About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Touch Communications: Special Needs Students


Russ EwellReviewer: Russ Ewell

Position: Chairman

District/School: Hope Technology School (HTS), Palo Alto, CA

Number of Students in School: 120 students

Products: HP TouchSmart PC and Voice Notes


We needed an affordable solution that helps students with disabilities learn and interact easier.


TouchSmart technology has accelerated learning and helped to bring HTS students with special needs out of social isolation. The TouchSmart PC has been easy to integrate. The device costs roughly one-fifth the price of traditional Assistive Technology (AT) tools developed with proprietary hardware and software.

Learning Curve:

Teachers and students have found it extremely easy to use. The TouchSmart is an all-in-one touch-enabled PC—making it unique. Users simply touch, tap or sweep a finger across the screen to access information, the Internet, or social. No keyboard or mouse is necessary.

How We Use It:

Students can play music, video chat, check the weather, or watch TV. Children with autism use the device to practice speaking. Students send video e-mail using the webcam, and create videos for class projects. A favorite activity is Jeopardy, with the answers derived from coursework.

What’s Ahead?:

HTS is developing software to help people with special needs match icons and speech to communicate. It has opened a pilot technology lab to make devices available to the community at large.

No Shelf Tech Here!

Julio Velasquez Director of Technology

Aaron Allen 5th Grade Math, Social Studies and Reading Teacher

Hempfield Area School District (HASD)

Products: Mimio Interactive Solutions

Tech2We looked for something that wasn’t going to be difficult to install and maintain. After the presentations, we surveyed teachers for their input, and Mimio was their top selection.

District tech did the initial install, but we make updates available on our server, and teachers do those themselves. HASD quickly went from very few technology users to 40%, and then to 80% daily blending of Mimio technology with curriculum delivery. “You never want to purchase shelf technology; Mimio gets a daily workout here; it never sits.

We facilitate the training to make sure the technology is always available, and Mimio has been very supportive with everything from individual teacher help to any technical side trouble shooting issues,” says Velasquez. A recent technology training survey, found that teachers wanted more days to get together to share what they were doing with Mimio in their classrooms, and thought it was one of the most valuable inservice days they’ve ever had.

What you get for the dollar makes sense, especially when comparing Mimio solutions with others out there.

Teachers at HASD create and save lessons using Mimio software and the stylus for building text, highlighting, drawing, group work, moving objects, sequencing, as well as capturing supplemental resources from the Internet. Teachers engage students and instantly assess achievement.

Aaron Allen, a 5th grade math, social studies and reading teacher uses Mimio solutions daily for writing, spelling, and language arts.

TeachWith MimioTeach and a stylus I use math manipulatives, and MimioView takes transparencies out of the equation. Kids manipulate objects for concrete references. In its simplest form it’s a quick whiteboard, but it can quickly become something where kids can click, point, manipulate, move, and see their actions. Learning has become a Web 2.0, game-filled, engaging environment in the classrooms of HASD. It’s as easy as using PowerPoint or Word, and If you want to get more technical, it’s not that difficult to create new worlds of learning. Our reading program is online, so this works beautifully for teaching in ways we couldn’t do before—when it was just on paper. It’s a lot easer—and a time saver with Mimio. The right tools are there when and where you need them.

Agriculture Science Goes Interactive: Byron Ernest

Byron Ernest - SMART Best in TechReviewer: Byron L. Ernest

Position: Department Head Agriculture Science

District/School: Lebanon Community School Corporation, Lebanon High School, IN

Number of Students in District/School: 3,551/1,046

Products: SMART Boards 685 ix/600 UF 65, SMART Response Systems, SMART Notebook software


We are designing and developing a learning environment that integrates various technology tools such as interactive white boards, mobile technology, high access technology (laptops) and the applications to Smtfully integrate all technology through the SMART system, enabling highly effective teachers to facilitate high student achievement.


Everyone is on board with our strategic tech plan. Students have done presentations using the technology for our school board, parents, and community. Students love coming to class and immersing themselves in the educational process through collaborative learning and use of technology.

Learning Curve:

First-round teachers provide support and training, and share lessons. The SWELL Classroom allows for designing each lesson to meet individual student needs. Teacher leaders provide coaching, and we include specially developed administrator training. SMART has tailored specific workshops, too.

How We Use It:

Our interactive agriculture science classroom is equipped with SMART Board technology. In Advanced Life Science students are asked to produce presentations using SMART Notebook and the SMART Boards related to various topics and upload those presentations to group wikis. After review SMART Response systems are used to gage student knowledge.

What’s Ahead?:

Our school is undergoing a renovation that will equip all classrooms like the SWELL Classroom. Additionally, we will have a 24/7 one-to-one computing environment with our students in grades 6-12. 

Evernote Education: Russ Goerend

RussReviewer: Russ Goerend

Position: 6th grade Language Arts

District/School: Waukee / Waukee Middle School, Iowa

Number of Students in District/School: 7,000 / 850

Products: Evernote, Doxie Scanner, smartphone camera

Reviewer's Notes:

I use Evernote because it works so well to create and capture different forms of media (audio, video, images, and text). The basis for the system is to capture student learning, which could be done with different tools.


Documenting student learning in (more) authentic ways. Evernote allows me to capture and organize anything I can digitize. Pictures of student work, video of students learning, audio of student conferences, scans of student work, clips of student blog posts. 


Administrators have appreciated my work because it is helping to document student learning. Students think it's "cool" that I have digital copies of so much of their learning. Parents have not been as excited as I'd hoped.

Learning Curve: 

Evernote itself, and importing documents is easy to learn. The actual setup of notebooks and tags that I use has taken a few years to get where it is. I would recommend playing with notebooks and tags to see what works best for you. Evernote is software I used before I was a teacher and I still use a ton outside of school. I use it to organize our garage and our kitchen, for example.

What’s Ahead?: 

I worked with 6th graders who are all under 13. Unfortunately, this means they can't have their own Evernote accounts. If they could -- or if we can find a way to have parents create the accounts for them or something else -- the next step would be to get them doing the collecting, analyzing, and organizing of their own artifacts. That would be the key for me. Right now, we're working on having students take over the evaluation aspect of the artifact collection. As of now, I'm the one deciding what gets digitized or not. I want the students to be the ones doing that.


Assistive Technology: Carole Ries

Carole RiesReviewer: Carole Ries, OTR, Assistive Technologist

Wayzata Public School, Plymouth, MN  

Number of Students:
10,000 Students: 7 elementary, 3 middle schools, 1 high school
Product: SOLO 6 by Don Johnston


Our district was interested in evaluating technologies that would support literacy. SOLO 6, developed by Don Johnston, is a suite of four software tools that can be used individually or together to support students’ reading and writing skills. 

Reviewer's Notes: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that the Wayzata Public Schools uses when evaluating technology tools. We are committed to embedding technology solutions into our curriculum from beginning so that these tools are available to all staff and all students.

The components are:  

Write Outloud:  A talking word processor that supports the editing process and increases the amount of written communication.

Co:Writer:  A word completion or word prediction tool that support students who are slow at keyboarding, have difficulty spelling, and narrows the gap between thought and written words.

Draft Builder:  Creates outlines, organizes notes, builds a draft and scaffolds students through the writing process.

Read Outloud:  Is a text to speech program that can read the web, e-text and digital books and helps to collect and analyze relevant ideas and organize notes.  It has many reading comprehension supports embedded into the program, including highlighters, a dictionary and a bibliographer.

Pilot Study:

A pilot study, evaluating Solo 6, was completed by K-12 general and special education teachers in our district. After 8 weeks, each participant completed a feedback survey. The results conclusively revealed that the majority of the teachers strongly agreed that Solo 6 would help their students with writing, reading, organization and research. 

Technology Integration:

Wayzata Public Schools then purchased a district license of Solo 6 and installed the software on all student and staff computers. Additionally, students have take-home rights to the software. Students can download the software from the district website or check out a CD of the program from the media center to install on their home computer. 

AmandaAmanda Leddy, 6th grade Language Arts Teacher at Central Middle School, used Draftbuilder and Write Outloud to complete a history research paper.  Students’ feedback about Draft Builder and Write Outloud was very positive. They stated that it was faster to take notes using Draftbuilder, they could quickly see where more research was needed because of the organization provided by Draftbuilder and they preferred to take keyboarding notes rather than handwritten notes. All the students surveyed felt the program was easy to learn, taking less than 10 minutes to learn how to use the software. Ms. Leddy reported that using the software increased productivity by needing three less class periods to complete the paper. She stated that Write Outloud also increased students’ independence with spelling and proofreading, resulting in more time for her to work with students that needed more one to one support. Finally, Ms. Leddy stated that using the software improved the quality of the final paper.

CarolCarol Dunsmore-Clement, Elementary Special Education Teacher, is using Read Outloud with students with print disabilities.  Her students are reading more, feel less frustrated when reading and are choosing to read in their free time. The students and their parents are happy because the students have increased independence at home when completing their homework. One student proudly stated that he read a book independently at home and when he came to school the next day he received 10 out of 10 on the test! The technology motivated and engaged him.

LoriLori Fildes, Director of Special Education, said, “Solo 6 has been a tool commonly discussed at student Individualized Education Planning (IEP) Meetings.  Parents are thrilled that Wayzata Public Schools is supporting such a powerful technology that will assist their children in becoming independent as possible in their academic learning. That being said, it is clearly not a tool reserved solely as a special education adoption, but is quickly becoming a way of assisting all students and staff in their academics.  It has the capability of enhancing student work and in some cases, helping students to be successful without the need for referring them for further intervention and/or special education services.”

ShellyShelly Nelson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, shared, “Taking the time to complete work well is important. With the use of Solo 6, our Language Arts teachers found that students took better notes, produced better research papers, demonstrated an understanding of the research process and saved several days of class time typically dedicated to a research writing project.”

What's Next?

The implementation of Solo 6 has been a positive initiative to provide a flexible approach to reading and writing so that students can customize the software to meet their individual needs. Our implementation team continues to meet.  Our next goal is to work with publishers during our curriculum review process to build an accessible digital library of all our textbooks and to begin to take data of how SOLO 6 is impacting students’ reading and writing skills and scores in our district.

Supporting STEM Education: Raul Santana

Raul Santana2Reviewer: Raul Santana

Position: Director of Technology

District/School: Upland Unified School District (UUSD), Upland High School (UHS), California

Number of Students in District/School: UUSD serves more than 12,000 students in 14 schools, which includes 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools

Products: HP Workstations Hp


Upland Unified School District (UUSD) faced two of the same challenges that most public school districts are facing nationwide—we had a lack of funding to pursue programs of excellence, and the need to improve student achievement in math and science. UUSD’s ultimate goal was to find a way to provide educational technology to support rigorous programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.


In an effort to improve students’ math scores and skills in a cost effective way by leveraging outside funding, UUSD laid out plans to participate in Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national program that provides rigorous and innovative science, technology, engineering and math education for middle and high schools. In order to meet the needs of the courses of PLTW, the district’s IT team created two 21st Century Classrooms at UHS, which are equipped with HP Z Workstations, digital projectors, an electronic white board and more.

The community has been incredibly supportive of PLTW and the implementation of HP technology. In fact, in 2008, the community passed a construction bond that has enabled the district to remodel many classrooms and incorporate leading edge educational technologies to create the 21st Century Classrooms needed to support PLTW.

Teachers believe that PLTW is helping to increase student success: “It’s not our goal to make engineers out of every kid in the class,” says Doug Hutchings, teacher, Upland High School, “But it’s very likely that students who participate in Project Lead the Way will have a better chance of being admitted to college and doing well once they get there.”

The program and school district are receiving support from local colleges and universities as well. California Polytechnic Institute at Pomona and the University of California at Riverside actually guarantee admission to students who complete the entire sequence of PLTW courses.

Learning Curve:

The district’s first PLTW course, Introduction to Engineering Design, is a methods course involving product design using Autodesk Inventor software. UUSD runs the software on HP Workstations. We have found that because Autodesk applications are thoroughly tested and qualified on HP Workstations, that they are the perfect fit for the classrooms where the PLTW courses are taught. Together, HP, Autodesk and PLTW have offered a wide-designed platform for science, technology, engineering and math education that has helped integrate the program pretty seamlessly.

How We Use It:

Using HP Workstations, students tackle four design projects in the introductory PLTW course. The first is a puzzle, which students design and engineer for manufacturing. Subsequent projects include a toy train, a full-size boat, and a fourth project serves a real-life community need and changes each year. Last year, the class is designed and built a mobile scoreboard for the local Little League.

Now in its second year of involvement with PLTW, UUSD has added a second PLTW course, Principles of Engineering. Students use HP Workstations to tackle more rigorous engineering challenges and are exposed to a wider range of engineering software packages.

All told, the high school has roughly 135 students taking PLTW courses today and that number should continue to grow as new courses are added.

Reviewers Note:

UUSD has a solid reputation for preparing its students academically, and several schools in the district have been cited as California Distinguished Schools.

Classrooms Collaborate with Projects by Jen

WagnerReviewer:  Jennifer Wagner

Position:  Online Project Coordinator

Online Site:  ProjectsByJen.com

Number of Students in School: 825

Products:  Voice Thread, Animoto, Smilebox, Google Docs & Forms, Dreamweaver, Microsoft Office, and the ProjectsByJen site - http://www.projectsbyjen.com/.


The primary ProjectsByJen goal is to seamlessly and effortlessly weave various opportunities of tech into Jw1 the PreK – 6th grade classroom, while at the same time setting up collaboration activities for interaction.


My first project in 1999 had 125 responding classrooms, most current project over 1300.
Because standards are shared with each project, and the projects can be molded to fit within each teacher’s schedule and curriculum, the response has been positive. I receive emails from teachers, admins, and parents thanking me for offering these projects online so their students can participate. Each classroom is also earns a participation certificate to showcase their involvement.

Learning Curve:

The learning curve is different within each classroom; however, detailed instructions are provided with each project as well as activities and extension ideas. Tutorials are provided as well as several online community forum areas. If a teacher has any difficulty, there are many ways to get support. If any teacher is creating their own worksheets, etc, they usually share out their ideas there. 

How We Use It:

Reviewer's Note: All of my projects can be found here:  http://projectsbyjen.com/archives.htm

Sample Projects:

Most teachers in the Prek – 6th grade level will have some sort of harvest lesson during the last week of October, which will probably involve a pumpkin. The Pumpkin Seed project takes what will already be done and weaves in a math lesson, pumpkin costume show, and many other activities, which can easily be used during this harvest theme time. If a teacher wishes, there are also opportunities for the classroom to collaborate with other classrooms via Skype, e-mail, snail mail, or various other ways.  At the end of this project, all results collected are displayed in graph form, available in a downloadable spreadsheet, and participants are placed on a map. This project easily incorporates math, literature, science, art, history, technology, spelling, and more.

What’s Ahead?:

ProjectsByJen has 6 more planned projects for the school year, including The Holiday Card project in December, which truly brings the holiday spirit into your classroom in a very geographical way. The St. Patrick’s Day project blends graphing, sorting, and estimation into the K3 classroom. A new project, “Picture This”, where 24 different classrooms will share in creating a masterpiece of collaboration will be hosted for Spring. 

Reviewer’s Notes:

ProjectsbyJen is offerered at no charge to classrooms around the world.  However, to subsidize website expenses, I do offer a monthly newsletter, Wordle Packets can also be found at http://www.projectsbyjen.com/, along with  a book entitled “35 Tech Tips for Teachers”. 

Scholastic Math and Reading Inventory

Loversky 2Reviewer: Tim Loversky

Position: Principal

District/School:  Lakewood School, Community Unit School District #300, Carpentersville, IL

Number of Students in District/School: 19,700/780

Products: Scholastic's Read 180 Next Generation, System 44, Read About, Expert 21, Fastt Math, Fraction Nation, SMI, SRI

Reviewer's Note: We never rely on one piece of data. Along with the data from the SMI and SRI, our teachers use a variety of other resources to know where our students are. But we have found that the data we get is usually right on target.


As a Title I school, Technology helps our students access information, helps them to be creative, SMI Screen_Student2inquisitive, and knowledgeable.  It also helps our students learn to read, and build math skills. The Scholastic Math Inventory (SMI) and Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) help our staff and students to understand the progress they are making in math and reading.


A couple of years ago, our staff resisted looking at data; now they are highly involved in the data—they own it. Our district leadership, especially our Superintendent, CFO, CTO and Director of Grants, has been outstandingly supportive in increasing the technological tools that we give to our staff and students. The Board of Education and our community are committed to giving students the technology resources necessary to succeed.

Learning Curve:

SMI and SRI are easy to use. Students hop on computers, logs in, and do the short assessments.  We initially struggled with how we use the data. With some clear guidance from Scholastic, along with some data analysis helped us figure it out. 

How We Use It:

Every student in our school takes the SMI and SRI. If a new student comes in, we use those assessments to place that student in the right intervention class. We also use the data to look at classroom progress, determine growth targets, and differentiate. We even use the SRI Lexile data to help guide students towards choosing books that are at an appropriate level.

Reviewer's Notes: A couple of years ago, our staff resisted looking at data; they tended to rely on “gut instinct”. Today, we still rely on our instincts, but we follow that by “prove it”. The teachers at Lakewood School now are highly involved in the data- they own it! When they talk with me about student achievement, they don’t “think”- they “know”.

For example, teachers know that there are 3 students who have seen little gain in the SRI. They know that they have a group of 5th graders at 490 Quantile and still need work on the basics of understanding fractions. 

What’s Ahead?:

Each year we understand a little more about the SRI and SMI. When we look back at SRI history and at students using Read 180, we see record of  sometimes more than a year’s student growth. We still need to deepen our understanding of the SMI and the Quantile Framework, which is a newer component for us.

Exploring The Sketchpad App: Karen Blumberg

Key Karen Reviewer: Karen Blumberg

Position Held: Technology Integrator

District/School: The School at Columbia University is an independent school on the Upper West Side of New York City.

Number of Students in School: 500 students in grades K-8

Product: Sketchpad Explorer app from Key Curriculum Press


I have been a huge fan of The Geometer's Sketchpad for years (since I was introduced to it in 1994!), and I believe it is one of the best educational tools out there. Therefore, I was incredibly excited when I learned about the release of Sketchpad Explorer. I will be supporting the 5th grade team as they incorporate the Sketchpad Explorer app and the Dynamic Number Project  into their math curriculum this year. We're looking to fully engage the students and encourage them to hypothesize, investigate, understand, and share mathematical principles.


The School at Columbia University has a 1:1 iPad program in grades K-2 and a 1:1 laptop program in grades 3-8. Our website reinforces the four pillars of our school community: Innovation, Collaboration, Diversity, and Technology. Hence, our administration, parents, faculty, and students support our efforts to fully explore ways to integrate technology. My personal goal is to teach my students how to use technology academically, respectfully, and responsibly. 

Learning Curve:

After opening Sketchpad Explorer on the iPad, teachers and students are able to quickly navigate through a variety of mathematical investigations. Within seconds, students can adeptly explore and interact and make sense of mathematical concepts. 

How We Use It:

In addition to capitalizing on our students' enthusiasm and willingness to embrace technology as a learning and collaboration tool, the teachers and I are planning lessons and activities to integrate Sketchpad Explorer into the 5th grade geometric and algebraic curriculum. Also, there is a robust online community sharing ideas and lesson plans at the Sketch Exchange!

What’s Ahead?:

We are excited to use this year to examine how Sketchpad Explorer may engage, empower, and educate our students. I am hoping we can eventually build an in-house repository of homemade sketches for our students to use as a resource archive...sort of like our own version of a Khan Academy

FINDing Classworks: Cynthia Bridges, Tech Coordinator

C. Bridges Photo

Reviewer: Cynthia Bridges

Position: Technology coordinator

District: N. Pekin/Marquette Heights District #102, Marquette Heights, IL

Number of Students: 600 students

Products: Classworks FIND and Classworks by Curriculum Advantage


We implemented the Classworks FIND assessment system in fall 2010 in grades 2-8, after using the Classworks instructional software for years. Our goals were to measure students’ mastery of grade-level standards, differentiate instruction to meet each student’s needs, and impro


ve student performance on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).


Our teachers liked the FIND Benchmark Assessments. Reading was right on target with the state content for each grade. We found the math content was more advanced—about half a year ahead of our standards—so we adjusted students’ individualized lesson plans accordingly. Teachers appreciated that the assessment reports organized each student’s results by strand, so they knew exactly which areas to address. They also liked that students’ performance on the Benchmark Assessments showed a direct correlation to their performance on the ISAT.

Learning Curve:  

We had Curriculum Advantage come to our district for two training sessions. We conducted the trainings in small groups, which worked very well. Then I did one-on-one training with teachers, as needed, which allowed them to proceed at their own rate. We’re now ready to dive into the more advanced features of the system and create our own assessments.

How We Use It:  

In the fall, we administered the Benchmark Assessments to all students in grades 2-8 to gauge their mastery of grade-level standards. A key benefit of Classworks FIND is that it automatically linked the assessment results to targeted instructional activities in the Classworks instructional software, creating an individualized learning plan for each student. For teachers, this was a great classroom management tool since they could assign activities to review concepts that had already been taught, and turn off lessons that wouldn’t be covered until later in the year. In the spring, we administered the Benchmark Assessments again to measure students’ growth.

We also used the FIND assessments in our Response to Intervention (RtI) program. As students progressed throughout the year, we administered the Skills Snapshot probes to assess students skill by skill, and used the results to make decisions about instruction to address their needs.

What’s Ahead?:  

This year, we plan to use Classworks FIND for more in-depth progress monitoring in our RtI program. We will also give our Tier 2 students a second round of Benchmark Assessments that will be one grade below their grade level. The results will show us what skills they did not master from the year before and help us create their RtI plans.

In addition, since Classworks is aligned to the Common Core State Standards as well as our state standards, we plan to use it as a cornerstone for our migration from ISAT testing to Common Core testing. This will put us ahead of many Illinois school districts.

Reviewer’s Notes: 

We are currently reviewing our 2011 state test scores and are seeing improvements. In the fourth grade, which concentrated on math, 96.8 percent of our students met or exceeded the standards in math on the ISAT. In the third grade, which focused on reading, 91.8 percent of students met or exceeded the standards in reading. Our teachers felt that the assessments helped them plan their ISAT prep for all levels in their classroom. They also felt that the lessons in Classworks supported what they did in the classroom.

It’s important to note that we also interact with students quite a bit as they work on the Classworks instruction and assessment systems. The individualization we are able to provide complements the Classworks systems well. Our computer lab has turned into a differentiated learning dream.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Best in Tech Today are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.