Saturday, October 24, 2009

Busy, busy, busy....

I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to post that I'm still here.  Things have been crazy the last couple of weeks and will remain so through to about the middle of November.  I will continue to try to get some posts up but it might be mid-November before I get back to posting regularly.  

Right now we are fighting off a lot of illness in our classroom and school (as I'm sure many others are as well).  I was missing half my students on Friday and our school was missing about 30%.  I am also heading in to a two week stretch of IEP meetings almost every night so that will keep me very busy.  Add to this the very real possibility that we will be transitioning a new student in to our classroom in the next couple of weeks and there is just not a lot of time left to blog.  

I wanted to post because I didn't want people to stop coming around to check out the blog after a couple of weeks  of low posts.  Once I get through the next couple of weeks, I feel confident that I will again have some time to do some posting :).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday's Weekly Comments

"Song of the Day" post on Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs: Yet another great post related to remembering that our students are teenaged kids first and foremost :). Love it!

I started visiting a new blog called Special Classroom this week.  I always love when I find another teacher who teaches this population as sometimes its a lonely profession in regards to colaboration with others.  I responded to the great classroom pictures posted in the post titled "Classroom Pictures".

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday's Motivation: This Is The Truth

would tend to say that my life is pretty perfect these days.  I have a great job, a wonderful son, amazingly supportive family and friends and things are just going in the right direction.  I turned 40 back in February of this year and as a result have spent some time taking stock of my life.  I have looked back to some of my darkest times in my early years of teaching.  Times when things didn't make sense and I was enveloped in depression.  In those times there, my friend's two children (who both happened to have Down syndrome) kept me going from day to day.  Surely the way that they approached life could teach me something.  Who would have known then the long-term impact they would have on my life as it is a direct result of them that I adopted my son and then later took the leap into teaching special education.

I saw this video this week on you-tube and it really made hit home with me as my life has turned around completely since those days.  I know I meant for this to be a professional blog but I can't let our Canadian Thanksgiving slip by without pausing in thanks for every day of my life - even those rough ones as they led me to where I am today.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving :).


Sunday, October 11, 2009

news-2-you: Wizzard of Oz Part 2 (October 13-16, 2009)

N2yLife has been crazy in our room the past three weeks.  One of those weeks was "spirit week" and we got all caught up in the competitions to the point that it was taking up much of our programming time.  The students really had a lot of fun so I do not regret the time we used for these activities.  This past week was the week leading up to Canadian Thanksgiving and I found that we spent a lot of time doing things related to that.  In the end, our three weeks for "Wizzard of Oz" seemed to get eaten up and other than the actual news-2-you stuff we have done very few of the extras.  I have therefore decided to spend the next 4 weeks doing the extras.  We will culminate with a "Wizzard of Oz" dress up day which happens to fall on the day that we will celebrate Halloween in our classroom/school. 

So my plan now is to post my outline of what we will be doing for the four weeks here.  Note that many of these things are things that I've already posted about on some level but I've just put it all in order and added files that I'm planning to use.  Note that I have only fully completed the outline for this week and plan to post more details for future weeks as the weeks approach :).

Tuesday, October 13
Sensory Story Part 1 (during Morning Meeting):  Please note, that I got the power point and idea for this activity off of "Pete's Stuff".  I am following most of the story exactly as is but will make a few changes as follows:
  • The entire poem will be recorded on a step-by-step switch and a student will activate each part of the story.
  • Instead of doing "farm smell" we will do farm noises.
  • Voices for Mrs. Gulch and the Fortune Teller will be done on switches and students will be dressed up in the roll and activate the switch at the appropriate time.  The Fortune Teller will have a second switch that is hooked up to the "crystal ball".
  • Instead of fanning students, we will have fans hooked up to switches and the students will be put in the middle of the fans (while other students activate the switches).
  • A learning assistant will be responsible for the pop-bottle tornado at the appropriate time.
Adaptive Physical Education Class: We will be playing the following games in our APE class today:
  • Warm Up Circles: Students follow a leader in the gym starting in a small circle and going larger and larger and then going back down to a small circle.  After that we will move as many parts of our bodies in circles as we can (arms, legs, head, fingers, toes...etc.) as a warm up.
  • Musical Hoola-hoops with music from the Wizzard of Oz: Students go around the hoops until the music stops and then it stops they need to get inside a hoop.  The person pushing a wheelchair counts as getting "inside".  Hoops are spread out all over the gym to allow for safety.
  • Rainbow Ball Hunt: Take balls from our ball bath and spread them all over the gym.  Students are go go around and collect as many as they can in a set amount of time.  If a student is in wheelchair and a staff member is helping to collect they must have a hand on the wheelchair at all times.  For those who can pick up they are to do it themselves.  Each color of ball will have a specific point value and points will be talleyed once the time is up.
  • Tornado Relay Races: Going completely around pylons set up down the length of the gym both on the way up and the way back.
Rainbow Sensory: One of our sensory bins is filled with rice died in the 6 colors of the rainbow, one of our hanging toys is done up with ribbons in the six colors of the rainbow and I have also hung ribbons in the six colors of the rainbow over our door (thanks to an idea posted on the blog SMD Teacher).

Rainbow Collages: Students will be given a piece of poster paper that has a rainbow drawn in it.  Each student will color, paint or bingo dab the six colors of the rainbow on to their rainbows.  They will then cut out and attach pictures of items in each color.  Over the rainbow the student will attach clouds with cotton balls and pictures of things they like (dreaming of great things over the rainbow).  Note that students will probably not finish this whole craft and will spend some time on October 14 finishing it up.
Wednesday, October 14
Dorothy and Toto Dolls (http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~EQ5K-MGRY/english/work5e.htm): I am expanding the pattern and then we are going to hook the sewing machine and scissors up to a switch so that students can be part of making these. I do not expect that each student will make the whole set but would like for each student to have the set when we are done the unit so will enlist the help of classroom volunteers to get them all done.  Students themselves will begin on one doll and continue to work on that one each time we do dolls.  They will finish as many as they can in the time given. 
Thursday, October 15
Tornado Craft: Students take a large black piece of paper and cut it in a spiral.  The spiral will eventually be hung from the ceiling with the largest circle at the top and the smallest at the bottom so that it looks like a tornado that is about to touch down.  Each student will also be given the following "Wizzard of Oz Tornado Items" document and then cut out the items.  These will be taped into the tornado so that they are spinning around in their final project.  I was originally thinking to have them cut out pictures from magazines but when I looked through magazines there were not really that many "farm items" in them and I wanted to keep it connected to the story.

Tornado in a Bottle Science Exploration: Although we have already done something similar during the sensory story, I thought it would be a good idea to repeat this exploration when the students could spend a bit more time exploring.  Link: http://www.on.ec.gc.ca/skywatchers/exGamesAct/activity_tornado_e.html.
Friday, October 16
Sensory Story Part 2 (during Morning Meeting):  Please note, that I got the power point and idea for this activity off of "Pete's Stuff".  I am following most of the story exactly as is but will make a few changes as follows:
  • For the shiney, ruby slippers, I will have a sample of the slippers that we will be making next week.
Adaptive Physical Education Class: We will be playing the following games in our APE class today:
  • Yellow Brick Road Relay Race: We will roll out a "yellow brick road" by using yellow paper and then do relay racees up and down the yellow brick road running forwards and backwards.
  • "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My" Game: This one is also from SMD Teacher.
  • Freeze Tag: Students need to freeze when tagged like a the scarecrow would be frozen sitting up on a stick.  To become unfrozen, someone has to come along and tap them on their back (to take them down from the stick).
Bubble Painting: Because Glinda the good witch comes along in a bubble, I thought we could so the ever-popular playing with bubbles and add in some 'bubble painting.  Link:  http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/bubble_painting.htm

Good Witch/Bad Witch Spinner Game: Game board set up like yellow brick road (from Dorothy's house through to the Emerald City) - move forward the set number of steps when you land on a "good witch" and backwardds when you land on a "bad witch".  File coming soon!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Northern Ireland Curriculum: Severe Learning Difficulties Thematic Units

Nic_logo A while back, I posted about transition portfolios.  Since then I've joined forces with the other Learning Assistance Program teacher in our division (very small division) and we have started working on gathering resources and information related specifically to transitioning in our area.  This will help me narrow things down a bit more and get these transition portfolios more focused.  

As is so often the case with me, while doing research I come across so many other things that springboard a whole host of other ideas.  This is what this post is about.  While exploring the Northern Ireland Curriculum website, I came across some great thematic units that have been put together for students iwth Severe Learning Difficuluties that address topics that are important for students who are transitioning in to the community to have exposure to.  Immediately I see many ways to incorporate some of these things in to our program and I thought I would share some thoughts... 

This section is about the issues that face all us in day to day living.  The units all include a PDF document iwth activity ideas as well as printables that include Boardmaker symbols.  Some of the units also include Power Points and/or Online Activities.  The units in this section include "Energry Exploration", "Houses and Homes",  "Money Matters", "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" and "Weather Watchers". 

I'm planning to use several of the ideas from the "Weather Watchers" unit during our morning gathering time when we are talking about weather.  Its one of those resources that once you see the different things you can explore you start to question why you spend so much time on just the type of clothing one would wear in a specific type of weather.  I am hoping to post more soon about how we are incorporating this in to morning meetings.

The units are "Energy Exploration" and "Reduce, Reuse, Recyle" just seem to be information that we should be passing on to all students as responsible citizens in our world.  Our students already are very active in these areas in our school/classroom but sometimes we just get to the doing part of it and forget about taking the time for the becoming informed part of it.  My guess is with everything else that I'm trying to get off the ground that this will be something to save for a later time.

Finally I would like to take the last two units ("Houses and Homes" and "Money Matters") in this section and modify them so that some of the activities can go in to transition portfolios.  Many of the students that I'm working with on this are still 4 to 5 years from exiting the program but as they get closer I would like for them to exposed to some adult housing options and be able to be a part of decision making processes.  As for the money end of things it also seems important to start to think about making decisions as to how money is spent.
We have done several similar activities to those in these sections. I can see ideas from all three units that I can incorporate in to our transition portfolios as we go through the highschool years.  Tons of good information on choices and awareness related to one's body, relationships and other choices that will come up in teen and adult years.  The three units in this section are "My Body", "Becoming a Teenager", and "My Choices Now".  Again these are units that I will need to do some thinking on and figure out how we will incorporate these concepts in to a transition plan that occurs over the last years that a student is in our program.
Some the information in these ones are a bit on the "overload" side for many of the students in our classroom.  All the same, the ideas are great.  A couple of areas that I want to put in student's portfolios are related to "preferences" and "personal traditions" so there are some ideas in the units "Festivals" and "Clothes Conscious" that can be adapted to allow for this.  The unit "Helping" actually fits nicely in to our religion curriculum as I try to instill in the students a sense of helping those in need.  There are things that our students can do to take on the "helping" roll and I think its important to remember to teach them this.  Finally, "The World on my Plate" unit again has some ideas that will help supplement the things that we are already doing in the area of food choices, shopping and preparation.  This would also aide in the "preferences" section of portfolios.
The first two units on this page ("Taking Part" and "Where in the World") are not ones that I'm going to find overly relevant to my students as we do our own work related to our school and classroom rules and also where our school is in the world. 

The third unit titled "What's Out There?" has a few good ideas for exploring the community.  I especially like the idea of exploring "sights, sounds and smells" in the community rather than just looking at the services, structures and buildings that are in one's community. Lots of great stuff in this book that will be a springboard for student's developing a profile for various sections of their transition portfolios. 

The final unit "Who's Who?" again has a couple of springboards for our transition portfolios related to a student defining who they are and what is unique about them.  It also gives a beginning step to look at jobs by looking at the different people who work around the school and what their jobs are.
Overall some really great ideas in these units.  Like so many other things, they need some modifications to allow for the needs of students in our classroom but they are still great ideas and it is pretty easy to imagine making these changes.  As I've begun digging in to create portfolios more I'm realizing that there is a whole lot more to it than just putting a binder togethre as there is a lot of material that needs to be presented and experiences that need to happen in conjunction with putting the portfolio together.  These are things we have been incorporating all along but it will be nice to start to streamline it a bit more while I work on putting this whole concept together over the next couple of years.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thursday Think: Brainstorming Vocational Opportunities for Our Students

Having students that range in age from grade 3 to 12+ (as we often keep our students one to three years after their grade 12 year) is one of the biggest challenges that I face in this job.  Its very hard to make things "age approprirate" when dealing with this age so I find that some things just need to be divided up and different groups will work on different skills.  Although I've always believed this, my first couple of years on the job were spent on just getting thing established and wrapping my own head around things.  In the last couple of years I've been able to start directing programs based on the age of my students. 

With my older students, I'm working on finding a balance between academic, life and vocational skills so have been trying to increase the vocational component of our program.  I wanted to spend a bit of time sharing some of the ideas that I've had or implemented related to hands-on vocational experiences.
Dog Biscuit Businesss: This idea stemmed from a teacher who posts on the teachers.net Special Education Message Board.  Although he teaches a different population from what I'm teaching he has posted several times about running his whole program around a dog biscuit business.  It got me to thinking that perhaps we could do something different.  I have tried to make the process as assessible as possible to our students so we can work on independence and switch work at the same time.  Some things we have already done are use a switch adapted pourer to pour ingredients, use a mixer with a dough hook hooked up to a powerlink and switch to stir/knead ingredients, use colored measuring cups with visuals for students to follow directions, put directions on step by steps and have students read out the directions as we are going along, and use outline matts (laminated pages with a set number of dog biscuits outlined on them) to count out dog bisciuts to ensure that we rae getting the right number in our bags.  I'm currently trying to figure out some options for rolling out the dough so that all of our students can do it.  I'm thinking of trying out a pasta roller.  I found an easy recipe and we make the biscuits about once a week and then I sent out order forms to students in our school and we sent them home.  This year we are expanding to other students in our division as we have a student who graduated from our program doing work experience with an adult support worker and they will be able to be our delivery people for around town deliveries.  I'm hoping to see this business expand some as I think there are some great opportunties for our students.  I'm sure there are many more but I thought I would take a few minutes to throw out some of the ones that I've been storing up.
Weighted Lap Snakes: This was just an idea that came to me when I was talking with someone about weighted belts and blankets and what not.  She told me of an OT who makes her own by sewing heavy mateial in the shape of snake and then filling it with aquarium rocks.  I thought that a possible business would be to hook a switch up to a sewing machine and do something similar.  No intention to this at this point but wanted to put it down as a possible task that could be done.

Paper/Document Shredding: The old tried and true.  Although it has worked in the past for us with a couple of students I find that once the skill is mastered and if the student is not feeling a sense of value for doing the task that there is not much point in continueing the task.  All the same for a student who does feel that the contribution they are making is important I could see it being a type of vocational job for a student.

Newspaper/Flyer Delivery: A couple of students enjoy this kind of task as there is a definitive end to it (when the delivery bag is finished).  I have heard of others who have been able to find organizations that need materials put together first so the task becomes a larger task with even more skills to work on. 

Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables: This was an interesting idea that I heard on our local news this summer. There was a group of students who were doing it as a charity/donation project.  They would go to grocery stores and pick up fruits and vegetables that were starting to go bad but not yet rotten.  Stores could no longer sell them and they would have been thrown out.  They cut things up and then dehydrated them and put them in bags to be shipped to countries in need.  Veggies can be used for soup bases and fruits can be eating as is.  I thought it was a great idea and stored in the back of my head as a possibility for us at some point as we could use food processers hooked to switches for chopping up vegetables.

School Recycling: We do our school recycling.  We pick up bins once a week and then sort the materials before they get picked up.  We use a lot of visuals in the process including having colored stickers on classroom doors and bins and ensuring that things that get put back where they came from by matching the colors.  A few of the students also benefit from the heavy lifting involved with this task.

Rag Business: This is not necessarily one that I plan to try anytime in the near future but wanted to add it to this post as I thought it fit in here.  This is a news story about a young lady who is now running a business that has her getting old clothing from consignments stores and turning them in to rags that various businesses around town buy.  Here is the link:  http://www.theautismnews.com/2009/08/31/rag-business-enriches-life-of-woman-with-autism/