Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday's Motivation: Animal School

Over the years I have collected quotes, poems, prayers, videos, excerpts of books...etc. related to things that I am passionate about.  Many of these are about teaching, school and/or disability.  I am required to have a spiritual goal as part of my professional growth plan so I'm going to spend some time each Monday either pulling something up that I already have or finding something new and then reflecting or spending time in prayer related to it.  Some of my thoughts I will share here, some will be private but each week I will share the video, prayer, poem, quote, exerpt...etc. that I am looking at that week.

This week is a video that I have had tucked away for several years now called "Animal School".  I have gotten it from u-tube but it is also available for purchase at

This one pretty much speaks for itself and so I will just post it...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Changes and Additions: Organization, Morning Meeting, news-2-you Plans and Auto-ball-ography Project

We start on Monday.  I'm not really ready but am hoping that by tomorrow evening I will be closer.  Not being able to go in my room until so late has made it tough as I'm a single mom to a child who can only handle about 2 hours at a time in the classroom so I'm doing a lot of running back and forth.

As I've been getting ready, I've made some changes and additions along the way that I thought would be worth recording/sharing.

I have decided to rotate staff every 3 weeks instead of every 2 weeks. I just feel we can maintain a bit more consistency then. I'm also feeling like we may not be able to get through everything I want to get through in just 2 week time frames.
Morning Meeting
Have added a "Do you want to feel the weather?" section to going through the weather.  Students will be asked if they want to feel the weather after we have gone through the weather.   If its windy, they will be able to switch activate a fan to feel the wind.  If its sunny they will switch activate a heat lamp to feel the heat (see note at the end of post).  If its raining, we will lightly mist them with a spray bottle (remember they were asked if they wanted to before we do this to them).  If its snowing we will have a bin of snow that they can touch (if there is enough snow).  If its cold, we will have an ice pack they can touch.  I'm still playing around with it but I wanted to add a sensory/interactive component to the weather for the students and thought this might work.
When we do morning prayers, we will do "intentions" where each student can say something they want to pray for.  I will ask parents to put this as the first thing on their step-by-step if they have anything.  I will have a staff check them as students come in and then we will add the intentions that are there to the end of our morning prayer.
Classroom Jobs will be handed out on a 3-week basis so that they are consistent with staff changes.  Each team will be assigned jobs for the 3-week time frame. 
I will need to find 3 or 4 more days of activities related to Super Sand Castles to do because we will be doing that theme for longer.
news-2-you Planning
After some thought I have decided to do a new news-2-you topic every 3rd week instead of every 2nd week.  This links in to the fact that I've decided to change staff every 3 weeks.
My next news-2-you theme will be the one related to the Wizzard of Oz.
Auto-ball-ography Project
I'm still working on the bulletin board for this.  Its a race against the clock to get it done on time for the beginning of the year.  The books are pretty much ready for the students.
I have added a couple pages to end of each students book that are titled "This year I'm going to work on..." and then I'm making picture symbols of the things that are focus areas in the student's IEP and they will cut these out and glue them on those pages.  This fits in to our division assessment for learning focus and I also think it will be neat for other students to see the type of work that happens in our room as well as for everyone to look back at the end of the year.
Added note on heat lamps: I had a couple of questions about heat lamps and I was thinking to get one of those lamps that you would use in a reptile cage from a pet store when I brainstormed this idea.  I have not actually purchased one yet so did a bit of looking around the Internet and found another option that I'm thinking I like better.  Check it out at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday's Weekly Comments

Weeklycomment Another great idea that I got from Geek Teacher.  I've been reading a lot of teacher blogs the last few weeks and I'm humbled.  There are so many great ideas, links, information and stories in these blogs.  It reminds me again of vast the amount of information to learn and take in is.  

In the hopes of sharing just a glimpse into the great stuff I read, I thought that I will list the blog posts that I comment on each week on Wednesday.  This is my first list...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Classroom Still Needs a Lot of Work!

Less than one week until the students will be back in class and my classroom is so far from ready its crazy!  Back in June we were told that we had to move everything off of side shelves as we would be getting air conditioning this summer.  So I piled things up wherever they could go and left the school knowing that we would not be allowed back in until shortly before school started.  

I'm sure anyone who teaches knows how summer construction goes.  I'm confident that they started nothing until about a week ago and now they are saying not only will they not get it done this year but the part of it they will get done they have to do while we have students in the classroom.

What this means for me is that my classroom consists of a bunch of piles of things that should be on shelves and that I'm not allowed to use those shelves before the start of the year.  Its completely frustrating.
But that is not what this post is about.  This is post was meant to just be a place to post some "before" pictures of my classroom.  I'm thinking the after will not come until sometime in September as I will want to get the construction people out and the classroom organized before I post them.

The classroom itself used to be two seperate classrooms and then it was redesigned to house us.  We have a kitchen, a small Snoezelen space, a door that leads to a cement patio, a therapy area, a swing and an change/bathroom area in the back of the classroom.  We also have great natural lght in the room. 
This is what the classroom looks like when you first walk in the door.  


I'm standing in the corner by the kitchen here.  This is the view of the length of the classroom looking towards the change/bathroom area in the back. The door that you can see on the left is the door in to our Snoezelen space.

The cute kid on the swing is my son Mikey.  You can see the fold down PT table behind the equipment in the back of this picture.  The purple bulletin board is the one that I use for morning meeting information.  We take the swing down, move the table out a bit and we can all gather around in this area for meeting.
This is a view into our vey not ready Snoezelen space.  Everything was taken down for cleaning at the end of last year and I have not been able to put anything together in there yet.  This room gets used for a variety of purposes as we also use it for a quiet work space for those students who need it.
Here are a couple of pictures of our change room/bathrooming area.  We have tracking above the change table (you can't see it) and then use a Hoyer lift everywhere else in the classroom.  I have been told that they will be extending the tracking from this area out to the PT table and swing area in the next year or so.  I would love to have tracking throughout but I know that my best way of getting it is asking for a piece of it every few years.  Oh yeah... we have some great storage in this area :).
And here is one last picture from another angle.  You can see the corner where my desk is tucked in and the door leading to the hallway is to the right of that.  The yellow bulletin board and the white board beside it are used for staff reminders and information.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday's Motivation: Flowers are Red (Harry Chapin)

Over the years I have collected quotes, poems, prayers, videos, excerpts of books...etc. related to things that I am passionate about.  Many of these are about teaching, school and/or disability.  I am required to have a spiritual goal as part of my professional growth plan so I'm going to spend some time each Monday either pulling something up that I already have or finding something new and then reflecting or spending time in prayer related to it.  Some of my thoughts I will share here, some will be private but each week I will share the video, prayer, poem, quote, exerpt...etc. that I am looking at that week. 

I'm starting with a song that I heard in a workshop the very first year that I was teaching.  Even back then we were talking about "Assessment for Learning" although at that time it was more focused on student led conferencing and learning styles as that is what the workshop was about.  I was teaching a variety of subjects in middle school at the time and was full of the ideals that are still so fresh before you have been in the trenches for a while.  I've learned through the years that with a lot of hard work, changing things up regularly and some heavy ignoring of toxic forces, you can maintain many of the ideals that you have in those first years.  This video spoke to me of the things that I saw wrong with the school system then and still speaks to me now of the same issues.  Our school systems work so hard to make students conform that they forget that it is in creativity that people learn.  I just read a post about life long learning over at Teaching Learners With Multiple Learning Disabilities and it reminded me of my belief in fostering creativity and allowing student's control over their learning being a couple of hte keys to life long learning for any student - and this is just as true for the population of students that I teach as it is for the "general education students".  Its actually easier to foster in my current job as I'm not sure if anyone can imagine how much of a challenge that is when you are teaching high school mathematics (as I did in my former career).  Really self-determination is one of my main focuses in my classroom so the flowers can be any color my students choose.  My final thought that I want to share on this video is how it speaks to allowing students their learning style and the tools that will help them along the way.  We are so much more aware now of this need but being aware and setting things up to allow for this seem to be two different things. 

Enjoy the video :).

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

news-2-you: Super Sand Castles

I have moved this up to the top one last time as it is now complete.  I will be using these ideas from August 31 through September 18 and will post a new topic towards the end of that time frame.

News2youI got the idea to share the plans I'm making related to news-2-you from the blog entitled Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs.  I enjoyed the outline format that was used and thought I would do something similar as I found resources and made plans.  Given the way I function, I have decided that I will generally be using the papers every 2nd week and generally one week later than what they were intended for.  This will give me the time I need to make sure materials are adapted for my students and also give my students the time they need to really explore any new topic.  If I make any materials with Boardmaker, I will post them here for download as well as post them in the Adapted Learning news-2-you group.

Morning Gathering Time Activities

Each morning during morning gathering time we will take some time to do an activity related to the current newspaper. Many of these will be related to choice making and sensory activities.  Here is an outline of the activities we will be working on for this newspaper timeframe:
  • Day 1: Rough and Smooth (because sand is rough)touch and feel - have a number of itmes that are rough and smooth and let students touch and label (for those that can) as rough or smooth.
  • Day 2: Rough/Smooth Vote - have 2 items - one that is rough and one that is smooth and have student vote on which feeling they like better (may also vote on two different rough or two different smooth items).
  • Day 3: Beach Clothing - Have a bunch of pictures from catalogues with different types of clothing. Talk about which ones we might wear to the beach and where we might wear the others.
  • Day 4: Beach Clothing Voting:  Have pictures of pairs of outfits and students vote on each outfits they like more (note that my class consists mainly of middle/high school aged students).
  • Day 5: Wet/Dry Explorations
  • Day 6: Cooling Off Drinks:  Have samples of types of drinks we use to cool off and do some taste testing.
  • Day 7: Types of Drinks Voting: Have sets of drinks and let students taste and then vote on which one they like more?
  • Day 8:Vacation Destinations:  Have pictures of different places we might go on vacation. Students share stories of vacations they have gone on. For thost who are non-verbal, a note is sent home in the communication book the night before for parents to put this on their step-by-step for today so they can share as well.
  • Day 9: Vacation Destination Voting: Have pictures of different places and students pick where they would rather go.
Language Arts (Vocabulary, Literacy, Composition, Communication...etc
  • Beach Ball Books for Hallway Bulletin Board:  Each year I like to post information about our students on the hallway bulletin board so others can take the time to check it out and get to know them a bit more.  This year I'm going to keep with the "Super Sand Castle" theme and make a beach scene for our bulletin board.  Each student will draw and cut out a sandcastle and then smear glue and sand on it and post it on the bottom of the board.  I'm sure the custodian is going to love me for that one ;).  The top of the board will read "We are going to have a ball in L.A.P. this year!" and there will be space to put student made books that are in the shape of a beach ball up on the bulletin board.  You can download the "Auto-ball-ography" file here. Stay tuned next week for a picture of the bulletin board all ready for the addition of sandcastles and beach balls.
  • "I Went to the Aquarium" Interactive Book: a book where students match real pictures (downloaded from the Internet) to PECs of different ocean animals.   
  • Beach Bingo: Focuses on on vocabulary related to the beach.  This is a boardmaker file made by "hdifiore" on the Adapted Learning Website.  You can download it here:  Note you will need a (free) username and password to sign in to Adapted Learning. 
  • "There Was an Old Lady Who Followed a Shell" by Lucille Colorado: There is also a boardmaker file made by "cdnali" on the Adapted Learning Website that has extension/comprehension types of activities.  You can download it here:  Note you will need a (free) username and password to sign in to Adapted Learning.
Switches and/or Computers
  • I have no items in this category for this topic but will leave it up as it is an area that I want to try to cover for other topics.
  • Beach Items Counting and Positions:  I downloaded a beach scene made by "thuff" on the Adapted Learning Website, increased the size, printed it off on cardstock and then laminated the background.  You can download the beach scene here: Note you will need a (free) username and password to sign in to Adapted Learning.  I then created the following boardmaker file:  "Beach Toy Positions and Counting".  When working with students, staff decides on a sentence strip, puts the appropriate symbol(s) on the sentence strip and then has the student follow the directions on the sentence strip. It is set up to work on just counting (to 5), just positions (in, on, under, beside) and both positions and counting.
  • Beach Toy Sorting:  We have a variety of beach toys and we will sort them by size (big and small), color or type of toy (shovel, pail...etc.).  We will use PECS out of student binders to direct what the groups are.
  • Fish Math Puzzle by lang1985: This file was made by someone else and uploaded to the Adapted Leraning Website.  You can download it here:  Note you will need a (free) username and password to sign in Adapted Learning. 
Science/Sensory Explorations
  • Sensory Bins:  Regular Sand,  Moon Sand and Water filled with beach items.  Some examples of what I will put in: beach toys (shovels, buckets, sifters..etc.), sea shells, boats, fish tank plants.
  • Sink and Float Explorations:  Each team of students needs a water bin, a worksheet that has a table with two columns (one labeled sink and one labeled float), a set of items (some that will sink and some that will float) and pictures of the same items.  Students put each item in the water to see if it will sink or float and then glue the item in the proper section of the worksheet. 
Social Studies/Life Skills
  • Geography - Where Have You Been on Vacation Bulletin Board:  include a map with locations of where you have been on vacation.  Students bring in pictures of their vacations and these go up on the bulletin board as well.  Try to highlight beach vacations but leave it open to other vacations as well. 
  • Fill Your Beach Bag Spinner Game: Use an "All-Turn-It Spinner" and game cards.  Students take turn spinning the spinner and marking off the item the spinner points to on their game card.  The first person to get all the items on their game card is the winner.  Note that I always put "free spaces" on the spinner as well as all of the items (just take one game card and cut it up in pictures and glue them on the "All-Turn-It Spinner" circle).  Boardmaker file for this is on  You can also download it here:  Download "Fill Your Beach Bag Spinner Game".  Note that you will need Boardmaker to open this file.
  • Find and Match (using Sand Sensory Bin):  Need one or two sets of beach themed items as well as pictures or PECs of those items (dependent on student level).  If working with one student, bury items in the sand and have them find them and then match to the pictures that you have.  Once they have all pictures matched they are done activity.  If working with two students, bury items in the sand and do the same.  First student to come up with all items is the winner.  Another way to do this is by way of a matching game where two of each item are buried and then students dig out two items by turn and if they have a match they get to keep them.  The person with the most pairs at the end is the winner.
Fine Arts (Music, Drama, Art...etc.)
  • Pasta Shell Painting: Students paint pasta shells to make them look like sea shells.  Shells are glueed on to a beach background that students color (or print off in color and just put on shells).  Can also add real sand to the picture to make it more real.
  • Sand Painting: Students use glue to make designs and then put sand on them and shake excess sand off to create a sand painting.
  • Personalized Surf Boards:  Each year we decorate something that is large enough that we can use for hanging from the ceiling for decorations.  We personalize them with all the things that are of interest to the students.  Last year we did kites as we started with a flight unit.  This year we are going to make "surf boards".  I will take large pieces of cardboard and cut them out n the exact size of a surfboard.  Students will spend one session painting their board - with brushes, sponges or fingers depending on student choice.  The next sessions will be spent on choice making and cutting and gluing skills.  Choice making in that students will decided what shoudl go on their surfboard and cutting/gluing to whatever level they are able to assist with (students who are working primarily on switch access use battery operated scissors hooked up to a switch).  Once the project is done, these will be hung from the ceiling of our room.  We will also make some "waves" to hang in between the surf boards.   
Adapted P.E.
  • Beach Ball Activities:  Some possibilities include: batting at beachballs, playing catch with beach balls, beach volleyball, kicking beach balls, putting beach balls on the parachute and shaking it, beach ball relay race (hold on to ball while doing relay). 
  • Beach Toy Scavenger Hunt:  Students have a picture checklist of the items that they are to find around the school and they go looking for them.  A (re)introduction to the school community will be included as students will need to make note (with picture symbols) of where they found the items.  I still have some preparation for this one so will post more in the next few days.
Community Integration
  • Could do a day trip to the local beach.  For us this will be logistics, transportation and weather dependant.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Community Experiences Program Brainstorming

BusThis coming up year we have several times during the week where we have a 1:1 student-staff ratio. This has opened up the door to begin looking deeper in to a community experiences program that I have been dreaming up for a couple of weeks now.  These community experiences would also tie in to our transition pporfolios as it would allow us to get a better picture in to student's interests/passions.  I'm still working on the logistics and am thinking it would mean a trip every 3 or 4 weeks throughout the year.  I would want there to be both lead in and follow up to these activities so that we can give them meaning.  I would also want there to be some type of "project" associated with most of these trips.  Finally, I'm hoping that we can build a personal "Community Experience Book" from each of these trips.  These would be kind of like mini scrapbooks and would include pictures, notes and materials collected on the trip (menus, mall map, packages...etc).  At the end of the year, the student would have a series of books about their experiences that they and their parents could continue to read together.

I'm still brainstorming ideas and looking in to travel logistics but here are some of the thoughts  I have had to this point:
  1. Bake Sale:  Each group of students is to make two things that will be sold in the bake sale.  Tasks to complete before going on the community field trip to the grocery store include: finding recipes and making a shopping list.  I will then have one of my classroom helpers/volunteers go to the local grocery store and take pictures of the items on the shopping list.  The field trip will consist of going to the store and finding the items (will use the pictures to find the items).  After the field trip, students will make the items they have decided on and we will host a bake sale. 
  2. Staff Lunch:  Similar experience to what is oultined above but instead of baking student groups will be given a part of a staff lunch to make (example: desert, main dish, side dish, starter, drinks...etc.).  Again students find recipes, make shopping lists, do the shopping and prepare the food for the staff.
  3. Mini-Makeovers:  Before the trip, we do little spa activities and look at pictures related to make-up, hair, nails...etc.  These pictures would all be things the student can choose to get done.  The student would choose what they want done and picture symbols or communication devises would be set up for when we go on the trip.  Then we have the trip.  Upon returning, we can continue to experiment related to things that were done at the salon.
  4. Christmas Gift Exchange:  Students would draw names and then interact with another student about Christmas, gifts and things they enjoy.  Students would then go on a trip to buy things for the gift exchange, return back and wrap the gift as well as make a card.  We would then have a gift exchange.  This would probably be a trip to the dollar store.
  5. Pet Store/SPCA:  Still working on this idea but really think this would be a great place to go.  We could either start or end by having a day where we have some pets in the room.
  6. Mall Picture Scavenger Hunt:  This would be one that would be more to get students out to the mall.  We would start by looking at pictures of different types of stores and what you would buy at each one.  We would do some sorting activities.  Then we would go on a scavenger hunt that would include things like:  take a picture of an outfit that you like, take a picture of a book about a dog, take a picture of a place where you can buy someting to eat...etc.  Upon returning we would look at and discuss all the different pictures that each group took.
  7. Pizza Place:  Look at menus and things that you put on pizzas before going.  Go to pizza place and hopefully see how pizzas are made.  Upon returning make our own pizzas.
  8. Present for Mother's Day at the Craft Store:  I would pair this one with mother's day.  Students decide on something they would like to make for their mom and then make shopping lists, go to the store and buy what they need and then return and make their mother's day present (as well as a card to go with).
  9. Classroom Planters:  Students would be planting plants in planters that will go out on our patio.  Students begin by looking at different plants and deciding what they would like in their planter, then we go to the garden store and buy plants and materials.  Upon returning, we put together our planters and then continue to care for them.
  10. Care Packages from the Drug Store:  I'm thinking we can put together care packages of things that people need in regards to personal care (toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, shampoo, deoderant...etc.) and then donate them to a local foodbank to give out as they see appropriate.  If I would have thought of this earlier, I would have told parents not to buy all these materials that they need for their students each year and we could have went to them ourselves.  I am looking at creating a classroom business this year and we could use the proceeds from that to make these donations.
  11. Theatre/Performance:  We go to several preformances a year and I would like to tie these in to our community experiences program.  What would be involved is doing some background preparation before going and then having some activity to tie it up after going to the performance.
     - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Editted to add: For more great ideas, check out the following:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Individual Student Materials

Rainbow Our classroom is full and spilling over.  With people, equipment, materials..etc. things seem to end up everywhere.  My students do not have lockers or desks to store materials.  This makes sense as the materials we have for each student are not always traditional school supplies.  As a result, I have dedicated spaces for each student on a side shelf and in the bathrooming area.  Here is what is kept in these spaces:

On the side shelf, each student has a half of a shelf and the following materials are housed on that shelf:
  • Individual Programming Binder:  I have outlined this binder in a previous post.  This is my way of tracking information for IPPs and the staff's way of knowing/understanding what is to be worked on with each student.  For more information see my "Individual Programming" post.
  • School Materials Bin:  This bin houses any materials that are specifically for the student.  This may include nuk brushes the student uses, timelines, reinforcers that are student specific, visuals that are student specific, student specific pictures used for programming...etc.  In the past I have had community bins for things like scissors, markers, crayons, glue...etc. but I am changing that this year and these materials will go in this bin (in a pencil box) so that when we are working on a project the student can assist with deciding what to use (keying in to some of my goals related to functions of common objects).
  • PECS Binder:  Six of my eight students are non-verbal so we use a lot of PECS.  All of my students use PECS for some activity throughout the day so they all need to have their individual PECS.  This means each student has a binder.  I just use a regular binder and then take cardstock and laminate it and then velcro the pictures on to that.  I add tabs in the following categories (note that not all students use all categories): Actions/Functions, Emotions, I Want to Say, Leisure Choices, Life Skill Items, School Items, Places, Positions, People, Work Activities, Morning Routine (include date, weather, voting...etc. PECS), Other (included here are positions, colors and anything else that is needed as we go along).  I have a list in my teaching binder that staff can write on if they are in need of a symbol for a specific student and then the next time I'm working with Boardmaker I will put these together and add to that student's binders (and other binders if it seemed appropriate to other students).
  • Religion Project Binder:  I also outlined this in an earlier post.  Each student will have a binder to keep the things they have made in.  I will also put outlines of activities in to this binder.  As the activities are finished, the outlines are taken out and replaced with the actual project the student made (or pictures and notes about the student enjoying the experiences).  For more information,  see my "2009-10 Religion Project" Post.

  • Transition Portflio:  Again, a work in progress.  Something I'm trying to get started this year.  I'm stillin the brainstorming stages of this.  For more information, see my "Transition Portfolios" Post.
  • Other Binders/Folders/Duotangs as Appropriate:  Students may have binders or duotangs for literacy, mathematics, reading, individual research projects...etc. depending on what is appropriate to that student.  A lot of material gets sent home as it is finished as notes or data has been recorded about the material in the programming binder for me to use already.
In the bathrooming area, we also need to organize the students.  Therefore each student has a personal hygeine/Effects Bin (toothbrush, toothpaste, deoderant, suntan lotion, bug spray, brush, comb, hair accesories, change of clothes...etc.) as well as an area (drawer, shelf, bin depending on what is appropriate) for toileting materials (diapers, pull-ups, wipes, powders, creams...etc.).

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Our First Week of School

Rainbow With less than two weeks left of summer, it is time to start thinking about our first days of school.  This year is unique for us as we are starting with a full five-day week.  This is a first in my 17 year teaching career as in the past if we go back before the long weekend it is only for a couple of days and if go back after the long weekend, the holiday Monday makes the week four days long.  This makes it even more important to allow for transition time for both the students and the staff in the room.  Those first days are exhausting and so I plan almost all group work for the first week.  I also allow for longer stretches of down time and leisure style activities in these first days.

This year, our news-2-you topic (Super Sand Castles) will be driving much of the group work we will be doing in our first week.  I have outlined some of the activities in my "Super Sand Castle" thread but did want to note how it ties in to a couple of the big things that I try to do at the beginning of each year.

Hallway Bulletin Board Introducing Students to School:  I try to set up a bulletin board in the hallway each year introducing our students to the other students in the school.  I like to include information that other students can use when interacting with our students.  For example, we include a list of things the student is interested in/likes to talk about, information about what the student is good at or enjoys doing, information about family...etc.  Last year the bulletin board was a newspaper board.  On the top I put "Extra, Extra, Read All About Us!" and then each student made their own newspaper about themselves.  I created a Boardmaker file that they used for an outline. If you would like to take a look at it or use it, you can download "Extra, Extra Read All About Me!".  This year I am going to be putting together a bulletin board that has a beach theme.  Students will be making booklets that are their "Auto-ball-ographies".  Download "Auto-ball-ography". The booklets are in the shape of a beach ball and there is an outline of what to put on each page.  When putting things on the page, students use mostly pictures or tactile items (example: a student who liked lego but real lego on and a student who liked make-up put make-up on a drawing of a girl).  Seldomly are words used.  Some students simply communicate what to put on the project by answering yes/no questions.  Cutting and gluing are done as independently as possible.  Some students cut by activating a switch hooked to battery operated scissors while the staff cuts.

Decorating Our Ceiling:  We have a very high ceiling in our room and its nothing to look at.  I like to try ot bring the ceiling down a bit and also give students who spend time in positions that have them looking upwards something to look at.  Last year our opening theme was related to flying and so we made kites.  We decorated them first by painting them - students are given a lot of options for this including finger painting, brushes, painting mittens, balloon painting (easier to hold on to balloons), bingo dabbing...etc.  some students choose to use a variety of techniques while others choose to use only one.  After the kpaint was dried students chose what pictures they wanted to put on their kite.  Basically it could be any picture they liked.  Same set up as outlined above for cutting and gluing.  Tails (made of stremers and bow tie pieces of paper) were added to the kites and they were put up on the ceiling.  This year we are doing almos the same project but are working with surfboards instead.  The decorating part presents a bit more of a challenge because surfboards are solid where kites could flow up and down.  I'm playing around with a way to include waves so we still have some flowing motion on our ceiling. 

Becoming Familiar (or Re-familiar) With People and Places:  Last year I did this through games and interactive books.  We had a Bingo game for the people (teachers and students) in the classroom as well as interactive books that had students matching people's names to their pictures and one that was set up as a school tour.  I downloaded these books from a Boardmaker sharing site and modified them a bit to work with our class but they are not my original work so I will not post them here.  This year I'm trying to come up with a scavenger hunt with beach items that will have students going around the school and interacting with others in the school.  I have not fully formed the idea but will share as soon as it becomes clear to me.

Those are three big tasks we do in the first week of school.  Other things I really try to focus in on during the first week include:
  • establishing routines - coming to the room in the morning, morning gathering time, transitioning between activities, diapering/toileting, assemblies, snack, lunch, how choices are made, packing and going home...etc.
  • allowing for a higher amount of recreation/leisure time so that things change slowly - going for community walks, spending more time with sesnory bins, making playdough that we will use in the classroom, setting up the Snoezelen room in a way that the students respond to it (trying different things), setting up our sensory wall and sensory boards (students assist with this and also help with choosing what should go on them)...etc.
  • interacting with the students - although this is important throughout the year, more time has to be allowed for the "how was your summer" kind of stuff at this point
  • getting to know new students and/or staff - this year we are fortunate as we only have one new student.  I find that much time needs to be spent with anyone new to the room in these first weeks and try to set up a schedule that allows me to do that.
  • getting started on our Religion project by decorating the front covers of our binders that will be used for Bible projects.
And so with less than two weeks to go, I'm thinking I'm almost ready at least for the first week ;).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Daily Home/School Communication

We will be using three different tools to facilitate day-to-day home/school communication in our classroom this year.  I have just finished up making changes to some of these and thought I would take a few minutes to share what we do in our classroom.

The first is a a step-by-step communicator.  Here is a link to information about it:  Staff help students to record a message about their day at the end of each day on the step-by-step.  Students then take the devise home and use it to tell their parents/family about their day.  Staff are encouraged to record messages that encourage responses like "Guess what I did today..." before putting in what they did.  Parents then record a message back the next morning and this is brought to school for us to use during morning gathering time so that students can tell each other about their evening/weekend.

The second is a PECs symbol home-school communication book that I have made with Boardmaker.  You can download "Home School Communication Bookhere if you're interested in seeing it or using it.  Note you will need to use Boardmaker to view this file.  I put a picture of the student in the large space at the front and then laminate and bind the books. In this book, staff and parents help students to record activities that they did both at home and school as well as note their general mood, how their sleep was and sharing of things they enjoyed, didn't enjoy or are proud of.  This book is again meant to encourage communication with the student both at home and at school.  Staff spend time individually with their assigned students on the information in these books rather than using them during morning gathering time.

The third daily communication tool that goes back and forth is a book that meant solely for staff and parents to convey information about their student.  I make up an individual page for each child as different informaiton is important for each student/parent.  I then just photocopy a bunch of them and put them in a duotang that goes back and forth.  Staff working with students fill out the information section and then I write a brief comment in the book.  Parents have a place in this book to write a comment back and many of them do each morning.  If you would like to see some examples of these pages, you can download them here to take a look.  Note the first one is a PDF file so you can see it the way it is intended.  The second is a word file.  If you do not have the font I used, it may not come out as clean as I made it originally.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Defining the Purpose of this Blog

I thought I would take a minute to define the reason I started a blog.  I'm relatively new to teaching this population as I am only heading in to my 4th year doing it although I am heading in to my 18th year of teaching all together.  I spent the first 14 years of my career in two different middle/high schools teaching mostly mathematics although I did teach an experiential education class for a couple years in there as well as a whole host of other side subjects including language arts, accounting, computers, social studies, science, physical education, drama, wood working...etc.  You name it, I've probably taught it somewhere along the way as I worked in small schools and we just had to pick up the slack sometimes.  I really enjoyed it but as time went on, I was craving something different.  I then was asked to sit on an adaptive technology pannel for our school division as a parent and quickly found my new passion.  When this job came up in the division that I was working in, I decided to throw an application in even though I did not have any formal training in special education.  This is how I landed in the job.  The past three years have brought with them a huge learning curve as I have established my sea legs on what was initial a very rocky boat as it is a huge career change.

I continue to learn and grow all the time and really enjoy the creativity of making my own materials for this job.  I also enjoy the freedom of not being so tied to the curriculum (although parts of it ar always in my head) and moving forward with things that are of direct benefit to the individuals in my classroom.  I was surprised to also find that I liked moving away from the solitude of being a single teacher to having other adults in the classroom.  And so as I continue to learn, I decided that its time to start recording and defining some my thoughts and my I immediatley thought about keeping a professional blog.  Then the idea grew a bit and I thought perhaps I could also use a blog as a type of plan book and a place to post materials that I've produced.

So I started writing the odd post here and there and have decided since that I will be using this blog as my professional growth plan this year (we are required to have one in th province I live in).  With that, I came to define the function of this blog and here it is:
  • To respond and clarify my thoughts on what is happening in special education.  We are currently in the middle of what could be a big change to special education here in our province and I wanted somewhere to write about this.  I come at this from both the perspective of a teacher and a parent as I have a 10 year old son with Down syndrome as well so will probably cross over in to sharing my views on a personal level as well sometimes. 
  • To better define the program that we have.  Now that I've established my footing and we are starting to move along in a pretty good flow, I feel like its time to dig deeper in to the hows and whys and break it all down a bit more.  I find that I personally come to clarity through wirting so this is why a blog seemed an approapriate medium to do this.
  • A place to record plans for what we are going to do in our classroom including programming activities, news-2-you topics, transition portfolios, and modifications/expansions, our year long religion project, group work we will be doing...etc.  Because its a public long range plan, it will encourage me to really define the plan and once a plan is defined it is so much easier to make happen :).
  • A place to share materials that I'm producing along the way.  I know the time commitment involved in making materials for our population and would just love to know that the time I put in is going to help not only my students but others as well.  I also find that when I see other people's materials, I can either use them or it sparks and idea as to how I can make it work for one or more of my students.  Perhaps I can begin to return some of what I've learned from other's materials.
  • To share materials/programs/ideas that I either find or somehow grow in me that I have used or would like to use in the future.   
  • To reflect on the things that I'm doing in my classroom.  There are obvious benefits to taking the time to do this.  Reflecting may bring me to any of the purposes defined above or it may just be a celebration.
Through the remainder of my summer (only a couple more weeks), you will see me defining how the standard curriculum fits in to what I'm doing in my classroom along with posting some of the things that I would like to try and/or purchase in years to come.  I will also be writing some of my responses to Alberta Learnings Setting the Direction Framework document that came out in June of this year.  Finally I will be sharing materials related to our first news-2-you topic (Super Sand Castles), our first couple of weeks of religion class and any other plans or materials that I'm producing as we head in to the new year.   

I welcome people's feedback on this blog.  If there is something I post about that you can expand on or need clarification on, please post as it only helps me grow as a teacher :).

Now... here is to a great 2009-10 school year!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bible I teach in a Catholic school.  Where I live, Catholic schools are public and are funded equally to non-Catholic public schools.  What this means to me is that I need to ensure that I'm fitting prayer and religion in to our school day.  Neither are overly difficult to fit in and both actually fit in nicely with many of my students IPP goals (fine motor skills, communication, self-awareness...etc.). 

The other thing it means though is that each year I need to come up with a new batch of religion activities to do becasuse I keep the same students for many years in a row (some have been in no other classroom but this one and just graduated this year or will graduate next year).  My plan for the 2009-10 school year is to spend the year going through the major Bible stories and create a Binder with experiences related to these stories.  Some of them will be arts and crafts that the student will later be able to touch/feel or look at.  Others will be actual experiences in the classroom with explanations and pictures.  Each section will also include a summary of the Bible story and student's reactions to the activities (as appropriate).

Just as I plan to post my outlines for news-2-you, I will also be posting my outlines for these activities.  Really, this blog may well be my plan book for this school year ;).  I'm lookingn at going through Old Testament stories (and the birth stories from the New Testament) until Christmas break and then New Testament after Christmas break.  Here is an outline of which stories we will be looking at in which weeks through to Christmas break:
  • August 31-September 4: Binder/Bible Cover and God's Creation - Day 1 (Genesis 1:1-2:3)
  • September 8-11: God’s Creation - Day 2, 3 and 4 (Genesis 1:1-2:3)
  • September 14-17: God's Creation - Day 5, 6 and 7 (Genesis 1:1-2:3)
  • September 21-25: One Bad Apple (Genesis 3)
  • September 28-October 2: Noah’s Big Job (Genesis 6:9-22)
  • October 5-8: Rainbow Promise (Genesis 9:8-17)
  • October 13-16: Joseph’s New Coat (Genesis 37)
  • October 19-23: Baby Moses in a Basket (Exodus 2:1-10)
  • October 26-30: Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 2:1-10)
  • November 2-5: Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-22)
  • November 9-13: Love the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • November 16-20: Small David and Giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
  • November 23-27: To Us a Child is Born (Issaiah 9:6)
  • November 30-December 3: Jonah’s Fishy Trip  (Jonah 1:1-2:10)
  • December 7-11: Angel Messenger
  • December 14-18: Baby in a Manger
Anyone else out there teaching in a Catholic or religious school?  Would love to connect with anyone in regards to activities that they do so that I can start to think to future years as well.  Its a small population teaching our students and even smaller teaching our students in a Catholic school it seems.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

149 Sensory Bin Ideas

Over the past couple of years since I started teaching this population, I have developed a list of things that can be put in to our sensory bins. Here are some of the ideas that I've used and collected.  This is by no means an exhuastive list as I'm sure there are many other ideas but wanted to throw this out there as at first I was reaching for new and different ways to use our sensory bins...

64 Dry Things to Put in Sensory Bins (these can last a while)

  1. sand
  2. dry beans
  3. puffed wheat
  4. uncooked pasta
  5. dry cereal
  6. packing peanuts
  7. shredded paper
  8. confetti
  9. pop corn seeds
  10. pop corn (popped)
  11. rice
  12. cotton balls
  13. pea gravel
  14. colored salt
  15. peanuts
  16. buttons
  17. legos
  18. cut up ribbons
  19. cut up yarn
  20. leaves
  21. cut up straws
  22. birdseed
  23. plastic flower petals
  24. Easter grass
  25. Mardi Gras beads
  26. dirt
  27. tissue paper
  28. feathers
  29. seashells
  30. wrapping bows
  31. dry instant mashed potatoes
  32. dried corn
  33. bubble wrap
  34. dry oatmeal
  35. egg shells
  36. coffee grounds
  37. flax
  38. sawdust
  39. flour
  40. hay/straw
  41. colored sugar
  42. magazine pages
  43. bean bag filler
  44. roll of sod laid out
  45. "Supersand" (coffee and cornmeal)
  46. Moon Sand
  47. Floam
  48. pom-poms
  49. ball bath balls
  50. wigs (or hair cut up from wigs)
  51. sunflower seeds
  52. pennies
  53. streamers
  54. cut up material
  55. crushed up ice cream cones/potato chips...etc.
  56. scrafs
  57. tactile cylinders (cover old-fashioned curlers with tactile fabric using a glue gun and then put these in a sensory bin)
  58. blocks
  59. powder puffs
  60. tinsel
  61. kleenex or toilet paper squares
  62. wheat
  63. poker chips/counting chips
  64. unifex cubes (or other math manipulatives that sit around unused for a large portion of the year)

27 Messy Things to Put in Sensory Bins (some of these can only last a few day or one session and some need to be refridgerated)
  1. water
  2. cooked pasta
  3. cooked oatmeal
  4. whipped cream
  5. shaving cream
  6. pudding
  7. goop
  8. playdough
  9. tubes of toothpaste and tooth brushes
  10. snow
  11. mashed potatoes
  12. pumpkin "guts"
  13. jello
  14. frozen peas
  15. finger paint
  16. bubble mix and bubble toys
  17. gel bags (put hair gel in sealable plastic bag, put some item in each one and seal shut - students can squish it around and find/move item)
  18. icing
  19. mini-marshmellows
  20. yougurt
  21. mashed banana
  22. cut grass
  23. flowers
  24. clay
  25. ice cubes
  26. crushed ice
  27. paper mache paste
44 Toys to Put In Sensory Bins
  1. Magnetic Wands and Magnetic Toys
  2. Shovels
  3. Buckets
  4. Sifters
  5. Basters
  6. Plastic knifes, fortks, spoons
  7. rolling pin
  8. plastic bugs, snakes
  9. cars/trucks
  10. toy boats
  11. any bathtub toys
  12. ladel
  13. bowls
  14. sand molds
  15. small toys related to current theme/topic of study
  16. fish tank plants
  17. bottles
  18. cups
  19. finger puppets
  20. syringes
  21. rubber gloves
  22. combs, brushes
  23. kitchen scale
  24. berry baskets
  25. PVC piping
  26. small toy rake
  27. salt/pepper shakers
  28. egg beater
  29. funnels
  30. measuring cups and soons
  31. paper bags
  32. ziploc bags
  33. play tools
  34. stamps and stamp pads
  35. craft sticks
  36. tongs
  37. tweezers
  38. cookie cutters
  39. water guns
  40. spray bottles
  41. matchbox toys
  42. sponges
  43. eye droppers
  44. Little People
14 Ways to Use Sensory Bins
  1. Matching Games - bury sets of matching items in bin and then students dig out pairs
  2. Matching Pictures to Items - put items in sensory bin and have pictures outside of sensory bin, student finds the item and then matches it to the picture - need to find all items
  3. Put puzzle pieces in sensory bin, student digs them out and then you make the puzzle
  4. Shadow Matching - actual items go in the bin, students find them and then match them to a page that has outlines/shadow of those items
  5. Flannel Board Stories - put the flannel board pieces in, have student find them and then put them on the board and tell a story
  6. Alphabet Sort - put items that begin with two different letters in sensory bin, student takes them out and sorts them accoding to letter (can simplify to exposure to beginning letter sound by just putting in items with one letter sound and then labeling and noting beginning sound)
  7. Drawing/Writing in Sensory Bin
  8. Pick items out of the sensory bin up with tongs or tweezers.
  9. Color Matching with Plastic Eggs - put two sides in and students find the ones that match and put them together.
  10. Picture Find - put pictures related to any topic in and have students find them - can sort them, define them, talk about them...etc.
  11. Sink and Float Discovery
  12. Mr. Potato Head - parts go in sensory bin, find them, label them, put them in the right place on the Mr. Potato Head
  13. Teaching Colors - color sand, rice, pasta, playdough to the color you are learning about
  14. Work on hand/fine motor skills while playing with students in sensory bins

Monday, August 10, 2009

Books in My Resource Library - Part 1

Here is a list of some of the books that I have in my resource library. I wanted to post them because many of my plans/ideas grow from reading these books.  What I'm doing may not be exactly what is outlined in these sources but these sources have had an impact on how my classroom works. 

Note that this is part 1 of my list.  I will add part 2 soon.  I also plan to add this to my "links" page and continue to update it as I get new books.  If there is one that I find particularly useful, I will do a blog post about it but if its run of the mill, it will just go up on the list with a little new image beside it. 

So here is part 1 of my list...