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Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Book Review: Making Technology Work for Learners with Special Needs: Practical Skills for Teachers (J. Ulman)

Monday, March 1st, 2010

computer boy.jpgThis book which came out in 2005, available for $28.95 on Amazon, highlights the fact that technology is no longer just a nice thing to have for special needs students, it is a critical life skill for survival and success in the real world.  Ulman, an instructor of special education at Ball State University, nicely explains the importance of technology skills and how important it is for teachers and parents to also be up to date on technology, so that they can better teach their children.  Although the book is obviously not up to date due to the many advancements in technology since 2005, it still provides a great framework for teachers to get started in incorporating technology into their classrooms, although teachers will want to research more updated software titles (some suggestions at the end of this article).

Chris with E at computer.gifThe book takes the reader through a step-by-step, practical approach to doing a variety of tasks on the computer such as word processing, graphics, spreadsheets, databases, presentations, and using the internet.  Using pictures and easy-to-understand instructions, Ulman explains how teachers can break these sophisticated steps down into manageable instructional sessions and build the skills over time.

My favorite chapter is Chapter 7, which discusses how to use educational software in the classroom.  Ulman points out that computers are often used as a reward in the classroom, but not effectively as a learning tool.  Suggested uses for computers in the classroom include:

* Reinforced Practice (software reinforces previously taught material) (e.g. Stanley’s Sticker Stories from Edmark Reading (now Riverdeep) which reinforces writing skills)
* Tutorial (teach new concepts) (e.g. Creature Chorus from Laureate LearniLAUSD Feb Melvin Dontell Computer_00011.jpgng which teaches young children to use the mouse or touch screen)
* Simulation (simulates some aspect of real life) (e.g. The Oregon Trail from The Learning Company which teaches the student to make decisions to help travelers arrive safely in Oregon (e.g. what to take, when to leave, how fast to move, etc))
* Problem Solving (solving instructionally relevant problems) (e.g. Puzzle Tanks by Sunburst Technology which teaches the student to fill, empty, and transfer liquids between different storage tanks to reach target amounts)
* Graphics (allows users to express their creativity without having to use paper and pencil) (e.g. Kid Pix Deluxe from The Learning Company)
* Reference (dictionaries, thesaurus, encyclopedia, etc) (e.g. The American Heritage Dictionary for Children from Houghton Mifflin)
* TeacherLAUSD Feb Parthenia Jackie Computer_0001.jpg Utility (programs that make the teacher’s job easier) (e.g. Boardmaker from Mayer-Johnson which provides thousands of picture communication symbols that can be printed and used for schedules, communication, etc.)
* Student Utility (programs that make the student’s job easier) (e.g. word processing, spreadsheets, etc) (e.g. Inspiration from Inspiration Software helps students plan, organize, outline, diagram, and write)
* Authoring (provides teachers with tools to create their own lessons) (e.g. HyperStudio from Sunburst Technologies helps teachers make lessons as well as presentations for meetings or classroom use)

The book is also very helpful for how to make adaptations for special needs students and gives ideas for the mouse, keyboard, touch screen, switch inputs, and speech recognition.LAUSD Feb Parthenia Isaah Computer_00011.jpg

Because this book is from 2005, I thought it would be helpful to provide a few links to sites that specialize in software for special education, check these out!  Please let us know if you have other suggestions, these are sites that offer multiple products, not specific product sites.
Turning Point Technology

Timberdoodle

Super Kids Educational Software Reviews

SmartKids Software

Early Results of National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) Study with TeachTown Efficacy in Pre-1st ASD Classrooms

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Boy at chalkboardThe following is a summary of our results to date in a study in progress.  This is a collaborative research effort with Jigsaw Learning (TeachTown), Los Angeles Unified School District, and Cal State University, Los Angeles.  The study will conclude in June, 2009 and final results will be posted this summer.  In addition, the results will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal this fall.
To address the increasing need for solutions for serving children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in the schools, it is important to consider options that are more accessible and affordable such as Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI).  However, it is even more essential that these solutions are effective and research is needed to address this issue.  In this collaborative study with TeachTown, Los Angeles Unified School District, and California State University, Los Angeles, a CAI program which targets language, cognitive, academic, social, and life skills will be assessed in a large public school system.  Approximately 50 preschool and kindergarten-1sTeachTown Mapt grade children with ASD are participating with 25 children in a treatment group and 25 children in a control group.  Children in the treatment group received 50-100 minutes per week of CAI and 50-100 minutes per week of supplementary off-computer activities designed to enhance generalization to the natural environment.  The CAI and off-computer activities were provided through TeachTown: Basics, which is currently being used in many schools across the United States, but which has not yet been tested in a randomized research study.  In addition to the automatic data collection provided by the software, students were assessed using behavioral and standardized outcome measures.  It was anticipated that the classrooms using the TeachTown: Basics program would demonstrate significantly higher rates of acquisition across learning areas and would also show more improvement in their spontaneous language and social interaction.  It was also expected that children in the treatment group would exhibit less inappropriate behaviors following treatment than their peers in the control group. Following this Gen Webinar study, it is also anticipated that teachers and parents involved in the Children at computertreatment group will show higher satisfaction ratings with their child’s program than those parents and teachers associated with the control group.  The results of this research will help demonstrate to school districts the effectiveness and social validity of implementing CAI, and will help districts such as LAUSD secure funding for these types of programs by having data to demonstrate the effectiveness.  The behavioral observation data is currently being coded by graduate students at California State University, Los Angeles, and children in both groups will use TeachTown: Basics through the rest of the school year to assess effectiveness between groups and within the control group.

About LAUSD Population
District Population: 688,138
Special Education Students: 82,326
English Language Learners (ELL) Students: 39,455
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) students: 8,516

  • Primary eligibility
  • Additional 55 with ASD as secondary eligibility

LAUSD Autism Programs
Preschool Autism Special Day Programs (SDPs) - 1/2 day
Intensive Comprehensive Autism Program (ICAP) (ages 3-6)
Autism SDP (primary – high school)
Autism SDP for students with High Functioning Autism (HFA) /Asperger
Any/all other options

Issues in Autism Programs

  • Staff-student ratios
  • Funding
  • Staff training and implementation
  • Accountability
  • Behavior problems of students
  • Access to general curriculum
  • Rapid increases in ASD
  • Access to evidence-based interventions
  • Paucity of appropriate staff (have to contract out)

Potential Benefits of TeachTown: Basics for LAUSD Students
Evidenced-based intervention with built-in data collection
Differential instruction
Collaboration with parents
Curricular guidance for teachers
Motivation for “hard to teach” students
Flexibility as students transition to different settings

Treatment Procedure

  • TeachTown: Basics Curriculum (Dev Ages 2-7 years)
    • Academic/Cognitive Skills
    • Social UnderstandingPicture3.jpg
    • Receptive Language
    • Life & Community Skill Understanding
  • Daily computer sessions on school days for 20 minutes/day (can be done in 2
  • 10-minute sessions)
  • Daily off-computer activities on school days for 20 minutes/day (1:1, small group or circle activity)
  • 3 months of intervention

Purpose and Design of Research

  • Purpose: To assess the efficacy of the TeachTown: Basics program in self-contained special education classrooms in a large, urban school district.
  • Design: Between and Within-Subjects Group Design, 4 schools – each randomly assigned in the fall to Treatment or Control, in spring, Control classrooms begin treatment.

About the TeachTown: Basics Program (the Intervention)

Vacuum Reward.pngCheck out the website for information about the program: www.teachtown.com

TeachTown: Basics includes the following:

  1. ABC Screenshot.PNGOn-computer lessons where the child gets on the computer and completes lessons in an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) format with engaging reward games to keep them motivated;
  2. Off-computer activities to work on skills that are not targeted on the computer (e.g. Expressive Language, Play, Imitation, Social Interaction, Motor Skills) and to enhance generalization of skills learned on the computer to the natural environment;
  3. Automated data collection and tracking to assess the child’s progress as they move through the computer program and for school staff to use to assess the effectiveness of the intervention and to determine which skills may need more work off the computer;
  4. Note taking system for school staff to jot down anecdotal information about the child’s performance or any other relevant information to the child’s success with the program; and
  5. Synchronization and updating of data which allows the teacher to eventually share information with the families (not in this study) and for the child to be able to use the program at home (not in this study).  In addition, this feature allows the research team to look at data on a regular basis to determine how the study is progressing and to conduct final data analysis.

Participants Results: TeachTown: Basics Software Program
LAUSD Feb Melvin Dontell Computer_0001.jpgFifteen of the 22 students mastered lessons using the TeachTown:Basics software program.  This does not mean that the other students did not make progress on the program, it just means that some of the children are still working toward mastery on their lessons, which will likely result in some mastered lessons by the end of the school year for most students.  It is not unusual for students to not master lessons in only 3 months time.  Students not meeting mastery are those with more severe cognitive delays, and those that were unable to complete 20 minute sessions.  Data below is shown for the 15 students who did master lessons in 3 months time.  There was statistical significance at the p>0001 level from the Pre tests to the Post tests, which are a part of the TeachTown: Basics program and test the child’s knowledge of concepts using a different set of stimuli from the training to ensure that the children are learning the concepts (i.e. targets) and not just memorizing pictures. In 3 months, students, on average, mastered lessons in about 43 minutes (Preschool) to 52 minutes (K-1) and mastered 5-6 lessons (20-24 concepts/targets).

Results: Language Changes on the Brigance Assessment from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Brigance is a standardized developmental assessment that is frequently LAUSD Feb Parthenia Isaah Computer_0001.jpgused to identify deficits and track progress in various developmental areas including language, cognition, social skills, and motor skills.  LAUSD uses the
measure in their ICAP and other autism programs to asess the progress of the children enrolled in their programs.  This measure aligns well with the TeachTown: Basics curriculum and was used in this study to measure progress for students
in the Treatment and the Control groups.  Body Parts measures the knowledge of body parts; Receptive Language measures comprehension and vocabulary; and Expressive Language measures labeling and expressive communication.
All classrooms demonstrated improvement in language areas on the Brigance, but
–         The TeachTown Treatment Group showed much bigger changes in Body Image (i.e. identification of body parts) and Expressive Language.
–          The students in the preschool groups performed similarly on Receptive Language, but,
–         the K-1 students in the TeachTown Treatment group showed greater change than the Control K-1 students

NCTI- Brigance2.bmp

Results: Cognitive and Social Skill Changes on the Brigance Assessment from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Preschool students had similar improvements in Matching on the Brigance, but TTB students (Tx Grp) made bigger gains than the Control group in Auditory Memory, General Concepts, and Social Skills.
The K-1 Students had similar improvements in General Concepts and Social Skills, but the TTB students (Tx Grp) made bigger gains in Matching and Auditory Memory.
Matching measures the child’s ability to match objects and categorize, Auditory Memory measures the child’s ability to understand and follow directions and to remember information that was presented to them, General Concepts measure the child’s basic early academic abilities (e.g. letters, numbers, etc.), and Social Skills measure the child’s knowledge of social situations (e.g. emotions, friendship, etc.).

Results: Language Changes on the PPVT-III and EVT Assessments from Pre (November, 2008) to Mid-Treatment (Feb, 2009)
The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-III) and the Expressive Vocabulary Test (EVT) were used to further measures changes in Receptive and Expressive Language skills.  Age-Equivalents are not shown because many students did not establish basal in Oct.  In Feb, there was a larger increase in the number of Preschool students establishing basal in the TeachTown group (4 additional students on PPVT, 5 additional students on EVT) compared to the Control group (1 additional student on PPVT & EVT).  The TeachTown (Tx) group also had slightly more students establishing basal in Feb (2 additional students on PPVT & EVT) compared to the Control group (1 additional student on PPVT & EVT).

Summary of Results

  • The Treatment group demonstrated much bigger increases in
    • Receptive and Expressive language using the PPVT-4, EVT-2, and the Brigance
    • Auditory Memory, General Concepts, and Social Skills for the Preschool students using the Brigan000_94_Bill_throwing1.pngce
    • Matching and Auditory Memory for the K-1 students using the Brigance
  • They also showed slightly larger increases in
    • Matching for the Preschool students using the Brigance
    • General Concepts and Social Skills for K-1 students using the Brigance
  • After 3 months of using the TeachTown: Basics program, students in the Treatment group:
    • Made significant gains from Pre to Post Tests in the TeachTown: Basics software
    • Learned 34-39 target concepts (on average) in the TeachTown: Basics software with the largest gains in Receptive Vocabulary

This is a summary of our results to date in a study in progress.  This is a collaborative research effort with Jigsaw Learning (TeachTown), Los Angeles Unified School District, and Cal State University, Los Angeles.  The study will conclude this summer and final results will be posted later this summer. 

National Center of Technology Innovation - Technology Innovators Conference

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) is hosting the Technology Innovators Conference in Washington, DC on November 20 and 21, 2008 at the Madison Hotel.  This conference will include technology developers, researchers, technology vendors, policymakers, OSEP projects, and the media.  Online registration is now closed. On-site registrations will be accepted.

The conference offers 2 days of informative presentations and an expo which will offer the following opportunities: 

TeachTown has received funding and support from NCTI and we are looking forward to a long-term relationship with the organization as our company grows.  Click here to see more about our history with NCTI.

Narrative Language and Timo Stories

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

S7300660.jpgVocabulary and text comprehension are critical skills for reading and academic success. The ability to understand and tell a familiar story forms a strong part of the foundation for these later skills. Between the ages of two and five, children’s narratives (i.e. ability to recount events or tell stories) progress from simple phrases about past events to telling more elaborate personal stories (like what happened at school or at the dentist that day) to retelling of familiar children’s books, and on to creating stories of their own.

Narrative skills are critical for school success and are often a strong predictor of kindergarten readiness and later academic success.  When children are asked “What did you do over the weekend?” by their teachers, children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other language difficulties often have trouble answering this question. Similarly, when asked “What did you do at school?” by the parents, the child demonstrated the same frustration in understanding the question, remembering, and verbally recounting the experience. Even children who have recovered from other language deficits often demonstrate difficulty with narrative language skills.

Types of narratives include recounting events, unsolicited accounts of events, event casts (i.e. “broadcasting” of ongoing actions), making up stories (i.e. fictional stories), and scripts (i.e. response to tell what is done in aS7300618.jpg certain situation) (Heath, 1986). These skills not only tell us about a child’s language and literacy development, they also give us insight into their social, emotional, and cognitive skills (Engel, 1995).

Research in speech-language pathology supports the significance of narrative language:

Bishop and Edmundson (1987), in a prospective, longitudinal study of language-impaired children, found that the best predictor of a positive outcome was the ability to tell back a simple story to pictures.

Botting, Faragher et al. (2001). McCabe and Rollins (1994), and Westby (1991), have similarly documented the importance of oral narrative skills for a child’s social and school success.

Loveland (1989) compared children with ASD to children with mental retardation and found that both groups were able to answer questions about a puppet show or video skit they observed, but that the ASD children produced more bizarre responses demonstrating their difficulties with grasping the story as a representation of meaningful events. When compared to typically developing peers, children with ASD lacked the complexity in responses compared to their peers (Losh & Capps, 2003). The children in this study also showed problems inferring, building on causal relationships in narrative contexts, and demonstrated deficits on emotional understanding measures.

Narrative Based Language Intervention (NBLI) is a hybrid language intervention approach that combines naturalistic activities (such as story telling) with skill-based activities to address children’s language and communication goals (Swanson, L. A., Fay, M. E., et al. 2005). The goal of NBLI is to help children develop skills for generating narratives while at the same time addressing their individual needs to develop crucial underlying language skills.

Some of the benefits of NBLI include the ability to target multiple language goals simultaneously (i.e. narrative skills, comprehension, morphosyntax and complex syntax, vocabulary, and social thinking); and the ability to target other goals simultaneously (e.g. memory, sequencing, pretend play, self-help skills, reading).

ABOUT TIMO STORIES

Animated Speech has incorporated NBLI with scaffolded (i.e. making implicit information more salient and gradually building complexity ) stories to improve the story retelling skills, products_stories_03-new.pngpersonal narratives, answering questions, following directions, imitation, reading comprehension, syntax, and vocabulary skills of young children with autism and/or significant language problems.

Animated Speech, with support from Dr. Lauren Franke (speech-language expert), has developed a computer based NBLI program called Timo Stories.

Timo’s Library has 6 colorful stories at 2 levels about everyday events and problems and includes 2 levels of materials:

Timo Stories Pic.pnga) Level 1: Mostly simple sentence patterns and concrete concepts

b) Level 2: Incorporates complex sentence patterns and more complex sentence patterns

Timo Stories includes the following key features:

· Stories depicit predictable events, in language that is simple, yet complex enough to cover a range of topics

· Addresses comprehension, story-retelling, vocabulary, turn-taking, verbal reasoning & more using stories about common events and problems

· Combines a naturalistic linguistic environment and direct teaching

· Timo’s Think Tank features 6 activities to practice vocabulary in multiple contexts

· Story Scramble reinforces sequencing and retelling each story

· Tracks student progress

· Based on Narrative Based Language Intervention (Swanson et. al. 2005)

· Engages and motivating stories and Timo engages child through dialogue and calling the child by name

· Offers intensive opportunities to learn via books and reinforcing games

· Stories written in an explicit style as a processing aid

· Provides Ideas for activities away from the computer for generalization

Timo Stories has many benefits for the student including:

· Supports and promotes social interaction with Timo rather the just working on the computer.

· Offers numerous opportunities for children to build their comprehension, syntax, and story retelling skills.

· Emphasizes earlier development of mental state vocabulary.

· Teaches child to grasp and remember information – retelling stories with increasingly complex syntax and concepts.

· May help with the development of early theory of mind skills.

· Opportunities to learn & practice vocabulary in multiple contexts of increasing complexity.

· Stories & activities designed to help students develop background knowledge of every day events & problem solving

Simons Foundation hosts article about digital tools and children with autism

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Last week, the Simons Foundation website published an article about using digital tools to help children and teens with autism. The article features a plethora of examples of current high tech products and their positive effect within the autism community. Some of the products mentioned in the article, such as TeachTown: Basics or the Behavioral Image (BI) Capture system, were specifically designed to be used with the special needs community. The article also reports that some autistic teens are benefiting from products not specifically designed for the special needs market, such as the SymTrend, a PDA designed to help teens track their school performance, or SecondLife, a web-based virtual reality game.

The whole article can be found here.

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