Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Font of the Year: Teacher Helpers

As much as I love good typography, it's not often I'm going to write about a font on this blog. Teacher Helpers, however, is worth more than a mention, I'm going to award it the CyberSERT Award for Font of the Year, 2014-2015. This font (free for non-commercial use) has a lot to offer for elementary teachers. Just have a look:

The base-ten blocks alone are awesome, but there's so much more. Thank you, Kimberly Geswein, for this very useful contribution to the profession!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Boardmaker Online - Sneak Peek

Boardmaker is one of the granddaddies of Assistive Technology software and is still indispensable today (even if there are more competitors in the arena now). When Boardmaker Studio came out a few years ago, it clearly signalled that the product managers are not content to let the software go out to pasture. The venerable software title is soon going to come out in a web app called Boardmaker Online. From the looks of this demo, it seems like it will be a solid and fully modern product, even if it doesn't end up having as many features as BM 6+ or Studio have. What's great is that it will have 25,000 images. Watch this for a sneak peek video tutorial for Boardmaker Online. Product pricing can be found on the website.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marvel's Create Your Own Comic

I've long been a fan of software for creating comic strips, whether using photos like in Comic Life or clip art like Bitstrips For Schools and countless others. But this one takes the prize for the cool factor: Marvel Comics' Create Your Own Comic. Kids can use the Marvel characters they know and love plus really cool backgrounds. Very motivating for the reluctant writers. Of course, kids can use it for more than just graphic narratives; they can have the characters "teach" content (The Incredible Hulk presents How a Bill Becomes a Law). What other ideas do you have for cartooning software? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Class Dojo: Cute, Cool, Clever... Count me in!

I just discovered this & had to share it in case you hadn't heard of it either: Class Dojo.
It's a free tool, really great for various types of special and regular ed classes (plus I think I might even use it with my kids at home!).
It has...
- a positive reinforcement system
- behaviour tracking
- fun avatars for kids
- free web browser-based app plus free iOS & Android apps
- parent communication
- customizable features
- timer & countdown
- random student selector
... and more.

Monday, April 1, 2013


KinectMath” is free software that uses Microsoft Kinect to make some high school math concepts more kineasthetic and visual. Plug your Kinect sensor into a PC with the software and use (preferably with a projector) in your math class. Check out the poster below (click to download full-size pdf) or see their YouTube videos.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tiny Tap App: Easy Activity Builder for iPad

There's a neat app (also free) for iPad called TinyTap. Take or draw a picture, record an oral question, and trace where the student should tap their answer; rinse and repeat. Looks like it would be very good to use with kids who are in DD and ASD community classes, and also for ESL/EFL or learning foreign languages: http://www.tinytap.it/.

TextHelp Read and Write: The Chrome Extension

TextHelp has come out with a free version of their reader and study tool software Read and Write that works within the Google Chrome browser as an extension; it integrates with Google Docs. I've tried it, and it's amazing for a free product. Here's where I found out about it: http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2012/11/read-write-accessibility-app-for-google.html

Monday, December 17, 2012

Making YouTube Safer for Teachers

This year, I returned to the classroom, so my focus has shifted from the consulting side more to the day-to-day practical stuff teachers face.
I've recently discovered a couple of helpful tools for those occasions when you want to share a YouTube video with your students.
Sometimes YouTube has some really good content you want to share. However, the structure of the YouTube website means that that good content gets surrounded by content that is very often NOT good.
If you go to http://www.safeshare.tv and paste in a YouTube link, it will give you a new link to share the YouTube video without any comments, related videos, etc. If you have a class website, you can link to SafeShare and not worry about inappropriate surprises.
When I want to show a video on YouTube (or another website) in the classroom, I usually don't take a chance with network conditions; rather than streaming the video, I like to download it ahead of time. The best tool I've found for that is a browser called Torch. Not only is it really easy to download videos (just click the Media button) but the quality is better than other YouTube download utilities I've tried. Get it at http://www.torchbrowser.com

Monday, September 10, 2012

iWordQ App Released on iTunes App Store

The makers of WordQ word prediction software have today released their long-awaited iPad app. Officially called iWordQ, the app sells for $24.99 on the iTunes App Store and comes in a Canadian English and a US English version.There is supposed to be a UK English version as well, but it looks like it's not quite available today. Like the original WordQ software for PC and Mac, the iWordQ app can be used as a text-to-speech text reader or as a writing tool that offers word prediction and voice feedback.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

File Sharing: Simple As 1, 2, 3…

(Not to Mention 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
I have long been seeking solutions for being able to quickly share files with multiple students using assistive technology; there isn’t a one-step process, unfortunately. Dropbox comes close, but depending on how you intend to use it, you have to sacrifice either security or convenience, and some school computer networks will not allow users to install it anyways.

 However, I have come up with a reasonably decent solution using the web. There are many ways you could achieve the same results, but from all the ways I’ve tried, this is the easiest. It involves combining a couple of simple and free Web 2.0 tools and takes about 5-10 minutes to set up, but then only a few seconds to use each time you want to share a file, and you can upload and download files to and from any Internet-connected computer, not just at school. I’ve broken down the steps to be really simple, so it looks like a lot of work, but the steps are short; most take only a few seconds to execute.

Setup instructions
Step 1:
Start up Internet Explorer or other web browser and go to the website http://ge.tt and click SIGN UP (top-right area of screen) for a free account. Where it asks for your full name, use the name that you want your students to see (E.g., Mr. Smith). Make sure you remember or record your password for later.

Step 2:
Click Upload files and upload a sample file.

Step 3:
You will be given an http:// web link with a randomly generated code. Click Copy link.

Optional Step 3.5:
Click on the pencil icon  (over to the left a bit, above the “Add files” button) and create a title for your ge.tt sharing space: e.g., your name or your subject.

Step 4:
Now go to a different website: http://notlong.com; this site takes any webpage address (URL) and lets you customize it, which is useful for sharing all kinds of web links, but especially complex ones that are hard to type or remember.

Step 5:
Paste your randomly-generated ge.tt link from Step 3 into the field where it says “Long URL”. (Control-V is a handy shortcut for Paste in Windows.)

Step 6:
In the field just underneath that, where it says “[Save As] http://________.notlong.com,” enter something easy for your kids to remember and type (maybe your room number and/or your school’s initials) or something unique … whatever is accepted by the system, but the shorter and simpler the better.

Step 7:
Make sure you write down or copy and paste your customized notlong.com web address. You and your students will use this to easily access your ge.tt sharing space. (Note: the http:// part is optional from this point onwards, so that string of 7 characters doesn’t need to be recorded or typed by your students).

Step 8:
Have your students go to the customized notlong address you created in step 7 and add it to their Internet Favourites/Bookmarks or make it their home page.

Daily Use by You the Teacher:  (Uploading Files for Students)
Step A:
Go to your notlong.com web address you recorded in Step 7 above.

Step B:
Click log in and enter your credentials as you did in Step 1 above.

Step C:
Click Add Files and select the file or files you want to upload.

You can delete old files by moving your mouse cursor over the unwanted file and clicking on the X that appears on the far right side.

Daily Use by Your Students: (Downloading Files)
Step A:
Students go to your customized notlong.com address in their favourites/bookmarks (Steps 7 and 8 above)

Step B:
They locate the specific file they want and click the download button (down arrow) that appears on the far right when the mouse cursor moves over the filename.

If you want to have several teachers doing this at your school so the kids could download from any of them as they rotate from class to class, I would set it up differently. Sorry, I won’t go into all the step-by-step details here, but basically I would have each of the teachers do Steps 1-3 above and email me their ge.tt links. I would then create a Webmix using Symbaloo.com to create a tile for each teacher’s ge.tt link; however, I would have to remove the last two characters (?c) from the end of each ge.tt link to make it work with Symbaloo.  Next I’d copy the Symbaloo Webmix sharing link, and then follow Steps 4-8 substituting that Symbaloo sharing link for my ge.tt link.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Exclusive Preview of SMART's new LightRaise Interactive Projector

The SMART LightRaise 40wi Interactive Projector (pictured upside-down).
It certainly isn't every day that CyberSERT gets a real scoop, but I was fortunate enough to have a sneak preview at SMART Technologies' new LightRaise 40wi Interactive Projector. Due out sometime in late May 2012, the LightRaise is a lower-cost alternative to a wall-mountable SMART Board with an ultra-short-throw projector (estimated educational price is US$1599). It's meant to be used on a regular whiteboard (dumb board?) or a smooth wall

I was able to try out this product and was quite impressed overall. Our situation did not allow us to properly mount the LightRaise above the projected area, so we propped it up on a small table below a whiteboard; note that SMART Tech does not approve of using the unit this way as it could be dangerous to the projector or to people using it. Setup was incredibly easy. Just plug the LightRaise into the power outlet, connect to the display port and USB port of a computer (with drivers installed), pick up the pen, and you're in business. Unlike a SMART Board, there is no need to orient the LightRaise... ever. You can move the unit while drawing with the pen, and all your interactions will be perfectly aligned with the projected image. You barely have to position the projector more than a few inches from the wall to get a gigantic interactive surface: up to 100 inches diagonal.

The interaction happens via a special "pen" that has some kind of optical device inside (when you look past the hollow "nib" you can see what looks like a lens; I can't tell if it's for a sensor or for an infrared light source). I have to say that I didn't like the aesthetics of the pen; it didn't look as good as a SMART Board pen (nor feel as good in the hand). It's just too chunky. I regret not measuring its girth, but I'm pretty sure the pen is more than an inch in diameter -- definitely thicker than your average permanent marker. I'm not sure if what I was using was just a prototype, because it clearly wasn't brand new (there were faded traces of red ink, visible in the photo above). I just really hope that they're planning on slimming down that pen at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Although the pen is made for interacting with your software by you clicking and dragging it on the wall or whiteboard you're projecting on, it can also control the mouse cursor just by pointing (see video, below) and clicking a button on the side of the pen. When used like this, it's a lot like a Wii-mote. It's not super accurate, especially as you approach the 30-foot limit, but it's an excellent feature for the classroom, especially if you have kids who can't come up to the front because of physical disability. I wish they had put a right-click button on the pen, however.

The unit comes with a wall-mountable pen locker that can securely store your pen in the classroom when you're not around and charge the lithium-ion battery at the same time.

The projector also has a 10-Watt sound system built in, which can accept a microphone and/or computer input.

If you're used to using a SMART Board, you might miss being able to control your computer by touch, or just picking up the eraser to erase a line. Instead you have to click on every tool with the pen, and to right-click, you either have to hold a click for 5 seconds, or go to the SMART Tools and click on a right-click icon and then the spot where you want to right-click. But there is an advantage of using a pen-based system: no problems with unintended touch. A user leaning with one hand or their palm while writing with the pen will not have a problem. Or if you have a bunch of kids up at the front at the same time, an impatient or careless student touching the board will not ruin the work of the kid whose turn it is to write.

Overall, you do get great value for the money with the LightRaise, plus something no competitor can offer: SMART Notebook. With version 11 due out at the same time as the LightRaise, Notebook is boasting exciting new features, making the LightRaise and SMART Board line harder than ever to beat.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

TechSmith's New Video App: More than Meets the Eye

Cough, cough. Excuse me... I was just blowing the dust off this blog. It's been almost 6 months since the last post, and I'm sorry for leaving you high and dry for so long. I'm going to try to post at least twice a month if I can from now on. I've been procrastinating getting back on the wagon but couldn't resist any longer after finding this cool new app.
Like other users of Jing, I got an email promoting TechSmith's new iOS app, Coach's Eye. Touted as "The Ultimate Coaching App," Coach's Eye allows you to record or import video on your iOS device and do "John Madden style review" of the footage, including slow-mo, jog wheel, and markup.
If you visit the website for Coach's Eye, it's clear they're marketing the app towards athletes and coaches, but there's so much you can do in Special Education with this app. Video modelling is a great way to teach any kind of skill, especially to students with certain special needs. I can envision using this app to teach behaviour, communication, and social skills to students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or even pragmatic tasks like tying shoes.
Coach's Eye is currently $0.99 in the iTunes store... That's a limited-time introductory price.
This is TechSmith's second home run for iOS. Their whiteboard + screen recorder app for iPad, ScreenChomp, is another excellent addition to any app collection, and the best thing about this one is that it's free.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TAP-it: Accessible Dream Machine?

Although it was unveiled over a year ago, I've just discovered it now: the TAP-it. It's an amazing touch-screen interface for PC or Mac with everything I could ever dream of in terms of features: nice big size (but not too big), runs off a regular laptop or desktop, height and slant adjustable, stable and durable, and most interestingly: it claims to be able to discriminate between intended and unintended touch. I'd love to see one in person and try it out, but it may be months before I get a chance. If you've tried one, I'd love to get some unbiased opinions before I convince my superintendent we should drop $10,000 for one of these. Leave your comments below.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Math Assistive Technology for All Students

Recently I presented at the Association for Special Education Technology - Ontario Spring 2011 Conference about Assistive Technology for Math, with a focus on tools that are available for free to Ontario educators. I often get asked about what AT tools we can provide for our students who struggle with Mathematics. Unfortunately, there's no ONE tool that can do everything, so I've put together a collection of various tools and have indicated what strengths and needs match each tool. You can download my presentation slideshow and a handy reference chart that lists the tools by area of need. More related resources coming soon, so stay tuned. If you have your own favourite AT tools for Math, please share them in the comments.

UPDATE: A colleague just shared this site with me to add to the collection of virtual manipulatives sites. It's also free, and it's quite different from the others. It's one of the features in MathPlayground.com, called Thinking Blocks.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Apps For Children With Special Needs

Dear reader, please don't take it the wrong way. When I introduce you to other blogs on Special Ed technology, it's not that I'm trying to get rid of you. I really appreciate you stopping by here. I simply want to help. Here's a great blog called Apps For Children With Special Needs (http://a4cwsn.com/). Not only do they write about iOS apps, they create video reviews, where you can see the app in action. In their own words:
Our videos are produced from the user’s point of view so perspective users and purchasers can see and understand how each particular APP could help them.
You can really get a good idea of whether or not you want to buy an app by seeing it demonstrated on video: a tremendous service to the special education community. So go check it out.

But remember to come back here, OK?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

CyberSERT Live @ ASET-Ontario 2011 Spring Conference

I'm looking forward to presenting at the Association for Special Education Technology (ASET) - Ontario 2011 Spring Conference in Niaraga Falls, Ontario on May 13, 2011. I'll be sharing a bunch of (mostly free) AT resources for mathematics, including several I haven't shared on this site yet. If you're in the area, be sure to attend, because there's lots of great stuff going on besides my little talk, including keynote speaker Alec Couros. If you want the math resources but can't make it to my workshop, don't worry; I'll be sure to post a summary on the Blog at some point afterward.
What are your favourite AT strategies for mathematics? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Future of AT: Brain-Controlled Devices

A while back, I heard about the Emotiv EPOC, a $300 device that promised to allow the user to use thoughts and emotions to control a video game. At the time, it had not been released yet. I saw a reference to it in another blog today, and so now that it's been out for a few months, I thought I'd check in on this amazing invention, and particularly see whether this technology could be used for more than just gaming; it certainly has the potential for opening up new possibilites for persons with disabilities.

The product's "Community" page has a couple of discussion forum entries that address the use of the EPOC for persons with disabilites. On the topic of whether it can be used to control a wheelchair, Emotiv's Research Manager had this to say:
All mental detection systems suffer from a finite rate of false positive and false negative detections. In other words, sometimes a detection can occur without the user's deliberate intention, and sometimes a deliberate attempt to make an action occur may fail or select a different output. This is as much to do with the user's level of training and state of mind as it is to do with the detection systems - it is unavoidable in any BCI system. Any critical function controlled by the EPOC must have an independent kill operation which the user can reliably invoke, and must put the system in a safe state.
Regarding using the device for typing, he said, "Mental typing is definitely achievable."

But what I found very interesting was at the end of his post. I was really only looking for very practical applications of the technology, like communication, mobility, or environmental control, but his comment made me rethink the importance of this technology in the realm of its intended use -- gaming -- for disabled persons.
He writes:
I have seen some very heartening things already. People who have been severely injured and have basically lost interest in life, upon using the EPOC for simple mental gameplay, rapidly develop a passionate interest in playing with the EPOC and achieve radical improvements in their mental state and also in some cases their physical state. Users may inherently exercise neck muscles to control the gyro or to watch the game better, or they can gradually restore some control to facial expressions through repeated use as in-game commands. 
The EPOC can also put paralysed users on an equal footing with able-bodied gamers in some settings, such as games based on mental duels and so on. 
Most of all, EPOC is fun to use and very engaging to learn, and everyone should have some fun in their lives. As time rolls by there will be more and more applications such as neurofeedback and meditation training, where users can learn new skills.
If you're interested in digging deeper into the discussion, I would recommend you first read about the different Emotiv modules used in the software, Expressiv, Affectiv, and Cognitiv, by clicking here; then you can better follow the full discussion in the disabilities thread and read about a customer's experience using the EPOC with his cousin who suffers from CP. How do you envision this technology being used for persons with physical or communication disabilities? Leave your thoughts in the Comments.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Text to Speech in MS Word for Mac OS X

Text-to-speech, as you surely know, is an excellent way to help writers proof read their work, and to help struggling readers read a portion of text. Mac computers these days come standard with a high-quality TTS voice named Alex. It's really easy to enable TTS playback in Apple-based products like Preview (for reading PDFs aloud), Safari (for reading Web content aloud), or TextEdit and Pages (for proof reading your writing). However, if you prefer other software products, like Microsoft Word for Mac, for instance, you can still get TTS by enabling a keyboard shortcut. I demonstrate both methods of using TTS with a Mac in the video below.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Blog That is Music to My Ears

It's great how blogging has made it easy to publish and find resources on specialty topics like Assistive Technology ... and all for free! One blog that I subscribe to is Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs by  educator Kate Ahern. Kate's blog touches on the subject from a number of angles, and a recent post on AT & AAC for Music is superb. It's a slideshow for a presentation Kate gave to aspiring music therapists, and besides having numerous tips on integrating low- and high-tech AT in music education, it has a lot of general AT & AAC information, from very basic introductions to basic concepts to remarkably clever adaptations of objects and materials to promote accessibility. While you're there, check out Kate's recent posts where she's compiled and curated links for sources of Boardmaker resources, free online switch-accessible activities, and visual recipes.

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