NECC Reflections #2

reflections SMARTBoard workshops

Autistic ChildrenMy niece, Allison, came into our lives thirty years ago. She has provided us with a glimpse of another world that we can’t begin to understand, only because we are limited in both our intellect and ability to “see” things the way she does. As a child, Allison “danced with the fairies” and was lost in thoughts that we could only wish to share with her. She was first diagnosed with significant developmental delays with “islands of ability” or possible “childhood schizophrenia”.  When Allison was five, her pediatrician called my sister, Diana, at work. He had just returned from attending a conference in California and was very excited to have found an “answer”.  Allison eventually was “labeled” autistic, and was placed in special classes in schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Diana worked as a political consultant at the state and federal levels, and used any and all connections she had to educate herself on autism. She became an officer in the Autism Society of America, and became proactive in securing the best help to enable Allison to become all she could be. Eventually we learned that Allison’s symptoms were best described as Asperger’s Syndrome, and she was not only very high functioning, but had an IQ that was far above anyone else in our family. When she was twelve, Allison described to me a book that she was reading about “parallel universes” in terms I could understand. My “Allison Stories” include finding piles of miniature notebook pages under her bed with hieroglyphics of different thoughts and messages filling each page, all easily translated by her at the age of eight. On a visit I took her to buy a bathing suit, and she absolutely needed the black one-piece with a huge beautiful sequined pineapple filling the front. How could I refuse? She loved nothing more than to sit in front of the television under a huge open golf umbrella watching Comedy Central and laughing with the audience. Her humor is quick, dry, and catches you off-guard bringing you to your knees. She has been to “Burning Man”, belonged to a tango club, belly-dances, and has taken Diana and me on a trip to southern France for the “Gathering of the Gypsies”. On our trip to Paris, her first request was to go to the cemetery to see the grave of Jim Morrison. On our trip through the Louvre, she was our personal guide. Just this past Sunday her post on Facebook read, I just had a great day yesterday at Plunderthon. I and a bunch of other people dressed as pirates and went on a bender in Downtown Portland. Yyaaarrr!!!”

So, with Allison in mind, I chose to attend the NECC session entitled “Increasing Attention Span of Students with Autism Using Interactive Technology” presented by Randy Welch, Chief Program Officer, at the Spaulding Youth Center in Tilton, New Hampshire and Kathleen McClaskey, President of EdTech Associates. It was the first session that brought tears to my eyes. With a great deal of conviction and dedication, Randy described the difference that SMARTBoards made in five of their classrooms where the students ranged from ages 7 to 20. He described how the use of these boards help children focus on communicating and for the first time, they found words to relate their experiences and thoughts to their teachers, aids, and other children. Videos took us into the classroom and we were introduced to several of the children, specifically “Katie”, and watched their progress in ways that I have never seen before.

Leaving that session I was excited to share with Shannon what I had seen. I was convinced that schools need to require a SMARTBoard in every special class, and that interactive websites and Web 2.0 tools are included in their curriculum.

The school in which I teach now has SMARTBoards in every classroom. Two of our teachers who work with special needs children, both friends and partners with whom I have taught, attended our SMARTBoard workshops in the first session of our 2009 Summer Series. They were both excited and enthusiastic about the possibilities of how to use the boards in their classrooms, and I look forward to watching them grow and learn, and providing additional help and support to get them started on what promises to be an exciting path to an exciting future.

I invite you to read the handout that was provided in the workshop I attended.

NECC Reflections #1


NECC ScreenI had to title this blog Reflections #1 since there is no way I will be able to pack everything into one post.  Also I am habitually the type of person that looks back at presentations and conversations wishing I could add or tweek something.  I know, I know…get some counseling already!  So, in order to allow myself some more time to think back through the past week at NECC, I have set myself up to post a series of reflections. 

After sitting through a gazillion presentations over three days, some good, some great, some terrible, I have walked away with the justification that what Mom and I are presenting in our workshops is pretty darn good.  Not Alan November good, but definitely up there with some of the bigger sessions that we attended.  I was continually amazed at how often a large gasp from the audience would result from something the presenters had demonstrated, only to look over at mom (if she was in the same session) and give her “the look”.  The look was a mixture of “hello” and “yes!”. NECC Session

The “hello” part was a result of me thinking that everyone should have already known the concept or idea demonstrated.  After all, it was something we have been doing for years.  The other part, “yes!”, was truly validation.  Validation is an awesome feeling. 

The validation that we received after spending three jam-packed crazy days at NECC is worth the price of the trip in itself.  You see, we are considered “small town”.  We teach in rural IL, not the big city.  Yet we are providing the latest and most innovative ideas during our professional development sessions.

I saw it come up on Twitter and Plurk over and over again.  The statement that NECC sessions were mostly geared to beginners.  I would say Yes and No.  Yes in the fact that there were a LOT of newbies on the scene.  At the end of day two while waiting for the elevator at our hotel, a gentleman behind us asked if our heads were spinning with all of the new things that we were shown.  I could see the look of exhaustion on his face and in the way he was carrying his free canvas NECC tote bag.  I smiled to myself and said, “No, I think I’ve been sorting through it all ok.”  But NECC also, definitely, had elements that advanced tech integrators could implement. 

Not to mention the inspiration provided by speakers such as Alan November. Inspiration is priceless.  I look forward to his sessions each year and always walk away wishing I knew half the things he has forgotten over the course of his career.  This was his 25th NECC presentation.  25th.  I was 9 when he did his first NECC presentation.  I would love to listen to the archive of that speech since I don’t recall the use of ANY technology when I was in 4th grade.  None. 

It is sort of ironic that yesterday Mom wrote about family passing down genes that make us the tech geeks that we are.  If you read my husband’s blog you might know that Alan Novemeber could be my father-in-law.  Maybe I will ask him at our next family reunion about the content of his first NECC speech.