Saturday, October 25, 2014

Toca Boo!

I'm taking a brief break here from talking about calming/regulating apps to discuss the power of a little scare. Toca Boca, a studio I have long been a fan of, just released Toca Boo ($2.99), a great app to grab and have some language-based fun this pre-Halloween week.

This highly interactive app allows you to play the role of a "ghost" and wander a darkened house scaring members of a family. Seems a strange concept, but it's loads of fun.

Have you ever played hiding games with kids who proceed to hide themselves or items in plain sight? This illuminates, pun intended in the context of this app, problems around perspective taking and "thinking with the eyes" (see the work of the folks at Social Thinking®). In Toca Boo, to achieve a maximum scare, the ghost needs to avoid the family members' flashlights and hide in hotspots (e.g. under the covers of the bed or in a box) or behind furniture. Watch the trailer below:

The process of coaching students to effectively scare the characters will give you the opportunity to model and elicit if/then and causal language, as well as target spatial and positional concepts, in addition to the social cognitive ideas mentioned above. The app provides a good context for building the category of rooms of a house as well.

Do use your judgment of the trailer to consider which of your students would like this app, and whether it might be too scary for some. I do think they go a little far in having you scare (and knock over) the comical older man with the cane. I admit I laughed at this, though (America's Funniest Home Videos being a guilty pleasure of mine)! Toca Boca as always does a good job of discussing the ideas around the app in the "For Parents" section of the app, but I'm a believer in a little scare, suspense or humor being a great context to get kids talking.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


October is tough for me. I live in the Northeast (in a location that is in a questionable time zone), and have a touch of seasonal affective disorder, so fall isn't the best time. Mums, hay bales, scarecrows, apples and pumpkins, while triggering joy for most in the area or those who travel here specifically to see those things, bring about the rather the opposite in me. I deal.

One of the strategies that has been of great use to me in recent years is incorporating mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques in my daily life. We all have the experience of encountering our email or a potentially stressful IEP meeting and being overcome by thoughts of RISK, rather than OPPORTUNITY. In my own life and work with clients, it has been helpful to channel my already brain-based inclinations and apply them to myself in simple ways. Though technology has been rightfully sited recently as a culprit in increasing anxiety and counteracting mindfulness, it can also give an assist by bringing us content that helps us work on being aware of our thoughts, relax and be more effective in our work. These tools can in turn provide a good context for "check-in" activities with clients and discussions of mindfulness that can be very language-based.

I have written about a variety of tools in this vein, but in this post I wanted to point out Calm. Navigate to and your browser turns into a serene scene with the option of simple timed or guided meditation. Even 2 minutes--which there is an option for--is helpful and is a good step for training your brain or just being calmer in the moment. Consider saving it to your bookmarks bar for a visual reminder to practice, putting your browser into full-screen mode and closing all tabs to eliminate any possible distractions for a few minutes.

Also check out the free Calm app for iOS, which offers a similar experience.

For another take on this practice, see SLP Kim Lewis' recent post at Activity Tailor. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Welcome to Social Studies: a "Sphere" of Language Development

As a companion to my column for the ASHA Leader App-Titude series, "Welcome to Science Class," this series explores how technology can serve as a context for teaching "language underpinnings" related to the social studies curriculum.

When using apps and contextual connections with students, we can follow a few principles:
-Think carefully about the "S"/"Speechie" in the FIVES Criteria- how can the app serve as a context to address specific language objectives relevant to the student or students? What structures will you add- visual supports such as graphic organizers, verbal supports such as questioning and scaffolding- to make sure this happens?
-Avoid becoming overwhelmed by the curriculum- take a few topic areas you have become familiar with and begin using them in even a broad sense with a grade or grades.
-When possible, find an app you can use in different ways over a span of years, keeping in mind how the objectives might change depending on the student, his or her grade, and level of development.

An app that can be integrated to exemplify some of these principles is Sphere (Free). Sphere brings you 360º views of landmarks and locations around the world, so you can bring students on "virtual field trips." The app uses the gyroscope and a form of augmented reality (layering digital info over our ordinary world) to respond to your movement of the iPad, so that your view of the location changes as you move around. Answers to common questions about this app: the view is not live, but a still 360º image, and if you walk forward it does not affect the view.

The best way to understand what I mean is to download this free app and give it a try. The app does require a sign-in; you can use a Google or Facebook account. This has the advantage of allowing you to tap the heart to "Favorite" 360º views and save them for use with students (hopefully year after year), itself a step to bring structure to your use of this app.

The 360º view of the Great Wall of China will change as you position the iPad in different directions or angles.
Sphere can be a resource for contextualized, specific therapy activities over several grade levels. Taking some curriculum progressions in Massachusetts, for instance:
At Grade 2, explore landmarks from various continents or use the China "Collection." Have students describe what they see in a location using conceptual words such as beside, above, under, right, left.
At Grade 3, explore locations from one's home state. Use a "5 Senses" based graphic organizer to have students generate sensory details they might experience if standing in that spot.
At Grade 4, view areas from regions of the United States. A more schematic graphic organizer can be used to incorporate more abstract language, e.g. comparisons to other settings. The Story Grammar Marker® Setting Map is a good example of this type of scaffold.

Along the way, you can be considering if the target activities are within the particular student's "zone," or if he/she/they need a simpler task within the context.

Thanks for coming along with me for this trip through some tools and contexts within social studies- I am going to say "goodbye" to the topic for now and will be saying "hello" to Nashville, Cincinnati and Halifax, Nova Scotia as I travel a lot in October. I'll check in when I can!

Disclosure: Author is a contractor with Mindwing Concepts, Inc.  for provision of blog content and professional development.