Monday, December 27, 2010

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Last night, I finished reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, a book recommended to me at least 3 times in the last month.

A summary and Q&A with the author can be found here.

As I sometimes do, I want to share my feelings about this book, as it pertains to special needs. 

First, I have to acknowledge that this book is fiction.  And I was caught in the first chapter by a spunky 11 year old who has cerebral palsy and has never spoken a word.  I love her.  I know her.  I talk to her every single day. And yet, she told me so much in this book that I didn't know, that I should've known.

Second, I was unaware that this book was written for "younger readers" as I was reading it on my Kindle.  How awesome.  What a great way for students to understand differences in their classmates!

As much as I liked this book and feel it's a great read and a great step in the process of getting kids and adults alike to accept others and their similarities and differences, there are some things I think are lacking.

The author uses words like "handicapped" and "retard."  I know this is jargon and can possibly help kids relate, but I would have liked to see more discussion of how the 'r-word' is misused and hurts both a person and a family.  Words matter.  And a larger dialogue about these words could've made a difference.

I also would've liked more information about what happens in "H-5."  Melody makes it seem as though she can do anything she wants, play around, watch movies, and have free time in H-5 with the other kids with special needs.  The teacher in H-5 is never represented as a real teacher, nor is he/she ever seen as responsible for Melody's education, IEP, communication, goals, social situations, inclusion classes, aide assistance, or anything else.  The H-5 teacher is simply present.  Doing what?

I often find that "normal kids" wonder what happens in "that" room.  It would've been nice to have more description of the teacher, the classroom, the other students, the education that can and does take place in the classrooms like H-5.

And where was the principal? The Speech Therapist?  The Physical Therapist?  The Occupational Therapist?  The School Psychologist?  Melody's private speech therapist? The county communication specialist?   How could they have gone so long without getting Melody a communication device?  Why would it have taken so long to get her into Inclusion classes?  And why in the world would any of the teachers let Claire and Molly speak to or about Melody in the ways they did? 

So, there again, while I feel like this is a great book and a great way for kids to relate to their classmates with special needs, I'm not sure the author, who has the most extensive and impressive biography I've read in a long time, really did her homework on special education.  This is not an accurate portrayal of life in a public school setting under PL94-142. 

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper= 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Apps That are Right for Us!

We've had the iPads for one full week now and have had some time to review some Apps.

Here is the beginning of a list of Apps that are right for us (kids with mild-moderate-intensive special needs, grades k-3):
Cookie Doodle

1. Cookie Doodle- AWESOME!  You choose your cookie and get to "measure" the ingredients, mix, bake, and decorate your own cookies.  Great for following directions, making choices, positional concepts, color identification, shapes, and FUN!  We love this and plan to use it year round!

Word Magic
2. Word Magic- Look at the visual image, and choose the beginning sound from 4 letters. Choose beginning sounds, medial sounds, or ending sounds.  This App keeps track of correct and incorrect responses for easy data collection.
My Very First App

3. My Very First App- This is in the Eric Carle style and uses his illustrations to, first, match pictures with colors and color words.  Next, play a simple game of memory with the same illustrations.  Each illustration is named aloud as it is turned over pairing auditory and visual learning.  Change the memory game from "easy" to "medium" to "hard."
Alphabet Tracing

 4. Alphabet Tracing- For each letter, a train, caterpillar, or animal models the direction in which to write the letter; no pencil or stylus needed.
Telling Time App

5. Telling Time App- Uses a real watch and gives four choices to receptively tell the time.  This could provide an alternative to our traditional file folder tasks.
ABC- Magnetic Alphabet

6. ABC- Magnetic Alphabet- It's a magnet board on the iPad.  Digital letter magnets are movable and allow you to easily make words.

7. Speak it! Text to Speech- We are going to trial this as a communication device for one student who wants to type everything.  Simply type and touch "speak it."  This App has four choices of "voice" and has the ability to save frequently used words, phrases, or sentences. Imagine carrying an iPad or an iPhone rather than a $7400 speech device??? 
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox

8. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox- Great for listening and receptive language!  Each question in the "game" asks for a different concept.  Examples- "Which fruit is different?"  "Point to the food that is a fruit."  "Which word begins with the letter C?"
Thomas Game Pack

9. Thomas Game Pack- Nothing seems to motivate more than Thomas the Tank Engine.  This game pack offers 3 different games- Memory, Puzzles, and Navigating the Train Tracks.  I can't barely pry their fingers away from Thomas.

10. Sentence Builder- This App offers a visual and choices in how to build a sentence that appropriately fits the picture.  Great for receptive language, modeling appropriate parts of speech, and modeling complete sentence structure. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wow! What a Week!!!

WOW!  What a week!  I am still trying to recover (on Sunday morning!).

First, I would like to thank Mrs. Harwood, Mrs. Hearns, and Mrs. Oswald for making my school year!  The three of you and your families could not be more special to me.  Words cannot even begin to express how much this day or this award, or knowing all of you, means to me.

Mrs. Hearns, me, Mrs. Oswald, Mrs. Harwood
Imagine this. It's Thursday afternoon and I have gotten out of the LAMP training, at BW, early.  I am sitting in my sister's office at Berea high school with my best friend, Miss K.  Mr. Martin sends a text, "We are having a staff meeting at 4:10 today.  You and Effie need to come back."

What?  Are you joking?  What's going on?  Is someone sick?  Is someone pregnant?  Is Mr. Martin leaving Hilton?  Are there going to be more cuts?  Dave was at a meeting this morning, I wonder what happened?

Then I get texts from Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Vajda telling me about this mystery staff meeting too!  And no one knows what's going on!

A few hours later, Miss K and I were on our way back to Hilton School.

"No one else would ever have to come back!  I can't believe Dave is making us come back!  This must be really important," I said to Effie.

In the car, Miss K told me to try this new lip gloss she had, said it tasted so good.  I put it on. "Tastes like lip gloss," I said. Then she sprayed me with perfume.  Strange enough, this is not out of the ordinary for us.

When we get to Hilton School, Mr. Martin is waiting for us at the front door tapping his wrist.
"It's not 4:10 yet," I said. "You're waiting for us?"

That's when I looked at Effie. She was smiling.  Dave was smiling.  Weird big smiles.

"What's going on?" I said, as we walked quickly to the Media Center and Mr. Martin pushed Miss K in first.

"No, seriously, what's going on?" I asked.

And then I looked in the room, and everyone was staring at me at the door. And I immediately saw Adam, Marina, and Alex.  And Adam came right up to give me a hug.

And the next thing I know, two women from the Plain Dealer are announcing to the group that I am the winner of the Crystal Apple nominated by Mrs. Harwood, but also nominated by Mrs. Hearns, and Mrs. Oswald.

The next ten minutes are somewhat of a blur as Mrs. Harwood read her nomination letter.  I was crying and, Thank God I have a copy now to reread.

The new Superintendent, Mr. Prebles, was there and our curriculum director, Ms. Calevich, our teachers, all my special education aides, The Harwood Family, the Hearns Family, and the Oswald Family.

We found out that Mrs. Harwood, Mr. Martin, and I get to go to a special banquet in May and that's when they present the actual Crystal Apple.  Only 12 teachers a year receive this special honor and the applications go through quite a process before a teacher is chosen.  A story will run in the Plain Dealer on December 19th!  And Mr. Jansik from the Brecksville Magazine and Broadview Journal was there too!

Wow. What a week!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wow! A Crystal Apple!?!?!?!

December 9th, 2010

Dear Miss Kolis,

Congratulations! You have been selected as a winner of the prestigious Plain Dealer Crystal Apple Award sponsored by Bryant & Stratton College for the 2010-2011 school year. As an award winner, you join a very select group of educators in Northeast Ohio who have been recognized for outstanding efforts and accomplishments in education. We, at the Plain Dealer and Bryant & Stratton College, are proud to be part of this recognition process.

The recognition process begins today and includes a plan to inform more than one million readers of Ohio's largest newspaper of this honor when we publish an announcement about your accomplishment within The Plain Dealer on Sunday, December 19, 2010. Then at the end of the school year, you will join the other 2010-2011 Crystal Apple Award winners at a special banquet where you will be presented with the actual Crystal Apple Award. The Crystal Apple itself is intended to be a constant reminder to you of this special day and the special place you hold in the heart of Erin Harwood.

What makes the Crystal Apple Award so special is that educators are nominated by the people best qualified to observe their abilities... students, co-workers, administrators, family, parents, and friends. All of the nomination letters received each context period are narrowed down at The Plain Dealer and then are forwarded to a team of educators throughout Northeast Ohio who make the final selection.

Please accept my congratulations on behalf of all of us at The Plain Dealer and Bryant & Stratton College and our best wishes for your continued success.

Sincerely yours,

Terrance C. Z. Egger
November 19, 2010

On behalf of my son, Alex Harwood, I would like to nominate Miss Morgan Kolis, Special Education Teacher at Hilton Elementary School (K-3) in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights School District, for the Plain Dealer's Crystal Apple Award. Alex, age 9, is in third grade at Hilton Elementary and has autism. Morgan Kolis entered our lives three years ago when Alex transitioned to the public schools for kindergarten. Morgan embodies everything you would want in an educator: passion, dedication, strong work ethic, open-mindedness, creativeness, collaborative, and a superior communicator. Yet, Morgan's deservedness goes beyond these desirable traits and she truly has inspired not only my son, but our family and other families whose lives she has also touched. From an individual and global perspective, Morgan has tackled the challenges of educating children with special needs and finding and supporting ways to improve their overall lives. She not only looks at the individual academic needs but the needs of the "whole" child, and explores ways to incorporate various therapeutic interventions and technologies to further enrich the educational experiences of her students.

Morgan's work day does not end at 4:00pm nor does her school year end in June. In the summer, she organizes a "Room 5 Reunion" with a pool party at her home or a trip to Handels Ice Cream to bring the families, teachers, and staff together. Morgan also takes time out of her weekend and summer schedule to meet with Alex's home tutors to discuss curriculum, programming, and IEP goals to ensure carryover and generalization of all skills learned at home and at school.

Morgan has embraced technology and alternative interventions to meet the specific, individual needs of each of her students. When Alex struggled with handwriting and the use of a computer mouse, Morgan wrote a grant proposal and was awarded a computer "touch screen" to help him better explore technology, adapt his communication methods, and keep pace with his peers. After purchasing our own augmentative communication device for Alex (who is non-verbal), Morgan worked collaboratively and enthusiastically with our private speech therapist to train herself on the equipment so that she could incorporate use of the device into Alex's academic and social settings at school. This was despite the fact that the device was not part of Alex's IEP at the time nor was it recommended for Alex by outside agencies contracted by the district.

Beyond her day to day teaching responsibilities, Morgan embraces the individual philanthropic causes of all her students. Every year, she organizes a team of teachers, aides, administrators, and others to join our family team for the Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism. Not only does she "walk" in support of Alex and others with autism, she raises money through on-line campaigns and has organized fundraising events such as Spotlight on Special Needs where supporters walk as one group, in the dark, shining their flashlights through the community.

As you can see, Morgan Kolis holds a very special place in our heart. It is difficult raising a special needs child but, when someone comes along who is so devoted to your child and it gives you strength and inspiration that there is a better life ahead for him. I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for the Crystal Apple Award and I encourage the committee to reward this extraordinary educator.


Erin Harwood

November 20, 2010

There are so many ways to look at a child’s success in school.  Is your child a social butterfly, a book worm or maybe a busy bee somewhere in between?  What about the child that is still growing into their wings?  That is the child that needs to be shown how to find their own unique way of flying.  Our daughter Marina is one of those children.  She is a 3rd grader at Hilton Elementary School in Brecksville- Broadview Heights School District.  She is also a child with autism  -  a child that has made so much progress thanks to all the wonderful staff and classmates at Hilton.  But among the supportive and nurturing staff is a special education teacher that has been Marina’s biggest champion  -  Morgan Kolis; she is an amazing special education teacher. 
With guidance and determination, Morgan has helped Marina achieve so many levels of success.  She has helped teach her to read, write and work on math problems.  More importantly, she has given her confidence to fit inside a world that sometimes makes her feel like an outsider.

Morgan has opened up a whole new world of being with friends, enjoying music, art and coping with uncertain day-to-day situations.  She has made school a place to have fun, be happy, and reach all the academic and social goals that all families have for their children.

By fostering an environment of acceptance and patience at school, Morgan goes beyond the academic challenges faced by children with special needs; she encourages staff and students to understand all the differences and similarities in children.  Encouraging kids and parents to use new technology to improve and make academics fun, she has created blogs and websites to share information.   Morgan spends much of her own time writing grants to get equipment for her resource room and creating extra academic aides for other teachers and families to use.   

Our daughter loves school, which she often calls “Miss Kolis school”.  She is doing well academically, is making friends and most of all has a brighter future thanks to Morgan Kolis.

Maria Hearns

Monday, December 6, 2010

Room 5 Meets the iPad

It's hard not to be so overly excited about this that I burst.

I almost feel spoiled rotten over the fact that we have two new iPads in our classroom, and then I remember that I wrote a grant for them, and that the money did not come from the district, but from a very generous organization.

Thank you again, BBH Schools Foundation, for supporting Room 5 at Hilton School.

But it's hard not to feel spoiled, and blessed.

We are truly blessed.

Today, I kept that in mind as I was introducing our two new iPads to the students.

Here are our iPad Rules:
1. Be careful.
2. Be careful.
3. Use hands [not feet, not mouths].
4. Share.
5. Be careful.

And away they went...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Can, I Learn, iPad!

Today I set out in the hopes of buying two iPads.

These two iPads were to be paid for with grant money generously provided by the BBH Schools Foundation.  This is the 3rd time in 4 years that the Foundation has chosen one of my grants, and I am honored that they agree to support items for my classroom year after year.

So, I set out, Christmas carols blaring.  I heard my favorite Christmas carol by a group called Straight No Chaser and I'm thinking "life couldn't be better."

I get to Crocker Park before the Apple Store opened and decided to do a little Christmas shopping in Barnes & Noble.  And I find an Educator's table where I get free coffee, a free kids' DVD, a free B&N tote, AND 25% off my purchases! 

Life is good!

And then I realized it.

I forgot my credit card. I had little cash.

Little cash = no iPads.

OOOOOOOOooooooh nooooooooOOOOOOOO.

Before I start to cry, I think to myself, "wait, I can solve this problem."  Where's the nearest bank?

I go to the bank. I take out the cash because, after all, I had just deposited the check from the Foundation.

And I get to the Apple Store just in time to have a nice, cute saleman named Alan helping me with my purchase.  I tell him the deal, ask lots of questions, and get ready to buy!  I feel like bells and whistles should be going off with this purchase.

And then, the second wrench in my day.

As I give him the paper for my tax exemption, he says he has to go ask his manager a question.  I play around with the display as I wait...

He comes back.

"Do you have your teaching license with you, by chance?" he says.

"Um, no.  That's not just something you carry around. Why?" I respond.

"How were you planning to pay for this?" he asks.


"We would need your teaching license to give you the tax exemption," he says. "See, we can't prove that you are buying this for school and not for your personal use, so we would need to see your teaching license number."

"I have a union card. Can that count?"

"Can you just run home and get it?" he says.

Um, no dude, I think, I just drove 25 minutes to get here.  And I'm lazy when it comes to anything but doing my work for kids.  Seriously, I'm lazy.

So, to make an even longer story slightly shorter, I PAID FOR THE TAX ON TWO IPADS! 

Then I also paid for a cleaner and a case.  But only ONE case because I did not have enough cash for two of them (because I forgot my credit card, remember?).

So, what started as an entirely blessed and amazing day turned into something that gave me an 8 hour headache...

But, I got to spend the rest of tonight uninstalling and re-installing my iTunes, then searching Apps, then buying Apps, and then syncing iPads. 

And now I cannot wait to share the iPads!  I cannot wait to share with my students and my aides!

And I plan to share the rest of the process here as well.

I am so blessed; bad day or not. :)