Monday, November 16, 2009

Switch Painting

Here is one of my students using a toy car to do some painting.  This is one of my favorite ways to paint with my switch users, as it creates a great cause/effect activity and makes some really neat artwork.  This car was purchased last year at Target, and you have to push down the back of the car to get it to run.  I adapted it with a battery interrupter, and taped the car top down with some black tape.  My student uses a toggle switch that we have mounted to a plastic picture frame (you can kind of see this in the picture), as this is the best way for him to access his switch.  The toggle switch is plugged into the switch interrupter.  When painting, we let my students pick out which type of paint they want using eye gaze, then we run the wheels of the car into a paper plate of paint.  We set it down on the paper, and let him go to town!   I love the effect of the painted tracks on paper.  We were actually painting this page as part of a turkey activity.  All of my students have been working in art on painting pages with a combination of red, orange, and yellow.  When we are finished, we will be cutting the full pages into feathers and attaching a turkey to the front.  We use many other paint methods, such as marble/ping pong ball painting, attaching paintbrushes to a switch activated cow, fingerpainting, etc., but I would definitely say this is one of the class favorites!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Math Curriculum

This is my first year teaching a pull-out math class, and I started the year just working on the student's IEP goals and very functional math: money, time, measurement.  This was going well, but after a month or two I started to feel like we were just working on the same things every week, and I wasn't actually teaching them new concepts or terms.  I started to look into some different math programs to see what was available.  I found a program I like at Ablenet, but it was way too expensive for my budget.  I found lots of different programs based around just money or just time, but we were already working on that and I wanted something that covered more concepts.  I came across a program from Attainment Company called Teaching to Standards: MATH.  This program caught my eye for a few reasons:
1.  I've gone to a training by one of the authors a few years ago (Diane Browder), and really liked her viewpoint of standards based instruction for students at a lower level.
2.  It teaches advanced concepts that other middle schoolers are learning (geometry, algebra, data analysis)
3.  It teaches using story problems with picture support (similar to News-2-You).
4.  It uses lifeskills based situations to teach complex skills.

I ordered the program and finally received it last week.  So far, it is a hit in my classroom.  My kids are currently learning about points, line segments, and planes by using a map of a grocery store, drawing points for each aisle we need to stop in, line segments to draw our route, and the entire route forms a plane.  My only complaint so far is that my math students like homework, so I'm having to create my own to send home every night because there is nothing that comes with the program I could send.

Is anyone else using a program for their math class, or are you just coming up with things from scratch?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Extension Activities

Have you checked out the News-2-You extension activities that are posted every week?  I feel that these are a hidden gem on some on the website.  In the past, they only posted activities once every few weeks, but lately they have been getting better about posting them weekly and right at the beginning of the week. 
Most of the activities are science labs, which is great for my class because we love to experiment! What I love about the science activites are the handouts that come with them.  My readers will read the hypothesis for the lab, and will then circle whether the hypothesis came true or not, make comments on the lab, etc.  My non-readers/writers will use eye gaze to look at a picture symbol for whether or not the hypothesis was true, and then will mark it using a bingo marker.  I urge you to check out these activities if you haven't yet; some of them are a lot of fun!

P.S. sorry for my absence lately, between school, lesson planning, and some commitees I'm on, I'm having trouble keeping up with my posts!  More to come soon!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

News-2-You: College Mascots

The News-2-You topic for this week is college mascots, which is really fun for my class considering we live in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, home of The Ohio State University and Brutus Buckeye.  Here are the activities and plans we have for the week:

As we are big Buckeye fans in my room, we will be reading the book "Hello, Brutus!" By Aimee Aryal.    The company that makes this books has also made other mascot books, so keep an eye out for one about a team near you.

For cooking this week, we plan on making "Otto's Orange Freeze", which was included in the N2Y article, but we also plan on making buckeyes.  If you've never had buckeyes, before, they are a delicious chocolate and peanut butter confection that is especially popular in Ohio!  For the Orange Freeze drink, we plan on using a blender hooked up to our Powerlink Control Unit.  We also plan to use our switch-adapted pourer to pour ingredients into the blender.  In my class, we have added a new part to our weekly cooking group-- we complete the recipe review that is found in the worksheet section of N2Y.  I have some students who complete the recipe review and sense matrix using the worksheets, and for my other students I have created enlarged picture symbols with the choices like/don't like, yummy/yucky, and healthy/not healthy.  At the end of the activity, we go around the group and answer each question to survey how everyone liked the activity.

On Friday at the end of the day, we will be watching the movie Hatching Pete.  This is actually a very cute movie that premiered on the Disney Channel over the summer about a school mascot, and includes many popular disney stars from shows like Hannah Montana and Sonny with a Chance.  I've never been a big fan of watching movies in class, partially because I know when some of my students were in elementary school, they were wheeled up to a big screen tv with children's shows on it for long periods of time, which I feel is not very educational.  However, I've been giving my students weekly homework to read the N2Y with a family member (recorded on a switch for students who are non-verbal), and if they all do it we watch a movie on Friday during last period.  We don't usually get through the entire movie, but they look forward to it, it always ties to our topic (and are sometime more educational, like Bill Nye), and also gives my staff and I some planning time.

In our sensory bin, I plan on putting in items related to Ohio State, such as buckeye necklaces, foam toys, small foam fingers, etc.

This should be a fun week- I've been looking forward to this topic for a while!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pictures of Organization...

At the request of a poster (Cathy), I am posting a few pictures of some of my classroom organization.  Now I wanted to pretty things up and make them look perfect before I took pictures, but considering my last post was about my lack of organization, I figured I should just take some pictures on a regular day without making things look pretty.  Since taking the pics, I have already started some new organization systems in my room, so I'll have to take more pictures soon.

This is a picture of the bookshelf in my room.  We used to just have large bins filled with books, and last year I worked on organizing them into themes for students to choose from.  I don't have tons of books as these are all books I've bought with my own money, but the categories include: fiction, seasons/weather, history, character fiction, science, school, animals, holidays, homemade books, and books on tape.  Right above the bookshelf is my wall mounted tv and vcr/dvd player, so the top of the bookshelf often serves as a holder for dvd games, movies, etc.

My smartboard is on my main wall, so this board is adjacent to it.  I usually have our topic and cooking activity posted for the week, as well as a book sitting on the board that relates to the topic and a switch recorded with the book on it (that day it was in use when I took the picture).  My math students fill in the calendar info during their class.

I used to have a lot more dry erase board space, but since my smartboard was mounted on top of it, this is the only space I have to post our schedule for the week.  On this schedule I usually post OT, PT, Vision, Speech, lunch club, field trips, assemblies, etc.

This is my set of cubbies for smaller items.  I need to reorganize and relabel them a little, but for the most part they make it pretty easy for anyone to walk in and find a glue stick, a switch, or batteries.  We usually keep our larger switch toys on top of it, but the day I took this pic it looks like a few things got piled up there.

This is our 'pantry'.  I have two cabinets above my kitchen area, but one of them holds all our meds because it is our only locked cabinet in the room.  The other one usually housed all our food, but it was too small and was always crammed with things.  So this year I added this bookshelf, which helps separate the kitchen area (the door to my classroom is right behind it), and gives us much more space to grow into.  The only problem I'm having is one student who likes to take food from the shelves, but it has turned into a positive situation of sorts: we are working on spontaneous communication, and he will just walk to the pantry and point to or touch what he wants.  We just keep doing what we are doing or prompt him with 'use your words' until he states what he wants.  And if he doesn't ask, he doesn't get anything.  This is really helping him increase his spontaneous requests, as food is a big motivator for him.

Side view of the pantry-- to the left is the kitchen, to the right is the door to my classroom.  This area is beginning to serve as a 'postings for staff' area.  This is the first year I've had a box to keep 'to do' items for staff, such as laminating, cutting, etc.  In the past I've just done it myself or asked someone to do it, but this year I've gone from two paras and myself in my room all day to 5 paras in and out of my room as well as myself in and out.  This is making my life a lot easier, and they know to look in it when they need something to do.  This wall also has a list of specific prompts for a student who has some inappropriate behavior, some student schedules, etc.  I'm working on organizing this area right now, so I think it will improve.  On the back of the bookshelf, I have made labels with each of my student's names, and below each name is a magnetic clipboard with their data sheets attached.  This is really convenient for staff to grab a student's data sheets while they are walking out the door.

My bathroom.  This is the changing table, and below each student has a fabric drawer that contains their personal care items.  Next to the table is a bookshelf which holds student's wipes containers, boxes of gloves, clorox wipes, lysol, paper towel rolls, and chux.

So this is a brief overview of the organization I do have going for me, but I've got a ways to go this year.  Thanks for those who posted their organization ideas-- I've already borrowed some of them!

P.S. did I mention that the coolest thing about my room (and building) is that all the walls are magnetic?  I just think that is the coolest thing, and especially convenient in my room where I'm always posting things everywhere!  My favorite are those heavy duty magnetic wreath holder hooks people use on their front door at Christmas; they are very strong and I have them hanging everywhere to hang bins, cords, bags, etc.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


I'll admit it...   I have a tough time staying organized in my classroom.  I love organization;  file systems, bins, shelves, little baskets.  I've bought them all.  But it seems that my classroom still lacks some organization.  Now don't get me wrong, my classroom does not look like a tornado went off; I think it looks pretty good compared to what I've seen in other classrooms.  I just feel like I have some things working against me, some of them particularly because of the population I teach, people I work with, or responsibilities I have, including the following:

  • When my students leave at the end of the day, my parapros leave with them, and it feels like a whirlwind at the end of each day when I walk back into the classroom and see everything we used still sitting out, things left on the table that we should have packed up in the student's bags, staff items sitting out, etc.
  • I don't have a great filing system.  I have now acquired two tall filing cabinets in my room, only to realize that neither of them have the built in holders on the side to actually hold the hanging files in place.  I've bought the adjustable metal frames before, and have them regularly break on me, so I currently only have them in two out of my 8 file drawers.
  • Five out of my six students cannot clean up on their own.  One of those five would be able to but she is in a manual chair that she cannot control (can't reach breaks, can't move wheels), but we are working on her telling the peer or adult what she wants them to do when her things need to be put away.
  • I have at least 6 adult staff in and out of my room throughout the day, and regardless of how neat they are or how much they clean, in the rush of our day things get left out regularly.
  • I am not the most organized person!  At home or at school, I love to organize things, but I also tend to put on my 'blinders' at times and just not notice that huge pile of papers that has been sitting on my desk for a week.  
Now, in my defense, I do have some things going for me:
  • I have a wooden shelf on wheels with 50 cubbies, where I keep small items.  I have bins for Step by steps, jelly bean switches, batteries, switch accessories, different types of tapes (duct, painters, etc.), sensory items, etc.
  • I have a bookshelf with my books organized into colorful baskets labeled with themes like Sports, School, character fiction, holidays, etc.
  • In our bathroom, each of my students has a fabric bin with all of their personal care items: diapers, chux, wipes, deodorant, brush, anything else they need.
  • Each of my students also has a shelf in one of my built in cabinets that has items like a pillow, a blanket, full change of clothes, med supplies (but not meds) like Jevity, tubing.
  • They also have a hook with their name on it for their coats and book bags on my wall.
  • I've tried to institute a system of 'a place for everything, and everything in it's place' by telling staff when I am making a place for something, labeling everything I can, and encouraging students and staff to put items back where they first found them.
One area I'm still running into major problems is the piles on my desk.  I was motivated today, and bought a file holder from target that I plan to keep on my desk.  I was inspired by another teacher in my building, who I noticed had hanging files on her wall labeled with things like 'to copy', 'to file', 'to do today', etc.  I'm currently trying to come up with what to label these files I will keep at my desk, and I'm looking online for inspiration.

My question to you is:  what is your best organization tool for your room?  Is there anything that works like a charm to keep you organized, or do you struggle too?  I would love to hear some great ideas or suggestions you have, so please share your wisdom!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Alternate Assessment

What type of testing are you required to do with your students yearly?  In Ohio, my students have to do the Ohio Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities (AASWD).  Although AASWD paperwork is not due until around February/March, I've already started getting emails about timelines for the year, and looking at signing up for a training to find out changes for the assessment this year.  Our Alternate Assessment consists of the following:

  • Students are to be assessed on academics in four categories, relating to the state standards for their grade level
  • 6th grade: Reading: Literary Text, Reading: Acquisition of Vocabulary, Math: Number and Number Sense, and Math: Patterns, Functions, Algebra.
  • 7th grade: Reading: Informational Text, Writing: Writing Applications, Math: Data Analysis and Probability, and Math: Measurment
  • 8th grade: Reading: Reading Process, Math: Geometry and Spatial Sense, Science: Earth and Space Sciences, and Social Studies: History.
  • Each category requires 2-3 pieces of evidence that the student can successfully meet that standard, and these can consist of captioned photos, work samples, data taken, observations written by teachers/related service providers, peer observations, interviews with parents, teachers.  There are a few other options, but these are the main ones that I use.
  • Each piece of evidence must be paired with an entry sheet that contains all the information about that student, the standard, the tasks they will complete and how they relate to the standard, least restrictive environment, setting, peer interactions, and how they did on the task.  
  • There is also an entry sheet for each standard category that you have to fill out, to state which tasks you chose to meet that standard.  
As anyone who works in this field knows, Alternate Assessments are A  LOT of paperwork, and cause a lot of complaining by teachers and staff (sometimes even students).  Just an email stating we need to start looking at the AASWD timeline can lead to groans and complaints, dreading all the work that is ahead.

I've always tried to have a different perspective and more positive view of Alternate Assessment.  Yes, it is a whole lot of work on the teachers part, and no I do not get compensated any extra for all the extra time and work that goes into these.  And I agree, it is a TON of paperwork and I tend to have a lot less patience around that time of the year.  However, I think it is still important that the state is holding these students to a standard, and expecting accountability from teachers.  If we weren't expected to do this, I don't know that all Special Ed. teachers I work with would make nearly the effort to align with state standards and get their students interacting in the regular classroom on these goals.  I try to look at it as even more opportunities for my students to interact with their peers and community members, more ways to get them involved with the typical curriculum, and a chance for them to show off what they can do!  I can't tell you how many times I've head a staff member from the office, or a person in the community say something like "wow, I wondered what kind of schoolwork these guys do, that's pretty cool" or "that's neat how John can use a switch to have a conversation with me".  It's another way to get these students out in their buildings, out in the community, and expose others to what these guys are working on.

With Alternate Assessment, you also choose which tasks are appropriate for your student.  I think the tasks suggested often give me new ideas of activities I can do with my students.  One document, that has always been a lifesaver for me in coming up with new ideas, is Linking students with the Most Significant Disabilities to Meaningful Standards-Based Tasks.  Even if you don't work in Ohio, I recommend checking this out.  It was written by Kathy Staugler, whose name you might recognize as she has played a big part in developing the Unique curriculum created by News-2-You.

The point I wanted to make in this post is to not let these assessments get you down; try to keep a positive attitude, and start as early as you can!  It definitely helps avoid that panic when you are scrambling to get data sheets filled out at the last minute.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Most popular materials

I'm curious as to what your go-to materials are-- the ones you use at least daily in your classroom.  I have some great materials I've collected over the years, either borrowed from other schools, purchased, etc.  However, there are a select few I just can't live without on a daily basis.  I'm looking to order a few new things, so I'd love to hear if someone has a great tool they just can't live without!
Here are my favorites:

  • Switch hopper or crick interface to access the computer: I use the intellitools keyboard as well, but these get more use because they are small, portable, and can adapt powerpoint, interactive book websites, etc.
  • Powerlink Control Unit: I am very lucky to have a total of five of these, due to some of my kids receiving them for free from APH.  We use these for cooking, listening to music, books on tape, I have a sensory wall with all sorts of lights, fans, etc. hooked up to one, light up fish tanks, and more. 
  • Step-by-step switch: I can't live without these!  Each of my students has one, and I record it at the end of every day with news (from their perspective) about their day.  The families then listen to them at night, and record a message for them to share during Morning meeting about what they did last night/over the weekend.  We also use them for talking with others in the hallway, commenting in class, recording books on them for the students to read, etc. 
  • Reading A-Z:  I love this website for reading instruction.  They have printable books at various levels, correlated to DRA scores and other reading assessments.  They have comprehension questions and quizzes to go along with books, as well as a benchmark book for each level, so you can assess when a student is ready to move on.  
  • Switch adapted pourer: we use this in our cooking activities, to roll dice during games, during art, and anything else we can come up with.  It has become a necessary tool in our classroom.  
    I know there are so many more, but these are my usual go-to's.  What can't you live without in your daily activities?

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    How do you do Inclusion?

    The discussion of inclusion is always ongoing, and typically varies by district and student.  My district has been considered 'full inclusion' in the past, which was a bit of a shock to me when I started teaching.   I just didn't know how I was supposed to be taking these students who are non-verbal, non-ambulatory, with limited motor skills, into inclusion classes all day long-- how was I going to keep them involved, when would I be able to work on their IEP goals that could not be done in class.  I have tried lots of different classes and schedules to see how inclusion works the best with my students, and I think we are finally in a comfortable place with how much my students are 'included' during the school day.
    • most of my students go into inclusion science and LA classes with their grade level, as I've found these classes are easier to modify or get the kids involved.  In LA, they give presentations with a switch, we can record their reading passage on a switch to read within their group, they can do a reading log at home, they can present poems with a switch.  In science, they can give lab directions to the group on a switch, advance slides of a powerpoint, participate in labs, etc.  
    • My students go to related arts classes with their peers.  In middle school, students have a class for a trimester (either PE, art, band, or choir).  My first year I had my students do a daily rotation of what related arts they went to, thinking it would give them a variety.  I found that their peers/teachers didn't consider them a real member of class because they were only present once a week, so now they stay with one class per trimester.
    • My students go to lunch and sit with their peers. 
    • During the periods I have my students in my room, I have typical peers come in to assist them or just hang out with them.  This has created some great peer-student relationships.  
    • Inclusion varies per student; for example I have one student with autism who does a pull-out math and LA class, but is in inclusion classes the rest of the day.
    It is always a struggle of "is the student getting enough out of this class that it is worth it for them to be in it".  So how do you do inclusion?  

    Sunday, September 6, 2009


    Do you have a smartboard in your classroom?  I just got one a few weeks ago, which was a bit of a surprise.  We just hired a new principal in our building at the beginning of last year, and he really encourages the use of technology in the classroom (which is great!).  Last year he started an initiative to 'get a smartboard in every classroom', and worked with our PTO to raise money for smartboards.  We don't have them in every room yet, but I just got one in my classroom in August. 
    I've attended some brief Smartboard trainings in my building, but using it is still a learning process.  So far, I'm using my Smartboard for the following activities:
    • Intellitools activities such as single switch books and easy reading activities
    • Using the speaking version of News-2-You to read the paper on the smartboard
    • Watching fun videos from the Priory Woods Kids Only site
    • Drawing on the blank surface using the notebook software
    • In my math class, we are working on coin ID and circling the coins needed to match a price, so I'll bring up the worksheet on the board and have students circle the right coins
    • Having one of my students submit attendance from our attendance website each day
    • Doing a morning meeting Intellitools activity
    I know there is also a way for us to watch announcements and movies on the smartboard, but I'm still working on that.  I've only had a chance to use it for about two weeks so far, but I'm using it almost every period and I plan to keep finding more ways to use it. 

    How do you use your Smartboard?

    Saturday, September 5, 2009

    News-2-You: Military Families

    This week's topic is Military Families.  I have some plans for the week, but if I change anything or add new activities I will post them here.  I'm still waiting to see if News-2-You ends up adding an extension activity for this one, as last week they didn't post it until halfway through the week.
    • H is for Honor: A Military Family Alphabet by Devin Scillian and Victor Juhasz 
    • Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom by Lisa Tucker McElroy and Diane Paterson
    • News-2-You article of the week on Military Families
    •  A Patriotic Salute to the Military Family (CD): I plan on using this CD in a switch activated CD player, where students can activate it using a switch to listen to during break times, or when they are stretching out of their wheelchair.
    • We will be making the News-2-You recipe for 'Solder Stripes', which is a parfait of vanilla pudding, blueberries, and sliced strawberries layered to look like red, white, and blue stripes.  I plan on recording the directions onto a switch for students to read the recipe, and we will be using our switch activated pourer to pour some of the ingredients for the recipe.  My other students will be determining the correct measuring tools to use, finding and measuring ingredients, reading the recipe, and answering questions about it.
    Sensory Bin: 

    • Right now I'm thinking some army guys from the dollar store, and maybe some red white and blue beads, small flags, other patriotic items.  *If you have students who put items in their mouth, these may be a choking hazard*

    I may still be trying to come up with some type of craft activity to go along with this week's plan.

    News-2-You: Bo, America's First Dog

    For our first full week back to school, we read the News-2-You article on Bo, America's First Dog.  My students really got into it and we had a lot of fun learning more about Bo.  Here are some of the activities I had planned.

    • News-2-You Article on Bo
    • Bo, America's Commander in Leash by Naren Aryal and Danny Moore
    • My Senator and Me: A Dog's Eye View of Washington, D.C. by Edward M. Kennedy 
    • Meet Barack Obama (Scholastic News Nonfiction Reader)
    • We used the extension activity from News-2-You and students wrote letters to the first family asking them questions about Bo.  For my students who are writers, we used the templates provided in the activity.  For my switch users, we did an Intellitools Easy Writing Letter I created. (in the Intellitools activity exchange, search for 'Letter to the President')
    • We used the new powerpoint activity that is included in News-2-You.  I read the whole presentation into a Step-by-Step switch ahead of time, and the students took turns activating the switch to help present the powerpoint as we went along.  I also just got a smartboard, so we did the powerpoint on the smartboard, and I used a Switch Hopper with jelly bean and toggle switches plugged into it so students could advance each slide with their switch.
    • We planned to make homemade dog treats on Friday, but ran out of time!
    Sensory Bin:
    • I used the Sensory Stimulation Bowl top on the Convert-Able Table and filled it with items you would need for a dog.  It included a leash, collar, bag of dog food, squeaky tennis balls, assorted dog toys, a dog bone, and various dog brushes.  I regularly reminded people walking into my classroom that I do not let my students play with dog toys, we were just exploring these items because they went along with our topic!  I know that seems silly, but I really do know teachers who teach the same population and use some dog toys with their students.  I just can't do that.
    • We made the News-2-You recipe for the week called 'Bo's Bread', which was sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, and olive oil microwaved on a pita bread.  I was surprised that most of my kids really liked it!  I guess it was kind of a mini pizza. 
    Overall, the activities all went pretty smoothly, and the kids got a kick out of learning about Bo.  One student even brought me pictures of Bo that she printed off of her computer-- which is so cool, because that means she took it upon herself to learn and research more about the topic at home!

    Week One

    This title is in reference to the first week of my new blog, as well as the first week of planned lessons in my classroom.  I've been faithfully following many bloggers who teach in similar types of classrooms, and thought that starting my own would give me a chance to contribute my own ideas, share with others, and keep an organized record of the lessons/activities I've done. 
    Let me give you a little background info about my classroom.  I teach in a suburban public school district in a middle school of students in 6th-8th grade.  My classroom began as a place for students with severe/profound disabilities and medical needs, but is lately turning into a class for students with moderate to severe disabilities.  I love my job and what I do, I have amazing students and I feel like I'm learning something new every day. 
    This year I have a pretty crazy schedule in my classroom (but in a good way!).  I start out the day doing 'morning meeting' with my students, where we go over the calendar, events for the day/week, they share their news about their night using switches, etc.  The next period I teach a pullout math class to three students, and we are currently working on money and time skills.  After this, I leave my classroom to go with two students to their inclusion science class, where I am assisting and modifying activities in class.  After my lunch, I have a study center with some of my students to work on their IEP goals, then a plan period (where most days I still end up working with students in my room).  Lastly, I have a life skills period with all my students in the classroom.  My day would not be complete without the assistance of paraprofessionals and a classroom nurse, as my students need support in my classroom as well as out in the building. 
    This schedule is very different from what I have had in the past; usually I am scheduled in my room all day with my students rotating in and out.  I really like that this year I have more specific classes scheduled, as it keeps me more organized, and that I get to go out to a class as well-- it's very hard to modify activities for a class that you never have a chance to go into with the student.
    I'm currently using News-2-You to plan my weekly themes and activities for our life skills class.  I've considered using Unique Learning as well, but I'm still considering how I'd like to incorporate it into my class. In my next post, I'll include activities I've planned that corellate with News-2-You.