Saturday, February 14, 2015

Planting - Animated Step-by-Step™ Science Project

I’ve just posted the Animated Step-by-Step Planting … the first of hopefully many science projects! 

When creating this step-by-step, I tried to keep the project as flexible as possible and tried to incorporate some background knowledge as to where seeds originate.  Two pages encourage students to guess the origin of six different seeds. A series of hints can be provided to help students guess.  For the younger grades, there is a page encouraging students to use words to compare and contrast seeds that differ significantly in color, size and shape. In addition there is content stressing the fact that plants need both water and sun to survive.

Spring is not that far off. When Spring rolls in, there is usually a planting activity underway in the early grades.  Morning Glories are especially fun to plant as the teacher can run a string from each pot to the top of the window to create a lively competition. Whose plant will reach the top first? “Looks like Shanira’s plant is ahead this morning. Can you remember whose plant was in the lead just yesterday?” "Oh look, someone's plant has a bud!"  In addition it creates a lovely screen of flowers in the classroom window.

Planting is also a wonderful unit for incorporating functional math concepts and introducing scientific observation (counting how many leaves, measuring how tall their plant has grown, noticing the first bud). In addition to the benefits of reading, the planting unit can serve as a writing unit encouraging students to keep a daily log of these observations. Depending upon the age of the students this can be as simple as checking off a series of observed events visually depicted on a chart (sprout … first leaf … second leaf … third leaf … 1” tall … 2” tall) or can require students to keep daily entries of their own observations.   Most importantly, however, the planting unit can provide a valuable lesson on the importance of being responsible, someone you can count on. Each plant needs to be cared for …watered but not overwatered.

In the weeks before Mother’s Day many classrooms plant  their seeds in a plastic cup. Closer to Mother’s Day they might conduct an Arts and Crafts activity to decorate a flowerpot into which the plastic cup can be inserted. Hopefully the timing will be just right and the flowers will be in full bloom by Mother’s Day.

...’til the next post …

©  2015  Carol Goossens’, Ph.D.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Establishing Remote Switch Access

Animations are programmed sequentially in all Animated Step-by-Steps, i.e., although it would appear that tapping a specific star results in a specific animation, in reality you can click anywhere on the page to trigger the next animation.   In short, animations are not linked to specific stars. When using an Animated Step-by-Step file, I do tap on specific stars as if they trigger the animations. This helps students better understand where they are in the text/animation sequence.  Programming the animations sequentially does have distinct advantages … namely it allows you to use a remote switch to enter the clicks that trigger the animations.

In many classrooms, inviting students to come up to directly tap the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) works great. When serving students on the Autism Spectrum, for example, it a wonderful way to work on impulse control (acknowledged: it is a little ‘rocky’ at first) and a super way to help students ‘burn off a little energy’ in the midst of a ‘sit-down’ lesson.

In some classrooms direct access to the IWB may not be feasible or may be just too time consuming. In classrooms serving children with physical challenges, for example, the task of wheeling up to the IWB may be an involved process, inadvertently creating ‘down time’ for  the other students in the group. For this reason I really like (and actually prefer) using a remote switch … even in classrooms where all the students are capable of approaching the board. Remote access is usually quicker and has the additional advantage of being a powerful tool for managing group engagement.

Here are a few examples of how you can set up your IWB to use a remote switch to trigger the animations.

Wired Options

If students are seated reasonably close to the IWB, you can use a Switch Interface Pro (Don Johnston Equipment) and a USB extension cord (Male USB on one end; Female USB on the opposite end) to connect your switch to the IWB. Just plug a switch (e.g. a Jelly Bean Switch from AbleNet) into the port labeled click on the Switch Interface Pro. You must then click a small button on the top right until the red or yellow level is illuminated. You might be able to get the M-F USB cord at an electronics store but you can certainly track it down on the web (search: male female usb extension).

The Switch Interface Pro works great for assigning the task of triggering animations to an individual student requiring practice with switch access. If the child’s switch uses a 1/8” miniature plug, it can be plugged into the ‘click port’ of the Switch Interface Pro.

The Switch Click USB is another relatively inexpensive option. It plugs directly into the USB port on your IWB computer. When you press the switch portion of this unit it functions as a mouse click.  Again, a USB extension cord (M-F) may be required for your classroom depending upon your physical setup. To trigger the page animations, just place the cursor anywhere on the page; to assign a child the task of page turns, place and leave the cursor on the right page arrow at the bottom of the page.

Wireless Options

Wireless options capitalize on either infrared or bluetooth technology. There are numerous options available. Here are a few that have worked for me in classrooms.

The Jelly Beamer transmitter (looks like a switch), uses infra red to ‘communicate’ with a Jelly Beamer receiver plugged into the Switch Interface Pro (or comparable unit) which in turn is plugged into the USB port of the IWB computer. Whenever a student activates the jelly beamer (or another switch plugged into its switch port), a click triggering an animation is registered on the IWB computer. 

Quizworks, USB Switch Interface Plus is another wireless option that works well in the classroom. The receiver portion of the unit is plugged into the USB port on your IWB computer while the remote switch is plugged into a transmitter unit. When using this setup as a shared classroom device, it is advantageous to mount the transmitter and the switch on a lightweight board.

Bluetooth Super-Switch (RJ Cooper) is another great option if your IWB computer is ‘bluetooth capable’. Please know, you do need to ‘pair’ the computer's blue tooth with the switch’s blue tooth before using this option.

It is also possible to use your iPad as a switch using an app called Splashtop. This app displays your IWB computer screen on your iPad. If an Animated Step-by-Step is displayed on your IWB, that display will be mirrored on your iPad. To activate a click on the IWB you would interact with the iPad tablet.

Ease of Use

Regardless of whether you are using a wired or wireless option, I have found it imperative to mount the switch/transmitter on a base to facilitate easy handling. This can be achieved by putting hook (male) velcro on the bottom of the switch and attaching it to a base with either loop (female) velcro, or a base covered with tempo display loop fabric, or looped indoor-outdoor carpet.

Hope you have found this information useful for your classroom … and your students!

If you discover any other solutions for achieving remote access,  please add them to the comments section of this blog.

... ’til the next post …

© 2015  Carol Goossens’, Ph.D.