Choice Time in My Computer Lab

Choice time in technology class is not free reign on the internet. My class is an English Language Arts/Technology class, so all activities have to be related to ELA skills. I provide students with a variety of software and website options from which they can choose their activities. Students can only choose from my preselected options. This is enough motivation to keep many of my literacy group students in their work for the entire thirty minutes. I even have a few students who choose to return to their reading program after their required time is complete, but the majority of the students need an immediate reward for completing their work.

I have six leveled choice time accounts and assign each student to one account. The first level works on basic matching and sorting through beginning letter recognition. The sixth level works on fourth and fifth-grade literacy skills. Each account has a minimum of six activities so that students can choose what they want to do. I rarely use the top-level because the stories are too long and choice time is only the final five to fifteen minutes of class (depending on how long it takes each student to work a full half-hour on the computer). The work timer pauses whenever the student takes a break, so different students in the same class may earn different amounts of choice time. This has proven to be an effective reward system for most of my academic students.

My group learning how to use the computer does not have choice time, because it is meaningless until students are independent and have academic work to complete. In fact, this group’s most advanced level is also my academic group’s first choice time level. What is work for one student is play for another. I also use that level as a bridge to my more academic software. Once students have mastered “Purple,” they are ready to join the academic group and begin the literacy application that my more advanced students work on the majority of computer class.

Each account is given a color instead of a number or a letter. This reduces any negative feelings or potential bullying when different levels are more clearly stated. Colors work well except for just a few students who want to work on their favorite color’s account instead of their assigned account. With my students, every plan that the teachers implement seems to have a  few students who have difficulty following the procedure.

A Nice Start to 2020

I had a class last week that really surprised me. The “academic” students stayed in their work for most of the required thirty minutes before choice time. There was little of the normal complaining, and for the most part, they focused on their assignments. I am used to students quitting their reading program, and this behavior always increases after any breaks from school. One student did chew his headphone wire, but the behaviors are usually much worse after any vacation. I was determined to have all of my classes return to their technology class routines, and my efforts paid off.

This class has three students with varying verbal abilities from two-word sentences when prompted to complete sentences without any prompting. The other students are nonverbal and learning to use photographs and picture communication symbols. The three verbal students work on a literacy program in the computer lab. The other students work on basic access skills such as learning to use a mouse. On a normal day, the literacy group tries to quit their work several times a period. I choose literacy work that is also fun, but it still requires students to work on letter recognition, spelling, reading, and writing; depending on each student’s academic level.

My literacy group students in this class, and in my other classes, stayed in their work beyond my expectations providing me with evidence that an immediate return to the normal routine has nice classroom management benefits. I was unable to get any work done the last week or two before vacation (depending on the class) because the students were just too hyper and unfocused, but I was determined to show the students that school is for learning. We have a routine; we follow it; we earn choice time. I have only seen one day’s worth of students because of scheduling issues on Friday, but I sincerely hope that our first full week back goes just as smoothly as Thursday went.

Dissertation Videos

Here are three videos that accompany my dissertation. These videos are not required elements of the dissertation or of the doctorate degree, but they may assist people who have never worked with students with severe developmental delays to better understand my paper. The videos might also interest other teachers who want to learn more about how I teach my most severely disabled students to use computers and tablets.

The first video shows some of the software that I use with the students who are just learning to control the computer.

The second video is based on the PowerPoint presentation that I created to accompany my dissertation.

The third video shows a few of the many iPad apps that I use to teach students with severe developmental delays to use the iPad’s touch surface.

Both the PowerPoint and the related PDF are hosted on Figshare. The PowerPoint presentation cannot be viewed online, but the PDF is viewable online. (PowerPoint DOI: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.8108174.v5, PDF DOI: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.8109443.v4) The PowerPoint needs to be downloaded to your computer or tablet and run from the PowerPoint application or PowerPoint online in a Microsoft Office 365 subscription. The PDF version lacks the internal links and fancy transitions that are in the full PowerPoint version, but it can be viewed online by anyone.

Trackpad Versus Mouse for Elementary School Students with Developmental Delays

Click on the image below to view my dissertation: Learning Speeds for Mouse and Trackpad in Elementary School Students with Developmental Delays.cover page for Jeanne Stork's paper Learning Speeds for Mouse and Trackpad in Elementary School Students with Developmental Delays

Download my paper directly by clicking on this sentence.

This study compares student improvement in trackpad skills versus mouse skills. While the research focused on elementary school students with developmental delays, the information may be helpful to any school that is deciding whether to invest in mice, trackpads, or both. Improvement data was analyzed from thirty-six students ages five through ten, with moderate to severe autism or intellectual disabilities, who did not know how to use a computer mouse, to determine if they learned to use the trackpad or mouse quicker. Although no statistically significant results were noted in the overall improvement between the trackpad and mouse groups, the trackpad group’s fine motor skills and the five-year-old students’ trackpad use improved significantly more than corresponding mouse learners. Neither device is more appropriate than the other for all students.

Jeanne Stork is holding a trackpad.

I posted my dissertation to FigShare after debating about where to publish my dissertation for several months. I finally decided to use FigShare because it allows me to retain the copyright and to republish. My next project was to create a video presentation of this research: https://drjeanneestork-specialedu-dscedutech.com/2019/05/14/dissertation-videos/. All of the journals that I looked at either would not let me create a video of the study, or they stated contradictory rules in different sections of their websites about authors reposting their own work. Rather than risk a future Take Down order for my video, I chose to publish to FigShare where I knew that I would retain the right to publish to video.

M.S. Educational Technology Specialist

My first master’s degree was M.S. Edu. in Special Education: Severe and Multiple Disabilities from Hunter College in New York City. My second master’s degree was M.S. Educational Technology Specialist from New York Institute of Technology. That second degree is what eventually convinced me to begin my journey toward obtaining a doctorate. I have decided to make public the presentation that I created for my second master’s thesis. I am very proud of my research presentation and have posted it to ResearchGate. A pdf of that presentation is also included toward the bottom of this page.

I compared two different types of software that could be used to teach students with severe autism to click a mouse button. At the time, teachers were required to adapt general education materials to the needs of students in special education. Many people in government had the philosophy that students in special education would show educational improvement if they had access to the same experiences and materials as their general education peers. My research showed that students learned better using software that was specifically designed for their developmental levels and educational abilities and needs. After this study, I was given more freedom to use software that was specifically designed for the needs of students with significant disabilities if their educational needs could not be reasonably met using general academic software.

The presentation contains a large number of statistics; my advisor at the time loved statistics. But there are also some real-language slides that summarize what all of that math means for any readers who are not math-people. I was happy that I could create something that both helped me to earn another master’s degree (and become “highly qualified” by being certified in my subject area as recommended by No Child Left Behind) and also helped the students in my school and beyond. The research is over ten years old now, but the struggle continues to find appropriate ways to teach our students with the most intensive learning and language delay difficulties.

Creating A Screencast: Setting Preferences for Students with Disabilities

The description that I included on YouTube is not visible when the videos are embedded into WordPress (click here for the page with another embedded videos). I have included that information here and added more information about the video’s content.

The screencast portion of this video was recorded in Camtasia’s trial version, and I edited the entire video in the trial version of Camtasia, so the watermark is highly visible. I am evaluating this software to determine if it is something that I would like to purchase. So far, I’ve found the zooms easier to manage than in iMovie, but iMovie fully integrates the videos and photographs in my MAC’s Photos application. I may decide to purchase Camtasia for projects that require many post production zooms, although up until now all of my zooms have been done with my camera’s optical zoom.

These directions are for Apple’s Macintosh computers running MAC OS 10.11.6 (El Capitan). Other Apple operating systems have these functions, but they may look a little different. Below are the basic steps that I demonstrated in the video.

Screencast Introduction Transcript:

Hello! I’m Jeanne Stork. I teach in a computer lab for students with significant developmental delays due to severe autism or intellectual disabilities. My students use Macintosh computers, either iMac desktops or MacBook Air laptops. This is how I make some adjustments to make the computers easier for them to use.

            System Preferences: The system preferences are located under the apple in the upper left corner of the screen.

            Accessibility Preference:

Display: Shake Mouse (Some students play with shaking the mouse, but it helps students with attention and visual perception difficulties who often lose track of where the cursor is located on the screen.)

Audio: Play Stereo As Mono (for students who hear better with one ear than the other and would miss a stereo channel)

Increase Double Click speed (to reduce accidental double-clicking from my repetitive clickers)

Mouse:

I do not use wireless mice because many if my students pound the mouse. Wireless mice break easily.

I increase tracking speed to reduce the need to pick up and reposition the mouse.

I make the two major buttons the primary click (left-click) and turn off all other buttons because the vast majority of my students do not know how to click one button at a time or how to differentiate when to only left-click.

I turn off scrolling to further simplify the mouse for my students. The scroll function can also interfere with the educational software that I use.

My students enjoy playing with the mouse, so the more options that I can turn off the easier it is for them to complete their work.

Trackpad Preference:

Point and Click:

Turn off all options

Increase tracking speed

Scroll and Zoom:

Turn off all options

More Gestures:

Turn off all options

Screencast Conclusion Transcript:

As you saw, I spec up the mouse and trackpad so that the cursor moves fairly quickly and the mouse and trackpad don’t have to move all that much. This prevents students from hitting each other with the mouse as they are moving too far to the side, moving the mouse off the table as they are dragging the mouse toward them, or even dislocating the mouse from the wire if they get frustrated because they need that extra inch and the mouse just won’t move. With the trackpad, sometimes my students will actually move their finger off the pad onto the frame of the computer itself and wonder why nothing’s working. Well, of course nothing’s working, they’re not on the trackpad, but the students don’t understand that, especially in the beginning. As students progress, I can give them fewer adjustments, but I tend to keep the adjustments on just because it makes my life easier. I don’t have time between classes to readjust computers. But if necessary, I can always make individual adjustments. Feel free to explore and see what works best for you. Thank you.

Voice-to-Text Struggles

I often attend workshops that include learning about adaptive technologies as part of my job. My school district generally has about six workshops a year for what we call “technology liaisons,” the person who volunteers his or her time to help the school with instructional and adaptive technologies. Adaptive technologies include just about any technology that can help a person with a disability in school, at work, at home, etc.

This brings me to my struggles with voice-to-text applications. My shoulders have both been injured at work and neither one likes repetitive motions, such as typing. I can lift a ten-pound box chest high, but I cannot spend two hours at the computer. So, I decided to experiment with voice-to-text software that lets me speak into my computer. I tried two different brands, both of which promised to improve as I type. The more I use the software, the more accurate they should become. Unfortunately, I have discovered that even speaking these two simple paragraphs requires me to do a lot of editing on the keyboard. For me at least, typing and taking frequent breaks is more effective than using voice to text software. This field of assistive technology has improved a lot in 10 years, but it does leave me concerned for people who have no ability to use the keyboard.

For now, I will only resort to voice-to-text when absolutely needed. My shoulders are healing, but slowly. Many of my students will never be able to type.

Wired Versus Wireless Headphones

Many of my students put the headphone wire in their mouths. Some are on the developmental level where they are mouthing many things in their environment. Other students just have a long-standing habit of mouthing objects. Either way, it becomes a sanitary issue, and bite marks can ruin headphone cords. There is very little electricity running through my cheap headphones, so I am not concerned about the children getting hurt.

Some people have asked me to switch to wireless headphones. These cost more upfront but ideally last longer. The problem is that if they are dropped (or thrown), they also break easier. Sometimes, headphones accidentally fall off a young child’s head because even most child-sized headphones are too large for some of my students. Sometimes, the headphones receive quite forceful assistance to reach the floor either because the student has sensory issues and does not want to wear headphones or because the student is angry with the computer or a staff member. I even have a few students who would rather tap the headphones like a drumstick than do their work. All of these forces would break a wireless transmitter.

For now, I’ll stick with wired headphones. Biting or pulling headphone wires does happen more often than dropping, throwing, or tapping headphones, but I am concerned that these incidents would increase the overall cost per computer. If the school ever has extra money and wants to purchase wireless headphones, I will not turn them down. It would be interesting to see if they really do last long enough to justify the extra expense.

Easy Way to Disable a Mouse Button

two-button mouse with folder paper towel under one button to disable it

Okay, so I have a collection of mice that are new but the model is old. I also have students who are not able to differentiate between left-clicking and right-clicking. These mice cannot be programmed in the computer’s system preferences, and the companies no longer have the drivers on their Web sites. My solution? I folded up a small piece of paper towel and very carefully inserted it in the edge to prevent the right button from clicking. I had to try a few different placements to make sure that the button was disabled without the paper towel activating the click internally (so that the  right button acts as if it is always down). I needed two small paper towel pieces for another mouse, one on the right edge and one on the back edge (near the user’s wrist). Ideally, I could just program both buttons to left-click, but this is a cheap alternative when programming is not available.

Some people remove the paper, but so far I have remained calm. Some of my students pull out the paper, but it is easy to replace, so I don’t worry. If I make a big deal out of telling the students to leave the paper alone, I can guarantee that it will be removed more often. Some staff members have pulled out the paper, possible so that they can right-click themselves or because they think a student put it there. Again, I just replace the paper. I think that most of the teaching assistants and therapists who use the computers have finally gotten used to my low-tech adaptation. Many students love playing with paper and string, so I expect that the paper will always be occasionally removed. I would rather have the students play with the paper than with the mouse or headphone wires.

This method does not teach students to avoid the right mouse button, but it does prevent students from accidentally right-clicking on everything. Many of my students are not adept at using the mouse in general, so I want to make it as easy on them as possible.

Halloween Costume?

Would any of my coworkers know what this costume represents?

computer programming punch card costume

Benefits of Cloud Storage

A popular method of storing documents is cloud storage. True, our documents are not stored on an actual cloud in the sky, but they can be accessed from any Internet enabled computer or mobile computing device (i.e. smartphone). I learned a big lesson on the benefits of cloud storage this weekend. I created a nice folder of blogging materials then left that folder on a computer at work. It contains material for staff development workshops that I facilitated over the past two to three years, that I either developed or found on the Web. I have about five blogs worth of documents that were going to be turned unto blogs here this weekend. Now they will have to wait. Sure, I carry thumb drives with me, and transferring the documents to a thumb drive would have also worked. It was late, I’d been at work about ten hours, and I was tired. I’ll work on those blogs soon, but don’t ask me when soon is.

Helping Others Now Streamlined

During the summer, my school implemented a new procedure for me to help other staff members. Everyone is supposed to FIRST ask the administration if I can help, and then an administrator will email me. I hope that this will drastically cut back on people interrupting my classes asking for assistance. While I am very willing to do what I can for my colleagues, I cannot expect the paraprofessionals (teaching assistants) to be quiet and focus on the students if I am not.

The school’s principal devised this system. I used to have a sign-up sheet outside my computer lab’s door. He wants to be the one to decide what I work on so that he will know what is happening in the school. It is taking staff members a while to adjust, but I think that if I am strict about enforcing the principal’s directive, it will become easier for them to follow. People got used to my old system, where they could see how many people were above them, but I think they can adjust to something new. After all, it is the new procedure and we will use it.

Great First Week Back!

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was eager to attend a workshop on Unique Learning System’s (https://www.n2y.com/products/unique/) new student activities and individual data collection. The expert canceled at the last-minute, so I volunteered to show what I know. I had gotten to work over an hour early, fortunately, so I was able to update a workshop I gave in June and present that. My knowledge of Unique is limited, but I filled in the time with additional Web sites to fill up the two-hour session, after I showed a brief demonstration of Unique Learning System’s new student interface and data collection. The morning was fine; people who were not interested kept their voices low and were not too disruptive. I still need to find out what I missed from the workshop that I was supposed to attend for cluster teachers (teachers who teach a specific subject instead of having a class of students).

The second day of preparation was split between meetings and setting up our rooms. It is impossible to be completely ready for students in the time allotted, but my room at least looked neater than it was when I first walked in the building. I made sure that there were chairs for all of the students in my larger classes and a few extras for the paraprofessionals (teaching assistants) who come in with the students. I am glad that we had two days to prepare for the students, occasionally we only have one day.

The students arrived on my third day of work. I am a bit upset to see that I teach one less class and have a cafeteria duty instead, but I understand that the school had to but more teachers in the cafeteria. The students I teach often are runners. Our cafeteria has five doors, so we need enough staff there to prevent students from leaving on their own. I feel that cafeteria duty is not why I have two master’s degrees, but the safety of our students has to come first! I don’t like but, but I do see that it is necessary. Besides, maybe another teacher will volunteer for cafeteria duty and the schedule might change. It’s unlikely but possible.

As always, there is a wide variety in my students. I have classes where most of the students do not talk and I have classes where almost everyone is verbal and the few nonverbal students use communication devices. I have students who know how to read and other students who are still in the everything-in-the-mouth stage of development. I think we have five different types of classes in my school. Yes, there are many students with challenging behaviors, but we are the right school for that. In general, I think that this is going to be a great year!

Jeanne Stork

New School Year Preparation

My new school year begins tomorrow, and the students arrive on Thursday. Right now, I’m thinking of everything that I want to get done before the students arrive. Unlike most years, I will not be conducting a professional development workshop. Instead, I will be attending two workshops, one if which I actually got to choose! Many of my students are non-readers, and about half of those are nonverbal. I will be learning about improvements (I hope!) to News2You’s Unique Learning System that helps teach students to click on or tap picture symbols instead of words. I used to use this when they had activities that I could download onto my computers, but I stopped about two years ago when they stopped supporting the program I use (IntelliTools’ Classroom Suite (now by AbleNet). Now, News2You has improved its online access and individual data tracking, so I hope I can return to using it. I hope to spend most of Wednesday setting up student accounts and developing lesson plans for this new and exciting Web-based program.

Of course, the more mundane aspects of running a computer lab also have to be addressed. I need to make sure that all of the computers are running properly and request toner for the printer. I updated and re-imaged everything the last week of summer school, so the computers themselves should be fine. But what about the mice, the keyboards, and the headphones? Just because everything worked on August 15th does not mean it will work on September 6th. Hopefully, all will be well! My next project will be to set up four stations with adaptive devices for students who cannot use a mouse, but that may have to wait until later in the month. The biggest problem will be finding the time to do all of this in one day while fielding problems from all of my colleagues. Hopefully, I’ll be able to leave on time Tuesday and Wednesdays. The day is officially over at 3:00 pm, but (as many teachers will tell you) it rarely actually is.

I am truly looking forward to seeing my old students and getting to know the new ones, in spite of all of the work that the beginning of the year entails. It will be a great new school year! I will add pictures of the lab (without any students for legal reasons) when it is ready.

Jeanne Stork