Thursday, March 22, 2018

Scratch's updated Getting Started page and Coding as a Language Activity

As I have mentioned here and here, coding is a naturalistic language activity in which we can engage students to build a number of skills: following directions, collaborating with peers, and expository language. This can extend to using if/then sentence constructions or explaining how they constructed a program. These activities need not take any programming expertise on your part, or extended amounts of activity time; simple, discrete activities can be conducted using the web-based (Flash in fact, so you'll need your laptop or a Chromebook) Scratch and their Getting Started page. Call it building "games" and your students will be hooked.

To get started with Scratch, you'll want to sign up for a free account. The Getting Started page has selected activities, but I would recommend downloading the entire set of "cards" and printing them on a color printer (you can also buy the whole set for $18.50)- the colors are helpful for students to find. You can also download the card set, send it to your iPad and have the visual be displayed from iBooks as the students use a laptop or Chromebook.

Here's a simple sample activity. You can't imagine the joy I saw on two 2nd graders' faces as they were successful in creating a program where you click a trackpad and a letter changes color:

In the process, they needed to practice: 
-stating the "big picture" of the activity (using when or if/then)
-following written directions
-"thinking with their eyes"
-navigating categories (of scripts- Events and Looks)

Friday, March 9, 2018

Book Creator as a consult and individual therapy tool

In my last post, I described the newly available Book Creator for Chrome. Now in Chrome or via the iPad app, you can consider one of my favorite uses for Book Creator- "journaling" with students. In my various modes of service delivery, including school-based consultation and some individual therapy sessions with students I also see in group, I have turned to Book Creator because it:

-is an engaging way to provide visual support for social-cognitive, language organization and executive function methodologies and concepts.
-can I say engaging again? My students love the opportunity to co-create journal pages and add to sketches or other visuals.
-reminds me and students of what we talked about the last meeting, and results in kind of a cumulative toolkit.
-results are sharable- screenshot any page or export or share the link to the whole book.

You can start by having your student design his own "front page" (I usually leave out names):

Book Creator is a great place to sketch out and modify methodologies such as the Zones of Regulation (created here with emojis in an interactive discussion with a student):

It's an easy place to create Incredible Five Point Scales due to the space and availability of colors:

Create story maps and problem solve (icons from Story Grammar Marker®) walking through the steps of making a goal and action plan.

Expand students' thinking about situations and relationships (or non-relationships) with peers. In this case we were discussing patterns of behavior that the student should recognize and decide to avoid a peer.

Create Comic Strip Conversations to provide visual support during a review of a situation. In this case we incorporated the Superflex 5-Step Power Plan in our discussion accompanying the visual.

I'd love to hear if you are using Book Creator in this way, along with some of your "tricks!"

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Book Creator in Chrome

I've long sung the praises of the Book Creator app. It's definitely the best way to create an e-book due to it's elegant simplicity, ability to add any kind of content (text, photos, drawings, audio, video) and share in both PDF and ePub format. In our work, creating books can be used for narrative and expository language development, social cognitive strategies, metacognitive language strategies, speech practice, repetitive line books to develop microstructure, and so much more.

I recently had the opportunity to get to know Book Creator in Chrome (so, usable on Chromebooks or in any device running the Chrome browser (on iPad, still use the terrific app). It's a lovely port and works exactly the same as the app. One improvement, in the Chrome version you can search for images on Google, which is handy for quick co-creations with students. Sign up as a teacher and you can create 40 books for free (this account also allows you to delete books in your library). Learn about Book Creator here and sign up for your account here. If you are in a Google Apps (G-Suite) environment you can create books FOR your students and have them join your library (where they can read or create).

In my next post I'll talk about one of my favorite recent uses of Book Creator. Check out this great resource giving 50 ways to use Book Creator.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Considering Games with the FIVES Criteria

When considering whether a game-based or "game-like" app is useful for an intervention context, I've found that a number of characteristics or features related to the FIVES criteria can be considered. I actually was looking for a game-based app related to the Winter Olympics but came up short...until Fiete emailed me this morning with an announcement about Fiete Wintersports (I had already been a fan of their Summer Olympics app and was looking to see if they had a winter one). This app provides a good example of some aspects of FIVES that make it very worthwhile:

F- Fairly Priced?
The app is free to download and provides you with two sports- skiing and bobsled. 14 in total can be unlocked with one in-app purchase of $2.99. To me, fair, given the below.

With games, you want interactivity to be within limits. Fiete Sports has a timed aspect but you can't time out, and no matter what, you get a medal. There is no way to stall or go off-course with any of the sports. Each sport shows you how to interact with the screen VERY SIMPLY (e.g. tap quickly, tap and drag) as the sport launches. The activities are very short, promoting the possibility of children in a group having many turns, or you can divide the play of one event among several students.

Each sport gives you a visual sense of how it works- much of which would be new to young learners and build semantic knowledge. The visuals would promote verbal expression as students could be asked to describe how the event works, perhaps using a frame like Ward/Jacobsen's STOP- Space, Time, Objects, People. I found that using the app while mirroring to an Apple TV in my clinical setting kept all engaged with the visual, and commenting on the event.

E-Educationally Relevant?
An app about the Olympics relates to current events, social studies and geography. Though the app provides limited verbal information about the events or Olympics in general, it provides a post-activity to reviewing picture books or other texts about the Olympics, focusing on vocabulary, figurative language (see my book collection at EPIC Books for Kids, the "Winter Olympic Sports" series has some nice slang), or look up the Olympics on Newsela.

The app itself targets no clinical objectives- but the language you can elicit around it within your activities would elicit cause-effect statements of why the event went as it did, categorizations of sports (winter vs summer, individual vs. team, ones played on flat surfaces vs. hills), and any activities done around text as mentioned above. Pair with a YouTube video about sportsmanship and you can do some narrative language, observational and social cognitive work. As mentioned in my previous post, explore how to re-create events in "real life" play and target the group planning aspects of this!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Free interactive book Dino Olympics

The Olympics start this week! The associated topics of sports and geography are great ways to engage students around language objectives. I discovered the free book for iPad Dino Olympics, created by the makers of Puppet Pals. The app is an interactive exploration of different dinosaurs' strengths and weaknesses when competing in Olympic events; it has delightfully silly animations that are extended and further contextualized when students tap on the screen.

In terms of language development, the book is a context for targeting:
-categorization (winter vs. summer events or ones which are easy/hard for the dinosaurs)
-connecting to the concept of multiple intelligences (in Social Thinking® parlance, different kinds of smarts, though it is the dinos' bodies, not their brains, that impact upon their success)
-labeling actions and using causals, "thinking with your eyes"- e.g. observing that Apatosaurus is not good at luge because his long body makes him bounce off the curves of the track.
-I also used this book with a post-activity of creating a "luge course"- a gym scooter on the floor makes a good simulation of this and planning obstacles for the course via sketching a "future picture" is an executive function activity (see the work of Sarah Ward and Kristin Jacobsen).

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Cat in Therapy

Some years ago at the ASHA Convention, I saw in the program a poster entitled "A Cat In Therapy: Cute, but Effective?" I thought this title intriguing and at the same time, funny, and I was sad to have not been able to locate the poster. Fiete Cats AR ($1.99) gives you the opportunity to test this proposition out. AR--Augmented Reality-- is technology that overlays digital content over our world, often through the camera. In this case, the app makes a cat appear in any room, including your treatment space, and offers a number of interactions:

-Name up to 3 cats
-Observe the cat's needs (think with your eyes)
-Pet and play with the cat
-Feed it when it gets dirty (from playing in paint)
-Provide him food and drink when hungry/thirsty
-Put him to bed
-Record your interactions to make a short movie (saves to Photos app)

My kitty using his litter box ON MY RUG! Oh, NO!

Effective? Well, for sure the app is engaging, and provides a context for social observation, labeling actions, and using cause-effect and conditional structures.

This app is also a great pairing with picture books (narrative or expository) about cats. Consider making your own "picture book" with Book Creator, which would allow you to import screenshots or the videos recorded within the app. Students can write about their interactions with the cat, a context for any number of objectives.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

3 Ways to Motivate and add Narrative Complexity to Writing through Emoji

When targeting narrative language, one objective is to move students toward more complexity and elaboration with inclusion of elements such as character response (feelings) and plans. Additionally this can facilitate the microstructure within narratives including complex sentences (e.g. The Patriots turned the game around so we were excited but not surprised). This corresponds with movement toward a "landscape of consciousness" (Bruner, 1986) in mature narrative, describing mental states and emotions, as opposed to merely relating action.

Emoji are fun, and incorporate one way students currently communicate- through texts, Instagram posts and even Venmo cash transfers, noted to be a place where people mark the rationale for the money with emoji. However, they can also serve as a visual support and scaffold for including the story grammar element of character response to events when students are writing personal or summary narratives. Here are 3 easy ways to include emoji- see also my previous post for Mindwing Concepts about this topic.

On iPad through Predictive Text
Predictive Text, when turned on (Settings>General>Keyboard>toggle on "Predictive") provides blocks of predicted text above the keyboard as you type. This is one example of how features previously only available as "assistive technology" have turned out to be incorporated in operating systems to benefit everyone. As you type a word for which an emoji is available, it will trigger an emoji suggestion in the Predictive. You can choose to replace the word with the emoji, rebus-style, or type the word and then type it again and replace with emoji. This also can save time versus having students scroll through pages of emoji within the keyboard.

Equip your Mac or Chromebook with Emoji
If you have a Mac, the Mac App Store has a free app called Emoji Lite. You can search and copy any symbol into a word processing, presentation or other document. As we do lots of typing into a web browser, you can also add the Emoji Keyboard by EmojiOne™ to your Chrome Browser (also a good option for Chromebooks).

Within Google Docs
EasyPeasy. While writing in a Google Doc or Slides presentation, just use the Insert menu, select Special Characters, and change to emoji via the dropdown.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Look to MedBridge for high quality PD courses

When it comes to professional development, it’s great to have options. The end of your certification maintenance interval can sneak up on you. Additionally, it seems of late unfortunately difficult for clinicians to obtain release time to attend professional development and continue our high level of training--I know this as a frequent PD speaker!

Online learning has always been an option, and MedBridge has elevated the format with their professional development courses. After developing many offerings for PT and OT, they have reached into speech-language pathology in the past several years, and specifically have endeavored to create relevant courses for school-based clinicians. I was asked to create several courses for MedBridge in the past year (see disclosure), and have been very impressed with their process.

The features of their courses and website are designed to leverage all of the possibilities of the format, for sure. First of all, the process of creating the course is geared toward maximizing learner engagement. Presenters go onsite to MedBridge’s studio and film their course in person (I felt like I was on TV myself!) so that the result is a high-quality video presentation. There are many additional features to their courses that make the experience comparable to attending PD sessions in person, including:
  • Engaging visual presentations; these courses are more like watching a talk show than a PowerPoint
  • Modeling of techniques with students and clients 
  • Q/A sessions with real professionals within the videos 
  • An easy-to-follow progression of “chapters” within each course, along with the ability to complete each course with breaks, at your own pace 
  • Downloadable handouts and extension activities for you to apply the material in the course 
  • Learning assessments that feature real-world, practical (but short) case studies followed by questions to gauge your own understanding of the material presented 
  • Multiple-part courses (each with CEU value) for in-depth learning 
Offerings for pediatric clinicians working in schools (there are also libraries for other populations) run a range including courses regarding English Language Learners, visual supports and Literacy development for students with autism, caseload and service delivery management in schools, preschool language, and language and literacy, among many others. A full listing of available courses is viewable here, but see my affiliate link below, however, if you would like to join at a reduced rate.

Over the past several months, I myself completed two courses through my MedBridge membership:

Balancing & Scheduling Speech-Language Workloads in Schools, presented by Kathleen Whitmire.
In this course, Dr. Whitmire describes the workload model to managing productivity in the school setting. I had seen Dr. Whitmire previously, and her presentation years ago inspired me to implement the 3-1 Consultation model at my school, revolutionizing my role and teaching me how to be an effective collaborator and consultant. These skills are hugely important to my current work in private practice and consulting to schools. This course was very engaging and I found several elements to be helpful to me and potentially extremely helpful to clinicians first encountering these ideas. Dr. Whitmire describes “activity clusters” which help define the workload vs. caseload approach and will be very valuable to SLPs looking to open conversations with administrators about optimizing their role in their settings. Additionally, one major issue with transitioning to a workload and/or 3-1 approach is getting started. Dr. Whitmire offers some very do-able suggestions to taking these steps gradually. As is often the case within the MedBridge library, one course may lead to another. I plan also to take Dr. Whitmire’s courses in effective collaboration and educationally relevant speech-language services.

Focusing on Friendship: Building Social Groups That Work for Children with Autism, presented by Laura DeThorne
Dr. DeThorne’s information on engaging with first-person perspectives of students, including a Q/A with an autistic researcher (he describes why he prefers that descriptor), were very informational to me and changed MY perspective on identity- vs. person-first language. It is important to note that this discussion suggests steps that align with considering client values, a tenet of evidence-based practice. This aspect of the course dovetailed extremely well with the following chapters, which provided practical advice on creating interest-based social “affinity” groups, including examples of potential activities and measurable goals that focus on “interaction rather than individual skills.”

I hope that you will check out MedBridge’s offerings when planning your PD activities over the coming year. My courses are still in post-production, and include one on developing narrative and expository language using tech resources, and another on alignments between research-based practices and app-based activities. Currently you can subscribe to MedBridge’s offerings using my affiliate link at a greatly reduced price of $95.

Disclosure: Sean Sweeney has contracted with MedBridge to provide two courses and is part of their affiliate partner program. He will receive a royalty when his courses are available and are completed by members. Additionally, he receives a commission for each membership purchased through his affiliate link. However, the review detailed in this post represents Sean’s independent evaluation of several courses he completed through the MedBridge site.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Find the right tool for the right task

I have a student who was struggling with map tests. Don't ask me whether I think students need to memorize maps nowadays but...anyway, he had to. He was very frustrated, but at least thought the whole thing was over. It's important to establish rationale-or the presence of pointless work that nonetheless is required and might develop our skills and strategies- I had to break it to him that many more map tests await.

He showed me that the recommended study guide was Quizlet, which he was using via a matching task:

Now don't get me wrong, Quizlet is GREAT, and I'd recommend it for many tasks such as reviewing vocab or even literary elements of novels, etc. It's also excellent that they have evolved to include visual elements. But in this case, you can probably see immediately why this might not be the best tool for this task. Studying a map requires literally and figuratively a "big picture." This is just one stack but the images of the countries are small and it's hard to relate part to whole.

I showed him an old standby, Sheppard Software, a website built in Flash so it must be used on a laptop or chromebook. He liked it much better, and here's where curriculum contexts can always be blended with a strategic focus. Reviewing a region in "Learn" mode (via big picture), we made up a silly sentence cueing the country names roughly from north to south. Anyone remember the old BrainCogs program? I loved that. In any case, the verbal mediation was meaningful to him. In Quiz mode we also practiced strategies based in language, helping to make the blob of countries have a meaning, "Oh, French Guiana is closer to France than Guyana is. Ecuador is literally on the Equator."

The experience of tackling this task reinforced a few things for me. Rationale. Tool Selection. Strategic Focus.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Teaching in Social Media Contexts

Social Media is part of life--and a good context for targeting social cognition and narrative language. In general, social media is now one context for us all to be sharing our stories through words and pictures, and also is a way we send messages about ourselves and interact around them. Of course this should be self-monitored; I've shared with my students that I set an intention of at least 2 hours daily in which I don't look at Facebook or Instagram (if you have a goal, you need a measurable action plan). Don't always make it, but I'm trying.

A few contexts in which I have used social media in the last several months:

GCF Learn Free has great simple tutorials on social media outlets. These are good if you are working with individuals who want to begin to use social media as an interactive outlet (learning more about others and making connections).

Related to this, I have been working with a wonderful SLP who uses Instagram photos (mine and many others) to help students "get the story" (situational awareness) implied by a photo, make inferences about relationships depicted in photos, etc. Identifying a few resources you can use with students (screenshot, perhaps, instead of showing them your feed) make for great lessons. These students have also stepped into sharing on Instagram with parental guidance.

There are a number of good resources you can use to make mock text conversations, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat posts. These can be great for presenting narratives and exploring expected and unexpected social media behaviors. Just google and you'll find ones like Status Clone- they produce an image of a fake interaction that you can use in an activity. also has student-friendly versions of these for you to use for co-creation (see their FakeBook, Twister and SMS Generator).

Here's an example (note: that's not an actual spoiler). 

On iPad, I haven't always found similar tools. Social Dummy performs similar functions but I would never use it in front of students because of its horrible name (Dummy meaning fake, not in the way it might be interpreted)! You can use this app to make teaching images saved to your photos app, however. A recent free tool is Texting Story Chat Maker, which allows you to make a dynamic video of a text conversation unfolding. These are additionally good contexts in which to explore the use of emoji, which are easily accessible on mobile devices.