Thursday, January 23, 2014

Playful Way to Teach Grid Reading or You Sunk My Battleship

So Mudge pulled out my travel Battleship to play this afternoon.  And he tried to explain to me that he "knows how to play it."  But in actuality, this nearly 6 y.o. did not.

Battleship is a classic game.  It started out as a pen and paper a long, long time ago. Then Milton Bradley created the one we know and love today that requires fine motor coordination, letter and number recognition, spatial awareness, and grid reading skills.  Grid reading can be broken down further into following a vertical and horizontal line to the place at which they intersect.  This is not necessarily easy to get.  This is a precursor skill to being able to manage charts and graphs, maps, multiplication tables, or super geeky: plotting points on a Cartesian plane.
Of course, we played. And, of course, he thought it was great to sink my battleship.  But it took time to get there. He needed the demonstration of how to read a grid.  Now that I think of it, Battleship appears to teach plotting a little backwards because you state A,1 for example which is actually the Y axis first. True plotting is x axis first.  If the first number in the ordered pair is positive, move to the right. If it's negative, move to the left. Hmmmmmm. Anyway...
I found a website called which has little educational games from grade K through 8th, that has some plotting activities.  You can also sign up for Khan Academy.  If you haven't already, Khan Academy is a free website that parents, teachers and students, or anyone for that matter, can test their math IQ then challenge themselves by learning new concepts, or get support in something they are struggling.   This is a PHENOMENAL resource.  The founder of Khan Academy originally just made YouTube videos to help his struggling niece; now it is a educational platform supporting millions of users at home and at school.

So math can FUNdamental, not just mental.  Sometimes you have to look at things outside the quadrilateral parallelogram in order to find the joy….

Oh, and just for a modification, the plastic travel version that I have had no contrast between the raised letters and numbers and the background which made it difficult to read. So I just use a black  permanent marker to highlight the raised alphanumerics.  Result- higher contrast, happier eyes.
Before, no real contrast
After, with contrast

Monday, January 20, 2014

'Appy Hour: ATEval2Go

After hearing about ATEval2Go app on a podcast to which I listen (ATTipsCast, go check it out~) I had to try it.

ATEval2Go is a very comprehensive evaluation app by SmartyEars that allows the user to enter and export data on child/client specific and classroom specific assistive technology needs.  There are some great features:

1. Ability to take and import photos/audio files/video
This is a nice feature for a couple of reasons. If there is a complex set up, sometimes it is nice to take a picture than attempt to describe it.  It also helps to put faces to names, if you happen to work with a lot of clients.

2. Direct access to a data bank with common recommendations, accommodations, modifications, technology, etc
Being new to the ATP evaluation process, I am still learning different kinds of options out in the world. The data banks provided a visual list of things to look for.  So now, I am using it to evaluate classrooms, to see what is available already in it.  It includes accommodations, modifications and available tools that are commonly found in math, reading, composition, organization, sensory based, etc.  This saves time and helps to individualize modifications and accommodations for the IEP. 

3. Ability to save new and commonly used items to the data bank
My school is full of technology. I have customized my data banks with my recommendations and items in use so that future evaluations will be even more quickly completed.

4. Easy to use
It really couldn't be more simple.  Drop down menus, typing capacity, easy delete and add. 

5. Access to a how to video!
If you wondering if this app will be useful for you, or you downloaded it and want to get started, check out SmartyEars YouTube video.

6. Exportability
You have a couple of different options to get the information from the iPad to a printer. You can email it, directly print to an AirPrint enabled printer, and upload to iBooks or iTunes.  So what I have done, is emailed it to myself and then cut and pasted into a Microsoft Word document, usually one of my progress notes or evaluations.  Then I am able to add any other information I wish or need.

Aspects to consider:
1. Cost
This app is expensive.  At $39.99 I was reluctant to purchase it, which is one of the reasons I reached out to the company.  I like to trial lite versions or have access to a free sample before investing in an app of over 5.99; this app is it. There is no lite or option for free trial.

2. iTunes uploading
This app features the ability to upload an evaluation to iTunes file share.  I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I am hesitant to upload client specific information to the cloud, though I am sure it is secure. I just won't do it.

1. I really would love to see an OTEval2Go! I love the comprehensive nature of the evaluation. It is easy to use and could easily see a version that was friendly to the OT evaluator.

2. I also hope for SmartyEars to consider a free trial period or develop a lite version as I am sure I am not the only one hesitant to purchase prior to hands on use.

3. I would love to see additional software items in the pre-determined data bank.  Though I know technology is changing every time I blink, it would be nice to have commonly used software included.  Many of them have built in accessibility options, which again will help guide educators to use recommendations that are already a classroom resource.

Overall, I see ATEval2Go as a very useful tool for the school assistive tech designee, the SLP or the OT.  It helps guide the evaluator, not do it for him/her which is very important for the efficacy of practice.  If this app is something that you would like to have access to, you may want to present the request to your administrator to cover the cost.  Never hurts to ask!

Disclaimer: I received a promo code to provide feedback and my thoughts about it.
This did/does not influence my discussion of the app.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Tech Tip: Using the Clock Timer on your iDevice to Teach "Help"

I'm kinda evil sometimes.  And the other night, I had a 3 am epiphany: Use the Clock Timer to teach the concept of Help.

Many of the students with whom I work are non-verbal and use a picture exchange system to communicate. With any learning experience, repetition is key to learning a new concept.  And help is sometimes a difficult one to teach.  So, you have to set up the opportunity.  With iPads and iPhones pretty prevalent at school and home, this opportunity knocked.  It takes a little finesse, but I tried it with a student with autism with really good results.

First, Create and Set your Passcode, if you haven't already…
Go to General
Then Passcode Lock

Enter an EASY TO REMEMBER passcode and set it to Immediately
Now, can exit out and find your Clock. Go to Timer. Scroll all the way down until you see Stop Playing, and select it.  This will shut off what ever you are doing when the timer goes off instead of playing Waves or Twinkle.

Here is the fun part. Before you hand the iWhatever to the child, set the timer.  I usually just set it for a minute. Then put them into whichever app you chose.
As the child is playing in the app, the timer is going and going.  When the time is done…. it goes to your lock screen. Poof.
I have a picture card of HELP placed near the child and at first had to do some physical prompting.  But eventually, the child will hand me the picture. "Help." When they do, I put in my Passcode.  But before I give it back to them to play,  I quickly set the alarm again.
When the alarm is set for brief amounts of time, there are plenty of opportunities for "Help".  Be sure to keep an eye on the frustration level, you don't want it to get to elevated. This little trick might be a good option for many children who need to learn or generalized the concept of Help.

Tech Tip: Get rid of visual clutter on your iOS device, quick

I have a two-fold tech tip for today. I have shared this with many people, with at least 95% of them enjoying the easier to read screens on their iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

First: Change the background.
I know most people like having the picture of thier kids or puppies or mountains in the background, but the complex visual nature of the picture really does nothing to enhance the apps, folders and fonts.  In fact, I found it really annoying, especially when the iOS 7 platform came out. So...

Step 1. Take a picture of something black. Heck, just place your iPhone or iPad on the table, and take the black picture. Unfortunately, Apple has not added a basic, plain black background as an option, so I just did this.
Step 2: Go to Settings. Then Wallpapers and Backgrounds Tab
 Step 3: Touch the Choose Wallpaper section
Step 4: Select your Camera Roll
Step 5: Select the Black photo and SET YOUR WALLPAPER ONLY.  You can keep your Lock Screen to your favorite picture.
 Voila.  Already looks way more manageable, right?

But wait, there's more.

Did you notice the iOS 7 platform gave you the thinnest font ever? Well….
Go to Settings….

and Choose BOLD TEXT
Yes, this will restart your device, but it is super quick so go on and press continue.
When your device comes to life, the type face will be just a little bit thicker, helping (my older) eyes see just a little bit more easily.

Now, doesn't that look much better?


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Five Bucks or less: Homework Helper

Do you or someone you know find it difficult to attend to homework assignments because it gets visually overwhelming?

I found these Avery See Through Sticky Notes at the Recycling for Rhode Island Eduction Center, and immediately thought of a variety of uses because of a couple of unique properties. First, they are sticky notes and are easily removable, no real left over tack noted. Second, they come in a couple of colors and shapes, so depending on the preference of the child, you can accommodate pretty easily. Third, you can write on them. Note, if you write or erase vigorously, the color can come off. And depending on the writing implement you use the ink may rub off onto your hands.

So here are some quick uses for homework:
1. Place it on the math problem you need your child or student to focus on or copy.  The highlighting color draws attention to the problem and helps to alleviate some of the stress when there are multiple problems to complete.
 2. The child can then either write directly on the highlight sheet to complete the work, then copy it over if neatness is an issue.
3. Use the highlight to make a reading assist.  Trim the sticky note to the size of the font/spacing in a book the student is reading. Then the child can focus on the line(s) at a time and can follow the left to right, top to bottom reading, without skipping lines.
There's a Fly Guy in my Soup by Tedd Arnold
4. Same theory as above, teachers could stick these highlight papers in the big books they read to children as a cue for a new word.

Now I found them at an educator's discount place, noted above, so I paid 10 for $1.  But if you don't have access to a place like that, then these sticky notes can run anywhere from $3.50 and up for a package of 50 sheets.  But it may be a small price to pay to increase confidence and decrease stress during those pesky, and visually overwhelming assignments.

If you have more ideas on how you can use these See Through Sticky Notes, please post them on the blog response or my Facebook page.  I would love to add more ideas to my mental rolodex!

Five Bucks or Less: Teeth Brushing Help

If you are like me, and fight to get more than 17 seconds of the recommended 2 minutes for your child or student to brush their teeth, then check your local pharmacies, dollar stores, or Five Below stores for the Firefly Toothbrush.

I came across these toothbrushes for under $5.  When the child pushes the button, it starts a 1 minute  visual timer, a light up cue.  As the time runs out, the lights change from green to yellow and finally red. The idea is that the child would brush the bottom row for 1 minute, then press again for the top.  Though, I wish it was a two minute timer, I am thrilled with the one minute.  It has really helped both my sons to complete this activity of daily living much more independently and happily. Without me having to leave other timers in the bathroom.

The simple visual cue of the lights can be helpful for kids with and without disabilities.  I say if its under $5, its worth a try to help with the fight that so many parents face to get children to brush their teeth.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Inside the Book with My Big Brother Bobby author Rebecca Dauer

In December of 2013, My Big Brother Bobby was self published and released by new author, Rebecca Dauer , illustrated by AnnieZimanski.  I have known Rebecca since I was little, so I was eager to get a hand on a copy of her first children’s book.
My Big Brother Bobby isn’t your typical children’s book.  It is more like a communication bridge between parents, social workers, OTs, psychologists and children who are dealing with emotional issues within the home, specifically those living with siblings with angry outbursts.

After reading the story, sharing it with my children, watching and listening to their responses, I reached out to Rebecca to see if she would participate in a little Q and A session. 

OTMommy: When I read this story to my youngest son, he really related to the main character, the little girl.  My eldest related to Bobby, with embarrassment. The story hits close to home.  What was the inspiration of this story?

R.D: I had the idea to write a book since I was a little girl but never knew how to go about writing it. My inspiration was from the countless stories from friends and family who told me about a sibling, an uncle, or a mother with stories of a "monster". I searched for children's books on this topic and couldn't find any. I felt morally responsible to give siblings going through tough times a voice.

A few months ago, I was sitting on the subway on my way to work and the idea hit me and I started writing.  My goal is to help children that are so often unheard. My Big Brother Bobby provides an outlet for siblings to be heard and understood as well as for the parents to have a better understanding as to how their children might interpret experiences differently.

The book also provides a different perspective to the family member with the outburst. As a child you see, feel, and interpret emotions differently. It's important to see the experience from each child's point of view. The first person narrative provides perspective on what the child might go through during these times. As embarrassing as it might be to the child with the outburst, it is important for growth and understanding. The story came from the heart and I hope it is apparent throughout the book.

OTMommy: How did your family and friends feel about you writing this?

R.D.: My friends were extremely supportive and helped me every step of the way. The book wouldn't have been as great if it wasn't for them. I have a few friends and family members in the field who were able to give me advice on wording and calm down plan. There were a few people that were reluctant at first. But once I showed them the book, they were supportive and knew that I could help a lot of people with it.

OTMommy: I noticed this story is done in the first person.  What was the reason behind not naming the little girl?

R.D.: I wanted to let the reader be able to identify with the character and I felt that not naming her would give more power to the story.

OTMommy: I really love the bonus features that give children and adults a way to bridge a communication gap.  It was very emotional listening to my children answer them honestly.  What made you put in the discussion questions, calm down plan and the identifying feelings pages?

R.D.: My good friend, Jennifer Zimmer works with children with autism.  After she read the manuscript she suggested adding the calm down plan. It is a great addition to the book.

I added the identifying feelings and questions at the end of the book to help identify feelings and open up conversation to parents to what their kids might be holding in. If you provide the examples for children, they are more inclined to show and explain how they feel.

OTMommy: What do you hope others to gain from this book?

R.D.: I hope to reach as many children as possible. Send copies to schools, hospitals, and programs across the US. My hope is for children to relate to the characters and know that they are not alone and there are resources available to them. I hope this book provides an outlet for conversation and understanding for all parties involved (as tough as it might be).

OTMommy: Have you considered writing any more books?

R.D.: It was a lot of fun, start to finish. I enjoyed learning the process and working with so many talented people. I wouldn't have been able to do it without Amy Betz, the Editor and Annie Zimanski who's beautifully warm illustrations brought my words to life. I would definitely consider writing another book in the future.

My Big Brother Bobby is a wonderful resource for parents and those working with children to help kids communicate their feelings about being around someone with a “monster in their belly”.  It is available through Amazon for $8.99.  You can also visit to discover more about the author, Rebecca Dauer.