Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Vacation from School Schedule Only

cross posted at

Some of us are FREE from school schedules during June, July and August, in the northern hemisphere. But this same idea will work year round, whenever you are not tied to your school or work schedule.

All of us can participate in reviewing and commenting on the Common Core Science Standards, including Science and Engineering. Then if you are so inclined, you can be on the ground floor of developing classroom connections, classroom lessons,  connections to English and Math standards,  and finally, connections to the Social Studies standards as well.
Why is this important? Many of us have education happen to us or happen around us. However, at this time, we can be instrumental in the R&D, the research and development of how the  Common Core Science Standards, including Science and Engineering, will impact our schools, our students and our lives.

I love the opening paragraph in the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, Reports Brief.
Science, engineering, and technology permeate every aspect of modern life. Some knowledge of science and engineering is required to understand and participate in many major public policy issues of today, as well as to make informed everyday decisions, such as selecting among alternate medical treatments or determining whether to buy an energy-efficient furnace.

Just that paragraph alone should have everyone running to download the FREE pdf on their tablet, or laptop, or desktop. This should be required reading for all communities of learners because without knowledge we are powerless to make effective decisions in this changing society and information age.

The framework is the first step in a process to inform state level decisions for improving science teaching and learning across the country. As of July 2012, 45 states and 3 territories have formally adopted the Common Core State Standards. If you are interested in specifics about the Common Core check out their Frequently Asked Questions. This is a comprehensive list of the most important talking points which will be informing the next generation of informed citizens as well as talented scientists.

There are 3 dimensions involved in the Framework. Dimension 1: Scientific and Engineering Practices, Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts that have Common Application Across Fields and Dimension 3: Core Ideas in Four Disciplinary Areas. All of this can be accomplished by introducing our earliest readers to non-fiction and providing the building blocks of this Framework throughout their K-12 school experiences.

What pleases me the most is that “throughout grades K-12 students should have the opportunity to carry out scientific investigations and engineering design projects related to the disciplinary core ideas”. This means that our students will practice scientific problem solving throughout their school years and NOT just read about great scientific ideas and solutions. Every day I am a scientist. Every day I must solve a problem. Every day I must be creative and look for patterns in order to find a solution. No longer should our students be asked questions with one answer. Rather our students should be smart about problem solving, trial and error, data management and collaborating to find their solutions.

Check out the Framework, we should all be thinking like a scientist, everyday.

Common Core
Open College
A Framework for K-12 Science Education

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

To list or not to list? It’s Summer in the Northern Hemisphere!

To list or not to list? It’s Summer in the Northern Hemisphere!    by Cheryl Oakes

Each summer as we near our solstice and the end of our school year, as we call it a wrap, we also begin asking each other, our students, our families, just what we will all be doing during the precious weeks away from a schedule and school.

I always ask myself, do I make a list or go with the unlist? A very famous movie titled, the Bucket List which was diligently carried around the world, had  the actors check off their most amazing activities from their Bucket List (the things they wanted to accomplish before they ‘kicked the bucket’. I even found a website Bucket List, a social network, for just that “way to kickstart your life goals.” ( who knew?)  I confess, I am not that lofty and that I plan to begin with my summer activities.

In this day and age of unconferences, I am going to go with the unlist and share with you my top 5 activities I am looking to accomplish this summer. Why 5? I can keep track of them on one hand.

  • Cooking School- with my nephew
  • Use Catchup (  math as a student would, so I can be knowledgeable about the online program I am asking my students to use.
  • Create a way for my niece to “take a photography class”, 30 Days of Digital Do’s  with photography tasks for the young photographer. Join me for this activity.
  • Read a real book, read a book on my ipad,  read a book on my iphone and have a virtual book talk with friends.
  • Play outside every day with my puppy Seraphina and work in our  yard.

Why is this important to make an unlist? Even at an unconference there is a point in time where the participants list their interests or questions and begin sharing with others. My purpose is to challenge you (and myself)  and encourage you (and myself)  to reflect, and create your own vision,  then share your satisfactions later this summer as comments.

Happy Summer, Happy Unlist!

Thanks to Wes Fryer for this chance to guest blog. Although it was not on my unlist, it made my summer better!
cross posted at:
Speed of Creativity
Cheryl Oakes
Tech Learning

If you are really into photos try this Photo a Day
Catchup Math

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Places You'll Go

The Places You’ll Go!

In the land of special education once a student turns 14-16 a significant part of Individual Education Planning focuses on something called a transition plan, where the team including parents, students, teachers and others’  who work with the student help direct the student through a series of activities designed to end up with the student making a choice about what they may want to do post high school and beyond! 

While we used to believe that post secondary college options were not for our Intellectually Disabled, today we know differently, and now we move on to promote this to others. 

A paragraph from the Community for Inclusion lays the groundwork for this journey, “Of all students with disabilities, those with intellectual disabilities have the poorest post-school outcomes. Until recently, the option of attending college, especially the opportunity to participate in typical coursework, has not been available to high school students with intellectual disabilities. The usual options for these students, especially those past the age of 18, have been limited to segregated life skills or community-based transition programs. Inclusive PSE  (post secondary education) options are beginning to replace such programs and have great potential to improve student outcomes.“

If you are familiar with planning transitions it should be easy to add college to your list of options and turn them into activities for your students. If you are unfamiliar with college as an option for your students with intellectual disabilities please check out the information from  where you will be introduced to planning documents, webinars, research and journal articles. The best part of this informative website includes student videos about why they want to go to college. 

As an educator building transition plans for my students, I have a vision that all my students will take a college class at our local community college while they are still in high school, dual enrollment. What I have learned since becoming familiar with is that all of my students can continue with a customized college experience once they graduate from high school and are no longer considered as a dual enrollment student. Dual enrollment will help them get their foot in the door and a customized college program will keep them there. The benefits of our students with ID continuing in a college program include:  “... that students with intellectual disabilities who had some type of PSE experience were much more likely to obtain competitive employment, required fewer supports, and earned higher wages. Additionally, students had increased self-esteem and expanded social networks that included students without disabilities, and all involved had overall higher expectations for these students.”

Planning for our special education students will keep them on the road towards being a lifelong learner. It is exciting to be involved with new options for our students and their families.

For Families:
For Students:
For Professionals:
Includes articles, videos, and procedures ,past webinars
 cross posted

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Think college

College options for people with cognitive challenges.

Colleges can be inclusive as possible. It is simply the right thing to do!
Higher education opportunity act 2008 implemented 2010
Definition of a student with intellectual disability
Model demonstration
National coordination

Work study for student.
Think college for intellectual disability
WHO were covered with IDEA

Why is college important for ID?
26% more likely to leave with vocational
58% of students with disability had goal for college
11% of students with ID had a goal to attend college
Coordinating center at UMASS Boston
Check out office of special education programs previous directors who championed this.
Three kinds of programs STRIVE U is a segregated program
Pathway to college
Traditional - matriculated through a program
Non matriculated alternate - plan for the student with a job in mind
High Aspirations

Under higher Ed act authorized by financial aid meets the requirements- must work with financial aid office
Full access to course catalogue
Partial or limited access
No access all specially designed

Kinds of PSE experiences
Dual enrollment
Duly enrollment via a program on a college campus to serve ID/DD
Individuals accessing college options
TPPSID. Transition and post secondary for students with intellectual disabilities
Grant money
5 year cycle for funding
However use the lessons learned
Many TPPSID programs are serving autistic and asperger syndrome students

We can make a college experience available to more students

Give kids inclusive classrooms
Give them the technology

Unless kids have been exposed to algebra they may have a hard time with accuplacer test
73% of Maine students enrolling in community colleges are taking remedial classes in English and Math.
Madeleine Will quote

Interactives on for middle and high schoolers
Deb Gilmer Syntiro

Univ of Vermont
Many schools in MA

Discovery employment

.05% of people ever get off Social Security.
So , best to look at customized employment.
People are always hiring. Just need to convince you there is a person to fill your needs
Looking for a opportunity for a career or a job. Give our students a career not job.
Solve. One person one job. Wages at or above minimum wage.
Discover and describe a job. Find the unmet need at the job.
Employment specialist course is a 40 hour course anyone can take. One week in Augusta , 250.00. VA commonwealth offers it.
This economic potential is good for the community .
Do you know all the businesses on your main street? Make it your job to know
This is a 40 hour course. Meet the individual in their home. Where they are comfortable. See people doing certain tasks. Find the ideal conditions for
Really allows a student to follow
Their dreams and have a successful career.
Customized employment allows us to capitalize on strengths of individual
Everybody can work!
If a day
Program , day program, costs 22,,000 per year, let's
Half and invest in a career.

Employment for all

Customized employment. Streamed on website

Customized work for the person
Many self employed .
Discovery is the foundation for customized work. Where the person is considered not the disability
Process of discovery takes about 80 weeks to complete
People look less disabled when they are at work.
Discovery is not person centered planning
It is different.

Employment First

Integrated community- based employment as a priority for state funding. Same wage expectations for all. Dreams for your child. What are you doing to work towards your goal. Specific items to put on a checklist. (to check off at each IEP) There is a Maine transition network. Employment First across the country TN WA CA IN MN GA ND WI MI KS OH
What is happening in ME?
Alliance for full participation.
What is the progression what is our score , what is the plan, number of changes
Legislative and statutory change attitudes funding and how system responds and provides services.
Youth with disabilities leaving HS must have an opportunity and expectation and supports to enter the workforce
Adults too
Educators and parents must share the vision and gain the knowledge and skill necessary to realize the vision.
We have too many life skills isolated classes with the outcome is a job

What will it take to re- tool our services and plans?
Customized employment where individuals now are fully supported with income and insurance.
Educators need to understand the school to work transition intricacies.
Engage with schools so firmly making a plan for after school employment

APSE is a state organization for employment

We have talked transition for so long and we are still so bad with it, check out Florida

Idea, go to Chamber of Commerce to find out what jobs are not being filled

Ask your student, what do you want to be doing the year after you get out of HS? Make it part of the transition plan.

Teach self advocacy to students and parents.
Post school success!!!
Extent kids participate in gen Ed
After school activities, band, sports, drama,
After school and summer employment

Look at the place kids want to work with the kid,

Personal relationship with employers and student, ask student lots of questions.

Educators must not only have college night but must have transition to work meetings with VR and other agencies

Transition worksho Orono

Raising aspirations
How we did things years ago we grouped only our special education students and adults. Everything was compartmentalized and separate!!! Then started asking questions how to do this better!! Need to get individualized valued work for all. It is not just about a job it is about living. How do we build the necessary supports?
Provide for one person at a time. Very creative individual options. Gail Fanjoy , speaker, what are we waiting for? We still isolate people with public support dollars.
5 areas of accomplishment.
Community and what your community has to offer. Choice in everyday decisions. Competence the opportunity to be functional and valued. Connections to people without disabilities . Community participation. Community is relationships.
Transition planning is the bus. Be the driver.
Top 10 list
Make the VR Referral no wait list
Keep regular contact with case manager
Contact legislators to keep funding
Become familiar with low income housing in community
Brainstorm with friends and family about potential jobs
Create a circle of friends without disabilities
Encourage son or daughter to participate in home and community
Work on competences 2 lists. Write all the things parents do for or to the child. Then next list what they do for themselves and move things to the kids list
Become familiar with what is available for your child in the community your community is it personalized for your child
Get support for yourself, the parent.

Dream big!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Where did you learn to do that?

If you live in the US, you will understand the lonely repair man who sits in his office and waits for something to break, in order to keep him busy and provide value and purpose to his life. I have a theory about how he spends his time, but read on.
It used to be that when something broke with my home appliances, I would procrastinate, then finally call our local repair man, who would schedule a time, when I was home, to repair the broken item. I must still say, that I have a broken turn table on my microwave and a broken water flow on my refrigerator door that have not been addressed. However, for me, a simple project arose and I was determined to fix my dishwasher dish racks that had begun to rust and fall apart.

Two weeks ago, I found the model number on my dishwasher, used my google search, found an online appliance parts store. Now, the dishwasher parts were expensive, but still cheaper than a new dishwasher. When I looked at the dishwasher rack, I told myself that I could fix it!

Then part way down the page I found a video, titled, replacing your dishwasher racks, on youtube!  I wondered why a repair parts place would have a video for repair people to watch, didn’t they already know? I watched the video and thought to myself, I can fix this. So this video isn't for the lonely repairman but rather you and I.

I searched out two parts online stores, found a site that did not charge a shipping cost, and spent half of what the dishwasher would cost if we replaced it (minus labor and time for my husband to install the new dishwasher). The online parts store claimed the parts would ship out that day and I would be installing parts the next day. There was an online chat associate who helped me confirm the correct part number and rack and I ordered the two racks.

The next day there was a huge box in the garage and I looked at it. I considered opening the box, but decided to wait for the weekend.

Two days later, I loaded the youtube video, opened the box and uninstalled the old racks, carefully watching the process so I could attempt to reverse it. Then I watched the youtube videos, several times. All I needed was a screwdriver and kitchen table knife. I went to work. Finally with enough bravado I got my screwdriver, YouTube video and I went to work.  It was easy enough to take the racks out. Then I began with the video, again. When I was sure I understood the process I began the repair. The old, rusty,  top rack came out easily and I unpacked the new rack, slid it onto the roller and secured it into place. Next came the bottom rack. I needed to take out the spray arm first, then I was able to,slide the old rack out, replace the new rack, and before I installed the final clip to the roller,  I needed to go back to the video one more time! After one more viewing I was ready to  finish this project. I was happy.

 My husband was happy he did not need to figure this out, and we have a pretty, updated, working dishwasher. When I shared this with my teaching partner she said she used YouTube when she needed to learn how to put air in the tires on her car. Where else would you learn how to change a battery on your ipod? Another friend learned how to take care of a wild rat, as well as  how to plant azaleas, and yet another friend learned how to clean a slow draining sink and at the same time she learned to sing in the shower the proper way! Yet another friend learned how to make a ninja mask from a tee-shirt. I could go on and on. Lastly, a friend checked out how to make 3D books with her students on YouTube.  Now that is what I am talking about!  It is like having that lonely repairman in your back pocket! (Maybe he spends his time on youtube looking for something else to do?)

So, why are we still turning off YouTube in our classrooms? Check it out,

 coakes picture

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What is your role in the IEP process with identified students?

attributed to
The first step to take in understanding your role in the IEP process with your identified students is to begin with “I” statements! How easy is that? Well, actually, it is the most difficult step to take. By virtue of IDEA 2004 always being referred to as Special Education Services, many of us  take a step back and say “those students” or “your students”, when actually it should be my “my students” or “our students”. While in middle and high school most of us would not presume to tackle a specialized math curriculum,  a specialized science curriculum or physical education program. We all have knowledge about math, science and being physically active, but we would not presume to take over the instruction for those subjects because we are not highly qualified. However, this is the opposite of the model for including identified students who receive special education services into all classrooms.

It used to be that mainstreaming identified students into all classes within a school assumed that the special education teacher remained primarily responsible for the education of “those students”. However, “Inclusion is the more popular educational term referring to the move to educate all children, to the greatest possible extent, together in a regular classroom setting. ….Therefore, skills in curriculum-based assessment, team teaching, mastery learning, assessing learning styles (and modifying instruction to adapt to students' learning styles), other individualized and adaptive learning approaches, cooperative learning strategies, facilitating peer tutoring and "peer buddies," or social skills training are important for teachers to develop and use in inclusive classrooms. Soffer (1994) emphasizes that these are not just good special education practices, but are good practices for all teachers.” With this shift in education communities you will find, “It simply means that the ultimate responsibility for the education of all students in a classroom resides with the classroom teacher in charge....This does not, however, mean that special educators have no direct involvement in the education of these students.” Inclusion: pros and cons

With all this information, how does your role in the IEP process change? Best practices in classrooms today include all learners. One model for this is Universal Design for Learning.Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.” For educators looking to offer more inclusive classrooms and facilitate the learning process for all,  you may want to check out the examples and resources made available by CAST , the Center for Applied Special Technology at this UDL examples site. This is not a program but rather a change in your way of instructing and facilitating learning for all in your classroom.
An example that we can all benefit from is called Minimizing Threat and Distractions , think ADHD students and others. On this webpage alone you can find a free online reading practice activity, which simulates how to read better in spite of distractions on the page, or a blog post which focuses on classroom distractions and ways to minimize them. While you may have a student in mind as you make changes in your classroom, most likely the changes will benefit many! Your classroom will become a more inclusive and welcoming environment.
Our role in the IEP process has changed significantly. We, all educators, are responsible for providing a classroom environment that is effective and welcoming to all students. The ways we can do this are promoted on the CAST and UDL websites. Focus on one area of your  classroom  or instructional practice to begin with. Look at the results for you and your students as this one change becomes part of your daily routine and culture. Then add one more change to another area of your classroom or instructional practice. Soon you will have designed or redesigned your inclusive classroom not just for “my special education students”, but for all our students.

cross-posted at

Inclusion: the pros and cons
What is Universal Design for Learning?
Universal Design for Learning Examples

CAST- home page for the Center for Applied Special Techology
Minimizing Threats and Distractions- part of the UDL examples site
Readability - an app which removes distractions from webpages, works on Firefox

Thursday, March 29, 2012

You just never know.....

During 2011,  I wrote specific blog posts about special ed students using online and google tools and being successful with their school assignments,  especially with research and google docs. This success with their assignments led to significant gains in the students’ weekly and trimester grades.

Many people read the blog posts. Someone  at google read the posts and liked the information.

That someone called, “Would you mind if a video was made to tell the story?” I replied, “Yeah sure, that would be okay.” Being a New Englander, I must say, I was skeptical to say the least.

I never imagined the idea would go through all the levels of permissions  I assumed would be necessary at Google, or at my school and with our students.

It did. The idea became a reality.

A couple producers and film crew came to our school, for a week.  They saw, they participated, they filmed. They put together an amazing visual story, and now we in turn are amazed at our story.

It takes a village, and our ‘village’ is getting smaller all the time. It takes all of us to tell the story, and now that the story is out, we welcome the transparency, we welcome the questions and we will help with continuing the learning for all. We are very humbled by this opportunity and want to emphasize that you just never know.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Assistive Technology Conference- ATIA Orlando 2012

Each year for the past 4 years, I have attended the ATIA conference in Orlando, FL. ATIA stands for Assistive Technology Industry Association. I think one of the best ways to get to a conference, is to present at a conference. Share your knowledge, share with others, learn with others and once you leave the conference, share again. Here is my bit of sharing from the great speakers I had the opportunity to listen to, some great apps, and the encouragement I gained from being with others in this field of special education.
I was fortunate to hear several speakers who spoke about the necessity of various organizations to work together and collaborate on transition plans that all our special education students must have by age 14. Transition plans are designed to take the student from the supportive environment of the K-12 school systems to the post-secondary life of a young adult. One take away from those speakers, teach our students well, and teach them how to use their assistive technology while in school, because once they leave they will probably not have as much support to program, care for, find batteries for, or add to the customized contact list and customized learning that will enhance their future!
 One of the most exciting sessions I attended was call the App Smackdown, apps for the ipad/ipod/iphone. How exciting to be in a room of 300 assistive technology users to hear their stories about various apps and share the best of the best, or at least the best of January 2012! You can check out the apps which were promoted by various assistive technology users by checking out this page and the various links.
I would be remiss if I did not have a little selfless promotion and mention the whole reason I attended the ATIA Orlando 2012 conference, which was to present again with my colleague, Beth Goodwin, about how and why to create a digital toolkit,titled Empowering Students with a Customized Digital Toolkit for Writing. Check out our agenda and links! If you are looking to attend one of the best technology conferences check out ATIA Chicago or ATIA Orlando. Even better, submit a proposal and begin your journey of sharing, collaborating and learning with some of the best technology users around.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Roadmap or Round Robin Hood's Barn

Roadmap or Round Robin Hood's Barn

So, do you think you want an ipad roadmap or do you want to go round Robin Hood's barn?
We know ipads are important to education, but right now we don’t know how important. There are many educators, parents and students who will agree and as many who will dispute this. The fact remains the ipad allows for instant differentiation in a classroom. This one tool allows for incredible differentiation without too much of a learning curve for student and educator alike.

When I bring the ipad into a class, all the students take notice. First they begin thinking, next they ask questions, “Is that yours?” “Does it belong to our school?” “Why do you have this?” “Do you have Angry Birds?” “Can I use it?” Each student and adult will have their own agenda of questions and their own ideas for use. That is the point! The ipad allows for purposeful differentiation.

However, at my school, I think we have skipped a step with our students. Without defining the specific use for the ipad, and leaving it open ended, we left a doorway open. Of course the students had their own uses for the ipad figured out long  before the adults. We never discussed the purposeful use of the ipad in school. It is not too late, but the time has come.

How did I come to this realization? When I went to upload some audio books for our students, I noticed that I had run out of room on the ipad. A yellow caution triangle appeared as an indicator that the space on the ipad was filled! How was this possible? Well, our students are savvy, and they have logged into the ipad and downloaded games using their itunes accounts. Yes, we left the ipads “open”, we chose not to lock things down. It is easy enough to restore an ipad to the original software, and then re-install the chosen classroom applications.

So, now we will implement the roadmap of acceptable use with our ipads. This is similar to the roadmap of acceptable use we have modeled for computer and laptop use. But to our students the ipad is ‘different’ enough that they did not internalize the same kinds of explicit parameters for acceptable use that we expect with our school computers and devices. We  will now be purposeful and explicit about the ipad use.

So, do you need a roadmap or can you travel round Robin Hood’s barn to get to a happy medium of ipad acceptable use in your classroom? A little bit of both! Since the ipad is so new and the availability of apps changes every day we need a little bit of traveling the circuitous route in determining  uses of the ipads in our classes. However, the roadmap that we can put in place should be purposeful and explicit so all adults and students know the classroom rules and expectations for the ipad.

Here are some apps of purposeful and explicit expectations for a high school special education resource room:
Easybib- a tool for collecting bibliographic information when researching
Evernote- a tool for storing the information you collect when doing research
Dragon Dictate- a speech to text tool where one can speak about 30-40 words and then email the written text to themselves
Audio Notes- a tool for recording information which can then be emailed
Animoto- a tool for making short photo movies about a topic
Kindle- the Kindle app for collecting your books
Dictionary- Oh yeah!
Quizlet- compatible with Flashcards apps
Whiteboard- a tool for drawing and recording
SAT prep
Google Earth

Watch for other ipad posts coming soon. Let me know your favorite apps for the ipad!