Thursday, January 26, 2012

Digital Learning: Not Just for Kids

With all this talk about the ereaders, the cloud, Kindles, iPads, and tablets, many people are left feeling out of the loop.  However, schools and students cannot move forward in the digital learning age without the community and especially the parents having some basic understanding of what digital learning actually entails.  In an effort to wash away some of our fears, maybe we should consider what digital learning is NOT.  Feel free to add items to my list in the comments.

1. Digital Learning is NOT about the WOW factor.  WOW is temporary.  Digital learning is life-long and ever-changing.
2.  Digital Learning is NOT simply searching the internet or using a computer.
3.  Digital Learning in NOT only about consumption.  Digital learning is about creation.  We are the creators of what is consumed.  There is tremendous power in that.
4.  Digital Learning is NOT a concept that can be mastered in a few professional development sessions.  It is a way of life that is enhanced by experimenting and experiencing.  It does not bite. Go ahead...try something...anything.  
5.  Digital Learning is NOT isolating.  It is the key to enhanced collaboration and team work.  Digital Learning makes the world accessible to all regardless of location and financial status.
6.  Digital Learning is NOT going away.  It is only going to become increasingly more prevalent.
7.  Digital Learning is NOT just for kids.  We can all learn and create digitally, and...we should! 

It is my hope that many will join me and my colleagues for our Digital Learning Day event.  The following is the info being sent out to members of the community.  Please share and please join us!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012, is National Digital Learning Day.  Potosi Schools will be providing hands-on learning and information needed to get started with your iPad, kindles, smartphones, and other devices.  We will also highlight the cloud and using social media as a communication tool.  Representatives from the public library will also be on hand to teach people how to check out electronic books from the public library system, so bring your library card.  The event will start at 6:00PM.  We invite you to come and learn more about what’s happening in the world of technology.  Please bring your smartphones, iPads, Kindles, and other devices.  Our wireless network will be open to our guests.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Broken iPad Glass

Christmas for our family was filled with happiness and excitement and...devastation.  My family was making one last stop at my in-laws to pick up some forgotten gifts, and the unthinkable happened.  As I went to get my three year old out of the truck, the family's iPad came crashing to the concrete and SHATTERED!  I took a deep breath, and said, "It will be okay." However, on the inside, I was in complete panic mode.  How would we afford to replace the glass?  Santa had just blown the yearly budget, and we have a family wedding in seven days that requires all of us to get gussied up.  How would my kids handle not having the iPad; it has become so engrained in their daily activities.  How would I tell my grandma, the purchaser of the iPad, about the incident?  How would I check my twitter and facebook so discretely every hour?  I was scared!

Upon returning home, I went online to do some research.  Good thing my husband fixed the laptop screen last week.  Funny how the laptop screen being out of commission for six months did not bother me, but the iPad screen being out of commission for fifteen minutes had me sick to my stomach.  At any rate, my research took me to one forum that said Apple did not replace broken screens.  The author compared it to returning a car to the dealership after being in a crash.  I understood, but I kept reading out of desperation.  I found a couple of places that replaced iPad screens for about $180 which was a bit cheaper than the reports about what Apple charged.  I still couldn't afford $180 at this time not to mention the time my iPad would be away from our family.  Finally, I read a post that gave me some hope.  Apple had apparently replaced this woman's iPad free of charge, and her advice to other customers was to be humble, nice, honest, and non-expectant.  She advised that the second you say you have heard they do this for others; they don't do it for you.

It was settled; I had to go to the Apple store in the morning, and hope for the best.  I made an appointment at the store, and I managed to do a little shopping and eat lunch while I waited for my turn to share my story of the broken iPad.  At 1:40, I was greeted by Paul at the Apple store.  My hands shook and my voice quivered as I explained what happened to the iPad and how vital it is to our family.  He explained the $269 swap out practice because it costs more to replace than to buy a new one.  I listened intently and shook my head as if I totally understood and would do whatever it took because we could not live without the iPad.  Finally, he said, "But, we have two iPads in the back, and I'm willing to swap one with you AT NO CHARGE TODAY.  WOULD THAT BE OKAY WITH YOU?"  Holy Bologna (pronounced balony)!  Yes, of course that would be okay with me.  "THIS IS DEFINITELY A ONE TIME ONLY TYPE OF SITUATION."  Seriously, I had tears, and I was still shaking.  Paul went to retrieve the new iPad.  While I waited, I watched another customer hug an Apple employee and say, "You are all angels today."  Her daughter had dropped her iPod touch and Apple had swapped it free of charge as well.  WOW!!  

So, one might now believe that Apple does this for everyone, but I'm not convinced.  All of the posts I read prior to going to the Apple store were written by real people, and not everyone had such a happy ending.  The person who wrote the post that gave me hope was on to something.  Swapping broken iPads is definitely not done for everyone, but it happens often enough that one should attempt visiting the Apple store.  If your iPad has broken glass, this is what I would do:
1.  Stop using the iPad to prevent further cracking
2.  Say a prayer (continuously throughout the process)
3.  Go to an Apple store ASAP (people in person are better than people on the phone)
4.  Make an appointment with the genius bar and do not ask any questions of the sales people
5.  Be humble and honest when meeting your genius
6.  Never mention that you heard they swapped for others (they do this on a case by case situation will not help you)
7.  Take complete responsibility (don't put down how the product is made)
8.  Be super thankful no matter what...     

Apple is a great company, and I am super thankful for them swapping out my shattered iPad.  I hope that no one else experiences the shattering of iPad glass, but I know it will happen to someone somewhere, so I'm sharing my story.  I wish you the best.

And...Thank you Paul!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Keep that Fire Burnin'...Burnin'...Burnin'

Fire #4:
I presented a session at SLATE entitled Independence in the Inclusive Classroom.  I had two objectives.  First, I wanted to stress the importance of teaching self-advocacy skills to special education students.  Self-advocacy is the single most important skill I teach, and it is a skill that needs to be taught directly. 
Second, I wanted to highlight technology tools (accommodations) that allow students to be independent while participating in regular education curriculum.  The single most important tool that I cannot emphasize enough is Bookshare and its accompanying Read2Go app.  This is a FREE service that provides accessible books (fiction, nonfiction, textbooks) to people with print disabilities.  Over 50 people were in my sectional, and under 5 were aware of Bookshare.  I hope those 50 people mentioned Bookshare in conversation with other colleagues at least once, and I hope they have taken the necessary steps to get their FREE organizational memberships.  It is a crime not to use this service. For more information, check out my glog.

Monday, December 12, 2011

SLATE 2011: Starting a Fire!

After returning to the classroom from my trip to SLATE 2011 conference (School Leaders Advancing Technology Education),  I had to put out a few fires in order to get everything back to normal, but now, I plan to start a few more.  I learned at summer camp that fire is a good thing; it allows for new growth!
Fire #1:  No Digital Presence is Worse Than a Bad Digital Presence
Seriously!  Since the inception of Facebook and Twitter and other social networking tools, educators have fretted about how to control it and prevent our children from creating a negative digital footprint at the cost of completely ignoring the importance of helping our students create a positive digital presence.  Most schools ban social networking cites calling them dangerous, distracting, and a waste of time, yet over 800 million people log into facebook each day.  Beth Lisowski and administators from Whitnall presented on the School Communication in the 21st Century which is very different from a traditional newletter home everyday or a monthly school newsletter.  I was inspired to start my own facebook page for my students, parents, and colleagues to access information that is truly important to special education students.  If you know me and my educational philosophy, you know that I believe if something is good for special education students, it is good for ALL students.   I intend to keep spreading the word about the social networking cites that are having a very profound impact on my professional development.  I also intend to continue growing my Professional Learning Network.  Please find me on twitter @MelissaEmler and "like" my fb page.  My goal is to help you learn something!

Fire #2:  Policy to Match Practice
Our school recently went wireless and purchased about 10 iPads that are being tested in a variety of classrooms throughout the school.  We are learning a lot, and things are going very well.  I went to a session about Bring Your Own Device done by leaders from New Berlin, and my superintendent attended a session about 1:1 computer initiatives.  We both learned a lot about these two options, and our team sat down during team time and collaborated about where we might be going in this world of technology.  Upon our return to the district, the superintendent and I used Google Docs to review and converse about the policies we need to address in our district in order to move forward.  We used New Berlin's Appropriate Use Policy as a stepping off point.  Our awareness has been heightened; the benefit for our students will soon be recognizable.

Fire #3:  Consumer/Producer Lines Blur
Scott Mcleod was the opening keynote speaker, and he was great.  The most important message I took away from his topic was the blurring lines between consumer and producer.  When the internet began, we avidly participated in finding the information that could transform our thinking and grow our knowledge, but as the internet ages, there is an expectation of producing content to make it what it is.  Scott shared encouraged leaving comments on Amazon about a book because essentially that CREATES Amazon.  I love when students produce something to illustrate learning.  The most valuable and important learning happens when students create and publish work that makes them proud.  Encouraging students and colleagues to create and publish is my focus at this point.  At one point, this message was on my class webpage, "Do more than you want to do, work harder than you want to work, CREATE something you are proud of, and you will meet my expectations."  I need to put it back!

Technology integration is going to be a long, continuously buring wildfire, but growth will surely follow the fire.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize

Every iPad needs accessories.  Getting the right iPad accessories is very similiar to finding the perfect pair of shoes, the perfect purse, and the perfect jewelry.  All accessories are extremely personal and perfect is determined more by personality than practicality.  Also, accessories need to be functional.  The best pair of shoes look ridiculous sitting in the corner of the dance hall, and you look more ridiculous for not wearing any shoes.  These are the accessories I can't live without.

1.  iPad cover or protector --I have one that rotates so I can view in both landscape and letter.  Some covers put the iPad to sleep with their magnetic clips, and others have apps designed for how they work (Evernote Peek).
2.  iPad screen protector -- These are difficult to put on, so be sure you read the instructions first.
3.  keyboard --  love mine and have been able to leave my laptop behind, but it is not a necessity unless you plan to create with your iPad.
4.  iTunes gift card -- You can't even get the thing started without credit card info UNLESS you have an iTunes gift card which is what I would suggest if you plan to give it to your children. 
5.  HDMI connector cable.  This allows you to mirror your iPad screen on a TV.  You can rent movies from iTunes and share with the whole family OR teach a class using an iPad app.

There are a million and one choices within these accessories, but with Christmas coming, these are the things you might ask grandma and grandpa or aunts and uncles to include in their gifts for the children.

This looks like a good website for ideas.

Happy Accessorizing!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Move over Gaming and Music- Accessibility and Productivity are HERE!

Apps are what makes the iPad function. Because I'm a special education teacher, I have learned a lot about apps that level the playing field for my students. These are the ones that I LOVE and how I use them with students.

1. Read2Go
Read2Go is the app that makes the iPad an accessible ereader for students who struggle to read. Read2Go is put out by Benetech and is a FREE service that provides digitally formatted books to people with a print disability. Being a member of bookshare is necessary in order to use this application. For details on getting an organizational membership for your school or an individual membership for a child with a print disability, please drop me a note or visit

My students use this application to assist them in reading novels for class, pleasure reading, and meeting their Accelerated Reader goals.

2. Evernote
Evernote is amazing for organization and productivity. It is a cloud service and serves as a place to keep everything: a to do list, notes from class, journals, pictures, etc. My students can use Evernote to record lectures and type notes during a lecture. They also share a journal notebook with their English teacher and I. This allows me to assess their writing for their IEP goals with the same writing sample their English teacher uses for a different purpose. I also share a notebook with a student and his mother which helps to keep everyone informed of expectations and accomplishments. This cuts down on the number of panic emails. I highly recommend watching some videos from at to get to know about this app. Also, Evernote is web based, and the app is available for download on ALL devices, so it can be anywhere you are.

3. Speech Journal
Speech Journal (and all other apps by Mobile Education) is fantastic. This app allows students to take or import photos from their experience and verbally tell the story that accompanies the photos. For those students who struggle to write, this is an appropriate alternative assessment. Creating a pre-writing (or speaking) plan is an important step in teaching those skills that allow students to develop and organize their thoughts beyond one or two sentences. The app allows students to email the speech journal to teachers, friends, and family.

4. Complete Class Organizer
WOW! This app has an assignment notebook, web connection, whiteboard, recorder, and notes pages. It allows students to manage their classes in one place, and it syncs assignments with calendars they use most. It also syncs with google docs, and very soon it will be able to sync with Evernote. Complete Class Organizer will be an app that will carry a student from middle school through college. It takes some practice to be able to use all of the features effectively, but it is awesome!

5. Moody Me
I love this app because sometimes behaviors and moods need to be tracked so that parents, teachers, and health care providers can best serve a child. Independence with this app will depend on the age of the child, but middle school and high school students can definitely manage keeping track of their moods as long as they are empowered to do so.

6. Dexteria and i Write Words
These are two apps that help children build fine motor skills especially handwriting. My own children have worked on their pencil grip and letter formation with these apps and have experienced significant gains. The teacher in me likes Dexteria because it provides me with a lot of useful data to monitor and meausure growth. The parent in me loves iWriteWords because my kids love it. It does take a video of the writing, so I can also see progress.

7. Show Me
This is a great app for teachers to record brief lessons or explanations of assignments. It is a web based service so show me's can be accessed without an iPad. I used this to go over specific math problems that I know will stump my students. They can then access the video and maintain their independence.

8. Speak it
This is a fabulous text to speech option with an excellent speaking voice. All you need to do is copy info from the web or email into the app and then click speak it. It is great!

9. Dragon Dictation
The iPad Dragon is amazing too! Students who experience difficulty with handwriting and spelling should utilize this app when writing. It will enhance their productivity as they will be able to compose much faster by speaking their thoughts.

10. Accessibility features in the iPad
The new iPad update to IOS 5 has enhanced the accessibility features greatly. Go to settings and adjust them to the child's need. I especially like the ability to speak highlighted text without actually using voiceover. That is a major improvement!

Accessibility is often enough to help students with learning disabilities remain in regular education classrooms. Teachers and parents can't expect students to know about these or how to effectively use them. It is our job to help our kids make the most of their devices. These apps are a start.

Do you have additional accessability or productivity you love? Please post a comment.

Friday, November 4, 2011

iPod or another device? Santa says...

Several people have asked me about electronic Christmas gifts. "Kindle Fire or iPod touch?" "LeapPad or iPad?" "What else is out there that would help my kids?"

I'm not going to try to give the positives and negatives of each product; I simply do not know enough about each product. However, I do know the iPad and iPod touch. I've spent the last five months learning how to operate the iPad effectively. I've learned a lot about secret hidden tips for operating the iPad effectively; I've learned how to use iTunes without going crazy. And...maybe most importantly, I've learned about applications that will make life more managable for kids.

This is why I would buy my kids an iPod Touch or iPad for Christmas:

1. The apps are better. I have a droid phone, and although I love having a smartphone, the apps do not compare to the apps in the Apple App Store. Not to mention there are hundreds of thousands of apps.

2. Kindle is an app. It is actually a free app available on any device. If you purchase Kindle books from Amazon, you can read them, book mark them, and take notes in them from any device. The books cost money, but the app is free for as many devices as you want. All you need to do is download it. If you are going to read digital books, I recommend picking one "store" and "app" to purchase your books from because it will help you keep them organized. I prefer Kindle because of its vast array of books and its availability on every device. If you have a social justice aversion to Amazon, Kindle is not for you. iBooks is another choice, but I can't get my iBooks on my Droid phone.

3. iCloud is here. All that means is that there is really NO reason to spend the extra money for extra storage on the iPod touch or iPad. 16 GB will be sufficient for the typical person. You can store apps, documents, pictures, videos, and music in the cloud when you don't need them. When you want something that is stored in the cloud, it is a quick download.

4. Tracking the lost or stolen device is possible. There are lots of security settings that can be set, but allowing the iPad to track location is the most important if you worry about it being lost or stolen. Although some question if the location tracking is a violation of privacy, and to be honest, I don't think anyone wants to know where I am badly enough to waste their time looking for me. I am reassured that if my iPad walks off unintentionally with someone leaving my classroom, I will be able to track it with GPS. Even those times when it is lost in the couch cushions can be helped with the tracking service because you can actually make the device make a sound. It works just like calling your phone from another one. Don't kid yourself, you have totally called yourself when you couldn't find your phone! Regardless of how responsible your children are, they might misplace the device. Knowing it can be found is a good feeling.

5. The intuitive device crosses all age groups. My three year old can maanuever between apps just as well as my 6 year old. Not to mention, my three year old can work on his speech articulation and then be rewarded by an age appropriate game. I still monitor screen time, but the point is, if my kids have screen time, this is the screen I prefer them to have.

6. Affordability of the apps is important. I would never buy another hand held gaming system again. I purchased Leapsters a few years back, and they were perfect, BUT the games were $25 a piece. Depending on the games, DSI games are even more expensive. That is crazy! The iPad/iTouch games range in price greatly, but $25 will go along ways in games purchases!

7. Battery life rocks on the Apple devices. The Leapsters I bought earlier take a lot of AA batteries. The new LeapPad still takes batteries too.

8. A lot of capabilities in one device steals the show. Internet. Gaming. Music. Organization. Digital Reader. Texting. Yes, texting. There are apps that allow you to text and instant message people using Wi-fi. It is the perfect solution for those pre-teen kids who really want a cell phone. Ultimately they want texting capability, and the iTouch will serve the purpose as long as you have Wi-fi at your home.

9. One account for multiple devices makes apps affordable. Once you figure out iTunes, you will be able to sync up to five devices on the one account. That means you don't need to pay for apps multiple times. I would not give your iTunes password to your children, and if you do, I would not populate the credit card option in the set up. You will need iTunes or App Store giftcards to avoid putting your credit card in, but that is better than allowing your children to buy 100 $.99 apps or songs.

10. There's an app for that. I can not even begin to list the most important apps, but I assure you that these devices will prove to be far more than music and gaming devices. I'll blog before the holidays about important "school" apps that will make your kids appreciate the device more than they realize at this moment.

Hope this helps someone out there. I don't work for Apple, but the iPad and iPod Touch are seriously the best pieces of technology since the invention of the Kitchen Aid Mixer.

Happy Shopping!