They Were the Best of Apps, They Were the Worst of Apps

The doc’s been gone for a while. She had a crisis of tech. Not giving up on it, mind you, just not knowing what to say about the three, count ’em three iPads in use in her home. One iPad, the one I call my own but that really belongs to the university I work for, is up-to-there with apps and I can’t actually upgrade to iOS7 unless some serious purging happens — which it won’t because I’m an app hoarder. Nic’s 1st generation cracked iPad, well…but that cute little Mini, the one he’s using in the community, the one with Snipbase and VisTimer, apps that have really made things happen for him…well, they didn’t like the new operating system.
Hey Snipbase and VisTimer, send help!
Gerry

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PS This is a random picture of my dear children.

“Not Proficiency in Use, but Potential for Growth”

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Those were the words of the tech person in our district, after I brought to the team that it was time to take the leap and purchase an iPad mini for Nic, with Proloquo2go and some spiffy transition apps. These words of she-who-knows-her-tech were a bit of a rallying cry, I think. It’s not about whether Nic or any child is “ready” or “worthy” or whatever — it”s about having a support to grow with and grow from. If we think that a child needs to be “ready” to have a voice, there is something very wrong with our thinking.

Don’t ya think?

Autism Apps — Worth a Look

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I’ll be teaching a grad course on communication for students with autism this fall — Dr. Mom is feeling a little challenged here, but in a good way. My research has of course contained a bit of app searching, and I came across one that I really liked, though I think the name — “Autism Apps” — may discourage those of us who are not specifically searching autism. Me, I’m thinking about autism big time right now, but in real life, Down syndrome and intellectual disability are #1 on my hit parade because of my son Nic — just to go all mom on ‘ya for a moment. (I’ve actually never checked to see if there’s an app with Down syndrome in the title…would that be weird?)

Anyway, Autism Apps is not a bad little freebie app. Good search tool, with links to app info and App Store. Wish they’d called it something else though, because there’s good stuff on there for kids without autism too.

But then, what WOULD you call it?

Dr. Mom Finds Happiness at National Down Syndrome Congress 2012

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I don’t know if I heard a word anyone said at this year’s National Down Syndrome Congress Conference until after I presented a session with two friends on Saturday afternoon. BUT after the butterflies vacated my stomach, after the adrenaline rush from presenting had subsided, Sunday provided some nice app surprises.

Dr. Sean Smith of the University of Kansas did a great presentation on apps for children with disabilities, including, especially, but not limited to Down syndrome. I jumped on to his wiki to find all sorts of great app info and you should too, but there seems to be a need for Flash to open it.

So thing one: Dr. Smith’s wiki is found at dscongress.wikispaces.com.
Thing two: if you can’t get it on Safari, make a quick stop at the AppStore and download Photon, an app that will let you view items using Flash.

So, did you find anything good? I did. More to come…

Hey, School District, My Kid Needs an iPad!

For those of us still struggling with  rationale for the school district purchase of an iPad for a child with a disability, know that the struggle is real.

School districts don’t always immediately wrap their minds around iPad technology because it has so much else going on (Angry Birds, anyone?). The purchase of this relatively inexpensive (next to almost any augmentative communication device, anyway) becomes problematic.

Found “Six Steps to Get the iPad into Your Child’s Special Needs Classroom on blog.friendshipcircle.org, in the technology section:

1.Make sure your child qualifies

There is no point in making a stink if your child won’t qualify for an AAC Communication Device.  If your child does not qualify for an AAC Device there is no way a school will provide an iPad.

The iPad is much more than an assistive communication device and is a great tool for children that are verbal as well (For example Life Skills & Social skills apps for kids with Asperger’s etc). Unfortunately most school districts will only contemplate  an iPad for communication purposes and nothing more.

2. Make sure your child can use the iPad

The iPad may not be suitable for Children who have difficulty with fine motor skills. You must make sure your child can hold his or her hand steady long enough to tap and scroll the screen.  On a cognitive level your child also must be able to differentiate between different pictures.

3. Know why your school doesn’t like iPads

Before you make the case for an iPad find out why your school isn’t into it. Knowing why your school won’t provide one will help you prepare your case for getting one. Some of the more common reasons are:

  • The iPad includes Non- Educational Elements
    Schools want to make sure that they are providing  materials that will be used to its fullest potential. Knowing that the iPad could be used for movies and games makes them cringe.
  • Stimming
    A claim is made that kids start stimming while using the iPad. Instead of going from one step to the next the child will start repetitively tapping the same picture or sound.
  • Change
    It takes bureaucracies a long time to make changes and schools can be no different.  Instead of being innovative and forward thinking you may have a school that wants to keep the status quo and not make changes to what is already in place

4. Explain why you need an iPad over other AAC Devices

Prepare a list of pros for iPad and cons for the regular communication devices  Some ideas to inlcude:

Why the standard AAC Device does not work for my child
A. It is hard to program
B. It is bulky and heavy
C. Makes my child stick out and look different
D. A battery charge only lasts a few hours

Why an iPad will work for my child
A. The iPad provides the most sophisticated and up to date communication applications
B. Very intuitive display and layout, making it easy for a child with special needs to use (and makes it easier for their parents to program)
C. Extremely light and easy to transport
D. Battery last 10 hours

5. Speak Out

A. Start with your child’s teacher.  Explain to the teacher why you feel your child needs an iPad. Make sure you are not confrontational. Advocate for your child in a calm and respectful manner.

B. If your teacher is unwilling or unable to help take it to the next level ask to speak to the person who coordinates augmentative communication in your district. If that doesn’t help go up the ladder to the Superintendent of Special Education.

C. If you are still finding the going tough ask other parents in similar situations (parents with a child who goes to the same school and needs an AAC device to help communicate) to work together to change the schools mind. The voice of one may be ignored but an outcry from many parents will not be drowned out.

D. Bring in outside advocates who will stand by your side and will help request, cajole and maybe even threaten legal proceedings. A professional advocate knows how to talk the school’s language and can cut through the red tape.

6. Be Informed- Resources to back up your claims

To further prove your point show them that schools all over the country are starting to implement iPads in special education classrooms. Here are some links to articles and videos about schools all around the country using iPads in the Classroom.

This App or That App? More from Kathy Schrock

Here are the remaining 6 of Kathy Schrock’s 10 criteria for a worthwhile educational app, again with my comments in parentheses.  Good stuff to keep in mind:

6. Student motivation: are students motivated to use the app and select to use it often?    (Nic can find his SkeeBall app no matter how deeply I bury it, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I find that for Nic it helps for me to preview and mess with the app so that I can anticipate problems before they occur and get him so frustrated that he begs off and bolts for the TV.)

7. Reporting: is assessment/summary data available electronically to the student/teacher? (The TeachMe series that Nic keeps track graphically with checks and Xs that we both can look at to see how he is doing in the language arts and math it features. He loves these apps, but their full titles, TeachMe Toddler and TeachMe Kindergarten make me wish the app developers knew how well their software worked for kids like Nic, even though they are older. They have their market with the little ones, for sure, but I have another market for them if they ever wanna talk!)

8. Sound: Does the music/sound in the app add to the educational aspects of the content? (Or do they make your teacher/parent dive into their desk drawer for headphones?)

9. Instructions: Are the instructions included in the app helpful to the student(Do students read the instructions? Do you? Or do we just start tapping around until something happens? Oh, dear, now I’m giving myself away.)

10. Support page: Does the app’s supporting Web page provide additional useful information? (Not just sales pitches for other apps!)

More Kathy Schrock iPad links can be found at www.kathyschrock.net/ipadblooms and on www.kathyschrocksguidetoeverything.com.

Wow, Kathy Schrock has a guide to everything? Can she help me lose 10 lbs.?

Wait, there are apps for that, too. But they’re on my iPad.

Everyone’s a Critic! The App Evaluation According to Kathy

According to ed tech guru Kathy Schrock, there are several things to look for in an education app that’s worth your while. Here are the first 5 of her 10 criteria. My comments are in parentheses:

1. Curriculum connection: Are the skills reinforced connected to the targeted skill or concept? (Sounds like a given, right? Not always.)

2. Authenticity: Are the skills practiced in an authentic format/problem-based environment? (I want these skills to have life beyond the app. Kids like my Nic often have trouble generalizing.)

3. Feedback: Is the feedback  specific and result in improved student performance? (Have you ever noticed that sometimes the feedback for getting something incorrect on an app is more exciting than what happens when you are correct?)

4. Differentiation: does the app offer flexibility to alter settings to meet student needs? (I love it when an app can grow with its user, and offers increasing levels of challenge as targeted skills are mastered)

5. User friendliness: can students launch and navigate within the app independently? (I am old and often a little clueless when an app isn’t immediately accessible because of the assumptions the designers make about what the user understands about its navigation. Do not make me feel older and more clueless or have to call one of my kids to explain it to me. And do NOT frustrate a child so that they refuse to try after too many unsuccessful attempts to get the app going.)

More to follow! Comments welcome. And special thanks to Kathy Schrock for all her work in ed tech through the years. She continues to be a teacher’s pal, and a parent’s too.

I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it…

If anyone’s wondering, I went with Chore Pad. Both apps were great for the purpose, but Chore Pad was more visual. Nic needs visual.

Anyway, I am so excited! My little blog will soon be linked to the website of the Delaware County Down Syndrome Interest Group.  I look forward to meeting other parents of children with Down syndrome and sharing iPad ideas and experiences.

Meanwhile, Nic and I spent a big hunk o’time today working with new apps that I found. Nic is not the sit-compliantly-and-let-Mom-try-stuff type, and not all apps are SkeeBall or Angry Birds, so we alternated some more seriously themed learning apps with fun apps and YouTube videos from the circus. Stretched the young man’s attention span considerably, and I got to see which new apps I might want to keep and which will be gonners. (New favorite: “SmartyPants School”)

How about you? How do you keep your children on the more serious academic apps when they know “SkeeBall” is just a click away?

Can I Get a Little Help Around Here?

Hope you had a nice holiday: we did, and the house looks it. I am in search of novel ways to get everyone on board with the cleanup thing. Dare I go tech on Nic? Trying out a couple of apps: “Chore Pad” and “Chore Hero”. I used to just make Nic a checklist: so 2005 of me. Have you seen any apps to make chores a little more fun?

I’m Cheating on My iPad with my Other iPad!

This is getting confusing, but I’m loving this rabid iPad app downloading. Cheap or free, easy and fun.

There’s some great overlap in what I’m searching for as teacher and mom, fortunately. The University is looking for me to infuse iPad technology into a course  I haven’t taught yet, which may or may not be easier than using the technology for an actual person.

We had a meeting at Nic’s school a few weeks back to discuss the iPad we sent in for his use. Everyone thought it was great, but no one knew how to use it. Maybe sending it in on the bus isn’t such a hot idea yet, eh? I think, as does Nic’s educational team, that the district needs to crack open its metaphorical wallet and buy a couple of these hot little iDoodads so the teachers can dig in and get some good learnin’ going for the kids. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll lend our iPad to some interested teacher or therapist for a weekend. Eeek.

I am continually slipping into the App store to see what’s new. Fortunately, better minds then mine are, too. I discovered something called http://www.momswithapps.com, a bunch of app developers promoting quality apps for kids and families. Their catalog is on iTunes. I downloaded some “freebie Friday” apps. Take a look!

Meanwhile, I have to try to remember which iPad I put this app or that on. I guess that’s a pretty nice problem to have.