Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why Chrome Might Add Bling To Your Educational Experience...

For over the past year now, I have heard so much hype about incorporating Google Chrome into the educational process.  Now that I have gathered a ton of information, completed some trials and tribulations, I wanted to share what I have learned so you can decide for yourself if Chrome will be your new accessory.

Google Chrome is a web browser.  Just like Safari.  You can download it for free onto your Mac or PC; you can have it automatically as your internet platform on a Chromebook.  You can even download it onto your iOS devices (but I’ll get into usability on a later post).  But the magic occurs when you activate a gmail account.  Once you do that (whether it be a personal account or a google-based education account from a school), it opens up a plethora of supports.

So, I’ll wait while you do that….

Are you done downloading and installing your Chrome Web browser?  If you see a Red, Green, and Yellow donut encircling a blue dot, then you should be good.

Did you create your gmail account?
Good, now you can play.

First thing’s first.  I am going to describe a few basics.

This is your email account.  This is your user account.  This is what is attached to everything you do in Drive, the Chrome Store, Google Classroom and Google Sites.

Google Drive is a web based documentation forum that has a word processing section (Docs), an excel-like program (Sheets), a powerpoint-like program (Slides), and another section (Forms).  You can save documents in the happy cloud land.  And bonus, it saves automatically as you work.

Google Classroom.
If you work or are a student that uses google based accounts, then you may have access to setting up your very own Google Classroom.  This will not work if you do not have an email account ending in .edu.  If you are not sure, ask your local IT guy.

Chrome Web Store.
It’s not the Apple App store; but it is similar.  When you find the colorful 9 block icon that is labeled “Apps” (on my browser, it’s in the upper left hand corner) or just enter in the url https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/apps, you will now have the ability to attach Apps and Extensions to your gmail user account.  This means, the apps and extensions you download can/will follow up wherever you log into a Chrome browser (except on iOS devices but I’ll get into that in a later post).  Most things are free, especially when it comes to education.

What’s an App?
Just like when you download an app from the Apple Store to your iOS device, an App from the Google Chrome Web Store will bring you to a website and you will be able to complete games or tasks within that app.

What’s the difference with an Extension?
Extensions are tools you can use to customize your user experience in any site you could be on.

Now this is only the beginning.  And I don’t want to blow your mind just yet.  What I do want you to do is play and explore.  Because there is a world of digital opportunity ready for the taking for anyone willing to try. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts and how-to sections to discover how Chrome's apps and extensions can help support different learning styles.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Thoughts and Highlights from Assistive Technology Conference of New England 2015

Define "Reading"

I heard this in the last session I attended with Gaby Richard-Harrington who is an Instructional Technology Specialist in Western Massachusetts, and it stuck and resonated with me.  I remember at the beginning of the school year when my second grader brought home his weekly reading log, and I wondered to myself, well, does this count the Audio Books we read/listen to in the car? And I should have asked for clarification, but I didn't.  But now I wonder, WHY should I ask?  

Not being a reading specialist or a teacher, the WHY becomes evident.  You need to define READING.  Is the purpose for oral fluency?  Is it for the progression and speed of the left to right, bottom to top nature?  Is it to develop a love of listening to stories?  Is it for the social emotional aspect of reading with a parent or peer?  Is it for the comprehension of materials?  

Reading to me is not just the act of eyes and brain working together fluidly to decode and sound out characters.  I love reading.  I love stories.  I love learning.  But for someone who struggles with any of the above aspects, I doubt they LOVE it.  In fact, you ask a struggling reader and they probably say they HATE it.  And that is a strong word.  

So when assigning reading tasks, I challenge parents and educators to define clearly what is it that you are actually asking the student to do.  It is then I think that you can see what kinds of tools are out there to help them become engaged "readers".  

But first, just observe your reader(s).  Does the student/child rub his eyes a lot, squint, or get headaches?  Any of these should be red flagged and referred to an optometrist.  Can the child/student use his eyes together to scan across a page without jumping?  Do they have difficulty switching from the board to the book?  If acuity has been addressed, then maybe a referral to an Occupational Therapist or Development Ophthalmologist might be in order.  Is the student frequently reversing letters, missing letters or words, or just doesn't seem to be getting the whole picture?  Maybe screening for a learning disability may be in order with a Neuropsychologist.

And in the mean TIME of all of this, how is the child accessing his reading material???  Because, we know this ALL TAKES TIME!  So look at what you have available in the classroom, the district and the local library.  Perhaps providing the student/child with the audio version of the novel you are reading in class would be an easy option.  Do you have access to the digital format?  Using the built in options on the MAC or PC to use the text to speech options may help.  Does your district already have a site license for products like Read and Write Gold or Read and Write for Google?

I know this seems like a rant, but it is more of a challenge.  I challenge teachers, parents, and therapists to really LOOK at the student (or yourself even) and DEFINE READING.  It is only then you can begin to analyze how to really support the reader.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

SpOTLight On: The Assistive Technology Conference of New Enlgand

If you happen to be (or want to be) in the New England area at the end of November, you should consider registering for this year's Assistive Technology Conference of New England.  
Assistive Technology Conference of New England 2015 Logo
Hosted by Tech Access of RI, the Rhode Island ATAP affiliate with focus on educational supports, this year's conference has expanded to include a full day workshop option on Thursday November 19th as well as its comprehensive 24 session workshop day on Friday November 20th.  Click HERE for full listings!

I am proud to say that I have been part of the planning committee for the past two years and this year is especially awesome.  Between the expansion into a two day conference as well as the Bringing Access to Life Expo which features New England vendors, programs and agencies with special talents and abilities highlighting work and leisure, the ATCNE 2015 is sure to inspire you.  
Love Letters By Emily
Therapeutic Sailing
Purely Patrick
Kelly Charlebois, Director of Tech Access of Rhode Island, is "most excited about the diversity of the content of the program and the ability to offer full day, in-depth workshops!"

She should be because the list of presenters is awesome!  Can't make it to ATIA? Well, there will be at least three national presenters at this year's pre conference. Mike Marrotta, AT specialist at Inclusive Technology Solutions, will be presenting his Google Bootcamp.  Diana Petschauer and Alyssa Marinaccio will be addressing Apps across the Curriculum and Kelly Fonner will be discussing Successful Implementation of AAC Apps.  Professionals can also obtain continuing education credits certified by the AAC Institute.
I'm excited to go through Boot Camp this year with Mike Marotta, but I have seen both Diana's and Alyssa's presentations last year which helped me greatly develop an extensive repertoire of resources to use in daily practice.  I am sure you will be highly satisfied with anything in which you chose to participate.

As with years past, the conference will be hosted at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located in Warwick, Rhode Island.  Accommodations and food have been excellent in the years that I have attended this conference.  You can attend either a single day or the two-day conference.  But tickets are selling out fast.  Make sure to reserve your spot and be a part of something great.  If you can't attend but want to support Tech Access and people with disabilities, check out the accessories designed in conjunction with Chubby Chico.