2009 MLTI Spring Institute: Pictures Sounds Numbers Words…Teaching and Learning with Technology

Logo for Spring InstituteThis year’s MLTI Spring Teacher Institute will be completely online! The dates are May 4 – 7, with interactive sessions delivered in the mid- to late-afternoon, as well as between 7:15 and 8:15 pm. The kickoff is a keynote by former Maine governor and MLTI visionary Angus King on Monday at 3 pm. Each session will be archived, so if you miss any of the live events, they will be available for later viewing.

The institute is free and registration is open to anyone. Not a Maineah? Even bettah! Come learn from the pioneers of statewide 1:1.

Learn more at http://mltiolc.wordpress.com/

UDL Policy Challenges and Recommendations

Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) has published a new report, UDL: Policy Challenges and Recommendations.

This report was generated from a collaborative forum and panel that took place last summer, fall, and winter. A live webinar on UDL, specifically the challenges of implementation, was followed by a virtual forum facilitated by Project Forum and CAST. In December, a face-to-face panel was assembled in Alexendria, VA.

As a participant of the virtual forum, I was impressed with the comprehensiveness of the discussions and the diversity of perspectives represented. Members were from K-12, higher education, state- and national-level government, and wide-ranging organizations. Project Forum and CAST established multiple forums, related to topics such as professional development and training, technology, awareness and outreach, data collection, and assessment.

The report summarizes the challenges that were identified in the virtual forum. The top 10 challenges to UDL implementation can be read on page 8, and include “engage and excite educators at all levels…,” “integrate UDL and technology within school cultures…,” “identify and provide supports…,” “ensure multiple methods of assessments are developed using UDL principles…,” and “provide incentives for commercial enterprises…”

Policy recommendations were sorted into four categories:

  • Easier to Implement/High Level of Impact
  • Challenging to Implement/High Level of Impact
  • Easier to Implement/Lower Level of Impact
  • Challenging to Implement/Lower Level of Impact

An example of “Easier/High Level” is to build a national consortium to develop content, PD, and accreditation standards.

An example of “Challenging/High Level” is to ensure continuity between assessment and instruction.

One recommendation was made for “Easier/Lower Level” and is to provide targeted grants that support community and technical colleges.

No recommendations were sorted into the “Challenging/Lower Level” category.

Finally, proposed strategies to begin implementation of six “easier to implement/high level of impact” are reported. The strategies are accompanied by “Target Audience,” “Who Should Be Involved?,” “Suggested Timeframe,” and “What Resources are Needed?” Outcome Measures are also stated.

Although generated for use on a national scale, the challenges, recommendations, and strategies for implementation reported in this publication can be useful to any school that is striving to improve the academic achievement of all learners.

Bookshare Update: Every Educator Still Needs to Know

It’s been several months since I posted about Bookshare and some developments have been made. First, recall that Bookshare is a free service for all U.S. students (across the lifespan) with qualifying print disabilities. The collection currently has 45,000 books and periodicals in digital text format, which can be downloaded by a school sponsor (e.g., a special education teacher). Students can also have an individual membership for home use. Bookshare has become the premier repository of copyrighted materials in specialized formats for students with qualifying print disabilities.

The digital text file formats available at Bookshare include TEXT, HTML, BRF, and DAISY. By default, the TEXT files will open in TextEdit on your MLTI device and those in HTML will open in Safari. The BRF files are Braille format and are compatible with Braille readers, such as refreshable Braille displays.

DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information SYstem. It is a standard for digital books because it provides structure that TEXT and HTML files cannot. “Tags” provide structure for digital books. Examples include sidebars, subsections, headers, highlighting, boldness, etc. All are structural elements. A word in bold could even be tagged for “go to glossary,” indicating a vocabulary word that is defined in the book’s glossary section. Marking up the text with tags allows for the content to be separated from how it is presented, making the reading experience much more enjoyable for individuals with print disabilities.

Because it is a specialized standard, DAISY files can only be read by a DAISY reader. The good news is that Bookshare provides its members with a choice of free DAISY readers for Bookshare files. The bad news is that neither choice is currently Mac-compatible. Bookshare has anticipated that the maker of the to-be Mac version, Don Johnston Inc, will be rolling it out at anytime. In the meantime, we continue to wait.

And it’s not just Bookshare that we’re waiting for. Currently, we are without a stable DAISY reader for the Mac.

My sincere recommendation at this time is to accommodate a student by making available a Windows-based computer with one of the two freely downloadable DAISY readers from the Bookshare site. One of the two is the Don Johnston Read:OutLoud for Bookshare. I recommend this reader in anticipation of the Mac version of the same product. Please note that only “Read:OutLoud for Bookshare” will read DAISY files downloaded from Bookshare. The standard version of Read:OutLoud, which I know many schools are using, will not.

If you have students enrolled in Bookshare, I’d love to hear from you and to learn how you are providing access to its DAISY files. Alternatively, if you need more information about Bookshare, please contact me.

Update and Summer Course

A plan is in the works for this blog to move. With support from the MLTI, this should happen in the coming months. In the meantime, I think I’ll endure the invasion of advertisements in my content and continue on here at edublogs. Knowing a better home is ahead, I’ve psyched myself into it. I hope you, too, can put up with those vexing hyperlinks that contaminate my blog!

Another reason that I wanted to hop back on my blog is to shamelessly promote my annual summer course at USM. Formerly known as “Teaching and Learning through Universal Design,” the title is now “Putting It All Together: Your Curriculum, Your Learners, and Technology.” The ultimate course goal remains the same: To support teachers in meeting the needs and preferences of the widest possible number of learners without need for accommodation or modification. With some free advice and marketing consultation, I decided to drop the reference to UD because the term – although I believe it has broken ground in Maine – tends to conjure up references to disability, which is certainly the origin of UD but not it’s purpose. Most importantly, I am a general education teacher myself, and the course approaches teaching and learning within the context of content area curriculum.

Here are some excerpts from just some of the USM course evaluation comment forms from Fall 2007 and Summer 2008 (the shameless promotion goes on):

“…I came away from this course (as I did every time after each class) with an overwhelming desire and inspiration to become a better teacher by incorporating the ideals of UD. I feel I have gained a better perspective and more resources to help me achieve my goal of teaching more, if not all, of my students.”

“…I will be forever grateful to Cynthia for her teachings and guidance throughout this session and beyond. Her understanding, nurturing personality as an instructor, motivated all of us and inspired us to go beyond our ‘comfort zones’ while using technology.”

“…The impact of the methods and means by which I now design, format, and present my lessons is making a significant positive difference in the enthusiasm and motivation of my students.”

“…(Cynthia) helped us all think about our curriculum in new ways, and she included opportunities for reflection, collaboration, and peer feedback to assist each of us in thinking about how to implement change in our curriculum. She also modeled for us the ways in which we could utilize technology in our own courses through her own instruction.”

“This is an excellent course that should be part of the required courses to be certified in Maine…”

“…I am very happy that I took this course. I would recommend this to my colleagues.”

So, that’s my call out! Please join me and/or refer colleagues. For more information and to register, visit the Web site of USM’s Professional Development Center http://usm.maine.edu/pdc/epc532.htm

At a standstill

To anyone who follows this blog, I apologize for my lack of activity. Perhaps you’ve noticed that Edublogs is now embedding advertisement links inside of the content of blog posts. Because I believe that this practice is a nuisance, I’ve been considering my options for continuing this blog. It greatly disappoints me to have to take this break as I take a great deal of pleasure in sharing updates on universal design and supporting technologies, as well as learning from others who graciously comment with their own insights and resources. I’m optimistic, however, that I’ll find a new home! I’ll keep you updated, and I’m sure that the MLTI will also be in communication.

If you have suggestions for alternatives, I greatly welcome those.

More later…

Concept Maps: Powerful & Accessible (and free!)

Many teachers and learners have discovered the benefits of creating and sharing concept maps, which are also referred to as visual maps, mind maps, and graphic organizers. While the name given to any of these may imply a specific purpose, they are characterized by nodes (concepts) and links (identifying the relationships between and among the concepts).

According to Joseph Novak, a pioneer and developer of concept mapping, purposes include to:

  • generate ideas (e.g., brainstorming)
  • design complex structures (e.g., Web sites, reports)
  • communicate complex ideas
  • integrate new and existing knowledge, thereby aiding learning
  • assess understanding/diagnose misunderstanding

Although concept maps have great value as “organizers,” I think one of their most powerful (and perhaps least utilized) contributions to teaching and learning lies in how they convey connections that exist within and among our content areas. And not facts, necessarily. Concept maps can serve as effective frameworks for supporting kids’ (and our own) construction of how the pieces of the world fit together, whether it be history or science, or math or music (or how history has impacted science or music impacts math). And concept maps aren’t static; they grow and evolve over time, a reflection of how dynamic learning is.

As an early adopter of Inspiration software, the value of simple and intuitive concept mapping isn’t lost on me. And, as technology costs go, Inspiration isn’t overly expensive. But we have to face the fact that any cost is prohibitive in the current climate of shrinking school budgets. So, if you and your students haven’t been mapping your minds freely online (literally and figuratively), it’s a good time to start!

Bubbl.us is a free Web-based concept mapping program. If you’re familiar with Inspiration, you may be disappointed in the lack of some features, such as a symbol library and a RapidFire tool, but it’s got function and ease of use, and did I mention that it’s free? Some innovative features include the ability to export your concept map as an outline in HTML, which can be opened and edited in a program such as TextEdit, which is in the Applications folder of your MLTI device. You can share your maps with other users, and even collaborate on a project online. I highly recommend that you learn more at the Web site of Tech-Bites, which hosts a tutorial page with both video and text.

Another option to consider is IHMC CmapTools. It’s a bit more sophisticated, but also research-based and documented. It was one of the first online tools that supported remote collaboration by users.

Here’s some more information and reasons to use concept maps for teaching and learning:

Introduction to Concept Mapping by Joseph Novak

Using Concept Mapping as an Assessment Method

The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them

Universal Design, Technology, and RtI

Last summer, I had the privilege of participating on a panel of national experts on universal design for learning (UDL) and the integration of technology in education. The occasion was the annual project directors’ meeting of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education. A theme of the 3-day meeting was promising models for implementing Response to Intervention (RtI) frameworks in our nation’s schools. On the particular panel that I served, our focus was how UDL and technology complement RtI, and, in fact, how they should be integrated into any school initiative to implement an RtI framework.

RtI originates in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 04), which is the reauthorization of the original IDEA (IDEA 97). Per IDEA 04, schools will “not be required to take into consideration whether a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability …” (Section 1414(b)). The “discrepancy” model is traditionally used to determine a student’s eligibility for special education services. While well-intentioned, one of the unintended consequences of this model is that a student must often fail before being provided with the accommodations or modifications needed to receive an equitable education. It’s a reactive approach.

RtI, on the other hand, is a proactive framework for providing interventions and supports, designed to prevent students from failing. Although written into special education law, RtI is an “all education” initiative. And, not unlike universal design, the implementation of a successful school RtI program will result in improved instruction for all students.

Although not prescribed, RtI is typically described as a framework of three tiers, with Tiers 2 and 3 designed to deliver increasingly strategic and intense interventions. Tier 1 is delivered in the general education classroom, which is why RtI is led by general educators. Tier 1 means “providing high quality instruction/intervention matched to student needs that has been demonstrated through scientific research and practice to produce high learning rates for most students” (NASDSE, 2008 – Blueprint Series). The RtI model works by ensuring that general education teachers have the skills and knowledge necessary to support the achievement of the widest possible number of learners. Once it is confirmed that a student is struggling for reasons beyond the quality of the curriculum, Tier 2 interventions to support that student are identified and implemented, followed by Tier 3 strategies, if necessary.

Aside from its systematic nature, the concept and approaches behind RtI are consistent with existing school initiatives, including differentiated instruction, data-driven instruction, formative assessment, best practices for integrating content and pedagogy, and student progress monitoring. Its intersection with UDL can’t be denied. Both are:

  • Led by general education
  • Research-based
  • Integrated across professional development priorities
  • Models of prevention and data-based decisionmaking
  • Models of continuous improvement for both teaching and learning
  • Designed to be flexible and fluid to support varied student readiness levels (e.g., moving among the tiers of instruction)

Technology is another critical partner of successful RtI implementation. With support from their local school districts and the MLTI, increasing numbers of Maine educators are learning how to use technology to more successfully meet the needs of diverse learners. Our teachers and students now have more tools and resources available than ever before, and many have witnessed firsthand how the use of teaching and learning technologies contributes to student motivation, individualized and learner-controlled instruction, positive attitudes, collaborative behavior, and active learning experiences. The more ways that students can independently access the curriculum, the more likely they are to be fully engaged and successful learners.

So, as your district and school implement an RtI framework, consider the intersection with universal design and technology.

To learn more about RtI:

Maine’s “parking lot” of links to policies, models, and resources

RTI Action Network

RTI: New Ways to Identify Specific Learning Disabilities

International Reading Association: Focus on RTI

Accessible Digital Math Textbooks

We’ve got Bookshare, APH, RFB&D, the NLS, and the NIMAC, not to mention tens more, to rely upon for accessible digital formats of lots of the instructional materials that we use in the classroom. A discipline that isn’t highly represented at these repositories, however, is mathematics (and in many cases, science).

Perhaps you have a “digital math book.” Examine it more closely and you’ll discover that, while it may be on a CD or on the Web, it’s not accessible. That is, words and equations can’t be read aloud while being highlighted. The equations that you see in the electronic book are most certainly images rather than accessible digital text. If the symbols and numbers are embedded in an image, a student can’t manipulate them.

Making math textbooks accessible is the next frontier for publishers to meet the needs and preferences of all students, including students with print disabilities. Research indicates that accessible math books make a difference in students’ abilities to understand complicated mathematics. So why aren’t publishers producing accessible math books? The standard used to create accessible digital math text is known as Mathematics Markup Language, or MathML. It’s not a particularly new language to mathematicians, but it and publishers are just getting acquainted. And, of course, the matter of copyright is of concern to publishers. The original Copyright Law was written in 1931 and a lot has changed, even since a relevant amendment in 1996 (the Chafee amendment). I don’t think e-books were on the horizon in the years just before my father was born.

Instinctively and experientially we know that giving students the option of having complicated equations read aloud can only support their emerging understanding of mathematical concepts. Add to that the independence and control with which students can adjust the rate of the speech, the voice character, the highlighting features, and the option to repeat the process as many times as necessary, and you’ve got a research study. Preliminary findings of a small pilot study by the University of Louisville indicate that accessible digital math textbooks can improve the algebra and pre-algebra skills of middle school students with print disabilities. The researchers have applied for additional funding to scale up the study.

The State of Special Education in U.S. High Schools

The Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center released a new report yesterday – Special Education in America: The state of students with disabilities in the nation’s high schools. In conjunction with its release, Education Week is hosting a monthlong series of online chats related to the findings of the report. The first in the series, The State of Special Education in the U.S., was held yesterday.

I wasn’t able to be present for the chat, but I did submit a question ahead of time. I checked out the transcript today and was delighted to discover that my question was addressed by one of the moderators, Patricia Guard, who is deputy director of the Office of Special Education Programs, the division of the U.S. Department of Education serving the needs of children and youth with disabilities. Here’s the exchange:

Question from Cynthia Curry, Technology Integration Mentor, Maine Learning Technology Initiative: What federally-supported strategies, policies, or resources are being implemented or considered to improve the skills and knowledge of general education teachers to meet the needs of students with diverse learning needs?
Patricia Guard:
This is a very important question. Over half (55%) of students with disabilities spend 80% or more of their school day in a regular classroom. Therefore, the knowledge and skills of both general and special education teachers are critically important to learning for these students. OSEP supports the improvement of the knowledge and skills of general education teachers to meet the needs of diverse learners in a number of ways, including training stipends, national centers and the development of state teacher licensure models for general and special educators. For example: • Nearly 1/4 (1,679) of all scholars (7,501) who entered OSEP-supported training grants in FY 2006 were from general education. These general educators were preparing to pursue a career in special education. • In 2001, the Council for Chief State School Officers’ OSEP-funded project, developed model state teacher licensure standards on what both general and special education teachers need to know and do to teach students with disabilities in their classroom. • OSEP support the IRIS Center, at http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/ , that provides free web-based training modules so that general education faculty and general educators, and others can learn evidence-based practices for teaching students with disabilities. • OSEP is co-funding the OESE-funded Comprehensive Center on Teacher Quality, which provides TA to State education agencies to support professional development for general education teachers to improve teacher quality for diverse learners in high needs schools. http://www.NCCTQ.org

I thought the reference to the IRIS Center’s trainings was particularly helpful. Here’s the schedule for the remaining chats (all at 3-4 pm):

11/10 Chat 2: Special Education and High School Reform

11/17 Chat 3: High School Completion and Transitions

11/24 Chat 4: Designing and Delivering High Quality Special Education

Atomic Learning Trial – thanks, ACTEM!

If you’ve got room for but one more thing between now and Thanksgiving, go to Atomic Learning and explore the Assistive Technology Tutorials…compliments of ACTEM. You can search the tutorials by “specialization” (hearing, learning, physical, speech, vision) and “category” (auditory word processors, communication devices, content authoring, educational software, keyboards, and software accessibility).

I’ve only had but a minute myself to preview what’s available, but I’ve got to say that the applications and devices will be of interest to everyone. In my short experimentation with selecting combos of specialization-category, here’s a few of the interesting apps and devices I stumbled upon:

Clicker, ImageBlender, MediaBlender, KidPix, Kidspiration, Inspiration, Boardmaker, IntelliTools, SMART Notebook, Writing with Symbols, WordQ, mimio, Kurzweil, Read & Write Gold, Google SketchUp, CoWriter SOLO, as well as DynaVox and Vmax communication devices.

The trial is available through November 27.

Username: maineactem

Password: atomic

Many thanks to Craig Dickinson, ACTEM Business Manager, for the alert.