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My Moodle Site

9 Oct

Someone asked me about it and so I thought I would share.  I have no idea how long it will remain up, since I’m not under contract there any more.  But it IS a resource that can still be used by those in the distract or anyone else.  But I have to warn you that this is not a very flashy or polished site.  It was designed to be a work-in-progress and it STILL is!

I’ve been involved in the internet and bulletin boards and usenet for over 2 decades.  I was SO happy when it looked like our district has something where teachers could build and collaborate together.  That tool was Sharepoint.  Each school had its own site and each department eventually had its own site within the school’s site.  I was excited about the ability to have discussions and share things with colleagues within the school, as well as possibly with teachers from other schools in the discussion forums.  But as it turns out, the discussion forums were the least-used areas of all.  No one posted anything except me.  To my knowledge, Sharepoint is still not a place where teachers share thoughts and idea, as they seem to still prefer and rely upon email.

So I began using it to store documents and anytime someone needed a form I gave them the url for sharepoint.  It was the perfect place to store forms or anything else that needed to be shared with everyone, but again, email is still the primary vehicle that is used for this.  Today, the school is beginning to use it as a repository for lesson plans, thanks to a technologically savvy assistant principal who makes the teachers put their plans there.

After about 5 years of being “the Sharepoint guy”, the one who was always trying to get teachers to use this tool provided by the district, I finally managed to make it the tool of choice for our special education department.  The killer app was not the discussion forums or even the file sharing.  It was the calendar.  Anyone could go in and edit that calendar, so that is how we began collaborating on an IEP schedule.  Each teacher could input their name, time and place and then another teacher who needed a meeting for that day could look at the calendar and schedule around what was already there.  As cancellations happened, it became easy to change and adapt the schedule.  Withing the department, it became a very important tool and I feel pretty good about helping them take advantage of it.

There are many better and more advanced Moodle sites than mine.  Anyone with any degree of creativity could make one more appealing, but mine was designed to do several tasks in one place, which is what makes this such a powerful tool.  In our district it is called eLearn, but you can clearly see the Moodle icon when you open up a tab to visit my site.  I also have other courses, but this is my main page and one that I still occasionally work and fiddle with.

I originally was going to make this a real course that new SID/PID teachers could take to orient themselves with the field.  Most of the course elements remain from when I took a staff development class on making the site.  I quickly realized that this was a much more robust platform than Sharepoint was for sharing and collaborating.  However the learning curve here was much steeper, so I still tried to get others into Sharepoint while I worked on my owm eLearn.

In the center is all the course materals.  Sorry if sone of the Teachertube links are broken but they are all still on my channel.  And the server does house a few videos not shown anywhere else.

On the right side, there is a calendar that is linked to my Google calendar.   The main use of this was to share with my paras, and anyone else who needed to know, my schedule for the coming week as well as the scedule for any outings that we had coming up. Again, the calendar is what drove most people to my site as it also had the school holidays and other events built into it.

Below that is just a few links that I would use most frequently as well as my mug shot.  HTML blocks are extremely versatile for customizing content even if you don’t know html natively…which would be me.  I also have a box for behavior terms which shows a random word out of a list of maybe 10.  But some teachers have “Video of the day” or “Word of the day” included on theirs.  On the left side I have an html block with resources that I, or other teachers, frequently use.  I just updated this last week as the paras wanted a way to get to resources for their brand new active board.  Since my site is open to anyone, they could go their regardless of whoever logged into the computer it was connected to.  Thus is was a way to preserve bookmarks.

Moodle is an amazing tool for teachers, students and parents.  My wife and I have often consulted the sites of our children’s teachers in order to see if there was homework, or if they forgot the worksheet atschool we could print it from the site.  But alas, most teachers still do not have their own site or do not update and use it.  At some point, it would be nice if they could all collaborate and pool their mental energy to create a grade and subject specific site.  But alas, despite a lot of lip service to the concept of “learning communities”, true collaboration becomes an afterthought if it appears on the radar screen at all.

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The Future of Education?

1 Sep

Once again, I am back in my old room as a substitute and meeting a new teacher for my old students and a few new ones. It’s just like riding a bike…it just becomes a natural extension of you as you know what to do instinctively. And so it is with this population of students. I kind of amazed myself with how quickly I was able to bond with the new students. A bit more about my status later.

But first I want to talk about a podcast that aired recently on the Future of Education website. You can listen to it too!

I bought Bob Compton’s 2 Million Minutes documentary, and he made a lot of astute observations about the education systems in India, China and the U.S. In his latest documentary, he teams up with Dr. Tony Wagner (The Global Achievement Gap) whose book I have read and even gave a few copies away to administrators. The Finland Phenomenon explores the education system in Finland, often regarded as the top system in the world. Compton and Wagner wanted to find out more about the Finnish educational system and why it is as good as it is.

I have not yet seen this film but do plan on seeing it and reviewing it. But I wanted to talk a bit about some things Compton said in this podcast. He talked a bit about barriers to true and genuine innovation and I was struck by his description of how large organizations try to kill or squash innovation. Basically, if there is someone who starts to excel, it makes the rest of the organization look bad or at the very least exposes mediocrity. And since no one wants to feel bad, the out-lier is attacked and either put in their place or ostracized almost out of existence. This is just the organization striving for self-preservation. People don’t like change and innovation has a habit of forcing change upon people. This is also discussed in the book about educational disruption in education that I read a couple years ago about the time I was also reading Tony Wagner’s book.

So…could that be the answer to the question I am too embarrassed to ask or talk much about? During my tenure teaching individuals with severe disabilities I was innovating and shaping things way beyond what anyone else was doing at the time.

  • I had an active Moodle site that was a repository of knowledge to help other teachers who teach students with severe disabilities.
  • I had an active blog, informing other teachers, future teachers, policiy makers and parents the effects of certain government policies on the classroom
  • I recorded and posted scores of videos on Teachertube, sharing best practices in how to use different types of technology in the classroom
  • I experimented with many different types of technology including mp4 players, open source programs and various switches and AAC devices
  • I encouraged the faculty to use the collaboration software that the county had purchased in order to collaborate and share their ideas and thoughts rather than burdening the email system.
  • We experimented with research-based interventions such as electronic social stories and video modeling to teach new behaviors.
  • I tried to get school leaders to use technology to reach or teach the staff asynchronously in order to afford greater flexibility with staff development and to leverage the technology to build capacity for more staff development options and offerings.
  • Participated and attended staff development activities such as Future of Education webinars, and subscribed to various educational podcasts, even experimenting with my own podcasting site.

These efforts were not always greeted with open arms. Sometimes there was active opposition to some of the ideas but most of the time efforts to reform practice was met with a polite smile and then people continued to do what they were used to doing. I was clearly out in front of most of my colleagues when it came to technology and ideas for building capacity especially in regards to staff development using multimedia and social collaboration.

And these activities are STILL regarded with a great deal of resistance and suspicion from many people who make decisions about education. Being an innovator is often very politically risky and I have to admit to being often very naive when it comes to politics. My thought is that the needs of the students should be greater than the need for any particular political vendetta. We might disagree about certain policies, but in the end we are charged with the trust of caring and educating all students.

I’m a bit lost as to what to do about whatever it is that keeps me from getting back into the classroom full-time and need to look at all other options. Surely some of these skills must translate into something else that is useful to someone.

OH…by the way, look at some of the other blogs who made the list!  What an honor and a treat to be listed alongside so many other excellent special education bloggers.

PLN for SID/PID Teachers?

22 Feb

PLN = Personal Learning Network and it is the latest buzz word buzzing around. Or at least it’s the latest thing I’m running into when reading about teachers who are into technology and all the latest, greatest stuff.

I’m still trying to figure out what it is, exactly. It’s not exactly cut and dried. Funnily enough, the concept is older than most of the technology that is spawning a lot of the conversation. But there is some good sites helping to guide teachers on how to make one. And David Warlick seems to have the authoritative site on the subject.

So do you have one? Do you need one? Patrick Woessner does a good job of describing the current state of affairs in education. Few people know what it is, let alone have one. In a way, I do have one in the form of the folks in my blogroll and RSS feed. But I feel like it’s not very tightly knit. I’m beginning to see where Twitter might be helpful. But again, there’s that info overload, because of my various interests.

I joined the Classroom 2.0 and there’s some promise there. I invite you all to look around and let me know what you think.

View my page on Classroom 2.0

What really got me thinking about this was a recent wave of comments from colleagues who have referenced the isolation involved in teaching students with severe disabilities. Like our students, we are often in need of the greatest support but are segregated off from the greater teacher community. We can join in extra curricular concerns (if we have time) but we rarely get to connect with others who also do what we do. It’s rare that there is more than one SID/PID teacher in the building and some districts may only have 3 in the whole system! So providing support and ways to get support becomes a real challenge but the technology is there if we want to use it.

Oh well, back to work on finishing up the GAA!

The Video Project

11 Feb

The idea was, and still is, to develop a knowledge base for other SID/PID teachers to draw from and (hopefully) contribute to. I’m extending the level of collaboration beyond the district mainly because there are so few of us who do what it is I do. And among those who are SID/PID teachers, there are not many with a lot of technical knowledge to produce the content and post it in a place where others can benefit from it.

However, the open nature of the project has caused some concern for people on many levels, or at least so I’ve been told. So I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome my new readers and clarify a few things in a way that will hopefully lower the anxiety level of everyone.

Here is a copy of the permission slip that I used in order to give parents an opportunity to participate in this project. From my standpoint, the parents of my students were partners in the project as far as I was concerned. They were free to opt in and out at will. However, I didn’t seek necessary approval from those in higher authority. I can sympathize and understand where there might be some concern from a liability standpoint. It’s the job of those people in the higher pay grades to worry about such things and I do appreciate the concerns that have worked their way through the system to my level. From where I sit, it looked pretty straight forward: there was some teaching that needed to be done and I was in a position to do it. So I did. I never made what I was doing a secret. In fact, I actively promoted my blog and my video channels in order to get the word out that this resource was available. I invited input and feedback. That’s what this whole web 2.0 medium is all about. It’s about sharing knowledge and then improving on the knowledge that is shared. The accountability of the system is built into the feedback.

Unfortunately, those who are not natives to the new media have some issues with the lack of control over the flow of information. There is a lot of fear concerning the unknown. I can sympathize with that, but I’m also concerned that there are so many educators that hide behind the curtain of ignorance in the name of such fear. Healthy concern is prudent and it does help mitigate recklessness and poor judgment. However we are engaging in a massive act of educational malpractice if we fail to become educated in the new learning mediums afforded to us through technology. We need to know these tools and leverage them in order to better educate others.

I have a blog. I have a Youtube channel. I have a Teachertube channel. I also have a podcasting channel. I have the power to broadcast my views and to editorialize as I please to pretty much anyone in the world. And I do that quite a lot more than many people would like. However, I also have the tools to extend my voice, my views and my knowledge beyond the walls of my classroom. I can teach beyond the boundaries of the school district’s control and supervision. And that could be a very scary thing to someone who is fixed on trying to manage the outflow of information.

This brings up a lot of important issues that have never come up before. How much of what I say is protected speech under the 1st amendment of our constitution? How much of it is protected under civil rights legislation? After all, much of what I’m trying to do falls under the category of advocating for students with disabilities and those who care for them. How much political speech am I allowed?

How should a school district respond to someone who is an employee and also a parent who is acting in both roles as well as a role of a non-sanctioned reporter of sorts? This is a really sticky situation because every teacher (and student!) has the opportunity and technological ability to become his or her own media outlet.

I could do what a lot of other teachers do (and what I started out doing) which is blog anonymously. Of course the risk is then that they would be found out. My choice now is to be as open and transparent as possible in order avoid the risk of being accused of blindsiding my administration within the district. My blog address has been part of my email signature file (and has probably been mostly ignored up until this point) since the beginning of school. I have been very open about it without being obnoxiously promotional.

My thought is that the school district has more control over me, as an employee, than they would have over me as simply an educated parent. With things being out in the open, I have a vested interest in not rocking the boat too much. I’ve always known that administrators could be reading me and just assumed that they probably were. In my profile, I clearly say that my views do not represent those of my employer and probably need to display that more prominently.

I also knew that there were people within the GA DOE who were following my blog. When I began there were very few special education blogs, and not a lot of educational blogs originating from Georgia. It really got obvious when I saw training materials that used pseudonyms that had been lifted directly from some of the ones I used here during my anonymous blogging days. Hey, I’m glad I was inspiring someone there!

I was also being read by people in the U.S. Senate. Yep. I even had a staffer from one VERY prominent U.S. Senator (who is not from Georgia) email me asking for some input on some pending special education/disability legislation. I begged off (politely) because I wanted to stay anonymous. It was that email (and a few others) that made me eventually decide to stop being anonymous because while it afforded me a lot of freedom and safety it also limited me as far as being effective in truly helping others and making a difference. I had to come out and be me instead of a pretend and imaginary person. And I had to risk facing the music within my own community and school. I had to step up and take responsibility for what I was writing and producing.

Plus I wanted to produce more content that would make a bigger impact. Which brings back to the video project. That project had truly given me a new lease on my teaching life. I was really approaching a state of burn out as a SID/PID teacher. That project gave me new purpose and new meaning. It was a marriage of my teaching background and expertise along with my technological knowledge along with my desire to get involved with the new media. I got excited. One of the first things I did was I wrote to the creators of Teachertube and asked them to establish a separate channel for special education. And that is exactly what they did. Since the day it started, I have been in the top 5 contributors of that channel.

I saw adding content that showed actual students as a logical step in the progression of informing and educating outside of my classroom. I even gave my evaluator copies of videos that I had shot in the closing days of the year so she could see me actually teach academic content instead of just watching me work with kids eating at lunch. I shared what I was doing with my special ed director and with some of the folks in the technology department. It is that enthusiasm that has carried me through a lot of the various issues of this year. I was seeing something good happen.

I’ve been too busy to post or shoot much video but I always intended on getting back to it once I got the time. However, I did not get permission from the parents for this year so I hadn’t planned on shooting any new video with students. Now the school district is in the midst of wrestling with what to do about blogs and videos. I removed the videos that contained any student images in the interest of not increasing the level of anxiety any more than already exists. It was tough dropping out of that top 5 spot on Teachertube.

I do intend on producing more content and posting it there eventually but it will be of a much safer nature. If other people want to get on board, they are more than welcome! I’m trying to participate in a larger community of learning, and I’m not particularly interested in getting into some sort of political turf war. Neither am I interested in the paranoid superstitions of people who don’t understand 21st century learning. I’m just a guy who likes to teach using the tools of technology.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

23 Dec

A couple of days before we got out on break, I got something very special from my special education director at the board office.

Now I can share my joy with all of you!

This is also a jumping off point for a new series about IEPs. I figure since I have to do this anyway, I might as well blog it. It might help other teachers as well as parents. My IEP series is linked in my blogroll and has been the biggest source of traffic to this blog since I posted it. Maybe the same trick will work for my Teachertube and Youtube channels?

Thanks for y’all coming by and joining in my foolishness!

(Note: I’m not at all bashing my special ed director here.  I’m just having a bit of fun with the inevitable Life That Chose Me.  You just have to laugh, sometimes)

Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

4 Jun

In making my course for teachers and paras for students with severe disabilities, I’ve been looking for content related to what we do in the classroom. Today I decided to work on Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT) sometimes also called Discrete Trial Instruction (DTI). Same thing, different name.

I prefer video over text alone, so I went first to TeacherTube, since the school system doesn’t block that site. However, the only video there on the subject is the one I posted. Oh well. YouTube is a better source for videos on anything and a search there was much more fruitful. Here’s one working with a very young child. No matter the age, the same rules always apply. Keep the instruction consistent, reinforce independent responses, and record the responses for data analysis. The YouTube video gives very comprehensive, yet concise instruction on the topic and I’d love to use it.

There is also a series of Lovaas training videos on YouTube which are much more advanced, behaviorally speaking, but the one listed above gives a better overview in a lot less time . Part 1 shows how not to do it in the beginning, which you can see from the comments elicited strong reactions from a few viewers. It’s a bit dated, but you get a good view of a purer form of DTT from the Lovaas people. There are many YouTube videos in a variety of languages worth looking at and these are mostly used for and by parents. Teachers and paras really need to tap into this information, too.

Typing in “ABA” reveals a lot of videos showing it in action, mostly with very young children with autism. DTT is not the same thing as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is more of a global description of a system. It’s sort of like referring to “rain” as “weather.” Yes, rain is weather, but it’s only one aspect of weather and even precipitation. Weather encompasses all manner of meteorological events including wind current, barometric pressure and the jet stream. ABA encompasses a whole lot more topography beyond just DTT, but a lot of people outside the field confuse the two.

I recently put a couple more videos up showing some of what I do with a type of DTT here and here. This is also serving as a sort of tutorial in modeling for para instruction at the same time instructing the student. I probably need to make a more explicit para training video since that is a big issue for most special ed teachers.

I like DTT because it is straightforward, and something that paras can learn and do pretty easily. It can yield some good data and works well with short-term IEP objectives. It is something that is not expensive to set up, and it is accessible to anyone who wants to learn how to do it.

Catherine Maurice’s Behavior Intervention for Young Children remains one of the best and most accessible resources on the subject even though she makes the common mistake of confusing ABA with DTT. Many of these interventions can be used with older students with severe autism and you’ll recognize what we do in the videos compared to what is done with the youngsters. It’s only been within the last 10 years that DTT really took off in the autism community, so students in high school were probably never exposed to this behavioral technology at a younger age.

D.

A Word or Two About Parent Advocacy

20 May

I have new videos posted on TeacherTube! On one, I began a rant on the onerous IEP process that parents never see, which is all the work that goes into preparing these things. It turned out to be more of a rant on goals and objectives, though. I’m also playing around with Movie Maker effects to make it slightly more interesting.

From the autism walk, you can see CJ singing the National Anthem! I don’t know him that well, but I’ve always looked at CJ as being pretty severe as I’ve never heard him say anything! But seeing is believing, and there he is singing just as well as ever, and pretty much stayed on-key the whole time with no music to help him. Is it true the national anthem is one of the hardest songs to sing? CJ made it look pretty easy! Plus there is a presentation by Kimberly Rockers where she talked about genetic links to autism. Yeah, that’s my oldest running around and standing in front!

But I want to do more than just post updates, as I have some actual thoughts to blog about. And this time it is about parent advocacy. I ended up on the other side of it recently, and it was more traumatic and harrowing than I would ever have anticipated. Part of the reason was that it was very much unanticipated.

If you want to raise the blood pressure of the teacher, waiting until the IEP to spring all sorts of concerns and complaints is one way to do it. But you’re going to pay a price for that tactic, which is some resentment from someone who could be advocating with you. Is it worth it? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t.

When going through the IEP Process, I advocate the teacher and parent working together hand-in-hand and step-by-step, collaborating on providing the best services for the student. “Best” in a public school is a relative thing. The first, greatest and best teacher for your child is YOU. Not the teacher, the SLP the OT or PT. It is YOU, the parent. No one else has the time that you do with your child. No one else cares as much. No one else has the motivation that you have. No one else has the knowledge you do. No one else has the intimate relationship and attachment that you do. And more often than not, many of these other people you rely on to provide services have their own children to care for and feed. During school time, you want these other people to be effective in helping your child to meet their potential. Meeting potential in the school system nowadays means accessing the regular education curriculum. Math, English, social studies and science are what we’re supposed to be teaching. Communication, mobility and other skills must fit into that general education context. Folding laundry and washing dishes are not part of the general education curriculum. Those days are disappearing. Write your congressperson if you feel differently. I have.

One area of contention I had to endure was Extended School Year or ESY. In my view, given what I said above about the parent being teacher #1, ESY makes less sense when you consider that the person that is going to be delivering services is not necessarily the child’s teacher/therapist. It is also probably not going to be in the same location and it is not going to be following the same schedule as the regular school year. Different setting + different teacher + different schedule + different bus + autism = …..progress?!??!

Think again. A child would do much better to have services done in the home or staying with family for the summer. As it is, it is a recipe for behavior problems all the way around and NOT a recipe for progress. Some people are wild about providing social skills instruction during the summer. I can say from reading the research that the efficacy of even the best social skills programs is suspect, at best. But I see more and more parents advocating for it. So let’s plug in a novel peer group into the equation I just outlined above. You have a sudden, severe series of transitions that will be repeated at the end of the summer when they go back to school. Are you really doing your kids any good? I don’t know. You decide.

When I see this sort of “advocacy” it begins to look more and more like the parent simply wants the school to raise their child for them. It is also the failure to see the reality that school services might be able to make progress but school services are not a cure!

As parents, we didn’t ask to have children with disabilities. We’re sending the best children that we have. I just want to make sure that my children have the same access that other students have to an education. However, I do not rely on the schools to teach my children everything. His mother has really done most of the real grunt work when it comes to his education. And she has done a stellar job of it. I’m realistic enough to understand the limitations of public schools in that they do not have the resources to do everything demanded of them. I believe that parents need to step up and take the responsibility for educating their children. The school system is there, but it is not the main education agent nor should it be. We, as parents, need to step up. And if you are a parent of a child with disabilities, you’re going to have to be twice as diligent. Does that mean being more diligent in getting your child services? No. It means learning how to do the things service providers do, and do them yourself. The best therapy my son ever got was after we were able to watch what the therapist did. We have video of his OT, SLP and PT therapists working with him, and we were able to replicate what PT, OT and speech were doing at the private therapy clinic. The light bulb came on in my mind when I saw my son participate a Georgia State study with Mary Ann Romski, and I saw exactly what the SLPs were doing. In fact, much of her research revolves around training parents how to implement interventions.

I’m a big believer that if parents are given the knowledge and tools, they can be the ones who are making the real and significant contributions to a child’s development. Fighting with the school system simply saps your own resources and energy that you could devote to more meaningful activities.

The experience of being rolled over was an exercise in humility. I’m not as good as I thought I was. I am not a special ed. wizard. I’m one person, trying to do the best I can within my own limitations and I have a lot of those. I’m not able to cure anyone, and I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I could. I’ve come to realize that the best I can do is to extend the hard work parents have already put into raising their kids, not the other way around. Nowadays, people often talk of parents needing to support their schools and teachers, which I think is backwards. The parents are the primary educational agents in the lives of their children, and the school plays a supportive and augmentative role. I’ve been around enough to see what happens when family support at home breaks down. Performance at school also slips and behaviors worsen and little learning takes place. So teachers and parents need to be supportive of each other.

So when you are advocating, just what exactly is your expected outcome? If it’s a cure, you’re going to be frustrated pretty much all the time. If it’s for everything you want, you’re going to be frustrated all the time because even when you think you’ve gotten it all, there’s going to be a missing piece. Perhaps you get the para support but the para is untrained and lazy. Or perhaps you get an untrained teacher. Training these folks takes time. Are they going to spend school time getting the training? That’s less time with your child. Is it over the summer? Oh wait…you want them to do ESY! You’re going to have to break in and break countless teachers, paras, therapists and administrators as you fight and battle your way through your child’s school years. Because I have seen more than one teacher move on to another setting rather than continue battling a contentious parent, especially with the prospect of having to be locked in battle for years in the self-contained setting. Let’s face it, I am not up to the task of fighting with the parent of a 16 year-old until that child is 22. Quite frankly, some of you are bent on being angry and frustrated and seem to be conditioned to making everyone else scared, angry and frustrated.

As a parent I have had skirmishes with teachers on a few occasions, usually when the teacher wants to put the child in an overly restrictive environment when they have no data to substantiate such a placement. Basically, if the school starts making noises about putting my child in a self-contained setting, they need to show me something more than just an opinion. Sometimes a parent wants to try a less restrictive setting, and I admit I get nervous about that with my students whose functioning is measured in months. There’s the whole fear that they’ll be victimized by some of the street-wise kids. But you want to try, go ahead and try. Perhaps it will work. I’ve seen good things happen when severe kids are around those less severe. But transitions can be rough.

I’m interested in hearing/reading stories from parents whose advocacy has helped turn a situation around. Perhaps you managed to turn a bad teacher into a good one? Or maybe you’ve battled for years and finally got everything you wanted and it turned out the way you wanted. I have heard of parents who battled until they eventually got a teacher they wanted. I’ve been on both sides of that one, as a parent getting good teachers and as THE teacher some parents wanted.

But I am not all that, as either a parent or teacher. No super teacher/parent here. I can write about it better than I can actually do it! In fact, this is not as much me choosing this life as it is the life that has chosen me!

D.