Saturday, November 20, 2010

App Corner: iMobile Writing Platform, SAT Prep Writing & Speller

App has been used as a shorthand term for “applications” and has recently become popular to indicate specifically a mobile application. App as a term grew even more in popularity with the opening of Apples App Store which can be accessed through iTunes. In our new “App Corner” in Tech Notes we will highlight mobile applications that are universally designed or meet an educational need.

iMobile Writing Platform -

iMobile Writing Platform is an app designed to help develop, organize, and write essays and papers directly from your iPod Touch/Phone. This app contains writing instructional content as well as the functions needed to put together your paper. The web site contains a nice collection of app reviews by educators. iMoble Writing Platform $4.99
SAT Prep Writing -

SAT Prep Writing is an application brought to you by Watermelon Express. It is a tool that you can use to prepare for the written portion of the SAT exam. Features of this app include: 10 essay examples, test taking tips and tricks, and over 100 pages of material. This and a variety of other test taking applications (GRE, GMAT, etc.) are also available from Watermelon Express. SAT Prep Writing $2.99
Speller - Free Spell Checker -

Speller is the perfect tool to help find the correct spelling of words. It operates as a stand-alone program. Type in the word you would like to check and receive confirmation of your spelling or word choices. Still not sure if it is the correct word? Connect to the web and see definitions for the word. This is a free app from TranCreative Software. Speller Free

Web Spotlight: Edistorm

Edistorm is a virtual online environment where an individual or a group of people can brainstorm and organize their ideas. Ideas are generated using virtual sticky notes. Sticky notes can be color coded, edited and moved around. Each new brainstorming session is called a “storm”. The free version allows unlimited public storms. To gather a group of people to a brain storming session or to check out a storm you have created you can either send them an email invitation or send the the web link. Paid accounts allows for unlimited private storms and range in price from $5 to $30. The Simon Technology Center is using a storm to gather TechNotes feature ideas. Check out our storm STC TechNotes Feature Ideas

Early Childhood Corner: Tots-n-Tech June 2010 Newsletter

The Tots 'n Tech Research Institute (TnT) is an inter-university collaboration between Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), Philadelphia, and Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe. TnT's mission is to provide up-to-date information and resources about adaptations, including assistive technology, to use with infants and toddlers for state education agencies, Early Intervention providers of all disciplines, and families. TnT produces a newsletter with information and resources regarding the use of assistive technology with infants and toddlers. The June 2010 issue focuses on using assistive technology to support socialization. Read about how to write a social story or how to use a cue card to ease transitions. To subscribe to this newsletter,

follow this link or visit the Tots n Tech home page http://tnt/asu/edu

Staff Pick: Pulse Smartpen

Educational Uses for the Pulse Smartpen by Livescribe

The Pul
se Smartpen by Livescribe is a pen with a built-in microphone that has the ability to record audio while you are writing. What separates the Smartpen from a standard digital recorder is that it syncs the recording with the written notes. The pen's built in camera records what you are writing while at the same time the digital recorder is capturing the audio. The user can easily locate and playback a desired part of the recording by tapping on the corresponding section of the notes with the pen.

The Pulse Smartpen requires the use of special paper. The paper can be purchased as spiral bound notebooks or printed off using a template from the Livescribe website. Directions for printing for both Mac and PC
can be found at

The newest version of the pen, called the Echo, comes in a 4G and 8G version, ranging in price from $169-200. The original version of the pen, the Pulse Smartpen, is available (while supplies last) for about $129. Also new to Livescribe is a Smartpen app store where free and for fee apps are available. Current apps include a Spanish language dictionary, card games, paper piano, and a spelling app. You can find more inform
ation on apps at

Here is a short list of ways both teachers and students can use the pen to enhance learning.

The pen can be used by students with dysgraphia, auditory processing, and memory or attention deficits when taking notes in class. The recording can capture information the student is unable to write down while taking notes. The student can review the recording later and add the missing information to his or her notes.Teachers can pre-record text to be read for assignments and tests. The students can playback the recording as many times as needed.

Teachers or students can record to-do lists, due dates, and instructions for assignments.
Teachers can make flashcards and label objects for students to learn new vocabulary. This can be especially helpful for teaching foreign languages or for speech and language practice.

Teachers can make “pencasts” with instructions for an assignment or problem, such as step-by-step instructions for solving a math problem, and post it online for students to access from home. The audio recording will play in-sync with the written steps of the problem.

For visually impaired students, teachers can record questions for a test or assignment and then apply tactile bumps for the student to locate and activate the audio. The teacher can also record audio description of graphs and pictures that the student is unable to see.

Paper communication boards can be made by printing communication boards on the special paper and adding a voice recording to each symbol or text word with the Smartpen.

There are endless possibilities for the Smartpen. To learn more about how the Smartpen can benefit students, visit the K-12 Education and Pencasts sections of the Livescribe website:

The Pulse Smartpen is now available for demonstration at the S
imon Technology Center Library. Please stop in during STC Library hours: Tuesdays noon to 6 p.m. or Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

App Corner: Awesome Note (+Todo), iHomework, MyHomework, & SchoolBook

App has been used as a shorthand term for “applications” and has recently become popular to indicate specifically a mobile application. App as a term grew even more in popularity with the opening of Apples App Store which can be accessed through iTunes. In our new “App Corner” in Tech Notes we will highlight mobile applications that are universally designed or meet an educational need. This month we highlight homework planner type apps.

Awesome Note (+Todo) -
Awesome Note is a study aid/homework tool as well as a tool to help you stay organized. Seven deafult folders are available and include such categories as Study, Shopping, and Work. Calendar and notes view is available from within each folder. Additional features include backing up your files to the computer, transfering notes via bluetooth and syncing with either Google Docs or Evernote. Awesome Note $3.99/Free Lite Version (3.5 out of 5 stars from 178 reviews. Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 7/29/10)
iHomework -

iHomework is a homework app with built in todo list functionality. Add homework, reminders, courses, teachers and more. This app also has a free Mac desktop version that syncs with information on your iPod. One valuable feature is repeating assignments. iHomework $1.99 (3.5 out of 5 stars from 3,227 reviews. Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 7/29/10)
myHomework -

myHomework is a simple free app that resembles the paper planner students often use in middle and high school. Three color coded tabs let you add classes, homework and change the settings. After your classes and homework is entered, myHomework will notify you of late and upcoming assignments. Assignments are also color coded red, green and blue to help a user prioritize assignments. myHomework also has a free Mac desktop version for Mac OS 10.5 and higher. myHomework FREE (3 out of 5 stars from 40,647 reviews. Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 7/29/10)
SchoolBook -

SchoolBook is a free app that reminds you of your class schedule. It helps you remember who your teacher is and where your class is located. It is similar to a paper schedule a student receives at the beginning of a sememster or quarter. This app was developed by a 15 year old electronics enthusiast, software developer and student. SchoolBook FREE (2.5 out of 5 stars from 85 reviews. Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 7/29/10)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Did You Know: Math Snacks

Did you know that a free feature of the iPod Touch/Phone and iPad is the ability to play movies and videos. This feature is great for video modeling, making social stories, remembering information, and more. You can also download educational content through YouTube and from within iTunes. One such series we would like to mention is Math Snacks, a video podcast series of fun math videos produced by New Mexico State University. View episodes such as Atlantean Dodgeball, Scale Ella and Bad Date. 

More information about Math Snacks can be found at You can view on the internet or download to your iPod. The site also includes helpful information such as learner's and teacher's guides.

Portable Word Processing Helps Students with Writing, Reading Impairments

By Tara Bakken  

For students who have difficulty with the physical or sensory aspects of handwriting or who have reading impairments, using a word prcessing application or program can be a big help.  It can give students more independence, confidence, and the ability to efficiently complete written work.  Portable notetakers and netbooks - available for a fraction of the cost of computers or laptops - are two options to investigate.


Notetakers are electronic word processors with full-size keyboards.  Smaller than laptops and larger than netbooks, they typically are more durable and less expensive than either. A variety of notetakers are available.  

Renaissance Learning (  sells four models: NEO, NEO2, DANA and DANA Wireless. 

Writer Learning Systems (  sells two models with various preloaded features: Fusion and The Writer. 

The StudentMate by One2OneMate (  is one of the more robust notetakers on the market, with many additional features and applications. 

CalcuScribe by CalcuScribe ( comes with an interactive calculator for assistance with arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry.

Some notetakers also have additional features that provide extra accessibility.  They may, for example, have:

  • A word prediction feature that can help reduce keystrokes and provide spelling and grammar support.  Word prediction suggests a list of likely words after the user types only a few characters.
  • A text-to-speech feature that provides auditory feedback and support for text that is typed or appears in the word prediction application.
  • Organization applications such as calendars, to-do lists, alarms, and the like.  These applications provide an electronic method for schedule and task organization.


Netbooks are very similar to laptops in appearance and operation, but they are smaller, lighter, and less powerful.  Although intended to be used for basic functions such as email and Internet browsing, these devices also work well as word processors.

Most netbooks run one of the following operating systems:  Windows XP, Windows 7 starter, or Linux Ubuntu.  Those with a Windows operating system allow the user to install additional assistive technology programs. However, check to be sure the program's system requirements are compatible with the netbook's small memory and processing capacity.  Additional programs may also be installed on devices using Linux, but fewer assistive technology programs are compatible with this operating system.

Most netbooks do not have CD/DVD drives, but they typically have USB ports for data transfer and a place to connect an external CD/DVD drive. Netbooks can be obtained easily online or from stores such as Best Buy, Office Max, Radio Shack, Target, and WalMart.

Notetaker Netbook
$149 - $430 $200 - $600
Screen size can range from 5.75" to 9" (measured diagonally). Screens on many of the notetakers are much longer than they are tall and display only a few lines of text at a time. Screen size ranges from 8.9" to 12.1" (measured diagonally).
Grayscale screen (most devices, but not all) Full-color screen
Durable if jostled or dropped Hardware may become damaged if jostled or dropped
Has limited availability of additional applications or features PC operating system allows for as many programs as there is memory to install.  RAM can range from 1GB to 2GB.  Hard drive memory can range from 160GB to 250 GB. 

Average battery life: 8 to 700 hours, depending on the additional built-in features Average battery life: 1.5 to 8 hours

Turns on instantly Boot-up time ranges from 30 to 90 seconds
Choosing a Device

Which device might be best for your student? The key factors to consider are durability, screen size, and availability of additional applications or programs, such as word prediction, text-to-speech, or applications for organization

With so many choices, you may want to try out some devices before you buy one. Assistive technnology lending libraries, such as the one at PACER's Simon Technology Center, and some vendors might allow you to borrow a device for a trial period to determine how useful it would be for the individual.

For students with handwriting difficulties or reading impairments, notetakers and netbooks can be a boon. At a fraction of the cost of computers or laptops, these devices help users gain independence, confidence, and the ability to efficiently complete written work.

Staff Pick: The Fusion

The Fusion by Writer Learning is a portable note-taker with a full standard size keyboard and a screen size measuring 2 3/8" tall by 6 1/8" wide. New features on the latest Fusion model include Math 101, USB ports for easy file transfer and a new calendar feature. Standard features include a built-in thesaurus, dictionary and spell check.  Students are not only able to use this tool as a portable word processor but they can also take advantage of the built-in keyboarding practice. Optional features available for an additional cost include text to speech, a built-in speaker for auditory feedback, and a word prediction feature called Word Storm. To learn more about these and other features of The Fusion, contact the Simon Technology Center or visit Writer Learning's Web site at: 

Web Spotlight: Misunderstood Minds

Misunderstood Minds is a companion web site to the PBS special Misunderstood Minds. This PBS special shared the lives and struggles of five individuals with learning difficulties. It was designed to help others understand the learning process, give insights into learning disabilities and share strategies for responding to learning disabilities. The web site gives viewers the opportunity to experience a learning difficulty firsthand. For example, in the attention category a viewer is able to simulate reading a passage with distractions or attempt to follow directions with auditory distractions. Content on the site includes an introduction to the basics, an overview of the difficulties a learner might experience, and how a parent or educator might respond. The activities are not only great for individual learning but is also a resource for providing disability awareness. Another resource to check out is the Developing Minds Multimedia Library which contains a collection of videos that explore learning differences.

Tech Tip: Web Etiquette and Safety

Increasingly websites offer interactive content like comments and message boards. The same rules used in email should be applied to these as well and are doubly important for social networking sites such as Facebook, where more and more people might view what you write. Consider that many current or potential employers may check social networking sites to get a clearer idea of who you are. The last thing you want them to see is some rude comment you made. Also remember that even though the event you attended recently was great, some pictures should not be loaded online. Your digital reputation can be as important as your “real world” reputation, so the same etiquette rules apply to JOHNLOL12351 online as they do to real world John Smith. Web Safety Using the Web and searching with Google can allow you to find almost any information in the world.

However, like the real world, there are some dangerous neighborhoods that you should avoid. File-sharing sites that host software, music and movies for people to illegally download are a hotbed of viruses and phishing scams. Make sure you are running an updated virus protection program. It is like insurance for your computer: You may not need it all the time, but when you do, you'll be glad you have it.

Apple offers security updates through their software update program and Microsoft offers their own security suite called Security Essentials.

Early Childhood Corner: Tots-N Tech August 2010 Newsletter

The Tots 'n Tech Research Institute (TnT) is an inter-university collaboration between Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), Philadelphia, and Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe. TnT's mission is to provide up-to-date information and resources about adaptations, including assistive technology, to use with infants and toddlers for state education agencies, Early Intervention providers of all disciplines, and families. TnT produces a newsletter with information and resources regarding the use of assistive technology with infants and toddlers. The August 2010 issue contains information on making low-tech assistive technology and adaptations. 

To subscribe to this newsletter, follow this link or visit the Tots n Tech home page and select Newsletters.

Web Spotlight: National Geographic Young Explorer

National Geographic Young Explorer is a web-based companion to the popular kids magazine of the same name. The electronic copy of the magazine is user friendly and easy to navigate. Each magazine features vivid photographs and interesting content. An additional support of text to speech is offered on each page. Designed with younger readers in mind, this format is also great for older struggling readers who need interesting content with simple text. 
 National Geographic Explorer is designed for upper elementary and is filled with science and social studies activities.

App Corner: IEP Checklist, Percentally, Conover Company Samplers

App has been used as a shorthand term for “applications” and has recently become popular to indicate specifically a mobile application.  App as a term grew even more in popularity with the opening of Apples App Store which can be accessed through iTunes.  In our new “App Corner” in Tech Notes we will highlight mobile applications that are universally designed or meet an educational need. This App Corner features apps for special education.

IEP Checklist - IEP Checklist IEP Checklist is a free app developed by the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC) in Virginia. The IEP Checklist App helps parents  of students with special needs become better-informed advocates by making IEP  information easier to access. Version 2 has active links to the relevant  language in the federal regulations; allows users to record the IEP meeting or  record notes; and has the capacity to print out notes and click on a checklist  as requested items are discussed. IEP Checklist Free (2.5 out of 5 stars from 185 reviews. Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 9/10/10)

 Percentally - Percentally is a data collection app created by speech therapist Eric Sailers  that converts tallies to percentages. Use Percentally to track progess in  education, physical education and more. Percentally $2.99 (5 out of 5 stars from  25 reviews. Information from the Apple iTunes Store viewed on 9/10/10)

Conover Company Sampler - Conover Company has created 40 new iPod apps with 4 free sampler apps. These app convey life skills information in picture and video format. Think of it as a video dictionary.  Titles include: Survival Skills, Information, Social Skills and more.   Sampler of apps available for FREE; other apps $.99

Tech Tip: Online File Hosting

September marks back to school time.   Busy students prepare for reports and essays on flash drives or using email to send a file to home.  This tech tip is about using services that allow you to upload files to retrieve anywhere you have access to a computer and the internet. 

Online file hosting is popular because as long as you have a computer or mobile device and an internet connection you can access, edit and create new folders and documents. This is great to have if your forget to bring the files with you or email them to yourself. Many sites that have free file hosting.

One file sharing service is called Dropbox  and it allows you to hold 2 GB of whatever you need for free. It works on Windows, Mac and some mobile devices such as iPod and Android.  You can load files to use privately or load files to share with others.  Free registration is required and a companion program is loaded on your PC, Mac or mobile device.  The site offers detailed instructions and a variety of supports to get you started.

Another file sharing service is called MediaFire.  MediaFire will hold an unlimited number of files as long as the files are under 200MB each. It is available for PC and Mac and offers a wide variety of sharing possibilities.

If you or your student needs a place to store and share work, online file sharing is a very easy and effective way to meet this need.
PACER Center's Simon Technology Center participated in this AT vendor fair with ISES. Below is video interviews done by CTV North Suburbs.

ISES Assistive Technology Fair from CTV North Suburbs on Vimeo.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Simply Said: Understanding Assistive Technology

Created with funds from the MN STAR Program, Simply Said: Understanding Assistive Technology, helps introduce the concept of a category of specialized technology called assistive technology, that whether created, purchased, modified or other, can help someone do something that they couldn't do without it. Check out this short informational video.

Simply Said: Understanding Assistive Technology Loan Libraries

Created with funds from the MN STAR Program, Simply Said: Understanding Assistive Technology Loan Libraries helps others understand how and why you might want to use and assistive technology lending library. Check out this short informational video.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tech Tip: Cleaning Your Keyboard and Mouse

Is your keyboard dirty and filled with crumbs?  Does your mouse feel sticky? Don't worry!  Here are a few easy and cost effective ways to solve these problems. First, gather the following items from an office supply store.
  • Rubbing alcohol wipes (preferable fast drying ones)
  • A compressed air can (or air can duster)
  • Lint-free paper towels
Once you are ready to clean, turn off your computer and unplug both the keyboard and the mouse.  To clean the keyboard, you will need the air duster.  There should be a small tube that connects to the end of the can. Connect the tube to the can, and in short bursts, spray in between the keys in a right-to-left motion through each row.  Make sure to spray in the corners of the rows where dirt builds up while dusting.  After you've finished dusting, rub the alcohol wipes around the keys on the top of the keyboard face. Rub the top of the keys also. This is where most of the bacteria are found.  Finally, wipe away any dirt on the keyboard face with the paper towels. To clean the mouse, use alcohol wipes to slowly rub both the top and sides of the mouse. Make sure to also wipe the scroll wheel.  Next turn the mouse over and rub around the center of the mouse.  Dirt in this area can cause the mouse to stick to the mouse pad or desk.  To finish the job, gently rub the optical laser with a paper towel.  Make sure to avoid pressing hard against the laser.  Pressing too hard can cause the laser to incorrectly read the mouse movements, making the mouse difficult to use or even operate. Once you are finished cleaning, plug the mouse and keyboard into your computer.  

By using these tips, you will see a great improvement in the operation of both your keyboard and mouse. Remember to tune in for next month's Tech Tip!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Improving Literacy Skills: Tips for Creating an Online e-Pal Exchange Program

Creating an on-line e-pal program has the potential to help learner struggling with reading and writing to engage in writing for real purposes. Research shows that in order to improve reading and writing skills, students need to read and write MORE. Often times it is difficult to engage older learners who struggle with readin gand writing using traditional literacy activities. Barb Wollak, a speech and language pathologist in St. Paul, has paired her students with college students at Appalachian State University. The relationship has been rewarding for everyone! Check out Barb's tips for creating a successful e-pal program. Here are a few ideas:

1. Find a college with students studying to become teachers. contact a collaborating professor. the college students get to experience hands-on writing samples with real students while Secondary students get the opportunity to engage in reading and writing for real purposes.

2. Create a blog or wiki to provide additional experiences for "authentic" reading and writing. Check out how Barb and her students at Highland Park Junir High use a blog to ask questions, share opintions and much more at

3. Contact parents and get them involved with the project. Inform them how you will handle privacy and safety. Monitor all e-mails, print them out, and send them home. You can make the experience more meaningful by including pictures on your blog. Be sure to get signed permission from parents and let them know that onky first names will be used

4. Establish an e-mail monitor on each end of the collaboration. the college students should be instructed to ssend a blind copy (bcc) of all e-mails to the person coordinating the e-pal program, including the last correspondence from school-aged e-pal.

5. Teach students how to use assistive technology like Co:Writer to help support their writing. The text the students create is your baseline date before you inmplement assistive technology. Watch their writing and reading skills improve over time as they ask you if they can write to their e-pal. Translation: "Can I read and write some more?"

App Corner: Notes, Shapewriter & UYH

App has been used as a shorthand term for applications and has recently become popular to indicate specifically a nmobile application. App as a term grew even more in popularity with the opening of Apples App Store which can be accessed through iTunes. In our new “App Corner” in Tech Notes we will highlight mobile applicaitons that are universally designed or meet an educational need
Notes -

Notes is an app that comes standard with your iPod Touch/Phone. Use Notes to quickly write yourself a note and keep important information handy. A built-in email function lets you send notes to yourself or to others. 
Shapewriter -

Shapewriter is a unique app that lets you compose text on the keyboard by sliding your finger from letter to letter. There is a prediction window to help with accuracy. A free version contains basic features while the Lite version, available for $2.99, contains advanced features such as e-mail and SMS texting support. An android version for other mobile devices makes the Shapewriter keyboard available whenever you need to type text.  Just select Shapewriter as your default keyboard.
UYH (Use Your Handwriting) -

Typing on the small touch keyboard on an iPod Touch/Phone or iPad can be difficult for some users. With UYH,k you use your finger and the touch screen to write with the uhy application. the free or lite version lets you create lists within the UYH applicaiton. with the gold version you can e-mail lists, create lists within lists and more. UYH Gold $1.99

Staff Pick: Mind Mapping Tools

Free Mind Mapping Programs to Help You Get Organized

Mind-mapping software programs, such as Inspiration, are used as a tool to brainstorm and organize ideas by representing them graphically as “idea maps.” These programs can be useful for anyone who struggles with organizing their ideas for a project or has difficulty with decision making. Most of us could benefit from the use of mind-mapping tools when we have a complex project but aren't sure where to begin.

There are many free or low-cost mind-mapping software progrmas availasble for downloading to your personal computer or using online. Some offer more support for graphics, layout, and collaboration than others, so spend some time exploring features before settling on one program. Most offer free trials of their programs so you can try before you buy or you can use the free or lite versions of the programs indefinitely. Listed below you will find a short list of free mind-mapping programs to get you started:

Product Spotlight: Web-Based Keyboarding Programs

Building Keyboarding Skills Over the Summer

Summertime is a great time for children to brush up on their keyboarding skills. For keyboarding practice at home, consider the following low-cost or free keyboarding tutorial Websites to explore with your child.

1. Custom Typing -

This site offers comprehensive keyboarding instruction for students of all ages and abilities, including one-handed typists. Custom Typing offers a free four week trial and access to the site therafter for $9 per month. Teachers and parents have the ability to track student performance. there are no ads on the site to distract users.
2. Sense-lang -

This site provides free online touch typing instruction, drills, and games that will engage most children and adults. Teachers or parents can track student progress. Some Google ads that show up on the sidebar of the screen may be distracting.
3. Dance Mat Typing -

This site, produced and maintained by the BBC (British Broadcasting Network), is designed to engage early grade school children with an animated multimedia format. children can start at any level. Fun cartoon characters encourage the child through each stage of the program. therea re no ads, but Flash format means tutorials are sometimes slow to load and respond.

Web Spotlight: Skype

Skype is a free software application that allows users to make voice calls over the internet. Calls to other users (computer to computer) within the Skype service are free. Calls made to both traditional landline telephones and mobile phones can be made for a fee. Skype also has features such as instant messaging, data transfer and video conferencing. You can use Skype to connect with your peers or to be a virtual grandparent when distance separates you from loved ones. Find out more about Skype at Interested in how to use Skype in the classroom? Check out this article: 50 Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom.

Tech Tip: E-Mail Safety and Etiquette

E-mail Etiquette
E-mail has become the dominant form of communication for most people, especially in business settings. That is why it is important to be polite and aware of the types of e-mails you send. E-mails are digital and, like all digital files, you never know where they might end up one day. courts can even use e-mails as evidence, but let's take a step back.

As with all forms of communication, there are some unspoken rules of etiquette. Here are some you may or may not be aware of.

1. ALL CAPS MEANS YOU ARE YELLING! People don't like to be yelled at, even in cyberspace.
2. Sarcasm is great, not! Remember that e-mail is simply written language. Your written voice has no inflection. Thus, sarcasm can be hard to pick up. Think about how statements such as “I’m so angry I could hurt them” could be taken out of context. E-mails are digital and can be saved for an almost infinite amount of time, which means you never know when something you wrote might show up again.
3. Read your e-mails before you send them. This might seem obvious, but in our fast moving digital lives it can be very easy to skip this step. You may end up sending an e-mail that makes no sense or sending an e-mail to the wrong person. Spell check doesn't catch everything. Sometimes reading an e-mail outloud to yourself can help you catch inappropriate words or phrases you might have otherwise missed.
4. :-) ;-) LOL ROFL. Abbreviations and face symbols can be fun, but they can also be confusing to people who are not familiar with them. In some cases this may be misinterpreted. for instance, AIM for some people means Accessible Instructional Materials, bu to others it means AOL Instant Messenger. Just as using jargon can be rude in some cases, so can using abbreviations and symbols.

E-mail Safety
E-mail is the number one place to find virus and ”phishing“ scams. Viruses can come in e-mails as attachments. Never open an attachment that you are not 100% sure came from a safe place. If a friend sends you a strangely worded e-jail with an attachment, you might want to check with them first to make sure they really sent it, and that it is not a virus that infected your computer and is trying to spread itself.

Also be on the lookout for “phishing” scams. Phising is when a person tries to get you to send them sensitive information by pretending to be someone else. Your bank or financial Website will never ask you to send them account information, passwords or your social security numbers through e-mail. That is a red flag. If you get an alarming email from your bank, don't click on any links in the email; simply call the bank or visit their Website yourself to verify that the information is correct. Lastly don't click on links in e-mails sent to you by strangers; you can't be sure where any link will take you.

Did You Know?: 90 Days of Summer

Did you know that this assistive technology professional development calendar, originally created in 2007, is still a valuable resource for expanding your knowledge and use of assistive technology?  Created by Dave Edyburn, 90 Days of Summer is an electronic Web-based calendar that offers a different site or tool for the 90 days of summer June through August.  Spend just five minutes a day increasing your knowledge of assistive technology.  Check it out at

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Simon Technology Center

The Simon Technology Center (STC) is dedicated to making the benefits of technology more accessible to children and adults with disabilities. Through a collaborated effort involving parents, professionals, and consumers, the STC can provide numerous services for your family, as well as resources and informative answers to your questions. Since 1987, the Simon Technology Center has helped many children and adults, with a variety of disabilities, use assistive technology to enhance learning, work and independence.

Come check out our core services including:  information and referral (phone or email), assistive technology consultations, a 3,000 item AT lending library, plus much more.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Charting the C's 2010: Staff Picks

1. Meghan's Conference Discovery - Xtranormal Text-To-Movie

Xtranormal is a Web-based tool for creating your own Web-based movies. Xtranormal provides the setting and the actors for your movie. you pick your setting from a variety of Showpaks, choose your characters, provide the dialogue and, presto, you have a movie. This program is great for making an animated social story or bringing your writing to life.

2. Bridget's Conference Discovery - String Trio

Imagine having an interest in playing music but not having the fine motor skills or ability to play an instrument. check out iPod Touch/Phone App String Trio or "Air Violin", as the developers call it. Using the motions of tilt, swing and glide, the user controls the tempo, speed and strength of the bow (your iPod) as it crosses imaginary strings on a violin, viola or cello. The program costs $0.99 and come sloaded with over 40 classical and folk music selections.

3. Jonathan's Conference Discovery - Idea Sketch

Idea Sketch is a free iPod Touch/Phone mind mapping program that easily lets you draw a mind map, concept map, or flow chart. A click of a button converts the map to text or the text back to a concept map. Use Idea Sketch to brainstorm new ideas, make a list, organize a report and much more. The program is free and no drawing skills are required.

4. Tara's Conference Discovery - iPod Phone/Touch Accessibility Features

Apple continues to demonstrate its commitment to the disability community by providing built in accessibility features in their products. These features come standard with every Mac, iPod Phone/Touch and iPad and are worth exploring. Accessibility features include screen magnification, screen-reading technology called VoiceOver, an interface for exploring accessibility features, and mouse control solutions such as Mouse Keys, Slow Keys and Sticky Keys. There are several great resources to learn more about Mac accessibility features including:

Apple Accessibility

AT Mac

Staff Pick: Attainment's Social Story Readers

Attainment's Social Story Readers is part of a series of eReader books on CD that presents a collection of 16 read-along stories that depict a variety of social stories and situations suited to middle and high school students with various needs and abilities. The program features several levels of adjustable support including voice narration, text highlighting, word glossary and comprehension testing at the end of each story. this program is also switch accessible. the illustrations accompanying the stories are comic book style and appealing to teens and young adults. Teachers or parents can customize user settings through a management menu that is password protected. the social stories included in this collection cover topic areas such as anger management, dealing with change, and appropriate behavior on the job and at school.

Other selections of the Read to Learn Library include Self-Determination Readers, Connections in the Work Place, Life Skill Reader, Safety Skills Reader, and Do the Right Thing. All of these programs are available in the PACER Simon Technology Center loan library.

Product Spotlight: Peanut Butter PC by Peanut Butter Software

Peanut Butter PC works to protect electronic files, photographs and work, by creating a fun and friendly desktop environment for kids. This desktop environment provides access only to the programs and Web sites that you choose. The desktop user can't break out of their desktop and does not have access to the information stored on the computer. When you want to take control back, just enter a special key combination, and you are back in a Windows environment with your files as you left them - untouched by the desktop user.

Using simple point and click, children can easily navigate the desktop and launch the programs and Web sites that you have preapproved for them. No reading is required so children as young as 3 can learn to use a computer. Each desktop is personalized for each user. You can add childrens pictures or their favorite image to represent their desktop.

For more information or to download a free trial, visit

Early Childhood Corner: NEW! AT Booklet for Infants and Toddlers

Discover How Assistive Technology Can Help Your Infant or Toddler Learn and Grow explains how parents and professionals can utilize AT in the home and through early intervention services. this helpful booklet was produced through a partnership between PACER Center and Tots-n-Tech - a federally funded research institute that is conduciting a series of national policy studies regarding AT with infants and toddlers.

To receive this free booklet, contact PACER Center at 952-838-9000 or For more information about Tots-n-Tech, visit

Web Spotlight: Vocabulary Ahead

Vocabulary Ahead is a Web-based tool that helps students learn new vocabulary. Featuring a distraction free Study Room, learners see the word and hear the definition of the word. A unique feature of the site is the Vocabulary Video. A narrator reads the definition, elaborates on the word, and uses the word in context - all supported with a visual image of the vocabulary word. Over 1,000 difficult words are explained in this way. Learners are also able to submit their own vocabulary video definitions. check it out at

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Technology: Devices, Software Can Help Young Children Communicate

by Tenley McDonald

It’s no secret that children have feelings, opinions, and desires they want to express. If your child has autism, developmental delays, or any other disability that makes communication difficult, you already know how frustrating and upsetting that impediment can be for you and your child.

What you may not know is that an array of communication devices and software can help. Known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), these tools can help even very young children express their wants, develop stronger relationships with peers, and find inclusion in the classroom and elsewhere.

Here are two popular types of AAC you may want to consider for your child.

Picture Communication Symbols

Often the first form of AAC used by young children, picture communication symbols (PCS) consist of simple images showing objects, actions, and feelings. By pointing to a given symbol—a picture of a favorite toy, for example—your child can make choices and communicate his or her wants and needs. PCS software programs such as Boardmaker by Mayer-Johnson or Picture It by Slater Software allow you to create customized communication materials for your child. They usually contain a searchable graphics database to help you find specific symbols, such as images associated with a birthday party or your child’s morning routines. You also can use digital photos and images to create simple communication symbols and schedules.

Mid-tech Devices

If your child needs more support when communicating, a device that incorporates PCS and voice output may be a good option. These devices feature a recorded voice that “speaks” when the corresponding button or picture is activated. You may want to start with a simple one-message device such as the BigMack by AbleNet or Partner Plus Communicator by AMDI.

Once your child becomes familiar with how the device works, you may want a more advanced version that can expand his or her choices. A device with four message buttons and five levels, for example, would hold 20 pre-recorded messages. This feature provides a much broader vocabulary without additional programming and without overwhelming your child with more-complicated technology. The Go Talk 4+ by Attainment and SuperTalker by AbleNet, for example, have multiple buttons and levels.

Mid-tech devices can range from $10 to $2,500, so try out a few before making a purchase. Look for one that motivates your child, is appropriate for his or her abilities, and offers more advanced capabilities your child could use as his or her skills develop. Many assistive technology companies and centers offer “try before you buy” loan programs.

All people need to communicate. For young children whose disabilities interfere with their ability to share their ideas, feelings, needs, and wants, AAC can offer a solution.

To learn more about AAC software and devices, contact the Simon Technology Center at 952-838-9000 or You may also want to check out the AAC publications at

Saturday, March 27, 2010

App Corner: Chronology, Countdown & Time Timer


Chronology lets you create up to 12 separate timers that can be started, paused and reset individually or as a group. The light version, Chronolite (free) lets you create up to 4 different timers. If you leave the app, it still runs in the background and will play the customized alert you selected. This alert sound that plays at the end of a countdown can play up to 30 times (about 2 minutes). Cost $2.99


Countdown tracks that dates that are important to you such as birth dates, how many days until school ends or starts, days to winter vacation, and more. It does not integrate with calendar but you have the ability to mail a countdown. You can also add a visual support from your Photo Library and make an event repeating. Cost $0.99

Time Timer

Brought to you by the makers of the visual time timer devices that help show the passage of time. This app “shows” how much time is left and helps teach the passage of time. This helps reduce anxiety for some learners. Cost $4.99

Product Spotlight: Cue Electronic Classroom Scheduler

The Cue Electronic Classroom Scheduler is a portable device designed to help students keep track of their own schedules and stay organized. Students can learn to program this tool themselves or parents and teachers can set it up to manage daily, weekly and monthly tasks. The Cue comes with over 70 pre-programmed common classroom and personal activities. There are two types of alarms that can be set for every event: either a light or a sound will alert the student to the event. The Cue also features a digital clock and calendar. It requires 2 AAA batteries and measures 5 ½” long by 3 ½” wide.

The Cue is sold by Learning Resources, and retails for approximately $18. This item may also be loaned in the Simon Technology Center library.

Web Spotlight: Autism Internet Module AIM

The AIM project is a collaboration of several organizations with the goal of providing information to parents and professionals supporting learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders ASD. By the time the project is complete AIM will contain over 60 modules on topics including assessment and identification, characteristics, evidence-based practices, transition to adulthood, employment and more. The modules take into consideration adult learning styles and are presented at a universal reading level with activities to support both those who are new to ASD and those who have advanced knowledge on ASD. The site is free but does require you to sign up for a username and password. To find out more information about the AIM Project or to sign up visit

Did You Know? The Coffee Klatch

Parents, are you looking for a place to connect with other parents? Are you looking for high quality resources to meet your need as a parent of a child with a disability? Did you know that parents of children with disabilities from around the country meet every morning over virtual cup of coffee? Meet The Coffee Klatch, a group of parents who meet over virtual cup of coffee. Using TweetChat as their virtual meeting place, followers interact with such speakers as: Temple Grandlin, Annie Fox and Carl Pickhardt.

The format includes a 15-minute introduction facilitated by moderators and a 45-minute question and answer session. All sessions and resources are archived. The Coffee Klatch has a Website that contains a calendar of upcoming events, a Facebook page that gives followers a chance to interact with the moderators and each other and Twitter Chat. Twitter Chat is an environment within Twitter. Guest speakers and followers interact in messages of 140 characters or less.

Not sure if this format is for you? You are welcome to “lurk” and quietly check it out. You will need a Twitter account which is free. You can sign up at Once you have a user name go to and enter the hashtag #tck to follow The Coffee Klatch. The meet every day at 9:00 a.m. EST and 10:00 a.m. EST. The are also adding some evening sessions. Information about upcoming speakers and sessions can be found at or on Facebook.

Tech Tip: Email Tools - Flags and Rules

Email has become so popular that for many people it is their main form of communication. That means many of us have to sort through countless messages every day! Let’s talk about two tools to help sort through and prioritize those messages.


Flags are a way of marking important emails that we need to respond to but can’t do it right away. In Microsoft Outlook flags can be found in the tool bar or in the right click menu labeled as “Follow up.” Simply click on or open an email and then click the picture of the flag. A little red flag will appear next to the email as a reminder that you need to come back to it later.

In Apple Mail you can flag an email by going to message in the menu bar or by right clicking (or control - clicking) and choosing mark - as flagged. This will also make a red flag appear to remind you to come back to that message later.


Rules are powerful tools that allow you to give your email program instructions on what to do with certain messages. For example you can create rules to alert you when you receive an email from certain people, automatically move an email to a special folder, or to automatically flag emails with specific words in the subject line. Rules can be become very complicated but here is a quick way to try them out.

In Microsoft Outlook right click on an email from someone important. In the pop-up menu choose Rules - Create Rule. The rules window will appear and you can tell outlook what conditions an email needs to meet to be part of the rule (i.e. From a certain person, words in the subject line, etc) and then customize the rule tell Outlook what to do with those emails (i.e. Move them to a folder, make an alert sound, etc).

In Apple Mail first click on an email from someone important. Then go the the menu bar at the top of screen and choose Mail - Preferences. In the Preferences window click on the rules tab and then click on the Add Rule button. A window will appear where you can name your rule, tell Mail what conditions an email needs to meet to be part of the rule (i.e. From a certain person, words in the subject line, etc) and then what you want Mail to do with those emails (i.e. Move them to a folder, make an alert sound, etc). There are also + and - buttons where you can add additional rules and instructions.

Rules can be a very useful tool in helping you sort and organize emails! To find out more about how to use them check out the following resources:











Try Visual Social Supports to Improve Children’s Challenging Behavior

By Meghan Kunz

For some children with disabilities, new situations and transitions between activities can trigger challenging behaviors and anxiety. A strategy called visual social supports can help deal with those issues. Also called story boards, social scripting, and Social Stories,™* these short, illustrated narratives help a child understand, interpret, or ease into situations that might be new, confusing, or challenging. Proven effective at decreasing inappropriate behaviors such as hitting, screaming, and grabbing, such stories provide a visual means to understand otherwise non-visual information.

Whether you’re a parent or professional, you can create your own visual social supports. This article explains how to do it and looks at a sampling of software programs that can help you implement them for your child or student.

How to Begin

To identify where a visual social support might be helpful, look at the child’s day. When and where do behaviors and anxiety arise? Once you have that answer, you can begin creating the structure for your story.

Carol Gray, an educator who developed the concept of social stories, recommends including the following elements:

Descriptive sentences are objective sentences that identify the most relevant factors in a social situation. They often answer “wh” questions—who, what, where, why, and when.

  • Today we are going to see a movie at the movie theater.

Perspective sentences refer to other people’s thoughts, feelings, motivations, or beliefs. They help the child learn how others perceive various events.

  • Many people think seeing a movie in the theater is fun!

Directive sentences present positive responses to a situation.

  • People at the movie theater wait quietly in line to buy their tickets. If the movie is popular, the line may be long. I will try to wait patiently.

Affirmative sentences clarify statements and may convey values that most people hold. They also can emphasize key points and refer to laws or rules.

  • We will arrive at the theater early so we do not miss any of the movie, even if there is a long line. After buying our tickets, we can also purchase popcorn and juice. Adults may have popcorn with soda instead of juice.

Control sentences identify personal strategies the individual will use to remember and use the information. These sentences are written by the individual after reviewing the social story. If the child cannot write, he or she could draw a picture instead.

  • Sometimes the line may not be long and we can be seated right away. When seated right away, we may have to watch commercials until the movie starts. During the movie we need to sit nicely and be quiet so everyone can hear the movie. The theater lights go off and just the screen lights up the room.

Cooperative sentences explain how others may help the child.

  • Many people will watch the movie in the theater. If I need to use the bathroom or take a break, I can ask an adult in a quiet voice so other people can still hear the movie.

Partial sentences encourage the child to “fill in the blank,” suggesting what will happen next or how someone will respond. Any of the above sentences can be written as a partial sentence.

  • If I want to come back to the theater to watch another movie, I (need to sit quietly through the entire movie). Going to a movie in the theater (is fun)!

Tools You Can Use

Once you have the structure for your visual support story, you can add images and other features using one of several software programs. Here are a few options.**

Kreative Komix

Does your child like dinosaurs? Super heroes? Fairy tales? You can create visual support stories using those and other popular characters with Kreative Komix. Available in a range of genres, this comic book–making software tool offers a variety of layouts and the ability to add thought and text bubbles. The program has text-to-speech capabilities, so the words can be spoken out loud., $39.95/title

Microsoft PowerPoint

Although not intended as a tool to create visual support stories, PowerPoint can be used for just that. It offers several templates and accepts a variety of file formats, including image, sound, recorded speech, and video files. It also includes page-turning buttons that can enhance navigation., $229 as a stand-alone program or $399 as part of Microsoft Office Suite

Tar Heel Reader

With Tar Heel Reader, you can create visual support stories and illustrate them with your own pictures or royalty-free images from Flickr. An invitation code (available through the Simon Technology Center) is required for to create books. Tar Heel Reader also offers hundreds of accessible, easy-reader online books (no invitation code needed to read books) on a variety of topics. It is ideal for older students who could benefit from easy-to-read, repetitive books but have interest levels outside of early-reader topics. Users can read or have books read to them online., free


TheraSimplicity is a collection of tools, illustrations, symbols, worksheets, and reference materials you can use to create visual support stories. Stories are converted to PDF format and are accessible on both Mac and PC., $189/one-year subscription; a free 30-day trial is available.


This tool allows you to create comic strips complete with characters, backgrounds, and text bubbles. For children who want to create their own visual support stories, this tool can provide a new mode of expression. Because ToonDoo is a public domain and users have access to a large library of already-made comics, safety for children using the site independently could be a concern., free


Vizzle includes a variety of tools for creating visual support stories. Using the Build-A-Book feature, for example, you can add voice, images, video, and more. Interactive hot-spots, for example, provide a greater level of support. Vizzle also has tools for creating games, matching boards, token boards, timers, and more. You can save your creation on the Vizzle Web site and access it from any computer with Internet access., parent memberships are $25/month; teacher and professional memberships are $78/month; clinician memberships are $100/month; a free 14-day trial is available.


When used appropriately, visual support stories can help children with disabilities decrease challenging behaviors and better manage social situations. These stories can be created easily using the tools listed in this article. Repetition can help your child use these stories successfully.

For more information on visual social supports, contact the Simon Technology Center at 952-838-9000 or at

*Social Stories™ were first defined in 1991 by Carol Gray, who continues to do work on social supports for students with autism. This article incorporates several of her strategies and findings. Learn more at

**Inclusion on this list does not imply an endorsement. PACER Center does not assume any responsibility for the content on any of these sites.