Friday, September 5, 2014

Cool Tech for Back to School

While many families have just begun to think about heading back to school, the specialists at PACER’s Simon Technology Center have spent their summer meeting with families to help them find assistive technology to support their students in the coming school year.

As a former teacher, I know how hard it is for kids to transition from their summer schedule to a school routine, and to begin thinking about the rigors and stress of a school day. Here are just a few ideas and technology tools to help your child transition more successfully.
First and foremost, start practicing your child’s waking and sleeping routines anywhere from a few days to a few weeks prior to school starting. There are so many great tools available to help a student get back into the swing of things!  If your child struggles with a change in routine, try a visual schedule that lists each step using photographs or picture symbols from a software program like Boardmaker or the online visual engine tool from Connectability. If a higher tech option is a better fit, check out the apps Visual Schedule Planner by Good Karma Applications or iPrompts by HandHold Adaptive, LLC. Both of these apps provide supports like timers, visual modeling and checklists.
Many students feel tremendous amounts of stress about getting back into daily reading and writing. Why not make it fun by incorporating technology? The Tumblebooks website is geared toward elementary students and is often accessible through your public library’s website. It provides professionally narrated books with animations and word highlighting at a variety of levels. In most situations, once you locate it on your library’s website, the user will be prompted to type in the barcode number from their library card to be granted access. For reluctant or struggling readers, it takes the pressure off of students to decode and allows them to follow along and focus on listening and comprehension skills.

If the idea of writing creates more conflict than excitement, try experimenting with the free Dragon Dictation app by Nuance or using Co:Writer (iOS app or software) by Don Johnston. Many students benefit from speaking their ideas or using software or an application that uses word prediction. These programs don’t do the work for students, but provide support for students whose learning differences may cause frustrations and deter them from sharing their ideas. If your student struggles with knowing what to write about, check out the Write About This app by RSA Group, LLC. It’s full of great writing prompts, provides different options for support, and allows students to add photos and record themselves to practice fluency!

When barriers are broken down with the help of assistive technology, heading back to school can transform from daunting to do-able!