The Apple Assistive Powerhouse

I can probably consider myself an original Mac guy. My university (New Mexico State) where I attended undergrad dove head first Mac for its publications as early as 1986, and I owned my first Mac in 1988.

Mac went south in 1997, I went Windows a short time later, but returned to Mac in 2005 thanks to my daughter, who bought one for college. But in 2010, upon entering Boise, back to Windows but the stay was short, again thanks to my daughter.

Both have powerful merits, though Apple’s Screenshot 2013-11-24 12.14.03price is always tough. But what might be little used features for some can be powerful features for others. Apple’s standard software can work with students who have cognitive, physical, communication, and intellectual ability difficulties (Roblyer and Doering, 2012).

It is important to know that Windows products are capable, but there may be need to add software, even if it is free.

First, Apple allows for icons to be as large as needed, with readable fonts and the ability to zoom up to 20 times.

Probably one of the biggest assets to the Apple environment is VoiceOver, which is  screen reader. There is a slight learning curve, but I was able to get it to listen to text from the web and from Word.

Screenshot 2013-11-24 22.11.33 Another fun discovery (yes, I did not know my computer could do this) was Dictation and Text to Speech. I had my granddaughter play with Dictation, and the third grader was pretty happy to see her words automatically going onto Microsoft Word. Although Dragon is considered better overall (including students who have some lisps or other speech impediments), it could still be used to help students practice speech and also free write even if they can not write as fast.

Text to Speech connects to Text Edit or Pages, so teachers can put text into Text Edit and students can use the Text to Speech to hear what is read. The biggest discovery for me, however was that Apple’s Preview reads PDF files. Yes. Just go to Edit, scroll down to Speech and then if it is a quality PDF, highlight the section one wants to read and let it go.

This led to the discovery that Adobe Acrobat and AScreenshot 2013-11-24 22.33.20dobe Reader also have a Read Out Loud feature I did not know existed! I have students who need audio support, so this is a major find for me and I will be certain to reveal this to my charges after Thanksgiving break (students are gone all week at my school.

(Another aside: If one adds the Open Dyslexic font, one can give dyslexic students a chance to not only read a story better, but also listen to it via Apple’s Preview (PDF) reader.)

Apple also supports Braille displays, slow or Sticky Keys, provides Facetime instruction, and other visual approaches that can help with a variety of approaches, in addition to a bevy of other items that are standard with the software but I did not get a chance to investigate at this time.

Although the wallet may take an “ouch” when purchased, I am impressed with my laptop can do without having to be overly worried about whether an outside source will work or not.

Apple – Education – Special Education. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/education/special-education/

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (6th ed.).

Difficulty in Integration for upper level HS English courses

It is possible I may have picked one of the more difficult content areas to weave in integrated technology, and surprisingly, it is English.

Not just regular language arts mind you, no, Advanced Placement English. 11th and 12th graders. (Oh, and AP History can be an issue too

The reason: I have discovered that quite frankly, AP English (at least the instruction of it) is a bit test-centered, even if the instructor is not.

The use of blog, electronic journals, and discussion boards are relatively easy, but it was deeper projects, such as the use of Excel/spreadsheets, or finding instructional software (there is a plethora for math and science, just Google and here it comes).

It is not that the content is phobic or not conducive to integrating technology, but these two particular content areas are indeed a transition from pedagogical approaches to andragogical examinations, but for some reason, again due to test-centered concerns, the courses could be considered rigid and ironically accidentally ignore both principles.

(What I mean by this is AP English in of itself can be directed at only one or two types of learners. Case in point: I have math and science students who have not done well in my class in the past because it can involve so much abstract learning that it truly baffles them).

Yet, as Malcolm Knowles expressed, andragogy involves self-concepts, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation to learn (Knowles 12, 1984 cited in infed.org). All of these can be covered by integrating technology.

However, I found myself treading new frontiers as I prepared my lessons. For example, it took about an hour for me to figure out a way to incorporate physical education into AP. Then, using experience from my days of running and hiking and adding it to my new found daily journaling, I found a nature walk concept to incorporate into Glogster. Suddenly, multi-sensory approaches so common in pedagogy (but generally limited to the primary educational experience) could be introduced to help in the andragogy approach of building experience, readiness to learn, and motivation to learn.

Another big problem: Cost vs time. There are some great tools out there, but some of the open source tools tend to have a higher learning curve, so adding infographics, eBooks, and early in its inception, Prezis and Google Docs, can be hard for teachers and students. While some tools have indeed become much easier to use, some of the better tools such as in the eBook creation category can carry a price tag or be restricted to a Mac (iBook Author is a fantastic free creation tool, but it is limited to Macs…and Macs that sport the Lion OS).

Thus, educators need to provide a big tool kit bag when offering project-based learning approaches (similar to those provided by Dr. Jackie Gerstein for my Ed Tech 541 course) so that options are not only plenty, but also help various learners.

Even then, educators need to play with a plan first before putting it in the hands of students. Knowles said this concerning orientation to learning: as a person matures “his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centeredness” (Knowles 12, 1984 cited in infed.org). In essence, integrating technology is a problem-centered situation and as teachers, we need to take time and problem-solve how to get quality approaches in the hands of our students when limitations (and they will happen) hit us.

infed.org | Andragogy: what is it and does it help thinking about adult learning? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://infed.org/mobi/andragogy-what-is-it-and-does-it-help-thinking-about-adult-learning/

The Quality Improvement Agency. (2008). Multi sensory learning, 1–3.

(Finally) excelling at Excel

by Cary L. Tyler

There is one part of the Office/Office-type suite that has eluded (okay, I have eluded) since its inception.

Excel.

Roblyer and Doering almost nailed the reason for me right on the head: “Teachers who employ this versatile software must first address students’ tendency to fear math”.  They left out a piece.

They should have included: Teachers who might employ this versatile software must first address their own tendency to fear math.

I was not a good math student. Unfortunately, nearly every educational mistake that could be made in the instruction of math happened to me in high school and part of college. I made it only because I had to, but my undergraduate GPA bears the scars of a weak math instruction.

Thus, Excel has overwhelmed me for years. Word, Power Point, Adobe Photoshop, Fireworks, Dreamweaver, bring it. Excel. Nope.

I did not use Excel in any form until this school year. That’s right. My 23rd year of teaching, and I did not. Not for a grade book, not for anything. (I did use Microsoft Access back in 2000 for a statewide competition I was a part of, go figure, but only for that event and then I went back to the spreadsheet dark ages.

I also did not think it really worked for what I teach: high school English. My world initially was centered on books and a word processor, with some PowerPoint thrown in, and eventually to presentation software, but Excel?

This year, my lesson plans are running through it, and I did have a grade book, but I need time to refine it to my liking and right now I have not had time to build one that is more representative of my work and I have not found a template I like enough to refine.

However, as I am constructing the lessons for this week’s assignment, I have discovered that Excel could be an awesome tool (I am not saying this just for this class…I am going to be having my students use Excel for their work this month.

Without dragging down this post, one core example is a character flow chart, or a character algorithm. In it, students will develop a character growth approach, but then have at least two conditional/decision points where students can hypothesize where a character could have diverged from their course and perhaps changed not only their character but perhaps the course of the story.

I am excited to see what my students will do with this, and also will help my students see a mathematical/scientific tie to language arts (there already is with grammar and syntax).

As for myself: Self-training time. I still have three weeks of my Lynda.com subscription left, and between that an Excel for Dummies, I plan to dig deep and learn how to create my own templates.

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (6th ed.). Pearson Education Inc.