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 hpjh.blogspot.com

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 - www.apple.com/ipodtouch/features/more-features.html

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 - www.shapewriter.com/iphone.html

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) - www.geewhizstuff.com

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 - www.customtyping.com

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 - www.sense-lang.org/typing/

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 - www.bbc.co.uk/schools/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 http://www.skype.com. 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 http://www.setp.net/summer/calendar.html