Monday, 2 December 2013

Limiting time on the iPad to help with sharing / turn taking

Ever wish there was a way that you could limit the time a person uses the an app on the iPad when you are using it as a reward or to help enforce turn taking? Here's how ...

Step One: Turn on the Passcode

Most schools will already be using the Passcode. If not, go into SETTINGS then GENERAL and select PASSCODE. You will need to enter a 4 digit number choose something you can remember. I use the first four digits of the school telephone number. Even if you already use Passcode, check the setting in step two.

Step Two: Turn off ERASE DATA

This is important. If this setting is turned on it will erase all of the data on the iPad if an incorrect Passcode is entered ten times. Although unlikely to happen in school, it's better to be safe rather than sorry. Turning this OFF will stop any data being erased no matter how many incorrect attempts are made at guessing the Passcode.

With the Passcode set, you can now come out of the SETTINGS. The only difference you'll notice is that you will need to enter the Passcode when you want to use the iPad.

Step Three: Set the time allowed

Open the 'CLOCK' app, the one that comes with the iPad. You don't have to download anything special. Touch the 'TIMER' button at the bottom of the screen. Set the time that you want the student to have on the iPad.

Step Four: Set the alarm

Touch the alarm sound (it's in the bottom centre of the screen) and scroll down to select 'STOP PLAYING'

That's it. All you need to do is start the timer and quit the 'CLOCK' app.

The student can now use the iPad in whatever way you wish. The timer will continue to run in the background. When the timer reaches zero. the iPad will stop and return to the Passcode screen 

The correct Passcode must be entered to continue using the iPad.

I've been using this with many of the schools that I am working with for those students who find it difficult to finish or share an activity on the iPad.
It works great!

You can download a pdf version of this blog from HERE 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Ablenet NEW Blue2 Bluetooth Switch Review

I finally found a couple of minutes in a busy week of ipad training to write a few words about the new ‘Blue2’ Bluetooth switch from Ablenet. I was really quite excited to get my hands on this as I've used the previous version of this switch many times in schools and in my training sessions and always found it to be robust and reliable.

The new switch looks very different from its predecessor. Gone are the ‘pedal’ switches and odd 'butterfly' shape of the old model, now replaced with shiny yellow and white square switches in a sleek black case, which looks really modern and not ‘special needs’ at all. This new 'cool' look is something which will be very important to many users with physical difficulties who use switches with iPads and other portable devices.

The Blue2 is powered by an in-built rechargeable battery which is charged from the mains. Ablenet helpfully include connectors for the UK, US, Europe and Australia / NZ so there's no messing about looking for an adapter. Charging took about an hour, after which it was good to go. I've been using the switch for about a week now and I haven’t needed to recharge it yet. This is helped in no small measure my the very useful ‘Sleep Mode’ which will turn off the Blue2 after 30 minutes of inactivity even if you forget to turn it off with the switch.

Having an in-built rechargeable battery and efficient power management is incredibly important when we are using these devices in a classroom environment. Who has time find a screwdriver and a couple of batteries, more often those slimline watch type batteries in the middle of lesson?

Connecting the Blue2 to your iPad is quick and straight forward. 
  • Turn on Bluetooth on your iPad.
  • Turn the Blue2 on and press the 'PAIR' Button.
  • Select Blue2 on your iPad and the switch will connect usually with a few seconds.

Before I get into all of the clever things you can do with the Blue2 using the new accessibility settings, it’s worth mentioning that for most of the apps we use in the classroom, the Blue2 will work WITHOUT having to fiddle with the new switch settings in IOS7. I’ve tried it with all of the switch accessible apps from Inclusive Technology, 'Special Stories' from SpecialiApps, the wonderful 'Sensory Light Box' from Cognable and loads more, and it works brilliantly. 

You’ll need to go into the app settings and choose 'switch' as the input method but that’s about it. No steep learning curve for colleagues new to iPads and switches and no big instruction manual to wade through. The only thing you may ever need to change is the 'mode' as some apps work with different key presses. You do this by pressing the MODE button on the Blue2. All of the apps I've tested worked with Mode 1. If the app you’re using isn't working, try changing to Mode 2 or 3 which should get it going.

For most of the students I work with, that’s all we need to do. With the Blue2, it’s is really easy to set up wireless switch access to the most popular switch accessible apps. If your students use specialist switches such as head switches, the Blue2 also has sockets to enable you to plug in and use these wirelessly with your ipad.

I’ll discuss how to use the Blue2 and some of its clever programming features in the second part of this blog, however if, like me you work with students who need switch access to popular apps that support switch skills development from cause and effect through to simple scanning, then the Blue2 is all you’ll need. Easy to set up and use, excellent power saving features, long battery life from a single charge and a modern look that doesn't scream ‘special needs’ makes the Blue2 the perfect classroom accessibility tool.

The Ablenet Blue2 is available from a number of suppliers in the UK including Liberator at £115 and Inclusive Technology at £103, which takes advantage of their offer of 20% off all Ablenet products until the end of April 2014. All prices are ex Vat.

Look out for the second part of my 'Blue2 review' where I'll look at how the Blue2 works with the new accessibility settings in IOS7.

"Blue2 review..." I'm a poet and I didn't know it!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Our Story for iPad

I just wanted to share with you this brilliant new digital book making app from the Open University.

Our Story for iPad is an easy to use app that gives you the tools to make simple talking books quickly and easily. Our Story for iPad is free to download.

You can get it from here:

To make a book simply touch the 'Create New Story' button which will take you to the edit screen.

Choose the images you want to use in your story by dragging them down onto the time line at the bottom of the screen. You could do this with the students as part of a sequencing activity too. Now touch each image in turn to add text and sound.

Touch in the box to add text. Our Story uses a lovely child friendly font. Now touch the microphone icon to add your sound. Do check that the sound on your iPad is turned up as you'll still here beeps when you press buttons even if the sound is turned down or muted. When you're done, touch the yellow 'Go Back' button to return to the edit screen. Don't forget to save your story with the orange 'Disk' button as you go along.

When you're done simply go back to the start screen using the yellow 'Go Back' button and choose your story.

I'm busy trying the app with switches and will post a comment about that when I'm finished. Don't forget you can print out your stories or save them as PDF files which can be emailed to another ipad or computer directly from within the app.

What are you waiting for... go get that app!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Babies and bath water...

So here's the thing... I'm sat in a quiet classroom with six students all busy using some of the cause and effect apps I've been recommending over the last six months. Everyone is busy doing their own thing. The students are touching the iPad screen and generating wonderful patterns and sound effects with the movement of their fingers. They are looking, listening and in some cases responding with smiles and sounds.

So why do I feel so uneasy, after all, I'm sat in a quiet classroom and everyone is busy doing their own thing.

My mind can’t help but wander back a few years to another classroom and another group of students exploring cause and effect. On the surface, nothing too different from the other classroom here, students making things happen by touching screens or pressing switches in response to the gentle encouragement of those around them. 

What is different however is how the people in the classroom are responding to the effects the students are generating. People are singing and dancing to the music the student has initiated… My TA is pretending to be afraid of what’s behind the spooky door… I'm falling off my chair in pretend shock every time my student pops a balloon… There’s laughter and lots of interaction between the students and those around them.

While I'm a strong supporter of iPads and the very personal experience of cause and effect they can bring to our students, I do worry that by using them in specific ways, we run the risk of losing the ‘social element’ of cause and effect.

Social element?

 seen the singing hippopotamus activity I made for Priory Woods School and many of you know that I made it for a young man who really wasn't interested in singing hippopotamuses. He, like many of our students responded best to interaction with people. My singing hippo provided a vehicle for him to initiate interaction with the folks around him. He pressed the switch… people sang, danced and had fun. What better way could there be for him to explore and consolidate his understanding of cause effect?

He wasn't (isn't) unique. Very many of the students I work with show only fleeting interest in the images and sounds they produce by using touch screens or pressing switches. Most are much more interested in the response of the people around them to what they have done. For example, my TA being ‘afraid’ of what is behind the spooky door or me pretending to fall off my chair in shock at the popping of an on-screen balloon.

My definition of cause and effect has always been; “extending influence and control over the student’s immediate environment” and for me that means more than making pretty patterns on a device that’s a foot from my student’s face. To experience cause and effect is to experience communication and for human beings that means interacting with people. What does it matter that you can touch a screen to make a pretty pattern if there is nobody there to share it with… to respond positively to what you have done and to reinforce and celebrate your attempts at communication?

iPads provide us with a wonderful new tool to explore cause and effect with our students but we mustn't forget the social element of what we’re doing. With a device designed to provide a very personal experience it can be easy to forget about what's really important for the student... and that's your and other's response to what they are doing with the device.

Cause and effect IS communication and it’s important. So important it's at the centre of all we do…

Information COMMUNICATION Technology 

Friday, 6 September 2013

ChooseIt! Maker 3 Review

As one of the team that helped design ChooseIt! Maker 2 over ten years ago, I've been pretty keen to see what the new team at Inclusive Technology have done to update this really useful special needs program. If you've never seen ChooseIt! Maker 2, it's an easy to learn program that you can use to create teaching activities for your interactive whiteboards, touch-screens, mouse and most importantly, switch users.

The activities were created using your own images and sounds which meant that they could then be used to support communication and learning at any level and for any age. The program was immensely popular with special schools who use it to make accessible, personalised and age appropriate curriculum content for their students. So how does the new version compare?

The most obvious difference is that ChooseIt! Maker 3 is an online tool which runs in your web browser. No need to install the program or set up complicated network shares, simply click the icon from any computer with internet access, log in and you're ready to go. This will be really useful for members of staff who like to prepare resources at home.

Another major change is the interface which now closely resembles Matrix Maker. Don't worry if you've never seen Matrix Maker, the simple tabs will help guide you through the process. Click the 'Page Layout' to set the number of choices, click 'Pictures' to add or edit images, click 'Sounds' to add audio prompts, click 'Text' to add or edit any text you want to use. Finally add reward sounds (and you can now add a different reward to each picture) and you're done.

ChooseIt Maker 3 comes with thousands of ready to use images including symbol sets from both Symbolstix and Widget. You can also use your own images from digital cameras, use a web cam or get images directly from the internet using the handy tool that is built in to the program.

When you've made an activity simply select it from the menu and click play. Chooseit! Maker 3 provides very comprehensive settings to enable your activity to be used together with a wide range of assistive technology including one or two switches, touch-screens, pointing devices and keyboards and new to CM3, Eye Gaze.

Activities work just like the previous program. The student is asked a question and given a range of possible answers. If the student chooses the correct answer, they are rewarded with music and animation. Rewards can be configured to meet the specific needs of the student or you can just use the built in colourful animations and music.

Unlike the previous version, Chooseit! Maker 3 automatically gathers performance data which you can use for evidence, 'Records of Achievement' or simply to print out for the student to take home.   

All in all, a well programmed update to a classic special needs program... but wait, I've saved the best until last. Using Inclusive Technology's free ChooseIt! Maker 3 app, you can download and play any of your activities on an ipad or Android tablet device with switch access too if you need it.

So here's a summary of the new features:
  • Available as an online tool
  • Full Symbolstix and Widget symbol sets included
  • Add different rewards to each cell
  • Works with all assistive technology including eye gaze
  • Gathers student performance data
  • Ipad and Android integration through free app

ChooseIt Maker 3 is available from Inclusive Technology and costs £49 (Single User) £69 (5 User) and £99 (Site) for a one year subscription.