Check it out!

She's drafted her speech and posted it on her blog. She will present her speech using an application called prologuo2go on her ipad. Reading her blog is a great way to get to know her. We hope she will post regular diary entries when she is in America so the rest of the class can track her travels. Her blog provides a meaningful purpose for writing. Alicia's a great writer and I'd love to see her find a career in this field. To encourage this I arranged a meeting with a local journalist, newspaper reporter Rebecca Gardiner. We spent a wonderful afternoon questioning Rebecca about her job and then Rebecca visited Alicia's house to question Alicia. We hope to see an article about Alicia in the newspaper soon. The photographer took some stunning photos.

Monday, 4 July 2011

AJ’s Journey
Ipad stand one of the students made
with a wire coat hanger.
So term 4 2010 AJ started with her ipad. It was a massive learning journey for all of us (AJ, myself, teacher aides, students and ICT staff). We had this fantastic device now we had to figure out what to put on it, how to use it to its fullest potentional, and sometimes simply how to use it!!!! 
I remember one day doing statistics in maths and for the life of us we couldn’t figure out how to do a graph. We struggled and struggled. We had this new device for her but had to train ourselves in order to support her learning. Various people provided that support, Linda, her daughter (ipad owner) and Jacqui Sharp to name a few. I highly recommend Jacqui’s wiki to ipad users:

Alicia with her ipad mounted on her wheelchair.
Alicia with the big desk we had to carry
from room to room

The teacher aides, AJ and myself continued to develop our skills and in 2011 I was supplied with an ipad to support our ongoing learning. It was great to be able to take it home and spend evenings trying to overcome our problems like doing a graph, and to explore and trial applications for AJ to use.

You may have heard of universal design (how providing something for a child with special needs can help others), well having an ipad in the classroom has helped other children in the class and helped AJ in ways unexpected. Firstly we have another very high needs student with severe dyslexia. We use the ipad to support him along with other children with learning difficulties. These children find working on the ipad motivating and we get more work out of them. We have also noticed children conversing more with AJ as they have found they have a common interest. They talk to AJ about what applications she has, ask questions if they are having difficulty with anything, and seek to solve any problems she may encounter. 

Printing from the ipad is still something we are working on. Hopefully one day we’ll get a compatible printer and be able to print wirelessly, but one thing I loved was how the other students would go home and google solutions to AJ’s printing problems. 

Also at the beginning of the year we had a bar and mount made. We attach the bar to AJ’s wheelchair and then mount her ipad to it. It means she doesn’t need the big chunky desk. She can easily move between classes without having to lug her desk with her. This will be a godsend when she gets to college. We identified a few problems with the design.
#1 it can only be used landscape and some applications can only be used portrait.
#2 With the desk we could prop worksheets, books etc along side her ipad.
We were impressed with the way the students involved themselves in coming up with solutions. Some of them drew designs where arms would pop out the side for paper/books to clip on. Some children went and researched things like monitor clips and they’d email me the links. One student even researched and made an ipad stand using a wire coat hanger. All of this invoved discussion with AJ. It was wonderful to see how caring and helpful they could be.

Monday, 20 June 2011

AJ's Journey

Using the dynavox


 Where have we come from?

I started my 2010 year with a class of 30 year 7 students. One of those students was 11 year old AJ. AJ was a lovely girl with a very nice group of friends. She managed to access the same curriculum level as her peers. She loved to try everything the rest of the kids did, getting in the pool at swimming sports, designing an outfit to model in the wearable arts fashion show and singing with the Kapa Haka group.

AJ has cerebral palsy. She is in a wheelchair and cannot use her arms. She typed on her laptop using a wand attached to a helmet on the top of her head. Over the year I learnt a lot about how technology can support children like AJ. For people technology makes things easier for people with disabilities technology makes things possible. 

The technology process is all about identifying a need and finding a solution. With the support of our wonderful ICT specialist, Linda Lehkre we managed to give AJ a lot more independence as the year passed by. 

Teacher aide required to hold down the shift key.

Identifying needs

Without use of her arms AJ needed someone to hold a book and turn pages for her. As a toddler her experiences with books would have been different to others and we found that she wasn’t the sort of child who would eagerly read for enjoyment. Our first solution was to get ibooks downloaded onto her laptop, this was a part solution. She could now turn pages by herself, but still not a keen reader. 

She can not talk so used a dynavox to communicate. The dynavox is big and bulky and takes time to set up. She couldn’t contribute to impromptu discussion as by time we moved the laptop out of the way, got the arm attached to her wheelchair and the dynavox on the conversation would be over. We attempted to use text edit, however it didn’t seem to be the answer for her. 
Stylus pen taped to her wand and wrapped in tinfoil.
AJ had a full time teacher aide who would need to sit beside her all the time to provide help. Being able to press only one key at a time meant she could not use the mouse or access all keys on the keyboard. To type !@#$%^&*()_+ she needed her teacher aide to hold down the shift key. Our first solution to this problem was sticky keys. One of the biggest issues for AJ was her inability to use a mouse. She could not use the internet independently which was a major barrier to her learning. 

I happened to be watching tv one morning and saw an advertisement for the ipad and wondered if it would work for AJ. I excitedly rushed to Linda to ask if it required a warm finger and if she’d loan us one of hers. She said she needed all ten of them but after some research offered a stylus pen instead. We sent AJ home for the holidays, at the end of term three with an ipad to trial. We taped a homemade stylus pen to her wand with so much tinfoil she looked like a spaceman. From this moment on AJ’s life has changed dramatically.

AJ's Journey

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Introduction to my blog

Finally I've made it! After many months of thinking about sharing my experiences I am about to post my first blog post. As a teacher of children with special needs I am exploring how ipads can support and enhance learning. With the support of colleagues, hopefully I will share my journey and the journey of my students via my blog. Watch this space.