Technology in the Special Ed Classroom

At TCEA in Austin last week, I had the opportunity to present with one of my co-workers. She is an awesome educator in general, but her love for her students is obvious in her curriculum. She works very hard to tie in all types of technology to engage the students and make her job more efficient. 

Our presentation, “Web 2.0 in the Elementary Special Education Classroom,” focused on a number of technologies and procedures she uses and the process with which we do it. We had a nice crowd of about thirty for 8:00 in the morning. Morning sessions are tough, as we all know.  Thank you for those who crawled out of bed for the early sessions. We enjoyed the discussion.

One item that was brought up was copyright. My co-worker shared her next goal was to have her students read their books and record them for classroom use. Her books on tape are wearing down, to say the least.  One guest in the audience called her on it saying it was breaking copyright policies. Our discussion with her did not seem to change her mind. She felt that since she was a librarian she was obligated to let us know we were breaking the law.  Another audience member attempted to clarify for her that no monetary damages were being had to the book publishers and that they would not have anything to sue for. Besides, who would sue little kids reading stories while learning?

So, I did what every Texas teacher should do.  After the session ended, I called ATPE and asked for legal services.  I requested a copyright attorney, and after a minute or so on hold, I had the lawyer answering all of my copyright questions:

Question: If we record our students reading library books in the classroom for current and future use, are we breaking copyright law?
Answer: Abosolutely not. It is an acceptable practice. Why would that break copyright law? (I thought I as asking the questions here.)

Question: If I post said recordings of those students reading those books onto the website for parents to download them as podcasts to hear their children, am I breaking copyright law?
Answer: Absolutely not. If you are not selling them or altering them and selling them, there is no breach of copyright law. Again, they are acceptable educational uses of content.

Thank you very much.  I feel vindicated in our actions. I have my attorney supporting my position and our legitimate use of print materials and technology in our instructional purposes. I just wish I had had the time to call the attorney during the session to alleviate any of the concerns our audience member might have had.  Her belief came from a session she had attended.  Hmmm. A lesson learned for me here is that for legal advice, trust the attorney who specializes in your field and would cover your rear in court.  I would also suggest you not say, “I read it on Scott’s blog and it must be true.” Call your own representative that SPECIALIZES in your area of concern. I hope that clears up any confusion that might have arisen in the session conversation. We felt like we were correct in our position, and our attorney supports that position. 

Isn’t it nice to have that education attorney to lean on for advice?  For those not familiar with Texas and the associations to support educators, ATPE is the largest in our state. Texas does not allow collective bargaining, so spending a lot of money to join a union really is useless.  My dues are $130 a year, and I receive all the free legal advice and assistance that I might need in a situation like this. One 800 phone call and I am on the phone with one of the in-house, education-focused attorneys.  It is a nice feeling to have for times such as these. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I served on the board of directors of ATPE for four years, but I have been a member since 1997. This has no bearing on the response from the attorney, but my praise for them is warranted from my experience and I did not want my previous leadership with them to be hidden when reading my opinion.)

With all of that being said, below is the Keynote presentation on SlideShare and the MP3 recording (I edited out the lengthy copyright discussion/debate to eliminate further confusion). If you have any comments or questions about the presentation, please feel free to leave a comment here or email me. I can pass all special ed specific questions on to my co-worker.

Thanks again for the great turnout.  We enjoyed the conversation.

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Artist of the Day Dead After Just Ten Years

threat_levelDan Pink recently posted a short quote from a presidential candidate (from a NY Sun article).

“Education is only a true education if we’re developing both the left and right brain of the student,” Mr. Huckabee told scores of bloggers listening in person and on the phone. “The left brain is great for math and science and all the logical forms of education, but knowing what to do with what a student has learned is as important as what they’ve learned. Music and art, teaching the stimulation of the creative side, is absolutely critical to a total well-rounded education.”

Finally, here is a discussion of substance about education. I was wondering how long we had to go during this election cycle before we heard something more than “We need to fund our education system better” (like we have not heard that before and are still in need of it). While I may or may not agree with everything this candidate is saying during the campaign, he at least is saying the right thing here. And the media needs to listen and promote this. The rest of society needs to understand why their kids “have no common sense” or know the true answer to “What were you thinking?” (when no thinking was really going on during the bad decision). Our students are left with little or no opportunity to explore their creative side once the standardized tests kick in. It’s not fair to them, and it actually takes away a lot of the fun of teaching (remember I went from teaching primary to middle school). So you can imagine how it takes away a lot of the fun of learning.

Then that leads to the entire conversation Dan Pink started with his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future. Even the 2.oh students are talking about it on their blogs. Anthony Chivetta wrote a post about “Teaching the Process of Design” to students. Funny thing is, design is dependent on design:

I would argue that the reason watching student videos can at times be excruciatingly painful is that they lack a cohesive design. Often, they represent a hodgepodge of ideas strewn together with very little thought to creating a unified whole. However, when students begin with picking a thesis, and then work from that thesis, a pattern, a design, begins to emerge. When the question for every single decision is “what supports my thesis?” those awkward transitions, strange cuts, and random transitions begin to make sense.

I have to say I agree here. Much of what is needed to be true designers comes from the ability to organize the design ahead of time. That come in so many fashions from basically every core subject taught in school. Papers make no sense without organization. Math results are wrong with corrupt organization. Science experiments go awry with disjointed organization. History makes no sense with a disorganized presentation of the facts.

Proper design forces abstract thinking. Abstract thinking engages the right brain. Engagement of the right brain generates new ideas, products, manipulation and processing of data, and visions. 

If we just model correct design through curricular creation and delivery, expect the same high levels of design quality from our students through problem based learning, and showcase the products with exemplary design, then maybe, just maybe, others will notice the importance. It may be just a detail in learning. But as they say, the devil is in the details. It separates the winners form the losers. In our students’ futures, it will separate the have’s from the have not’s.

So to go full circle with this somewhat rambling post… attention to the presidential candidates. While we all know Congress holds the real power, we must recognize a true visionary in the White House can lead to a more innovative (some will call it catch-up) vision for education. It is about time.

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Is Anyone Listening? Does Anyone Care?

I wrote this post a year ago. Has anything changed?

old classroom

School 2.0 – Join the Conversation
Reading habits change in new on-line revolution – Houston Business Journal:

Younger Americans, who buy only about 4 percent of books sold, have crafted their own environment for print media — non-traditional, of course. Kids, teenagers and young adults spend hours (and hours) on the Internet writing and reading (which should be of some comfort to English teachers). Bored with old-fashioned e-mail messages, kids prefer “synchronous chat.” Through MUDs (multi-user domains), young folks have transformed the solitary activity of reading into a highly social medium….

Nevertheless, I am excited and exhilarated by today’s electronic exchanges. The medium has changed, but the skill of reading is alive and well.

Writing is still essential, even if the style is mutating to “Internet casual.” Format aside, communication remains essential to getting your message across, and words are still the core components of the message.

The next generations are as hungry for knowledge as any we’ve seen — and, with the spread of electronic media — will likely be as literate as any other. – Dr. M. Ray Perryman is president and chief executive officer of The Perryman Group and economist-in-residence at the Edwin L. Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University

It is good to see that the higher ed folks are paying attention to the changing habits of today’s student culture. I wish I could say the same for the K-12 crowd. Videos such as this are great ways to demonstrate a visual of the problems we face in the classroom today. Instead of preparing our students for the world they will face (and one we have not even seen yet), we put them in the same setting as those that we, our parents, and their parents sat in. Is this just our lazy way as teachers of saying we came, we taught, we tried? Are we not concerned that we are sending students out unprepared? Do we not understand that the world is changing so quickly that half of what a student learns their first year of college is outdated by their third year? Are we unaware that there are more students in China taking the SAT test in English than in the Untied States? Do we simply not care that the top 10% of the population in China equals the total population of the United States and the top 25% is more than the total population of North America? We are not just competing with the neighboring school districts anymore. We are (or at least should be) preparing our students to compete against the world.

Will it take fear as David Warlick contemplates:

2 Cents Worth » Scare Em!

Is this a legitimate avenue for affecting change? Does fear motivate people to change? Might it motivate reluctant teachers to modernize their practices?

So is it the right thing to do? Do you think it is even possible to scare teachers into this type of paradigm shift in a K-12 setting? Do you see the need for this type of change in thought and instruction?

Blog for PD Credit

“Sometimes I think my blogging is self-assigned professional development – forcing myself to take the time to think more deeply about certain ideas.”

The Fischbowl: Who’s the Audience?

Have you ever thought of blogging in this way? It is what drives me in this area of the new web. As an information junkie, I am always trying to figure out a more efficient way of learning more in less time. Blogs eliminate a lot of the searching I had to do before because there are so many people doing the work for you now. I challenge you to blog for this reason if no other. While the state might say you have to get PD hours, make them useful. Remember, you can count the time you spend blogging and reading for a portion of the time. This is what Texas law reads:

Texas Administrative Code Title 19, Part 7, Chapter 232, Subchapter B
(c) Participation in interactive distance learning, video conferencing, or on-line activities or conferences.
(d)Independent study, not to exceed 20% of the required clock hours, whichmay include self-study of relevant professional materials (books,journals, periodicals, video and audio tapes, computer software, andon-line information) or authoring a published work.

Take advantage of it and gain ownership of your own learning today.

Podcasting in the Classroom

Tim Wilson, a technology integration specialist from Minnesota, hosted a session at NECC last year (NECC will be in San Antonio June 2008). The audience put together a list of classroom uses for podcasting. Tim blogged about it and offers this list:

Collect field notes during a science field trip
Living museum, researching characters
“Radio shows”
Creating audio guides for local museums
Teacher powerpoints
Early language learners, (rhyming, etc.)
Staff development
Language learners recording assessments
Discovery Education videos
Science reports
Art projects
Digital portfolios
Weekly classroom news
Serial storytelling
Reflective journals
Summaries of school events
Broadcast school sporting events
Roving reporters
Capturing oral histories (family history)
Podcast vocab words and spelling lists
Flashcard practice with iFlash
Musical compositions
Soundseeing tours

Since podcasting is new to many in our school district, I thought I would offer this list up and see if anyone was interested in trying it out.  If you are, give me a call.  We have the equipment available for our staff to try these things out.

Any other ways to use podcasting that you can think of?

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Changing the Learning Landscape and Taking a Dare

Thanks for the challenge, Vicki.  I am going to answer these questions from my new position as an instructional technologist.  My job is to train our staff on integrating new tools into their teaching AND learning.  So here we go…

Do you spend any time talking about proper methods of e-mail?

  • Nope. We have an acceptable use policy in place for this.  Does that negate the need for me to discuss it with staff.  Not at all.  Since this is my first year in a position my school district never had before, I will learn from this idea.  Next year, we discuss it even if we only do it briefly.  I am sure there is a good video out there that would do the topic justice.

Do you have a facebook or myspace profile?

  • No I do not, but that does not stop me from understanding how to navigate the sites.  Proactive is the best policy for me.  I am working on a parent training on this as well.  It will be interesting to see what turns up when the parents start searching these sites.  Eye opener anyone?

If someone wrote about you, is your name hyperlinkable? (Do you have something they can link to?)

Do you know the names of all of your students?

  • Yes, I know my staff pretty well.  Even the new folks are becoming very familiar as I move through the classes and hallways.

If your students have computers in the classroom, do your students make ongoing eye contact?

  • When I need them to, they would.  But if they are like me, they are listening yet still working.

Are you unafraid of what would happen if youtube, myspace, and facebook were allowed in your classroom?

  • Not me.  If you teach acceptable use and ethics first, most of the problems would take care of themselves.  You will never take care of all of the issues, but you can work to lessen them.

Do your students collaboratively create documents?

  • My district recently switched to Google Apps for your Domain, so they now have access to the Google Docs suite.  Already teachers area creating student lists to share with the entire campus (detentions, testing, conferences, etc).  We even have an administrator using them to work out a presentation with another administrator who works in a neighboring district. 

Do you expect your students to complete their reading assignments?

  • Yep.  As an English teacher I did.  But “complete” is a loaded word.  Even I do not read every word in the books/blogs/etc that I read, yet my comprehension did not suffer.  My students will vary with that.  Of course, I pushed those with comprehension issues to pay attention to each word as they went through since one can easily get lost if they already struggle.

Do you assign papers and grade them after reading EVERY WORD?

  • I have, but it was not with every assignment.  As a seasoned educator, it becomes second nature to know where a paper is headed.  I wish the state of Texas chose seasoned educators to grade the state standardized essays.  They spend less than a minute on each paper prior to putting a grade on it, and many of the graders are not even English majors, much less educators. 

Have you ever given assignment and allowed students to create content on the public world wide web?

  • Absolutely.  We have used wikis and blogs for the last few years.  Now my goal is to get other teachers to take the same chances I took with student learning.

Do you allow students to post content WITHOUT pre-moderation?

  • Not at the middle school level with everything.  I do RSS their wikis to be updated ASAP, but they can still post there before I can nix any inappropriate content.  Funny enough, they never posted anything I needed to censor. 

If you allow students to post online, do you subscribe to 100% of their content in your RSS reader?

  • Yes.

Do you comment on your student blogs?

  • Yes, I did.

Is more than 50% of your content relevant “to life?” (Ask your students)

  • Teaching English and reading?  Well, the content itself not so much, but the skills were.  In many cases I gave them the choice of what to write or read about, so the relevancy was up to them.

Do all of your students open their textbook for your class on a weekly basis?

  • Nope.

Do you give reading assignments that include web content?

  • Yes, I have.

Have your students been taught methodologies for assessing the validity of web documents?

  • We spent some time on it, but honestly it was not enough.  The fact that I could fit it into an already packed list of items was pretty good.  It really needed to be taught prior to the students hitting my door (common educator cop-out, I know).  Maybe we can work it into one of our intro tech courses or cycle classes.

you give students projects where they must manage themselves,
multitask, and deliver a comprehensive output that is relevant to your

  • Yes, I did.  Their favorite was designing the classroom of tomorrow.  Interesting thoughts from them, but not much in the way of innovation.  What should I expect of kids who are taught to not take chances in their learning and stick to the rules?

Have you changed anything significant about ALL of the courses you are teaching THIS YEAR?

  • I cannot really answer this, per se, but I have used my previous learning from my personal learning network to help drive my direction in what my new position should be offering our staff.

Do you care?

  • More than I could ever show in a blog post.  I want our kids to be successful.  I want them to walk away life-long learners.  I want THEM to care.

And now Vicki’s Double Dare: Show your administrator. 
I did.  As soon as I became aware of the video, I invited him to watch it in my office.  He agreed with what he saw (having a college-aged daughter helps him to).  He is all about changing our landscape to fit the needs of students of today.  Lucky me.   Seriously.

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It’s Someday, but Tomorrow’s a Comin’

easystreetI have recently been a party to a common conundrum schools face daily. This time it is with an organization, but it still truly pertains to schools as well.

How exactly do we utilize the new technology tools we push so hard to get teachers to integrate when we are so worried about the negative outcomes we have yet to see?

I find it odd to be in this position as a leading organization, personally, but it is a valid, current argument. So is this the type of thing that begins honest, open, valuable debate? Is this where the real learning starts? I sure hope so.

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Ammo…Currency for the new Millennium

bumper_sticker I was in Florida on vacation with my family when I came across this bumper sticker. While, its intended meaning was not, how I would say educational, it definitely drove my mind into the educational arena for whatever reason.

I have spent the last year and a half reading, listening, and learning about 21st century students, classrooms, and learning. David Warlick, Wes Fryer, Miguel Guhlin, Vicki Davis, and more have all been great examples for me to follow in this new area. While I have always felt that I was on the cutting edge of instruction with technology, I realized that I was… only it was the edge just ahead of the rest of my district. It was not the edge that my students were teetering on.

Their edge is dangerous. It has few boundaries and requires them to take risks to learn new skills. Their edge is the manipulation of multiple environments virtually to engage with others of like interests. Their edge is scaring the living daylights out of teachers everywhere so much so that new rules are being written almost daily to halt the tide. But why?

What the kids know, and few of us do, is that the future is now. Technology is just a tool to comprehend, adjust, manipulate, collaborate, integrate, mash-up, publish, and communicate. Technology is just a tool to share, envision, enlist, create, and orchestrate. Technology is just a tool. And every tool has a use. Our students are using this tool. Sometimes the right way, sometimes not. Ever hear your dad say, “If you are not going to use a (insert tool name here) the right way, don’t use it at all.” That is where we are at. Sometimes the tool is not used the right way, but it is mainly because we have not shown students how to do that. That is mainly because so many of us do not know how to do it ourselves.


So what does this all have to do with a bumper sticker seen on the back of a rusted, black primered 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am on Dale Mabry Boulevard in Tampa, Florida, on a balmy summer evening in June of 2007? Ammo. Plain and simple. The ammo our students use, to be exact. It is most definitely the currency of the new millennium. It is the currency that will deliver them into the new millennium with strength and knowledge beyond our comprehension. It is the ammo that we build our profession on. It is the ammo that we use to build our skills as professionals. The ammo? Information.

David Warlick and others have said many times, it is not the technology that is the focus. It is the information. He lists three things about information and how it has changed: 1. information has become increasingly networked, 2. It is increasingly digital, 3. We are overwhelmed by information.

Information is networked.  I read and hear about people continually frustrated about their children memorizing odd facts to regurgitate back on to tests (capitals of states, major crops for regions, etc).  I am fine with asking kids to know these things.  No, let me restate that.  I am fine with asking kids to know how to find these things.  Right now it is as simple as Google.  I am also fine with asking kids to remember these things AFTER engaging activities to learn them.  Webquests, wikipedia searches, Google searches, informational videos/podcasts creation, wiki creation, fictional newscasts, and more can all give them these experiences.  The point is, these kids can access and share information in ways they never could before.  Networked.  Yes, they are, and yes it is.

Information is digital.  This is pretty simple to demonstrate.  In 2002 alone, people around the world created so much new information (mostly digital), it could fill 500,000 Libraries of Congress.  If it were not in digital format, where would we house it all?  How would we and our students ever access it in an efficient manner?  Blogs, wikis, and other digital tools are the avenue to which this information is being created.  And that was nearly six years ago.  Can you imagine now?

That easily leads to David’s last point: we are overwhelmed by information.  Easily, this is the most fundamental reason to be using new read/write web tools in the classroom.  Yes, we are overwhelmed by what is out there.  our students are not.  Yet if we sit back and do not offer them the chance to use tools that will allow them to wade through the mass, they will just grab the first ring they pass by and claim it to be accurate and factual.  Consider these two sites:  Dog Island & Tree Octopus.  Both are very believable.  Both are very false.  Could you tell the difference if you were a kid?

We have not even hit on the ability to use and process this information in appropriate ways.  That is a lengthy topic for another post, but start with this and this.

I am not preaching the “tech only” way of instruction.  Putting a computer in front of a student (or teacher for that matter) does not a lesson make.  Nor does it build new knowledge and higher level thinking without proper use.  Technology is a tool. Or should I say that technology is the key.  It can open doors for our kids in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Probably the most telling quote comes from Net Generation Comes of Age, written by Dr. Larry Rosen, Cal State professor who has been studying this generation of kids. He says,

“A baby boomer and even a Gen X would say, “Well, I use the Internet” or “I use my cell phone a lot” or “I text message” and so on. Gen X learned how to use technology, whereas the Net Gen kids were raised steeped in technology and they don’t use it, it just simply is.”

Technology allows our students to do new things with old and new stuff that will drive our future and theirs. It is the information that guides our futures. It is the information that causes us to think and operate at higher levels. It is the technology that allows us to collaborate, communicate, and create new things with information.

So as you begin this new experience of integrating technology, keep these things in mind. Regardless of the content area you teach in, your students need the ammo that only you can provide. Let them use technology to process it, and you will be impressed with the outcome.


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What level are you?

In a recent post titled “Phases of Online Development” over at the Information Conversation blog, Matt posted a table called “Phases of Electronic Portfolio Development.”

It has six levels of development:


Can anyone else relate to these phases in a different context? I can see clearly how I have moved through these steps throughout my years of technology immersion and integration. My early entry into technology was not so bad. I had a little anxiety, but not generally with the tools themselves. My dad tended to have some cool tools around to try out, and then I worked at Radio Shack when I was in college. There was plenty of equipment to play with there, and if I messed it up, somebody would fix it. (Key thing to remember here: It can be fixed!)  The neat thing now is that most schools have lots of technology tools for teachers to try out.

Then the uncertainty sank in when I tried to figure out how to use these tools in the classroom. That is where my personal learning network kicked in with reading blogs written by other educators going through the same process of discovery (which is ongoing, by the way). Honestly, just reading what others were doing in their classrooms took me through the connections and the awareness stages. I learned how these tools tied to the learning my kids needed to do and realized which tools fit which need in my curriculum. No, it was not an overnight deal for me. It took reading and focusing on making myself a better teacher, but that is what makes a teacher better: being a lifelong learner.

So the next logical step for me was presentation. In my version of this chart, that means I began implementing the ideas, the tools, and the structure of technology integration. Technology was still only a tool, but it became more than that to the kids. It was a hook to get them interested. It became a conduit to process information, connect with peers, and to publish their findings and creations. They were excited about learning English and literature. The technology tools had them hooked, and they made them better learners because of it.

So how do I prove that? Well, through evaluation. Any educator worth his or her salt constantly monitors and evaluates what is working and what is not. If I cannot continually provide effective and affective instructional strategies, then I am not doing my job, and I am cheating the kids.

Does all of this make sense? Maybe I am just writing it to get my thoughts out on how I made it through the process to where I am now. I am in a perpetual loop with this list, though. New tools come out, and I move to either the anxiety or the uncertainty stage and work my way forward. I cannot help that. It is the way I learn and develop.

How about you?

Our students go through these phases rather quickly with or without us. Are you on board?

reference- Table from Developing Digital Portfolios for Childhood Education by Marja Kankaanranta. 2002.