Search This Blog


Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Tennessee Association for Assistive Technology (AT) has a great listing of resources for use of assistive technology for student with special needs.  AT websites and devices may help students to participate in classroom settings, communicate with teachers, parents and peers. Not all AT services and devices are created equally, so please investigate their uses and abilities as well as what the purpose should be in adding AT to a students tools by reading this article from Autism Society of Greater Tucson. 


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Beginning of School - New "nick name"

Friday was our first full day of school for 2014-15 school year. All of the students were apprehensive, excited, overly stimulated as well as cautious. There were new teachers, teachers in different classrooms, new schedules, just new stuff all around. Mr. Don's Scholars was no exception to the angst beginning to fill the room. We are a group of special needs students, so any extra anxiety is sometimes difficult for my students. 

As is customary, we have an activity where I use a mirror and we call it "Get To Know Me, Get To Know You". It involves observations about others and yourself, then thinking, talking, writing and finally drawing - each other. 

It was going well - the students would look at each other and write down the color of their buddy's shirt, the color of their eyes, the color of their hair, short or long; pants, skirt, or shorts; then they would write a sentence about their buddy. Next they would look in the mirror and do the same exercise about themselves. Finally we would compare and contrast our findings.

As the time progressed, I was helping one of my students with autism who has difficulty making eye contact. So we were practicing. She would look at my hair (short); she would look at my shirt (red); she would say "pants" - when I asked about the color of my eyes she looked directly into them. I was so pleased that she held the gaze as long as she did so I must have put a big smile on my face. Slowly her hand moved toward my face and she lightly touched my cheek, then proceeded to shout in a loud, cackling voice, "Chubby cheeks! Chubby Cheeks!" -- to which I laughed out loud, which in turn made her laugh and then say it even louder and more frequently.  Then all of the students were repeating the phrase and we were all laughing and enjoying the moment of bonding as a class. 

After returning from lunch, she looked at me directly again, then said very softly, "Chubby Cheeks." To which I replied in the same soft tone, "Yes. Chubby Cheeks with blue eyes." She pressed in a little closer and said ever so gently - "Ooo, bal-lu-u eyes. I have bar-row-n eyes." I nodded, we knuckled bumped and proceeded to write the word "blue" in the space for her buddy's eye color. 

"Chubby Cheeks" is ready for the year. It is going the be the best year ever!!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Organization is Key!

Each year I find myself struggling organize my students' schedules and to make reminders of who will be transitioning when. With eight full time students of different grade levels and four additional push-in students need differentiation, knowing who will be coming and going and where has been difficult to remember - especially when we are so engaged that we loose track of time and suddenly it's time to go to music and we still need everyone to go to the bathroom before we escort them to an outside classroom...Not this year!

This year I created a Google Account with calendar reminders to send text message reminders to me and my assistant. We then changed our notifications to be a different sound when those messages arrive.

With 5 minute warnings of what schedule is coming due, we can be more organized. We can also change the warning time to send the reminder as we move through this first few weeks so that we will have our students in the right place at the right time.

With the unlimited text packages for our mobile phones this seems to be a great way for us to use a reminder. Each week or each day we can delete those messages from our phones since they are coming from one specific account and not the other reminder messages I get from "Remind 101" or "Remember the Milk" (my wife sends me messages on RTM all the time!).

The additional benefit? Now I can set up the classroom calendar to be shared with parents, attached documents to share with parents, and even create a simple website (even with the student's helping me) to display work product, important images and other non-student specific items.

If organization is the key to my sanity, then I'm unlocked and ready for the 2014-15 school year!!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Perseverance Pays Off... When Will We Learn

How long will you try something? How long will you struggle before you give up? What about your students? Will they try and give up or will they as the students from this article indicates other countries persevere, work together, help one another then when they achieve, celebrate the achievement?

This article and post was talked about this summer in one of my professional development classes and it has caused me to think that we need to teach "progressive struggle." That ability to work on something until we can get it, rather than just giving up thinking it's not worth the struggle to persevere.

Thanks to Amy for sharing this in our PD. Now, let's continue to share this with other educators and parents as the first day of school rapidly approaches.

P.S. Remember to read the comments. They are just as encouraging!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Don't let math go down the drain this summer!

This list of Math apps can help to keep the math skills sharpened during the Summer. Don't let them go down the drain or be filtered out with the pool water!   I use Slate Math in the classroom and my 2nd graders loved it!  Check out the list: TEN MATH APPS from


Friday, April 18, 2014

Counting Down or Counting Out?

There are less than 30 school days remaining in our 2013-14 school year. We are half-way through the last nine week reporting period. High stakes testing will begin in just over a week. What is happening to our learners? To our educators?

As the weather has improved and the days have become longer it seems there is a correlation to the memories getting shorter and the focus getting more and more cloudy.  As teachers there is a tendency to push and push, shoving more and more facts, figures, learning into an already saturated and sometimes exhausted mind of a young learner.  As I was talking to an educator (not at my school, thankfully), she stated that she was "counting down the days." Then she smiled and gave me that "I-can't-wait-until-Summer-break" facial look. Had she given up? Was she counting out her students? Had she thrown in the towel?

In preparation for our state's annual standardize testing, I am tutoring a group of seven third graders in math. They weren't ready for what we did. Using techniques from Dave Burgess's Teach Like A Pirate (@burgessdave #TLAP) along with ideas from Richard Byrne's websites and these third graders began to experience math in an entirely different way.

The first day my seven learners (all third grade girls) were waiting at the assigned point in the school with the other learners that were participating for nine hours of interventions over three weeks in preparation for the standardized tests.

They knew who I was. Evidently I have a reputation. (Thanks, PIRATE DAVE!) I announced in my strong teacher voice, "Mr Don's Math Scholars! Please, form a triangle."

Quickly they struggled to awaken from their after school coma as they tried to comprehend. "What? Form a triangle? Huh?"  One girl even stated, "Mr. Don, I'm not a math scholar, sir. I'm not really that good at math." To which I looked at her and whispering, corrected her, "I'm not good at math, YET!"

Breaking into a typical drill sergeant cadence. We marched from the meeting spot (as a triangle) to my room chanting,
"I may not know, but I believe, 
mathematics is for me! 
We will study, we will learn,
not just facts but skills we earn.
Math is everywhere we see
I can do it, You will see
Math is great and math's for me!"

As we marched down the hallway I ask questions about triangles, vertices, obtuse, acute, etc. They were answering quietly. I smiled and said, "I can't hear you!"  Then I smiled and at that they realized this was not going to be a typical math session.

We chanted down the hallway, now we were looking for triangles and identifying the types of triangles we could find all around us. We then continued the learning inside the room with activities, tech tools (iPads, Elmo, Projection systems) not by themselves, but as teams, as collaborators. We did this until we returned an hour later with a new chant exiting back to where parents were waiting to pick up their young mathematicians. No pencils. No paper. Math skills being enhanced by using our brains, powers of observation and using the tools we carry with us every day (yes, some had to user their fingers, but that's is a good purpose for them!)

We are now half-way through the intervention time. We continue to form geometric shapes as we cadence to the room. Yet, now, they are leading the cadence, calling out the geometric forms, identifying lengths/widths, and giving me formulas for finding area, circumferences, putting fractions into ascending and descending order all as we constantly move for the entire hour. No sitting (if at all possible) and continuously checking in with each other for understanding. We are noisy. We are learning. We are having fun, too!

The benefit to me has been enormous. I am just as rejuvenated at the end of the session as they are. We are making the time count not just counting the time.

We realize we have testing strategies as well as math skills to work on improving.

How do I know that learners should not be counted out as we approach the end of the school year? That young mathematician who "wasn't very good at math" celebrated yesterday with her team as she was able to solve a complex logic problem. Everyone in the room could hear her brain "click" and then see the light turn on as she "got it!" We all celebrated.

Let's keep counting down for events and stop counting out. Let's keep providing that hope of "Yet!" and not leaving learners in the ring thinking that they have been counted out and their match was lost, returning to their corner without hope.

"Yes, I know and I believe, all learners are extraordinary!"  (Their favorite chant as we end!)


Tuesday, March 18, 2014


E! for Explore is a great curated website of ideas and resource for teachers and parents. They have selected unique learning activities, and searched the internet to compile ideas from other sources around the internet.

Their index helps you find what you may be looking for in activities in math, science, even Language Arts. They provide easy links to those websites. All E is for Explore activities conform to state common core curriculum standards.