Around 3 years ago, I wrote this blog post about Tech Ideas for SEN and this is when Anthony Rhys contacted me via Twitter about the use of gesture-based technology in his school. I can’t find his original tweet but here is the reply to it –
@trinityfieldsit just look at your wiki, fantastic resource. Will reply to email on Monday but some great stuff you are doing!!
— James Winchester (@jwinchester25) April 29, 2012
This conversation via Twitter led to the creation of the Gesture-Based Technology PLC and since then this has grown to include many different schools and practitioners.
At BETT, Anthony and myself were fortunate to present on the work that we have done with Gesture Based Technology and how it has had a huge impact on the lives of the complex learners that we work with. At the end it was nice to reflect on how much the PLC had achieved and also looking forward to the next steps especially using video analysis more effectively with SEN students. (see link – http://videoanalysissen.wikispaces.com thanks to Andrew Walker for his excellent work in starting this up. )
Below is the link to the prezi which gives a quick overview of the work that has been done – it was great to be able to share the work of the PLC and looking back its is quite unbelievable that we have achieved so much in such a short period of time.
Since the introduction of the computing curriculum in September 2014, like many teachers I have been busy developing schemes of work and looking at ways to teach the programme of study that is not only relevant to our learners but ensures it that the breadth of study leaves them with the skills they need to be successful when they move on. One of the challenges faced in a generic secondary school, is finding resources that are matched to the levels of the students (P7 – NC3) but are also age appropriate. (Not many 15 yr old students want to use a Beebot).
Over the last year, I have been fortunate enough to work with Catherine Elliott (@catherinelliott) on developing a wiki page (www.sencomputing.wikispaces.com) dedicated to sharing some of the great work being done in special schools. This led me to being ask to present at BETT in the Learn Live SEN theatre (thanks @caroljallen) on how the computing curriculum can be adapted to enable all learners to succeed. It was a great to be able to share the great work that is going in schools and was amazed by how many people came to the session and came to talk to me afterwards.
After the session, there was a gathering of practioners from the SEN scene who came together to discuss assessment and the computing curriculum. This is particularly relevant especially with the the removal of NC levels, however P-levels still remain and the issue is that these do not match up to the new programme of study. The starting point for the discussions was based around the following points –
- Should the revised Computing curriculum apply to all learners, including those with more complex and challenging special needs?
- Does it really change our practice, or just how we describe it?
- For some the P Levels remain, but are they still fit for purpose?
- Can computational thinking be recognised in a meaningful way, or is it all tokenistic?
In the short time, this raised differing views, however a consensus was made that we needed to create a system that could be used nationally, which clearly maps out the progression route for students operating at between P5-P8 in this subject. With only an hour, there was not time to do this but we are going to follow this up with a day where educators can get to together make some inroads into this. If you are interested in this have a look at the wiki to find out more information about where the discussion is heading.
Below is a copy of my presentation from the session.
This year, I once again got to travel up to the big smoke and attend BETT to see what had change in a year since the last time I visited. Though I was certain not a lot had change, I was excited to not only be proven wrong, but the opportunity to meet up with fantastic practitioners was lure enough to make the journey.
This year was different in that I had a slight plan of action to ensure that I covered everything that I needed to. I wanted to explore the different interactive boards available especially one that would cater for PMLD, discuss and try out different software available for Eyegaze and look at some of the other smaller stands to seek out unique products that could make a real difference to the teaching and learning of our SEN students.
The SEN zone on the whole was massively under represented again, with the majority of stands showing off their ideas of a interactive wall and floor displays. It really infuriates me that these companies can charge such high premiums for their installations (£9800 in one case) where with a little know how, you can do your own installations at a fraction of the cost using Kinects and webcams. (Quick plug – head over to GestureSEN to see what a group of schools are doing with this technology) Anyway moan over, onto the highlights of what I saw at BETT this year.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this at BETT. It is a universally designed laser controller that gives users instant access to hundreds of musical instruments, sound effects and songs. It works by users breaking the beams to trigger a instrument. There are 4 beams which can be set up to play different instruments. The nice thing about this is that each instrument is played in tune and users can either play single notes or break the beams to play the instrument continuously. This is great for cause and effect, sequencing, fine and gross motor skills and working directionality with students.
The added bonus of this system is that it can be used with switches, adapted keyboards and the accompanying iOS app so this makes accessible for a large range of students. It is also Eyegaze compatible!! Lastly the price is very affordable for schools and I was shocked to hear that it only cost £250 for the hardware, software and accompanying activity guide. My order will be going in soon!!
I always liked visiting this stand because it is great to see what new products they have to offer. This year they had a whole range of outdoor resources which I felt would excellent to create your own talking garden. Some of the products included:
Talking Turtles – these are a waterproof set of recordable turtles which could be used in sand, water and other sensory materials. You are able to record a message on them that could correspond to the numbers in them to reinforce mathematical understanding.
Talking Daisy’s and Tree – again another resource that you are able to record messages on. They would be a bright and attractive addition to a outdoor area and great for working on speaking and listening skills – talking number lines, treasure hunts etc. The great thing about these is that they can be left outdoors so no dragging them back and forth to the classroom.
Wonder Bug – this could be describe as a rugged outdoor Beebot. It can be used in all conditions and could add to some great adventures in the woods. Also can be used with washable paint so you could use it to create some great artwork with your students.
We have used Hills Components for a while now for projectors mounts as they offer great value for money. When I visited thier stand I was interested to see that they had launched a new website and this came with a number of new products. If you order in bulk many of the items can be purchased at very low prices like the £10 iPad mount which I will mention below.
Unbreakable Headphones – this look like an excellent purchase for many schools especially in special ed as we seem to be breaking headphones left, right and centre. They come with a braided cable, steel tensioned headband and anti pull cables on areas where traditional headphones break. Again great value especially when purchasing a bulk order as the price comes down to as low as £3 per headphone.
iPad mounts and stands – they had a range of iPad stands and mounts and it’s worth exploring their website further as their prices seem very responsible on comparison to others. They also showed us iPad mount for wheelchairs that allowed the iPad to be clip in and off when you need it to. The RRP is £29 however as they are an educational supplier if you were to bulk order these the price could come down to as low as £10, which I think is very competitive.
Acctim Lulu Teach Time Clock – I really like the look of this clock and think its bright colours give an alternative and fun way to teach the time.
EyeGaze software – though it’s taking some time to be released, the software that Inclusive are working on looks like a great addition to the range of EyeGaze technology. Some attractive and fun activities have been designed with the added inclusion of assessment tracking to enable to see how students are progressing with their use of EyeGaze technology.
One of my briefs for the show was to explore what interactive mobile smartboards there were which would be suitable for PMLD students. The main thing I was interested in was a board that enable access for students laying on a bed or reclining back in their chairs. Many boards would tilt into a table but when it came to tilt the other they did not make the grade. I was about to give up hope, when I got directed towards the Osborne stand.
iCore Flip 180 – finally I found the board I was looking for!! What is great about this is that is has full 180 degree tilt so can go from being a flat table to being turn upside down so that students can access on a bed if needed. It is also height adjustable so lots of different angles can be achieved. This is certainly a product that I am going to explore further and I they offer free trails to ensure that it is the right product for your students.
Overall, I really enjoyed BETT this year, it was great to meet up with Andrew Walker (@andtomac) and Susan McCarthy (@SusanMcCarthy) from the gesture based PLC plus meeting Sarah McDonald (@daisyrah) for the first time. In addition I had a very interesting chat with Hector Minto (@hminto) about the development of EyeGaze and I am looking forward to our school investing in this technology. I also attended an excellent seminar by Carol Allen (@caroljallen) about the technology and autism and then enjoyed a great chat with her over coffee, discussing a range of topics. Lastly the Teachmeet was an excellent event in the evening with a great range of speakers and some excellent class tools to take back to school and share with others. Big thank you and well done to the organisers for putting on a fantastic event.
Even though it was a long day, it was certainly worthwhile and I am already looking forward to attending next year.
This Friday I was lucky enough to attend the BETT Show up at Excel alongside my colleague @open_sen. This was the second time I had attended the show and after visiting, there was not much new compared to last year, mainly companies showcasing improvements on existing products. I did however attend a couple of excellent seminars and the Teachmeet in the evening was fantastic with such enthusiasm in the room from a wide variety of educational professionals. Hats off to the organisers, @digitalmaverick, @dannynic, @skinnyboyevans and many many others who pulled off an evening full of inspirational presentations.
Anyway more on the Teachmeet later, at the show itself I saw a couple of things I wanted to share –
- Firstly the move to Excel, I thought was a positive one and the venue is excellent in terms of the facilities on offer. Yes I did get lost a few times as everything was on the same level, but I found meeting up with colleagues was far easier as the central boulevard was great for this.
- Kinems – I attended a seminar on the use learning games for SEN through the use of the Microsoft Kinect. Those who read my blog will know that I am heavily involved in the use of the Kinect in promoting movement and engagement with SEN learners. Kinems is a company from Greece, who have created a range of learning games designed for SEN. These look to target skills such as hand eye coordination, short term memory, sequencing, problem solving and taking directions. Within these games, the team have included analytics to allow teachers to analyse students performance to assess and track their progress.
- Tobii EyeGaze systems – I have been aware of eyegaze sytems for a while now and it was great to talk to @hminto about the systems and what they could offer to our students. What was good to see was that Tobii have thought about the learning curve involved in the system and this clearly showed a progression route for students using the system working from simple cause and effect to using the EyeGaze for communication. It was great to try the product out and I am looking forward to having a more in depth look at the Kinect PLC this week.
- Spacekraft Touch Musical Wall – Spacekraft are a company who produce multisensory equipment for sensory rooms and I was drawn to their stand by their new Touch Musical Wall they had on display. The slightest of touches will illuminate the panel accompanied by an auditory reward. The wall has 9 different settings and I thought this would make a great addition to a sensory area.
As mentioned, in the evening I was fortunate to attend TMBETT and it was a great night of fantastic presentations. Also the live minutes that were being taken throughout the evening were excellent. The nice thing about Teachmeets is the opportunity to connect with other professionals and it was great to chat to @skinnyboyevans, @bevevans22 and @ceriwilliams. Also a mention goes out to @lizdudley who despite our best efforts just missed each other (definitely next time!!) Some of the highlight presentations for me were:
- @mberry – HTML presentations – This talk looked into getting immersed in coding and started with looking at the excellent Hackasaurus site that allows the user to view the code and hack any website. He then talk about using impress.js which is a presentation tool based on CSS3. This allows users to create a presentation using code allows for some impressive transitions.
- @bevevans22 – Using publisher to create clip art – Bev showed how easy it is to create clip art in Microsoft Publisher. Rather than explaining myself, Bev has produced a video explaining this.
- @katerussell – Powtoon – TMBETT had the honour of Kate Russell from BBC Click co-comparing and she shared with us this excellent animated presentation tool that is free to use. Worth checking out.
- @mrlockyer,@mrwaldram – @BATTTUK – it would not be right without mentioning the excellent duo of Stephan Lockyer and Ben Waldram who were presenting on a new concept that is Bring a Teacher To Twitter. The message was clear, Find a Teacher, Introduce Them to Twitter, Guide them, Let Them Loose!!!!
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable day and evening, which I found inspirational and took away some great ideas to be used for the future!!!!!!