Friday, June 13, 2008

Closing the Digital Divide...

I was coming into work today and was met with a ton of graffiti. I thought to myself. 'Here, we go again!' You see, working on a college campus, there is always 'sidewalk art' as well as various other messages appearing everyday. It was not until I read the messages there were so largely placed in front of my building that I became intrigued. Take a look for yourself:

I knew that a colleague of mine, Emily Watts, routinely discusses the concept of the digital divide, especially with regard to students with disabilities, and that she taught last night. We talked on the phone earlier and she told me that after their class discussion, the class went out to 'spread the message'. How very cool!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

ZAC Browser...A Web Browser for Children with Autism

I just downloaded the ZAC Browser. This browser has been designed with children with autism in mind. Quoting some from their website:

ZAC is the first web browser developed specifically for children with autism, and autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), and PDD-NOS. We have made this browser for the children - for their enjoyment, enrichment, and freedom. Children touch it, use it, play it, interact with it, and experience independence through ZAC.

ZAC is the zone that will permit your child to interact directly with games (a LOT of games) and activities (focused on MANY interests) that cater specifically to kids who display the characteristics of autism spectrum disorders, like impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior. ZAC has been an effective tool for kids with low, medium and high functioning autism.

ZAC focuses on the children and their interaction - But we also provide an excellent forum for parents, caretakers, teachers, and others to share their experiences, tools and resources and to unite as a caring, compassionate, and extremely knowledgeable community. It is said that "it takes a village to raise a child", and that is exponentially true for raising a child with autistic spectrum disorders. The power of your experience yesterday is going to be instrumental in helping someone successfully tackle the circumstances of today.

The user interface is very visual and very interactive. It provides links to a number of different places on the web related to videos, stories, games, and music. The interface makes a great browser for many young children. I did some further investigation with the browser and noticed that it would be fairly easy to configure the browser for switch access as well. Check out the preview below:

So....what do you think?

Why aren't all schools using Firefox?

I was just reading an article written by Steve Lee enititled "Mozilla Firefox helping to make the web accessible to all". It discussion many different accessibility features that are built into Firefox that are aimed at providing access to the web as well as different extensions that can be added to Firefox (at no charge) to improve the accessibility of the browser. There is ongoing committment by the Firefox developers to increase the accessibility of Firefox as well.

Firefox is not only free and working towards good accessibility, but just like the extensions (also called add-ons) mentioned above, there are a number of extensions that can support students in a variety of ways. Here are a few of my favorites beyond those that can be added for accessibility:

  • Clipmarks - Allows a person to clip all or part of the web page and organize into various collections while retaining URL info. Great for research!
  • Duplicate Tab - A person can duplicate a current tab along with its browsing history.
  • - A quick access to posing links to one's own account.
  • Diigo Toolbar- A quick access to posting links, organizing links, highlighting and annotating web content through one's own diigo service.
  • FireShot - FireShot is a Firefox extension that creates screenshots of web pages.
    Unlike other extensions, this plugin provides a set of editing and
    annotation tools, which let users quickly modify captures and insert
    text and graphical annotations.
  • Image Zoom - Allows images to be viewed independenly of the webpage and enlarged.
  • Google Notebook - Great tool for quickly creating and sharing Google Notebooks.
  • Hyperwords - Select any word or words on any web page. A menu pops-up. Choose from
    any one of the many powerful commands. Fully customizable menu and
  • PicLens - Allows browesing of online photos and videos in a very unique way! Much easier than standard browsing methods.
  • Scribefire - ScribeFire is a full-featured blog editor that integrates with your
    browser and lets you easily post to your blog. You can drag and drop
    formatted text from pages you are browsing, take notes, upload images,
    and post to multiple blogs.
  • Tab Catalog - By hovering over an icon, the user get a thumbnail array of all of the open tabs. Nice way to find the tab for which one is looking!
  • WOT - Warns users about risky websites that try to scam visitors, deliver malware, or send spam.
  • Zotero - Great for those of use doing research. This tool allow for the collection and organization of many different content types. It will even capture the necessary information for correct citations and produce those citations in the correct format (e.g., APA, MLA, etc.).
There are so many more extensions that can be used to help students explore and interact with web content. When I have had the fortune to present and work with educators, I often speak highly about different ways in which Firefox can be used. I am shocked and amazed how many times I am told that their schools have policies that prohibit Firefox from being installed on school computers. I hope more teachers will advocate for access to Firefox within schools.

Given all of the power and flexibility of Firefox...why aren't all school using it? Talk about Universal Design....

Monday, March 24, 2008

Getting Speech Recognition Back into MS Office 2007 on Windows XP

We have been conducting fresh installations of Office 2007 on Windows XP systems. As I went to test things to make sure everything was OK, I noticed (despite the many layout changes in Office 2007) that the 'Speech' option (formerly located on MS Word 2003 under Tools) was no where to be found. I went through many different blogs and tech forums to conclude that Office 2007 does not have speech recognition. I believe the intent is to allow Office 2007 to rely on the speech recognition features that are built into Windows Vista. However, this does not help those of us who are running Office 2007 on Windows XP. So, I began tinkering...

I discovered that, after one installs Office 2007, one can add components that were found in Office 2003, which includes the speech recognition components. Simply after installing Office 2007, put the Office 2003 CD into the drive and start the installation procedure. Choose to do a custom install and then disable the installation of everything except the Office Components (which should run all from disk). Then complete the installation. Voila...speech recognition is back.

Hope this helps!

Friday, March 21, 2008

ADHD...from a child's a song

I came across a great little video featuring a song that was sung by a young man describing his experiences with ADHD. Honestly, I am not sure it was based on his experience but the song makes some nice points anyway. It is captioned with English subtitles so, be prepared. This could be a great introduction on ADHD for students as well as educators!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Website offers text to speech services!

I love new applications of technology...especially when they are free. In my surfing over lunch, I discovered a new web service that enables users to access text to speech support for a variety of documents. The web service is

Basically, the web service allows a person to take written text, a word document, a pdf document, a web page or an RSS feed and have it converted, using a text to speech engine, into an audio format. There are 14 different voices from which to choose including those that support English, Spanish and French. A person can control the rate and pitch of the voice being used. The voices available are of good quality which is unusual for a free product. Once the audio format is generated (which is relatively quick), a person can add it to his or her mp3 player, put it into Itunes, listen to it on the computer or even post the file to a web page or blog.

What a fabulous resource!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Pocket-able Math Supports

I love aimless surfing! It always seems to result in finding something that I never expected to come across...

In this episode of aimless surfing, I came across the website "Fantastic Flexible Foldables" by Carol DeFreese. This site contains seven different foldable activities for math. The one that I had a chance to explore in depth was the Fraction Mini Book which provides a number of hints and rules for working with fractions and mixed numbers. The ingenious part of this is that it literally allows a students to have all of these rules at their fingertips. Just print out the PDF or Word file, follow the directions cutting and folding it and then VOILA!, an instant resource on fractions.

The site also contains Factors and Multiples Mini Book, Fortune Teller Game, Geometry Tetfraflexagon, Integer Infinity Square, Fraction Flipper/Decimal Flipper/Music Flipper, and Lines Trihexaflexagon. While some of these are resources like the Fractions Mini Book, others are designed to be used to help teach various mathematical concepts.

The Fraction Mini Book reminds me of a concept I heard a long time ago as I was listening to a presentation from Dave Edyburn called Cognitive Credit Cards. A Cognitive Credit Card is an intervention that involved having a credit card sized laminated card that contains different cues for a specific topic. The intervention was received by students, teachers, and parents.

I bet one can do something similiar using PocketMod as well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

21st Century Tools

Find more videos like this on Illinois Technology Conference For Educators

I just came across this video and thought I'd share...

I have to say the video makes an important point. There has been much discussion on issues of differentiated instruction, 21st Century Skills, and Response to Intervention...all of which are important. However, each of these requires our schools to have the necessary infrastructure to realize these initiatives...