Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Google Earth and Cracking Curriculum Content

It's exciting to have the continued opportunity to contribute to the ASHA Leader for a few of their APP-titudes columns.  It's a different kind of writing, and I have to go back to stuff I did not learn when completing my journalism degree at BU, and that Magazine Journalism class I never took (I never really liked asking people, you know, questions), but it seems to come out ok after editorial assistance.

In my piece that just came out this week, I discuss apps that clinicians can use to facilitate the daunting process of making your therapy educationally relevant, meaning that the context mirrors or parallels what is going on in the classroom setting.  This is a huge passion of mine, though I feel I must clarify two possible misconceptions.  First of all, I am not talking about SLPs being tutors of classroom subjects.  Rather, the classroom content can be used as a context or target to target goals and strategies: e.g. categorization, description, use of graphic organizers, visualization, and so on. Secondly, although this topic is important, I realized as I saw my column in an issue filled with information about Common Core, it wasn't really about Common Core, as (for now) those standards are only in Language Arts and Math.  But the information I shared can be about Common Core, and I decided where possible that I would include a Common Core Connection in my posts to link resources shared here to relevant Common Core standards, as I know many public school SLPs are struggling to integrate those.

In my column, I wrote, "In addition to the built-in maps app, Google Earth, available for iOS, Android, and any desktop or laptop machine, provides an extraordinary view of any geographic region. Google Earth allows clinicians to target spatial concepts, descriptive language, categories, and reading comprehension, all by zooming in on locations and viewing photos in the Panoramio layer. The stunning interactive 3D imagery available on the desktop version will soon be available on mobile devices as well."

These columns are written somewhat ahead of time, and I wanted to let you know (and see) that the free Google Earth app NOW has 3D imagery for select cities (with more to come): Boston (yay), Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, Geneva, and Rome.

A 3D view of Boston you can interact with via touch.  The new Tour Guide feature makes Google Earth even more navigable with "playable" (and pausable) views of landmarks and key geographic features. Panoramio Photos provide you with countless visual stimuli to explore, describe and discuss with students.

The new version also comes with a super-handy tutorial that opens on launch (later it can be re-accessed anytime under the "wrench" icon) that can provide a nice lesson in following directions:

This visual/touch tutorial shows you how to navigate in Google Earth for iPad, and also gives you a good opportunity to target spatial concepts including cardinal directions. Again, bring it up anytime under the "wrench" icon.

I really hope you enjoy this great app.  The only caveats I can share are that the 3D imagery is not available on iPad 1, and that I sometimes get a message that "Google Earth is running low on memory" but the app continues to function.

Common Core Connection
This app can be used, with your verbal prompting and scaffolding, to target standards such as:
SL.3.3. Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.

Friday, August 24, 2012

iPad Essentials: Annotating PDFs on your iPad

In a recent post, I discussed the essentials of using iBooks as a tool for displaying (and saving) PDFs files you possess, download or create.  Thanks to Alex Dunn (@smartinclusion) for pointing out in a followup discussion on Twitter that interactive whiteboard lessons such as those displayed on a Smartboard can also easily be saved as PDFs and reviewed in that manner.  So think of that: If you have a teacher in your school whom you know uses his or her Smartboard well to conduct lessons, you can request the PDFs.  This would a) loop you in on the curriculum topics being covered and b) give you visuals you can review on your iPad with students in the process of teaching language strategies. Nice tip!

BUT, this is not all that PDFs can do for can also use FREE apps to write or draw on PDF worksheets, story maps, drawing prompts, etc, in the process "app-itizing" worksheets and upping your students' engagement.  How? OK, for the answer I am going to direct you over to the blog of Mindwing Concepts, creator of one of my FAVORITE ever language development tools, Story Grammar Marker.  I have been writing for their blog for some time and will be doing so in earnest this fall.  Here are some teaser images, click on any to go to the post, which will be useful even if you don't have any of their tools yet (as you can follow these steps with any PDF). But you should get some of their tools. :-)

A Story Map of Sorts Created with neu.Annotate+ PDF. When waiting for a plane, you can read, eat, play in the Kid Zone, or watch planes!

Note: Author has a contractual relationship with Mindwing Concepts, Inc, for consulting and provision of blog content.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back to School Meditation, iOS-style

Many of you have already begun your school year, I can see from my social media channels.  This is a time of excitement, but also of some anxiety! I myself have some transition nervousness as I have cut out the public school piece of my job(s) and will be working in private practice (also consulting to schools on students with social learning and language challenges), continuing my app work with Smarty Ears, and running workshops on tech integration!

This is a great time to think about keeping ourselves healthy in body and mind (and through the connections between them) as we begin a new year.  Over the years, I have dabbled in meditation informally through audio guides, etc, but I have been thinking I want to step it up and make it more of a regular habit.  I am impressed by recent news I have read on the benefits of meditation, and how it not only relaxes us, but can improve performance on cognitive tasks and actually change the structure of the brain.  SLPs have other reasons to be interested in meditation besides our need for stress relief. First of all, it often involves a focus on the breath that we should be particularly good at, being educated in the anatomy and physiology of speech production.  Additionally, I for one am fascinated by the overlap between Zen principles and those of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), with both espousing mindfulness, self-talk, and focus of thought on positive avenues.  These are tricks we can afford to learn a lot more about in order to coach our clients with anxiety and autism spectrum disorders.

Now to the iOS part. We are also hearing a lot about the negative influences of technology in terms of our always being "connected" and not really present in our daily lives and with people we should be attending to. I definitely struggle with this too. However, technology can be what we want it to be: an overwhelming presence, an assistant, or even absent. I do tend to consider apps as helping me solve problems these days, so I was happy when Lifehacker positively mentioned buddhify (iPhone/iPad, $2.99) and I wanted to share it with you. I naturally was thinking about meditation as being a small, new habit that would not require me to consult a professional or go to someplace with mats, and buddhify indeed lets you give this new practice a try from your device, on the go. Don't be scared by the title, the app does not aim to change your religion or anything.

Instead, buddhify is a kind, very mild and helpful way to explore meditation through short guided audio sessions and a simple interface that allows you to track your "practice."

First, you can pick your location. No, this is not to be done from your car as you don't want to get that relaxed or close your eyes, as is sometimes prompted, while driving. Different meditations are played for each location, and you can then choose what you would like to work on (stability, clarity, connection etc). In some cases, you are given a choice of short vs. longer meditations and even meditations for "one player" vs. "two player." I have been using the app for a few weeks and the sessions are of good quality (though not of unlimited variety, as they are meant to be repeated and practiced) and comparable to other audio products I spent more money to buy. I have definitely found myself feeling calm after a quick session, and skills you learn can transfer to other situations, such as that middle-of-the-night head-jog you'd rather avoid.  

The app has the additional benefit of allowing you to "check-in" and track how you are feeling, as well as keeping track of the regularity and continuity of your meditation through a "dashboard."

Buddhify is definitely worth checking out if you are interested in progressing through the new school year in a calmer, gentler fashion!

Author's note: Author is not actually a basket-case, as might appear from references to nervousness and head-jogs.

Friday, August 3, 2012

iPad Essentials- Displaying PDFs on iPad

In my last post, I talked about the potential benefits of using iBooks for displaying and interacting with ePub books in therapy.  iBooks is also useful as a collection spot for useful PDFs that you might want to display as visuals in a therapy session.

What is a PDF? A PDF is a Portable Document Format, and we have seen them more and more over the past few years.  People have various operating systems and productivity suites (e.g. MS Office, including Word, Power Point, etc, and iWork, including Keynote, Pages), so PDFs sent via email or downloaded from the web tend to solve a lot of compatibility problems so there are fewer "I can't open" incidents.  Pretty much everyone can open, view and print a PDF, regardless of what other programs you have on your computer. PCs benefit from installation of the free Adobe Reader program for reading PDFs, and Macs open them in the built-in Preview application.  PDFs are kind of like pictures of a document; you can't edit them unless they are interactive (like a form) or you use a special program or tools for annotating them.  That's the gist of PDFs on your computer.

PDFs seem to have a new life on iPad, however, because of the way they can be collected and displayed in eReading applications such as iBooks, and annotated (drawn or written on) in other apps, but again, more on that part in a later post.  For now, let's just look at the displaying PDFs part.

Once you have the free iBooks app installed on your iPad, it's very easy to save a PDF to the app.  Why would you want to do this?
-PDFs can help you form a bank of helpful visuals to display during therapy sessions, such as regularly used therapy schedules, strategy sheets, social stories, or other documents.
-Because they are saved in your iBooks, you will not have to scramble around your room to locate the visual or print it again.
-Though the PDF will not be at all interactive, I have found that the mere fact of displaying material on an iPad can engage students more than a paper version would.
-Commercial materials sometimes provide you with PDF files on CD which you can display to students using an iPad.

Let's take one of my favorite materials, Liz Delsandro's We Can Make it Better (buy it!) This past year I was working with a student and for various reasons had to keep my sessions with him, well, fluid.  Social problem solving and narrative were goals for us but I knew I wasn't always going to be able to get directly to those targets.  It helped to have materials from this book at the ready though, and so I added a bunch of the stories (from the accompanying CD of PDF files) to my iBooks.  How do you do this? Well, first of all you could use a file sharing app such as Dropbox, but it is also simple enough to just email them to your iPad:

1. Make sure you have an email account set up in the Mail app (not webmail).  Settings>Mail, Contacts Calendars lets you add email accounts.
2. Make sure you have the iBooks app installed.
3. From a computer, insert a CD or locate a PDF you would like to send to your iPad.  Attach it to an email and send to the email account you can access in the Mail app.
4. Check your email.  You should see it appear as an attachment.  It first will have a little down-arrow symbol which you should tap to download the attachment to the iPad (if it's a multipage PDF), after which your email will look like this:

Tap the PDF icon to open it.

5. Your PDF is now being viewed in the Mail app. Tap the little "Share" button in the upper right corner. If you have iBooks installed, "Open in iBooks" will be the option to tap. Note, if you have emailed a single-page PDF, often those are just displayed in the email window.  Tap and hold and you will see the menu you see above, and can open in iBooks.

Now your PDF is in iBooks and will be saved there.  Swipe to change pages.  Good idea to consider going into portrait orientation when viewing with a student, so that the PDF page takes up the whole screen.

Because PDFs are kept in the app, you might want to consider organizing them into collections. Tap Collections, then New.

Tap Edit when viewing any collection and you can select documents and move them to the appropriate collection. You can also delete them this way...

Saving PDFs to iBooks works a little differently when the PDF lives on the web as a link. Take this brochure for the upcoming ASHA Convention accessed from this page on the ASHA site. Try looking at it on your iPad.  Note that you'll know you are looking at a PDF when the web address ends with .pdf.  Tap the screen and this menu bar will appear (briefly, so tap again if you miss it!) that allows you to save that PDF to iBooks:

You may also be interested in transferring documents you have created for use with students to iBooks.  Here's how you save a document (from Word, PowerPoint, or pretty much anything) as a PDF on a Mac and on a PC.

Here's to portable data!