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The Project

9 Apr

We are on Spring Break right now, but I am up to my neck in work projects. This blog is part of those projects, hence me having to “come out.” Yeah, the byline might still say Dick Dalton, but Dan Dage is the one doing all the work and has been all along! So it’s time I give myself credit and begin promoting and branding myself accordingly. “Magnolia County” is Newton County, Georgia. And that’s enough info for the moment. I’ve been spending time in my archives, cleaning and editing stuff that might have proven to be more incendiary than I might like being mindful of offending my coworkers who I generally like and get along with. I’d like to keep it that way, if at all possible! So if any of you see something that might be offensive and damaging and tarnish my pristine image (HA!) go ahead and let me know. Snarky comments from readers don’t count. You all are free to offend as much as you like.

My two projects:

Developing resources for new SID/PID teachers: We have several in our county by virtue of some leaving, moving on or getting arrested. Yeah, it is a very ugly business. Burnout is not a matter of if but when, or so it seems. A good special ed. teacher can make a decent run of it in 3 years before getting too frazzled. As hideously short as that is, we’re averaging less than that on the high school level, and that includes me clocking in 8 years. So I’d like to have resources out there for our new recruits, but also for anyone else around the country wondering what the devil to do with students whose development is measured in months instead of years, especially on the high school level where the developmental gap between the students and their peers is so astronomically wide. This blog will serve as a central place to access those resources, or at least that’s the idea.

Welcome to my play space!

Lesson Plans for my SID/PID students: Let’s suppose for a minute that I have some ideas as to what to do with my students. Translating that into a formal lesson plan that somehow connects what I do with grade level content standards is a Herculean task that I’ve yet to see anyone do well. There’s a couple of ladies at the state department who have done what I do (only better) but haven’t done it since we got into standard-based mode. I may require their help. I’m going to go ahead and start on my own, anyway.

Which leads me to presenting the first step/resource in accomplishing these twin goals. That is, accessing and becoming familiar with the state standards. The special education teachers in Newton county have yet to be trained in the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS). Ever. We happen to have had our special education county meeting at the exact same time the various subject areas are having their GPS meetings every year there has been a roll-out. We are all in the dark.

But there is help, no matter what you teach in Georgia. The GPS website looks a bit plain at first glance, and I was wondering how this thing was voted best of the web last year. However one must drill down a bit to see what’s there. And you all can drill with me by going to the GA DOE’s Moodle site. You can access the courses by logging in as a guest (it’s a one-button process) and looking at the flash videos. There, you will strike gold. Units, sequences, lesson plans, activities, tasks and resources all nicely laid out by subject, by grade. It’s hard to get any easier than that. That is, if you teach a regular subject. For a SID/PID teacher, this is a more daunting task because we have to translate a high school standard into something a developmentally 11 month old in an 18 year-old body can do. I’m not saying it can’t be done. It can, and I’ve done it a few times with a few tasks. But I need to have enough plans to go a few weeks nonstop on this and that is the challenge. I need to be able to plan for the developmental 11 month old as well as the developmental 3 and 4 year-old with adequate differentiation while providing access for all to 9-12th grade standards. This is no small thing we’re tasked with.

So I just thought I’d share, and I’ll be getting back to googling, moodling and otherwise planning. And now you can get your first look at my nerdly self in action!


Thinking About Assistive Technology

19 Jan


I’m thinking about Assistive Technology (AT) lately. This is the time of year when we look at our budgets and buy things for next year. With the miniscule supply money we have, it makes it difficult to choose. Anyone who knows anything about disabilities knows that the minute a thing becomes useful to people with special needs, the price automatically doubles. It’s almost like vendors figure out that they have a desperate consumer base and they are determined to squeeze everything they can out of them.


For instance, I’ve always bought a lot of ground turkey instead of hamburger because it’s tons cheaper and has tons less fat. As soon as they slapped a label on it that said “Gluten Free Casein Free” on it, the price went up $.40 a pound! As if printing those 4 words suddenly increased their overhead or something. This is another reason why I’m such a skeptic, and an angry one at that, because if you are a parent of a person with disabilities you are going to have other people’s hands in your pockets all the time.


As I look through various catalogs, I see stuff costing hundreds of dollars that might only be $25.99 in the regular retail marketplace. And the more severe the disability we’re marketing to, the higher the mark up. Various talking, vibrating, flashing toys for $50 where you might be able to find something comparable for less than $10 though a junk outlet like Oriental Trading Company. I’m looking at a wooden puzzle for $50 in a special needs catalog, where one can go to the dollar store and pick up 3 for $10.


Assistive technology can be sophisticated or it can be simple. I’m the sort that prefers simple although make no mistake that I love the flashy toys as much as any guy! Two years ago, Spaz’s mother had a technology assessment done and they authorized the purchase of a Dynamo for about $3,000 or so. Most of it was paid through Medicaid, so you and I footed a lot of the bill. Within a year, the thing was unusable for a couple of reasons. One was the fact that Spaz is simply hard on stuff. He has to mouth and bite everything and squeeze it and occasional hit it. This isn’t good for electronics, generally speaking. The other reason is because they bought the Dynamo at the end of its support cycle. Every 3 years, Dynavox comes out with newer, flashier and more expensive gadgets and then quite supporting the old ones. So when the Dynamo broke or the memory cards quit working, dynamo said “tough.” They might have supported them for a year, but they eventually quit. This, despite the fact that Spaz’s mother did purchase the extended warranty for another $1,000 or so.


Meanwhile there is Taz, who absolutely is not any easier on his stuff, comes along. Instead of a dynamo, he has a PECS book made of a 3 ring notebook bought at Wal-Mart, with various laminated pictures and pages with Velcro in it and he has had it since middle school and he still uses it despite the fact it is falling to pieces. But when this book eventually visits the landfill, I’m not out gobs of $$$.


It’s so easy to be seduced by vendors peddling assistive devices and technology. They do so many seemingly wonderful things and it’s easy to be sucked into believing that a child absolutely must have a certain thing. Parents of neurotypical children have the same problem, but with the miracle of mass production and mass advertising and competition (the free market) they don’t get pinched nearly as bad. Individuals with disabilities are a seemingly captive audience and it seems like this population is very susceptible to various scams and slicksters. The folks at Dynavox are not necessarily scammers, but they are hustlers. There are populations where their devices are very appropriate and useful. I once had a student with a traumatic brain injury who used one, and they did offer extensive training to all of us educators who worked with him. However, when that went bad, they no longer offered support for it. The turn-around on offering support is about 3 years, which is not untypical in the consumer electronics industry. However, this particular machine cost over $7,000 without the extended warranty. I do have problems with a company who handholds a person through the purchasing process but then leaves them seemingly high and dry 3 years later. And these machines don’t seem to be especially durable as I have never seen one that was used regularly that lasted the full 3 years.


Parents, teachers and service providers have limited budgets and it is important to make those resources we have go as far as possible. I’ve met teachers who basically blow their funds and say, “Oh well, it’s not MY money!” I think that is a glib and irresponsible attitude. Some thinking needs to be involved in what we spend money on as to how important a thing is and how we’re going to use it. As an educator, I’m also mindful of if and how I can transfer a thing home. For instance, I just had a workshop on Intellitools, which is a wonderful bit of software I’m going to use to get my students through their alternate assessments. The cost for this suite of programs is around $285. The cost of the Intellikeys keyboard which makes this software accessible for my kids is $375. The cost of Boardmaker which we use for all sorts of activities (like Taz’s PECS book) and other programs runs about $370. See a trend here? And each of these pieces of software have other supporting bits of software going for $50-$150 each.


Last year, I was given $125 by our department and another $100 from Governor Sonny Perdue. That’s it. And I can’t save my money in a piggy bank, I have to spend it all during a specific time or it is forfeited. In the case of Sonny’s money, I could only spend it during the 3 day tax holiday.


So I can and do appeal to the county office for these big ticket items. Personally, I want a digital camera that won’t be taken away for some other pet project. I can make my own overlays with my own pictures that are actually relevant to what students do everyday. But I’m also going to need the Intellitools to get through the alternate assessment with some degree of sanity.


But back to parents for a second; parents of students with disabilities are usually not wealthy. Especially those on the more severe end of the disability spectrum. The parents of my students are lucky if they have a computer at all, let alone DSL or high capacity processors and memory and multimedia add-ons. I know of 2 of them who have computers, while the other 3 do not. There are not going to be able to afford a touch screen much less Intellikeys and all the stuff that goes with it. They have more important needs like housing, clothes, medical bills and food. I don’t send long lists home to parents of my kids of stuff I expect them to provide. At the beginning of every semester, Thomas and Percy both bring home lists of supplies that their teachers want parents to send in. Wipes, napkins, tissues, sanitizer, air fresheners, paper towels and on and on. In addition we get asked to bring in snacks. In addition, we get hit up to buy wrapping paper, candy, magazines, school pictures, annuals, spirit shirts and clothes and participate in every PTA activity. Raising children is a costly venture, but more so those with special needs. I’m not a big fan of the GFCF diet, but I at least admire the resourcefulness and dedication of those who are.


All of the above is simply my way of saying that I’m looking for ways to bring technology to those who can’t afford the bleeding edge stuff. If I can find a way to make Power Point (or better, Open Office’s Impress) work, I’m going to do it. If I can find a way to give parents access to the internet on the cheap, I’m going to do it. That is part of the driving force behind my Linux/open source blog. I’ve been able to save a buck or two by having access to eBay and an open market place. I’ve been able to find lots of information and learn from other people by virtue of having such access. You all reading this probably takes this sort of access for granted. But within the realm of students with disabilities it seems that those are the people who could probably most benefit from technology and those are the people least likely to be able to afford it.


OMG – I just realized…I’m coming up on my Blogiversary! I’ll see if I can get in some sort of self-indulgent sentimental post in on the weekend. Thanks to all you who have been reading!