Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Learn About Community Partners Using the Expanded Core

a graphic that reads the title of this blogpost
I just completed my latest ECC kit, Community Partners and I am so excited about it. One of my preschool teachers wanted a kit to help with teaching about community partners. Let me show what I came up with!
First, let me go right to our assessment tools and resources from the Expanded Core Curriculum. This way I can infuse skills in every aspect. I always go to my ECC tools first so I can have a clear picture of what skills, concepts, etc. I need to teach. I hit up the Independent Living Skills Assessment (ILSA) and Elementary Concepts from TSBVI (see earlier posts on using Elementary Concepts). There was a whole unit on community partners in Elementary Concepts so I copied the section for my teachers to use. Lots of good ideas for both core and Expanded Core learning (with art, music, writing, etc ideas). I also found some fun color and cut headbands from (I signed up for free and they have all kinds of things). 
A picture of the Elementary Concepts community partners unit and the templates for the cut and color headbands
Next I hit up Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers to find some ideas and resources that general education is using. Remember, we always want to be in alignment with core and general education because it keeps our students included in their classrooms. Plus, TPT has GREAT finds that are pretty cheap. I love TPT!

Four of the movement community partners cards. For example: brush your teeth like a dentist
I found these awesome movement cards for $3.00 on TPT. They are available in large and small sizes (or in large print as I like to think of it...). Look at how great these cards are!! I had my intermediate grade students do all the Braille for me (bonus ECC instruction as we discussed as they brailled...). *You can't see the Braille labels very well but they are on there!*
I also went and found the props that go with each card. For example, a newspaper, wrench, toothbrush and cut up hose. Now we have meaningful tactual items for the movement. 
Screen shot of the Teachers Pay Teachers store where you can buy the movement cards
I happen to have some preschool items that I purchased for my early thoughts with dramatic play with community partners. You can easily hit up a Kid to Kid or other kids consignment shop for some items. I also purchased some from Lakeshore. Kids love to dress up for dramatic play (plus it's another ECC bonus because you can work on dressing skills!)

a picture of a doctor kit

an image of the mail carrier dress up outfit with Braille label
We added Braille labels to all the print labels on the dramatic play clothes. Add a little super glue (carefully!) so that the Braille labels stick long term. 

a picture of the back of the construction workers vest with Braille label on it

a photo of some of the community partners dress up outfits.

a photo of all the contents in the community partners kit
We packaged up the costumes into large ziploc bags and logged the contents. I like to do this to keep track of things. We are not done yet! We still have more items in our ECC kit. 

I also found this fun idea from Pinterest to build a photo town. Here's the link:
There's lots of good ideas in this post! There are accessibility settings on phones (iPhones for sure) that allows students with vision impairments to take pics with feedback. Go around your town and take pictures of your town to build your photo town. See the post for more ideas. There are so many good ones that are totally doable for our students! Extend your ECC learning by visiting these places and taking your pictures there OR it can be ECC homework for students to do with their families. 
a photo of the blog post for the photo town
I decided to have some starter photos for our town so I Googled some free pics of things and made labels (with Braille on it--can't see in picture). It was easy peasy to make the board. Bonus ECC instruction: you can work in spatial skills directions because you can discuss top/botton, left/right and count squares and use systematic search patterns. 
a stack of photos from places around the community

a photo of the community partners kit
The last part of our kit has to do with signs in the community. We included a number of directional signs and this real working stoplight to talk about navigating around our community. This stoplight totally works! I found it at Hobby Lobby on sale for $40! It's got metal on it so it has an authentic feel. Plus it's great for students who have no vision who always hear people talking about a stop light but have never 'seen' it before. 
a photo of the toy street light from the kit
There is SO much learning that you can do with this ECC Community Partners kit! Other ideas include: asking members of the community to come to your classroom OR scheduling a visit to their location and build an experience book based on the community partners you learned about. Just make sure you hit up our ECC resources to see all the skills from play to compensatory skills that can be included. ILSA is a great tool for this! 
See you in the community!!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Teach the Expanded Core Using the Junior Achievement Program

I have to share one of my favorite resources for ECC instruction: Junior Achievement! Junior Achievement also known as JA is a serious jackpot when it comes to teaching the Expanded Core. I've been using it for years and have been able to use the curriculum to expand to all things ECC! I use a variety of JA programs for students as young as first grade through my high schoolers. Why JA? First, I did JA when I was kid and had some good memories of it. Now fast forward several years to my own kids doing JA. I was one of the parent volunteers for the big JA BizTown field trip. Holy cow, the moment I walked into JA BizTown I knew it was the Expanded Core everywhere! JA BizTown is a complete replica of a city with real life everything---cash registers at Chick Fil-A, city hall, post office, etc. Then I got to wondering what did JA teach. The question I should have asked was what doesn't JA teach!? 

Junior Achievement logo
Junior Achievement logo
I contacted Junior Achievement Utah because I wanted more information on the Junior Achievement program, the curriculums/programs and to let them know I saw potential for students with vision impairments to use them in a unique way (as part of our ECC instruction!). Side note: I always like to contact the company of a new product/curriculum that I use when I find ECC potential because I want them to be informed about our population of students. I also like to partner with them because the more they learn about our student's needs, the more everyone benefits. I've had such a good experience with this. So many companies have been open to collaborating with me! I have loved it!! Junior Achievement was top notch with working with me. I explained about the ECC, what I do and my vision for incorporating JA programs (as I knew it would look a little different with me...).  There were two other real stand out items that attracted me to Junior Achievement (aside from my fun time at JA BizTown): JA is popular in school districts so it wouldn't be something different for our students and JA programs are FREE! (note: It was free in Utah but I can't confirm this everywhere however I am super hopeful that it is!!).  JA programs are very popular in schools so it has a natural social conversation for our students to say that they are doing it, too. 

JA Personal Finance Program cover
JA Personal Finance Program cover
Every JA program lists what elements of the Core curriculum it includes. I like it because I can easily see how I am targeting academic areas. Each program is divided into about 4-5 weeks. I follow the program as it is laid out because it is strategically put together.  I review the objectives and the extension learning for each unit and then I hit up all my ECC resources (you know, EVALS and ILSA) to make sure I am covering my ECC instruction.  I regularly take skills from EVALS and ILSA and infuse it right into my lesson plans. I also use my ECC Activity Worksheet (see my other post on it) to check my ECC instruction.
JA Ourselves Program Cover
JA Ourselves Program Cover
I use JA programs for both my campus programs and my Outreach students (students attending their neighborhood schools).  I create quizzes for each unit and a final exam at the end of the program. (all on Google quizzes and Canvas). I LOVE JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT!! Their lessons are thoughtful and laid out so well that it is not a headache for me to learn the material. I stick to the material from the lesson plan book and infuse A LOT of ECC before, during and after. 
Here are two examples of how I infuse ECC instruction with the JA programs: With It's My Business, I am doing an entrepreneurial program with my high school students. They are to do a group project on creating a Teen Club. I extended it that they had to do a formal presentation on PowerPoint/Google Slides. We paused the JA program and did some lessons on using AT for the presentation, what makes a good presentation, etc. (which still compliments the JA program). Another example is with my younger students with the JA Ourselves program, students earned "ECC Bucks" by completing simple tasks for various amounts around our school. Their "ECC Bucks" (real printed ECC money) was converted at the First National Bank of Robbin into real money. We headed to the grocery store and made a purchase (with instruction on needs and wants from the JA Ourselves program).
  JA More than Money
JA More than Money
I use JA as a class (in the ECC Lab  on campus) and as curriculum for short term programs (so much easier for my staff to follow). I do my best to stick to the grade levels that are established by the JA program. I modified the JA More than Money program for older students. It was originally written for younger students but the content was good and it set a foundation for the next program that we did. There are a fair amount of visual or not accessible materials but nothing that is impossible to work with. I retype all my JA lesson plans into Google Docs in large print because I always make a handout after each session for students to reference and study.  I do this because I keep my MacBook with me during my lessons. I take notes during the sessions because many times students will say things that help other students learn the concepts or expand the concept. I include that in the handout. 
My main accessibility resource is typing skills! I am grateful for awesome support staff that Braille items and set up things as needed. 

JA alumni are 30% more likely to have their bachelor's degree than the general population.
JA alumni are 30% more likely to have their bachelor's degree than the general population. 
Have I convinced you that Junior Achievement is a great resource for providing Expanded Core instruction? I have had a lot of success with it. They have programs on financial literacy, career education, leadership and a lot more.  Check out Junior Achievement in your area:

JA Career Success Program cover
JA Career Success Program cover
If you use Junior Achievement, let me know! I'd love to collaborate with you. Junior Achievement Utah has been awesome to work with. Yay for another resource to provide Expanded Core instruction!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

ECC PTA: A PTA for the Expanded Core!

Graphic that says ECC PTA on a chalkboard with school books.
Graphic that says ECC PTA on a chalkboard with school books. 

A PTA for the ECC? What? Why? How? YES! A PTA for the ECC!! I wish I had a better title but I don't because everyone knows that a PTA is and I can't risk too many unknowns in this new startup PTA.

Why an ECC PTA? Because we need more when it comes to partnership with providing Expanded Core instruction! Parents, family and home life are such an integral part of teaching the Expanded Core and it is one of our weakest areas. We need to find ways to strengthen it. There is so much authentic learning that happens outside of the classroom or an itinerant's janitor's "office". The Expanded Core is our key to living a thriving, meaningful life. We must find ways to connect our 9 areas to parents, the living room, the mall, friends, sports, restaurants---everywhere! We as teachers need more help. We need our parents and families to become true partners in ECC knowledge. Too much is on the line for our students. Our educational model is kinda working. We need to do better. We have to think outside the box on how we reach everyone--teachers, students and parents about the Expanded Core. Viola! We have an ECC PTA! The sole purpose is to provide blindness specific skills and intensive Expanded Core information, resources, training and build a community for our families. The unemployment/underemployment rate for people with vision impairments is still between 70-80%. We can change that statistic! The Expanded Core is a major player to change that statistic! We have to do things differently because too many good, smart, talented students with vision impairments grow up to sit at home and do almost nothing because they don't have the developed skills to live a thriving adult life.

Parents, I invite to take a good look at your child and see if they have the Expanded Core embedded in their lives. This does not mean that your child is perfect. I am a mom. My kids are not perfect. I do my best to teach them, encourage them, hold them accountable, etc. I know that my kids will not listen to me all the time and need others "in the village" to teach them. I tag others in at times to be the teaching piece I cannot be because I am the natural enemy. But the difference between my kids and your kids is that my kids have incidental learning. They can see things and learn by watching even when it is not intentional. All students with vision impairments need the ECC because it fills in the missing pieces when incidental learning isn't happening. It is not a reflection of poor parenting.

We opened our ECC PTA up to all of our divisions--from babies to post high and then we thought bigger. We opened it up to outside of Utah. We have some live sessions where we meet together but we also are creating an format where a lot of it is a digital community. We are recording webinars, newsletters, interactive pieces for sure but something that would allow parents to be involved no matter where they are.

Our ECC PTA doesn't have major time commitments. There is no fundraising or selling popcorn. It is established for the purpose of building a community for our families. It doesn't matter if your child is typically developing or has additional disabilities. The Expanded Core still applies to you no matter what!

The first thing we covered is to learn what the Expanded Core is and why it is critical that parents/guardians understand it. If you are new to my blog, that is the first thing you need to do. Read more posts on the ECC, email me for my tip sheets or do a Google on the Expanded Core Curriculum for students with vision impairments.

The second thing is to have a resource toolbox. My blog is just one tool. Your TVI is another excellent tool. I also suggest to invest in the book ECC Essentials from AFB Press (sold by APH on APH website or Amazon. I'll link it!). We will have a book club posting on this in a few weeks. I also facilitate social media on the ECC. Follow 9MoreThanCore on Facebook and Instagram (same name, different content).
A picture of the cover of the book ECC Essentials
A picture of the cover of the book ECC Essentials
Amazon link:

Shop APH Buy at Shop APH

Last but never least, join the ECC PTA! Click here for the registration link. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Keeping Up with Jimmy...In High School

My thoughts: I CANNOT believe that this is a post about Jimmy eh um...Jim going to high school! I still remember him as my preschool student. Where has the time gone? I've loved staying with him and his mom, Kristi as they take on new adventures together. I can't wait to see what lies ahead for the both of them.

Hello everyone! It has been a while since we have chatted. It is September 2018 and we all know what that means, the beginning of the school year for most. We have left behind Elementary School and Middle School/Junior High and now it is time for Jimmy to start his last school at home, ie. High school!!! With every transitional school year it doesn’t come without its challenges. This year we have had more than I have seen before with Jimmy. To start the first week of school were all half days due to extreme heat which also means he was not given a chance to get his bearings around school nor get used to his schedule, nor his teachers/administration had a chance to get to know him, so for all us parents of our blind students who are transitioning it means EVEN MORE HEADACHES.

As I sit here I don’t even know where to begin: classes, teachers, over protective administration who are comparing Jimmy to past students or the fact that Jimmy is in HIGH School. Let’s start with the fact Jimmy is 100% a teenage AND a high school student. And no matter what is said or asked of, or even reminding him to get his school work done we get an attitude for it. For the past 9 years I have been dreading this school year for no reason other than knowing that once THESE four years are over my only son is off to college and it is the beginning of his adult life. I truly am not going to dwell on the college years as I do have 4 more years to get through as most of us remember our high school experiences so we will have a lot more going on socially than ever before. Jimmy plans on wrestling for the school this coming winter which will be something new for him but hey he loves a good challenge.
A picture of Jimmy as a preschooler

As we are only a week or so into school it has bee a ball of fun (insert sarcasm here) as Jimmy was NOT given a brailled schedule the first day of school nor have any teachers (that I am aware of) given him any brailled work, which means they haven’t given any to his braillist. He has already been given zeros on assignments because those assignments were uploaded to Google Classroom which he currently doesn’t have access to. (yes an email was sent out to address this after it was brought to my attention) One amazing thing though is that Jimmy has finally truly embraced his laptop and wants to do most of his work through this technology but with that being said we are already seeing difficulty accessing email, getting work sent to him, and then him back to the teachers but as with all transitions this will get worked out sooner than later. Due to all of the half days (we had a heat wave the first week and a half of school) the staffing meeting we had, had to be rescheduled, at which time we planned to go over all areas of concern the teachers MAY have as we are tackling a new school. The meeting was scheduled for more than a week later so thus we couldn’t get some of the challenges out of the way. This means the teachers had no idea how to get him his work or how he is going to his work back to them. This really puts a damper on not having any hurdles to get over because all we have at this point are hurdles.

As I haven’t had a chance to meet the teachers face to face only ONE teacher has reached out to me since the beginning of school to introduce themselves to me and give me a quick rundown on what is expected, if I have any concerns and that this teacher is excited to have jimmy in their classroom, the two even spent about an hour after school one day just talking getting to know one another. (Bonus points to this teacher). 

Jimmy was lucky enough to have a couple trips to school over the course of the summer to tour, walk, get to know his environment the best he could with no other students but even with this additional time he still found a way to walk into a display case. You may be asking if he was using appropriate cane skills to which the answer is yes, but the problem is/was that this particular display case is hanging on the wall with nothing below to allow his cane to indicate to him that there is something sticking a foot and half out from the wall until he found it with his face. He is fine and he went on about his day but the problem we faced was a friend saw it and reported it to the Principal. I know this was done out of concern for Jimmy to not get hurt but it caused the school to go on hyper drive over liability and claim that Jimmy needs to be observed. As I came to find out that there were a couple more safety concerns because I am allowing Jimmy to walk through the parking lot and walk home. At the school we have a couple of over protective staff members who claim that Jimmy was in danger of getting hit by a car (which was not the case AT ALL) but now Jimmy has to be shadowed for the next 2 weeks to make sure that he is safe. If Jimmy was not safe all the appropriate people, in particular his O&M teacher, would not have signed off on him walking.

Ok so let me back up a little bit, Jimmy’s TVI and I have been in lots of contact through this process and she did give me the heads up that the school was thinking about having Jimmy shadowed for a little while to just make sure he has his classes down and everything is good. His TVI told the administration to please contact Mom to discuss it with her prior to starting any shadowing of Jimmy. I bet you all can guess what didn’t happen, that’s right I did not get a call and again found out after the fact of this happening. Can anyone take a guess as to what happened next? That is right I marched right down to the school to have a face to face with Jimmy’s administrator. I am not going to allow my son’s independence be taken away that quickly with only 4 cumulative days at school.

As this is a new school the administration did not know me yet, but they do now!!! I have to say that the discussion I had with Jimmy’s administrator did go well, we both had a chance to speak about the who’s, when’s, why’s and now they are aware that if things happen behind my back and I find out about it, I am not going to just make a phone call they are going to see my face and we are going to talk right then and there. The one funny part to the conversation (at least to me) was when said administrator said that they want to be able to put my fear to rest which I then interrupted them and explained that this was not fear I had but straight anger for what was happening without my involvement. It was at this point I had to start educating them. When asked if I heard about him hitting his nose I said yes because my child talks to me about that. And the next question/statement was well he was asked to go to the nurse and he turned it down. I said yes I know, he turned it down because he was fine. I then pointedly asked the administrator if it was a sighted student who wasn’t paying attention and hit this thing and said they were fine, would everyone be up in arms? Their reply, no probably not, so for my child because he is blind we are not going to listen to his words of him being fine? Administrator saw my point and said you right we have to listen to what he is saying and not think he doesn’t know himself well enough to state weather he is ok or not. Furthermore they are already comparing him to another. 

A picture of Jimmy on his first day of high school with a female friend.

You see another blind student just graduated at the end of last year, so the school has had a blind student so recently that one would have assumed they would give this NEW blind student a chance to get acclimated to the school. And from what Jimmy was telling me they (the staff) are already comparing my child to this child. I feel as a parent of a blind child it is part of my job to educate the sighted world as to the fact that no two blind children are the same just like no other two people (no matter the circumstances) are alike. It has been my experience that as soon as the word blind, or deaf, or disabled are used people have a preconceived notion that two individuals with the same dis-abil(able)-ity (see what I did there, the word able is in the word disability and they have to recognize that are children are still able to do things) are the exact same, but in actuality that does not mean that those two children have the same skills, personalities, or even the same acceptance to where the cards they have been dealt. My child and this other child are complete polar opposites that any two kids can be. And it is really frustrating to have to explain, yet again, that the staff has to look past the blindness of these two students and look at the student. When all of this was discussed with the administrator they said well I already see the differences between the two and Jimmy’s teachers will as well. I was like that is all good and fine but what about the rest of the staff who does NOT have interaction with my child but instead just assumes he is like the other boy. Everyone has to be told to have an open mind in regards to the different children.

As Jimmy is now in high school he has to continue to speak up for himself which he does very well. This time he asked me to start the conversation as he sincerely didn’t know who to go talk to. The administrator I spoke with did pull Jimmy aside the following day to have a conversation about all the goings on and they were able to have an open and honest conversation about it all. Jimmy got to convey his perspective on how things are going and to speak towards the “incidences” and the administrator also took what Jimmy had to say to heart. Jimmy is and will be fully involved in his education and things he like and doesn’t like. If he feels there is something that can be changed and will be hands on.

I know it can at times seem that the schools, administrators, or even the teachers don’t get our kids but that is why I will always be outspoken with them and try to get them to be open and understanding that our kids are just that kids who have the right to be independent and left alone to enjoy school like all the sighted kids. Are they “different” I guess you can say that but that doesn’t mean that they are less-than anyone else if nothing else they are more-than because they have had to face a harder life and continuously have to Prove themselves to everyone around them that they ARE just like everyone else. They are students who are just trying to navigate growing up like everyone else and if that means I have to be momma bear at times to get people who don’t know my child well to understand to back off and let him be, than by George that is exactly what I am going to do.

It is hard to be a parent of a blind student, especially when you enter a new school and have teach them all what said child is capable of. This does not happen with sighted students only with students who have an IEP, 504, whatever the case. We (or at least I) want to just scream in their face to back the #&( up and let my kid be. He can handle himself and if he can’t he will be the first one to ask for help or guidance. I want to scream to give him more than 3 days to get used to his school and show you who and what he is. I want to scream he is a typical 9th grader who doesn’t want to be treated any different than any other child in the school. Please give him room to grow and be comfortable in his own skin, do have a preconceived idea of who or what he is. Take a minute and talk to him (this part goes for the other students too who just see someone different and assume they know what he is like) isn’t that why you went into teaching to help and teach our children to be the best version of themselves and give them a chance to become productive humans in this world we live in? STOP ASSUMING and take a minute to learn.

Come Tuesday we will be starting our second week at our new school where we have both Open House and the Staffing meeting. My hopes are I meet everyone at the Open House and then the staffing meeting will be a breeze and I will not be fighting will all the teachers on who’s, what’s, where’s, and how’s. Hopefully they will be open and willing to do things just a little different to make sure that Jim is included in all areas of the classroom because if not we will be seeing each other real soon and after that meeting Jimmy will be included through modifications that I will do my best to give them if not I have a wonderful support group (TVI’s, past ECC instructors, and other families) to go to help give me ideas on how to best help the class and Jimmy. So for now so long and keep your fingers crossed that everything will be worked out within the next week and I will never have to think about it again. (I know it’s kind of a pipe dream, but a mom can hope for this Right!?)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Teach STEM & The ECC Using Kibo Robots

Blog graphic that says "Teach STEM & The Expanded Core Curriculum Using Kibo Robots with a pciture of a Kibo robot.
 Happy back to school everyone! I apologize for the big delay but I have been a very busy bee these past few months. I am just settling back in for regular blog posts. I have so much to share! I am always on the lookout for opportunities for our students and I stumbled upon the Kibo robots at STEM Fest last year. I immediately jumped at it because the accessibility would be so easy. Kibo robots are originally designed for early childhood but I find that I can use them for older students, too. I like how I can create simple concept development to pave a good foundation for robotics, engineering and programming. Plus, you can add the A and make it STEAM! They have lots of fun addition parts to be creative. I have used them several times with students and most recently at our Survivor on STEM Camp Island residential camp.
  Elementary age male students writing a program using the Kibo program blocks.
Elementary age male students writing a program using the Kibo program blocks. 
It's not just STEM that we can teach with the Kibo robots. It's about connecting it to the real world and that's where the ECC comes in. I infuse a lot of ECC concepts as I do my pre-teach with the robots such as asking the students how robots work in the real world or creating concept development about what robotics really is. Check out a video about the Kibo robots:
A Kibo robot with all four sensors: light, eye, telescope and listening
I have taught with the Kibo robots for students of all ages and visual abilities. My students who are totally blind can use them as can my low vision students. It didn't take much for accessibility either. We did make Braille labels for the programming blocks. The classroom kit comes with a game called Kibo Says. The game has "large print" cards which is what I use with the students who cannot easily see the blocks. You can still scan on them and they totally work. Plus they come with the kit--no enlargement necessary. I also pull out our handy Visolux (see picture below) just for quick magnification and to incorporate use of assistive technology (an ECC area!).
  A Visolux magnifier magnifies the program blocks on the screen.
A Visolux magnifier magnifies the program blocks on the screen. 
The Kibo robots lend themselves well to building concept development--meaning that there isn't a lot of abstract to make tangible. I start my lessons with new students by going piece by piece of the robot and they will build it together so they know each piece. We discuss the wheels and how to lock them in and discuss the function of each sensor. I also specifically discuss how the scanner works (and then discuss where else these scanners exist---a grocery store is a great example as well as a connection to the real world ECC).
A student hand is reaching to work on a Kibo robot.
A student hand is reaching to work on a Kibo robot. 
There are lots of games such as bowling. My students have loved just creating with it. Here is a list of examples of activities: You have to begin each program with a start and an end which is really nice. It is easy to have defined and tangible concepts for students that have no vision. All of the students that I have introduced them to (from grades 3-12) have really liked them.

                                         Kibo Says cards in full size (8.5x11)
                                   Kibo Says cards in full size (8.5x11)

Male middle school student works on a Kibo robot. He is scanning the program blocks to the robot.
Male middle school student works on a Kibo robot. He is scanning the program blocks to the robot. 
You can infuse so much Expanded Core into your Kibo lesson! Think about spatial awareness and directionality (orientation and mobility skills), working with a team (social interaction skills), problem solving, self awareness and making choices (self-determination), all the jobs in the STEM field, following simple and complex directions, cleaning up the Kibo, etc (career education). Those are just a few examples of skills and concepts you can specifically target in your Kibo session. The only accessible thing we did was add Braille labels to the program blocks. Everything else was pretty much accessible. The direction cards did need Braille and LP copies but that wasn't hard at all to do! I've had a great experience working with the company since I purchased these for our school. Give them a call and tell them you heard about it from me!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Teach the ECC at a Cowboy Dude Ranch!

 Yeehaw!! Howdy partners, let's teach the Expanded Core Curriculum out on the range!  We spent four days at the Rocking R Dude Ranch and got country strong on our ECC skills. Many programs look to do a variety of programs for our students. Going to a dude ranch was a first (but definitely not a last) for me! First, let me tell you that this was not designed to be any kind of luxury country getaway for students. I wanted students to dig in their boots to cowboy life with the ECC. It was a hit! Each day we did real chores (emphasis on the word "real"), spent time developing true global concept development and we had some serious fun! Students had to brush and prepare their horses, lead them to the arena and then learn how to ride. They got up early to watch and be part of the early morning care with the horses (watching them with the wranglers was awesome!!).

Student brushes a horse in the early morning.
Student brushes a horse in the early morning. 
As usual, I did receive a slightly panicked phone call from the owner when he saw that I was bringing a large group of students with vision impairments (everyone is always a little concerned...) but after our discussion, we knew that this was a good idea! Once we got there, I definitely knew it was a good idea!! I spent time reviewing activities and working accessibility needs prior to us arriving. My awesome staff spent the first day on pre-teaching alongside of the ranch staff. 
Female student sits on her horse listening to instruction from a dude ranch staff.
Female student sits on her horse listening to instruction from a dude ranch staff. 
Always remember to request (or bring) multiples of items so everyone gets lots of hands on to help with concept development. We had a ton of lassos, access to all the saddles, brushes, etc. so that true concept development could happen. Students didn't just touch one part of the animal. They learned about the food, its shelter, its weight, leisure activities, etc. Each group traded trivia questions that they came up with. 

Female student has roped a practice bull with her lasso while another student gets up close to a lasso with a staff member.
Female student has roped a practice bull with her lasso while another student gets up close to a lasso with a staff member. 
My FAVORITE thing to do is to help students see how the ECC is EVERYWHERE in their lives! Repeatedly throughout the day I worked with every group about how and why their activities were ECC skills. We have definitely gone past the easy point of simply stating "this is independent living skills because I am eating," (that's just our starting point...). We really dig in to why the cafeteria is a place for ILS skills, what about what they are doing, we dig into every single aspect so that they can see how it is SOOOO much more than independent living skills because we are eating. In fact, we always discover how so many areas of the ECC can be tied to one activity. It always opens their eyes to seeing how the ECC is truly all day, everyday. 
Students are in a circle for lawn games playing a game.
Students are in a circle for lawn games playing a game. 
Female student walks her horse into the arena while an adult staff leads on the other side.
Female student walks her horse into the arena while an adult staff leads on the other side.
I loved being at the dude ranch because it allowed all of my students to connect to the world in ways many of them don't get to experience. They had to problem solve while riding their horses. They had to work their teamwork skills as they were tubing down the river. They saw how important it is to care for an animal in real time. Of course many students have had animal interactions before. But this  opportunity allowed them to go bigger and bolder. They had plenty of time as no one was rushed through anything. We even had a real rodeo where all the students (and a very slow riding teacher named Robbin) did barrel racing and pole bending. 
Female student is hands on with goats with an adult staff member
I always love doing programs in the community for a variety of reasons. One, it helps the community see ability instead of disability with our students. They learn so much about accessibility and ability of people with vision impairments. I always offer to do free trainings, leave tactile maps, etc. so I leave the facility more accessible for the next blind person.  Two, the more I do things in the community, the more my students learn about what's available in the community. Three, I hope that it creates the opportunity for my students to return to the location with their family and friends outside of a program/camp. 

a female student is on a barrel to simulate riding a bull while other students pull attached cords at the corners of the barrel for the simulation
a female student is on a barrel to simulate riding a bull while other students pull attached cords at the corners of the barrel for the simulation
I could go on and on about our daily activities and how fun (and so educational) they were. Our evening activities matched the day with ECC fun! We had campfires (who doesn't love a good fire and camp songs?!) as well as learning how to line dance with a live country band! I secretly love line dancing because it is such a fun way to teach so many orientation and mobility skills! 
A group of female and male teenagers stand together with their life jackets on before going tubing in the river.
A group of female and male teenagers stand together with their life jackets on before going tubing in the river. 
The magic of camp can continue as long as we work hard to connect skills from camp to the real world at home. This is the part that often is a negative for camps and programs for our students: it's not in the student's real world. How do they keep their skills going? Where are they going to get a horse again? Well, the horse I can't help with but the skills part I can. Even though we were at a dude ranch, I kept focusing on the take away lessons and skills. We do this every camp and program. How can you take home what you are learning at camp? How can I empower parents to help keep the magic going? We have to close the loop and help students learn to generalize their skills to other environments. First I focus on the immediate environment but then I start leading to master in many environments. It's an important part of all our programs!
Get your cowboy boots on, grab your hat and head to a dude ranch for down on the range ECC instruction!!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Study Abroad ECC Australia

A study abroad program based on the Expanded Core Curriculum
I am so excited to share this post with everyone because this is all about Study Abroad ECC Australia! This has easily been added to my top 5 education experiences. I almost don't even know where to start. Just kidding! I will start at the beginning. The beginning is gratitude to my school, the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, for supporting this idea! Two years ago I led us on an exchange program with Camp Abilities Ireland and that kicked off our study abroad program. I learned that Australia also has a recognized Expanded Core Curriculum and started researching schools. And now we had a study abroad location: Australia! 
We partnered with RIDBC Sydney and SA School for the Blind (SASVI) in Adelaide. 
It was critical to us that our program was a true education endeavor from start to finish. Students had to apply for the program based on a college application. After a review committee used a rubric, scored the essays and selected the students, we were in business!

students with vision impairments pose for a group picture with art
We spent the next 2.5 months together in an Expanded Core Curriculum bootcamp! The entire study abroad program was based on the ECC--my dream scenario :) Each week students completed projects from transportation to recreation and leisure. We used distance education, technology and on campus sessions for our work. One of my favorite instruction tools was using some of my former students as mentors. These former students are all domestic and international travelers. We had Zoom sessions (like Skype) and students asked questions and listened intently to advice from mentors. 
 Here are some of our examples of lessons that we did in preparation for traveling to Australia:

  • On campus session. Students had to work with their mobility instructors and themselves to coordinate traveling to campus as a group. No parents could provide transportation to campus.
  • Financial Academy. They also had to be enrolled in our distance education financial academy. Coursework went beyond budgeting but also covered accessibility for banks, where they want to live and the real world budgeting. 
  • Fundraising and coordinating. Students organized a variety show to help support their financial needs. They were in charge of coordinating, entertainment and ticket sales. 
  • Transition. We spent a lot of time focusing on skills (for right now) that would be needed later in adulthood. We used the Transition Skills Competency Checklist.
  • Weekly ECC in the real world projects. The main goal of the program was to help students see how the ECC is every where in their daily life. They learned all the skills that comprise the ECC. It was more in depth than just saying "independent living skills". They could list skill after skill that were included in the ILS section. 
  • Communication & presentation. They developed their public speaking skills for sure! The students were responsible for all presentations. They gave ECC presentations at schools, with Aussie students and teachers. They will forever remember all the areas of the ECC!

teacher holding a koala

There are few experiences these days that teachers can really feel like they are doing it right. This was my experience. We often write IEP goals, do lessons, camps, etc. but it's tough to see it all through. For the entire program I was able to "see it all through". It was fantastic to teach, coach, model and then watch them not only implement it but to get it in the marrow of their bones. These super six students learned to see how the ECC is part of everything they do and how it is the most important part of their education.
t shirt that reads: And then I learned that adventure was the best way to learn

Sydney Opera House
 What else besides the Expanded Core Curriculum did we do? The ECC was the most important objective of our instruction. However, in order to show how important it is, it needs to be taught through meaningful experiences.

Here are some of our adventures:

  • Touch tour of the Sydney Opera House. We had a special tour with a lots of hands on! The tour guide even brought out a small replica of the opera house. We got to get hands on and go back stage and see the sets, one of my students had the opportunity to sing and we got to learn so much about the famous opera house. 
  • Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb. This was an unforgettable experience! We suited up and climbed the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge. Many of our students had very limited vision but we were still able to do so much on the bridge climb. We divided into small groups and got hands on and ears on with the climb. 
  • Sports, recreation & leisure. We had a variety of different recreation activities that were a blast! Most notably, we learned how to play a variety of sports that were accessible for people with vision impairments. We loved learning how to play blind cricket and Australian Rules Football. 
  • Australian Rules Football match. This one needed its own line because this was another unforgettable experience! We got to get on the field and high five the players as they came out. We had never seen this before so we loved learning the game. Thanks to our friends at SASVI who taught us how to play. 
  • Our koala cuddle. We loved visiting the Australian wildlife parks and learning about all the different native Australian animals but our favorite was the opportunity to hold a koala!

student playing blind cricket

group of students with vision impairments at an Australian rules football game

one male and one female student holding an Australian rules football game ball
The students had lessons on everything in the ECC (are you sick of me saying that?) especially in transportation situations that they don't always encounter. We did the traditional bus lessons but we also did lessons for taking a ferry, taxi/Uber, train and finding our way all over Sydney! That was no small feat as there is a ton of construction in Sydney.

The best part is that this isn't our only program. We are so excited to continue our Study Abroad programs! It truly has become one of my most treasured teaching experiences.
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