Thursday, October 22, 2020

Google Earth's Spooky Spots Quiz

You know I am a Google Earth Geek. Always have been, but in this time it is nice to be able to use the context of "going someplace" to engage my students. Google Earth's quizzes (find in the Explorer captain wheel tab) provide very structured experiences with the interactive globe, posing questions, providing images that prompt observation and discussion, and popping you into an interactive window to "look around." With Halloween coming, you can use the Spooky Spots quiz through nine multiple choice questions (it doesn't matter if you or your students know the answers) bringing you to spots around the globe. The content is free of violence but mentions "The Shining" and "Rosemary's Baby" so probably best for 5th grade or above. As each question is posed, unlabeled placemarks would allow you to ask students to observe potential locations (e.g. "that one looks like its Colorado."). Once answered, you can use the interactive window on the left to navigate the space (oooh an abandoned amusement park near Chernobyl) and work on description and conversation. You may be interested in asking group members to get more information on one of the topics and report back to the group (Wikipedia is fine for general knowledge!). 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Genius and the metalinguistics of popular songs

Genius is a great website for looking more deeply at any song, and most you can think of are covered on the website. Just locate the song, and highlighted sections of it are annotated in the right sidebar. Songs are motivating "texts" (provided you find ones appropriate enough AND motivating) for higher-level language skills (e.g. identifying sentence structures, vocabulary, figurative language, multiple meaning, and narrative, particularly for older students).

I thought to feature Genius because, anecdotally, I do some consulting for a suburban high school (currently remotely AND in person, Thank God I get to leave my house sometimes) and a particular student who wants nothing to do with me nonetheless needs a consult. I heard that his small ELA class is tackling Hamilton, so I insinuated myself into this situation and offered his teacher some content in Google Slides. I was thinking of facial expression work from the Disney+ recording, but ended up starting to package this more as metalinguistic discussions (he needs that)! I first discovered Genius because of its Hamilton lyrics analysis, so I also talked to his teacher, who was thankfully very open, about the site. Yay for language underpinnings! You can view what I came up with so far below or here. As always, please don't request permission for this Google Apps item; if you want to save or edit it, File>Make a Copy.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Therapeutic Gaming Can Be Messy...

 ...and that's ok. Particularly in social intervention contexts, it's important to facilitate natural situations. That includes trying and failing with games- either because the group doesn't like the game and wants to try something else, the game itself sucks, or for other reasons. Isn't that what friends do when they get together-- evolve "group plans" and move on when something doesn't work for the group (see Social Thinking® Group Plan concept)? I like to use games within intervention sessions as a seeming reward near the end, but in themselves they have working teachable moments and lots of opportunities for my students to practice self-regulating. In teletherapy, with or without cursor control (have the students tell you what to click on), you can try a flash game like this (seasonal!) corn maze. Flash games come in a wide range of quality but this one is not bad at all!

While accepting that games like this might not go perfectly in a group, we can prepare to facilitate success. Notice that button that says "walkthrough?" In this case it leads to a video that shows you a sped-up view of game moves. For most other games, you can find a walkthrough with a Google. This arms you with information so you can provide cues like "Oh, what do you think that quarter will be for? What might you buy in a corn maze? Oh, nice smart guess!"

Friday, October 2, 2020

Full Moon

October has two full moons, including the current one! Full Moon is a good example of the kind of game adaptable to therapy given a task analysis.

In this game you navigate a bunny through various levels to get what he wants. In the above level, to get the apple, you have to infer that you need to click on the light bulbs, discover that the middle one turns all the bulbs off, illuminate the apple (in the right tree) and click the apple to drop it to the bunny.

This game prompts:

-use of remote cursor control, or perhaps not (might be better if students have to tell you what to do)

-spacial concepts

-cause and effect reasoning

-observation, collaborating and conversation

It is untimed so you can move at any pace you wish. Plus it has thought balloons which I love in any context as a social cognitive symbol! Here's a walkthrough (always useful if you are going to use games in therapy).

Friday, September 25, 2020

Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards Website

The 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards finalists were announced recently, a development I saw on the news (you never know where you will get therapy ideas). Based on the BBC story about the awards, I found 4 or 5 photos that made for great therapy activities. For example, I used this one...

via BBC

...with a high school group in Google Slides as a way to review the concept of thinking with the eyes (Social Thinking®) but also as a review of Zones of Regulation®, starting with the Blue Zone (well, going whole-part-whole as is often recommended for teaching schemes like this). Interestingly, the order of details written here is in order of how the group members processed the picture. Again, this serves as a reminder that Google Slides makes a damn good therapy tool as a multimedia flipchart. 

Following this, I discovered that the Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards website itself is a goldmine, containing past winners and years of finalists. As you likely know a right click on any image gets you a fair-use-copyable for educational activities, but don't republish any images, especially not for commercial use. Be aware also that you will want to screenshot or save images rather than free-exploring the site itself with students. Wildlife occasionally flips the bird or engages in other inappropriate behavior.

Friday, September 18, 2020


 Sharing simple visual materials in teletherapy serves a number of purposes:

-Providing a context for conversation building

-Building descriptive skills

-Practicing observational skills necessary for situational awareness and social functioning

-Tying in with curriculum (in this case, geography)

WindowSwap is a website I stumbled across because a friend shared it on Facebook. It's very "of the now" and the idea that it is safer to be at home, and provides glimpses of shared windows by people around the world. The entries are dynamic videos and very engaging, also somewhat relaxing for self-regulation purposes. Simply share your screen and help the conversation flow within a group. I also used the tactic of placing a shrunken new browser window over the geographic location so that students needed to make "smart guesses" about the location of the window. Sound is also optional so students can track environmental sounds.

Friday, September 11, 2020

A Dark Room

A Dark Room is a simple click-to-play game that I have found to be a great social language context for a number of my groups, at different age levels. It starts with just having options to stoke a fire in a cabin, then other characters and village-building opportunities arise. The gameplay unfolds just by text on screen following your choices, so it's a good opportunity for following a narrative, "thinking with the eyes," visualizing, and having group members take turns and add thoughts. It is also one of those games, like Little Alchemy, that engages students even if you don't/can't give cursor control in a teletherapy situation. 

The plotline of the game (I haven't gotten that far with groups) is a bit dark, which makes it suitable more for middle school/high school than elementary. If you would like to play A Dark Room with multiple groups, it remembers your progress in browser, so I am using Safari with one group and Chrome with another.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

A Mental Health Moment for Me (and Apple Watch)

I tried to take most of August to chill and recharge. Life didn't totally let me have that, but whattayagonnado, we're all dealing. I got to the Cape (my own state) and with a COVID test satisfied Maine's requirements to venture there. The test was not relaxing, but Maine was. I hiked the Beehive at Acadia, something I said I'd never do due to a rather debilitating fear of heights, not a great thing for a hiker to have. Good growth mindset lesson I shared with all my students, though!

Somewhere in between those I cashed in a bunch of Bitcoin that had been languishing, going up and down. It was close to my original investment and I was sick of looking at it, and thought it would justify my splurging on an Apple Watch.

I had avoided buying an Apple Watch, mostly due to thinking it was going to be all about Notifications. I dislike Notifications; they are the enemy of mindfulness. But a few friends and some research convinced me (an Apple Guy at heart, anyway) that it was helpful for exercise motivation and tracking and that it might help with mindfulness and stress reduction "during this difficult time" (sigh).

Exercise has truly kept me sane since March. But the Apple Watch is providing even more motivation. I added a friend who shares his workout activity and I enjoy comparing (competing). I kept social media notifications shut off on the iPhone and those mirror on the watch, so the only extra pings I get are those reminding me to be active, which is helpful.

Apple Watch kind of gameifies activity with the use of rings. 

My Rings now...

Red is Move, based on a calorie target you set, Green is Exercise, based on being in your target heart rate (measured by the Watch) for 30 min daily, and Blue is Stand, standing for a minute or two 12 hrs of the day. I am annoyed by the tyranny of Stand, and it's causing me to put my laptop on a shoebox during telepractice sessions. But the others I am getting used to, and I know now what kind of workouts fill the ring, etc. And for me, a workout always fills my brain with good chemicals and makes me feel calm.

I'll let you know about some other good apps for self-regulation (like Breathe) the next time, but let me know in the comments if you have faves. Talk to you after Labor Day, I'm squeezing some more summer next week (after therapy sessions and an all-day presentation). I hope all are doing well and weathering the uncertainties of opening school so far. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

"Personality Quiz" Activities

National Geographic Kids has a great page of personality quizzes i.e. what ____ are you? (ice cream flavor, planet, dinosaur). Each has just a few questions and provides an opportunity for expressing opinions, describing oneself, thinking figuratively, interpreting photo scenes, and developing vocabulary. 

Great for group work! I'll be adding National Geographic Kids to the Teletherapy Resource List. Thank you to my colleague Danielle Stalen for this cool idea.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Another example of pairing picture books and apps in teletherapy

I have previously mentioned I am a big fan of the Scaredy Squirrel (Melanie Watt) series that is helpfully available on EPIC! Books. Over a number of weeks I had my students in one group come to a decision on the order of reviewing and discussing the books in the series, which was good practice in expressing opinions and compromise. They find the books hilarious, so they are motivating (see the above link for some social cognitive analysis as well). I wanted to share a post-activity we conducted with the original book. Hoggan and Strong describe how narrative teaching activities can include "art" activities, which was what this was in essence. 

In the book, Squirrel is described as having constructed an emergency kit for all the unlikely things he is afraid of. So, as a group we created and shared emergency kits.

Here are the steps I followed:
1. Create a Google Slides presentation (and blank slide)

2. Use Insert>Image>Search the web to locate a "bag" for the kit, position and enlarge on slide.

3. Duplicate that slide for all in group (secondary click/right click on slide and select Duplicate). I put a text initial on each slide for each group member. Also click Share and make the presentation editable for anyone with the link.

4. Create a model (always), with same steps but using PNG in the search term which gives you transparent images (will look like they are over the bag, but this step is not necessary).

5. Present the activity and model and strong causals: I need iced coffee in the kit because I get Blue Zone in the afternoon. Also model how to insert an image or PNG (This provides good opportunity for following directions)

6. Copy the link and provide to group members in chat for the session (Zoom or Meet). Again, following directions. 

Here was one of the students' productions:

7. Have all work independently while chatting and then share. This is a good opportunity to use a clock, Sarah Ward/Kristen Jacobsen style, for time management.

Overall the activity provides great self-description opportunities, building of "people files" (Social Thinking®) and conversation.