Archive for July, 2013

I love when I come across a new resource that really opens my eyes to new possibilities and my mind is stimulated to greater heights of creativity. Such was the case when I was sitting next to a stranger this past summer at a professional development seminar. She happened to be carrying around with her a copy of a book called Tasks Galore. This is a book I highly recommend not only to intervention specialists, but to teachers in general. The book is chock full of creative, hands-on, manipulative based ideas and modified curriculum tasks. Better, most of the taks and projects in the book involve re-purposing and recycling stuff that might otherwise be wasted.

For this post, I have simply expanded on an idea (found on page 51 of the book) the authors called "Seven-piece jigsaw of familiar item." The authors simply took the front of a cereal box, jig-saw cut it (rounded pieces, etc.) and made a puzzle. I like the idea, but I also thought it needed some expansion. (One of the great things about the book is that it shows a picture of a task and its use is left open to interpretation.)

I have kept the basic idea of cutting up the front of a box–in this case, cereal, breakfast bars, or even the lamination product I use–and building a puzzle. The only real difference is that I prefer to cut my boxes into geometic shapes–triangles, trapezoids, etc.–instead of jigsaw shapes. Here is an example:

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Now, here is where I am going to build upon the general idea found in Tasks Galore. As important as seeing the parts of the whole and putting the whole back together is, I also want this project to be a little more useful for my older and more advanced students. So, I want them to be able to read and write about what they have just finished. Thus I developed a short paper for the students to work on after the puzzle has been completed. I have attached a file to this bog post that you can use or you can use it as a template for your own writing project. (You can find the link below.)

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The puzzles can be as simple or as complex as you like them to be. When I'm using a smaller box, I tend to make the puzzle simpler. When I'm using a larger box-front I make the puzzle more complex.

I am grateful for Tasks Galore for the idea– because it is a great idea and I will be using this as a writing task for my students. As you can tell, this also serves a vital functional task as the students are learning about products they may need one day in their life. (I included a question on the question sheet that requires the student to use the internet in order to discover the price of the product.)  I believe the only limit to this game is the amount of box-fronts you can collect, cut, and laminate. Yes, even though the box-front is typically cardboard, it is still likely to be destroyed quickly. I go ahead and laminate the pieces so that I can get more than one use out of the puzzle.

It is also serving the function of strengthening your student's fine motor skills–occupational therapy which many of our special education students participate in daily.

As you can see this is yet another way to re-purpose things that might otherwise just be discarded into a landfill. Cardboard is highly recyclable and when the laminate is added, it lasts even longer.

You can use this link Tasks Galore to access the Tasks Galore Task of the Month. You can download the question sheet here: Download Box fronts writing.

Feel free to share your ideas about the writing project that goes along with this task. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


I am a special education teacher. It's a calling I heard late in life so I am only now, at the age of 43, learning the joys of creating curriculum and finding ways to recycle stuff that others think is junk. I love what I do: I get the educate those who have the most powerful and fragile minds all in the same body.

This means I have to be creative and energetic. I have to think as I have never thought before; quickly and while on the move. There is no time for the special education teacher to sit in his chair behind his desk. (Frankly, there's not much time for any teacher to do so, but that's another post entirely.) Worse, now that the so-called Affordable Health Care Act is beginning to affect even schools, teachers are going to be faced with less help from aids, paraprofessionals, and others in the school building. We are going to have to be creative and we are going to have to find ways to use, reuse, and recycle stuff.

So I had an old shoebox. And last year someone gave me a giant bag full of brand-new, empty, unlabeled prescription pill bottles. I knew I could use them for something, but what? Then it came to me about a week and a half ago. Below you will find several pictures of the new creation I have built for ordering numbers and also developing fine and gross motor skills for students with developmental disabilities.

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My first incarnation of this game involved the use of a $6 fishing tackle box from the local Wal Mart. The box is about 1.5 to 2 inches deep and the dividers are easily moved to accomdate different configurations and/or amounts of pill containers.

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I thought the number 24 would be a bit random, so I stopped at the number 20 (you can still use the other four spaces or simply remove the dividers to create a definitive stopping place). This easily fits into the domain: mathematics: operations and algebraic thinking; counting and cardinality (common core/extended standards) in the K-2 grade band.

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The numbers I got at a yard sale a long time ago, the pill bottles were free, and the tackle box cost $6. But I was not entirely satisfied. This version of the task does require some fine-motor skills, believe me it is not as easy as it looks to get those bottles standing straight or putting in more bottles without knocking others over, but I was hopeful to do more with it. So I developed the next version of the task.


In this version, I have used an old shoe-box as a container for the pill bottles. The next picture gives a better idea:

1375281255524Using my X-acto knife, I carefully cut 20 holes in the lid of the shoe-box–just a little smaller than the diameter of the pill bottles. This intentionally limits the task to twenty numbers. The difference here is that students will have to exert effort in order for the pill bottles to fit into the holes. Furthermore, the shoe-box was deep enough for the pill bottles to fit all the way to the bottom. You can see this in the picture below.

1375281265759This is a simple task at some levels. And, to be sure, after a while the holes will have to be re-cut in another shoe-box or reinforced in some way or other. Furthermore, after a while the students may well memorize the order of the numbers–GOOD!–and the job/task may become a little dated. Still, we can always use this job for skip counting, filling in the missing number, or we can add new numbers for higher counting. The best part, though, might be that we have done a small part to keep usable resources out of the local landfills.

I have field-tested this task and it works well with students who have an ASD.

PS–one other alternative use for this task is that the lids could be removed and the student could be asked to put into the containers the amount of objects to match the number on top. One could use small objects like paper clips or even Skittles.

My latest post at Reality101 deals with the important issue of Data collection and use. You can read the post by following the link below or by following the Twitter link in the feed to the right. Here is an excerpt:

I love what I do. I love seeing ‘my’ kids, I love when they
pass a spelling test on the first try, I love seeing them make a discovery on
their own, I love when the light clicks on in their mind, and I love when a
student with an ASD looks me in the eye first thing in the morning and says
‘hello!’ What’s more is that every single one of these events is a mine full of
data and evidence that I can use to make important academic and/or behavioral
decisions for the student.

Become One with the Data

Enjoy the post.

I am currently tutoring a student who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The student is a participant in the Autism Scholarship Program which means that he is educated at home by a professional. I work with the family to provide helpful tools they can use, I work with the student on academic and behavioral skills, write curriculum and also provide guidance on achieving IEP objectives. It is truly a worthwhile effort that I enjoy immensely.

There are times, however, when we encounter small problems. One such example is what some call 'circle time' and others call 'calendar time.' It's that time of the day when teachers engage the students in learning the days of the week, months of the year, and other such fun things. Well, when there is only one student, circle time can be rather boring; nevertheless, I did not want my student to miss out on this opportunity. So I had to develop a way to teach the various circle time elements in a one on one situation to a student with an ASD.

Out of this was born the Traveling Circle Time. Here's a picture:

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As you can see in this picture, there are many elements included in this miniature version of Circle Time. Some of the elements are traditional–for example, today is, yesterday was; the add-the-number-of-the-day calendar in the center; today's weather is; and so on. Other elements are specific to our environment. One on one, we can talk about nouns, verbs, synonyms, antonyms, specific numbers and letters. Also included is a student specific category for 'how I [the student] am feeling today.' Here's another view:

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Most of the elements included on the Traveling Circle Time board were produced from Boardmaker(R). It is super easy to make them, and they can be designed any way you like. I used simple, clear shapes and provided plenty of space for my student to place the 'buttons.' The buttons are incredibly easy to make using the Boardmaker(R) software (which I swear by). The various elements are simply created, printed, and glued to the tri-fold board using Elmer's Craft Bond Rubber Cement. I did not laminate the elements because they wouldn't stick as well to the board. After gluing them down, simply apply your sticky-back Velcro(R) (or another hook and loop product) in the appropriate space.

After the board is prepared, make your butttons. I did laminate the buttons because they will get a lot of use and you don't want to have to remake them every other day. In a later post, I will show you the container I use to keep all of my prepared buttons in for easy access.

The cost on this item is a little higher than I would normally like, and did not involve any recycling at all, but in the end it is worth. Boardmaker(R) is provided by my district. I prefer Scotch brand thermal laminating sheets and my trusty Scotch desktop laminator. A couple of the items (days of the week; months of the year) were found on a couple of free websites (I regret I don't recall to give them props). And the tri-fold board is $2-$3 depending upon where you buy it.

This is an excellent tool you can use to provide individualize calendar time to your students. Maybe you can even find a way to work this into your classroom setting, but at least it is useful for one on one contact. I'm actually going to build another one for other tutoring sessions and students, but it will most certainly have other elements included. 2013-06-27 22.32.32

Enjoy the Traveling Circle Time. Let me know if you have other ideas for improving this task.Good luck, and enjoy!

PS-The Traveling Circle Time probably looks very dull and un-colorful. That is intentional. The students I work with are easily distracted so I limit the amount of extra-curricular decorations which only aid and abet their distractability. I keep it to the point intentionally.

Building Tasks: Recycling Old Stuff

Without doubt, one of the best aspects of being a teacher is
that we get to make tasks (or games, or jobs, or modified curriculum). I love
making up ways for my students to learn how to tell time without them having to
actually stare at a clock (for example). Modifying curriculum is a way for
teachers to express creativity, differentiate learning strategies, and
encourage students to become lifelong learners.

Some of my best friends are my small, portable laminator,
Velcro, and file folders. And I go through a lot of it. In this first post I
would like to share with you a fun project I built this past week that is
designed to be both a recycled project and a hands-on (if not occupationally
therapeutic) for the students in my class.

The supplies needed are few: at least 6 (six) empty Lays Stax cans; one shoebox; as many different colors of construction paper as you have Stax cans; tape (shipping tape works best because it is wider); and another large section of colorful paper or tacky paper to cover the shoe box. (*You can use Pringles cans if you like. I prefer the Stax cans because they are plastic and, thus, more durable. They are also easier to clean.) Below is a picture.

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The steps to creation are even simpler.

    1. Cut as many holes in the shoe box as Stax cans you will use.

    2. Cover the shoe box with tacky paper or construction paper. It really doesn't matter if the entire box is covered or not.

    3. Cover the Stax cans (after cleaning them) on the outside with a variety of colors of construction paper. For my model, I have chosen six basic colors.

    4. After the Stax cans are covered, simply insert them into the holes in the shoe box.

Voila! The project is finished. It took me between 30 and 45 minutes from start to finish. The best part is the I was able to keep six Stax cans and a shoe box out of a local landfill. It does not sound like much, but it is a start.

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What can you do with this contraption? Well, you can use it for sorting: sort colors for starters. Use small colored blocks or counting bears. You can cut shapes in the lids and have the students sort shapes. You can put numbers on the lids and have the students place that amount of objects in the cans. You could pre-fill the canisters with objects and have the students remove the lids and count the objects. On another day, you could remove the lids and have the students toss ping pong balls into the canisters and earn points which they will have to add together.

This is a simply task that has as many applications as you can imagine. I have purposely left my first iteration of this project open so as not to limit what I can do with it. Stax cans are simple wonderful. I have also created a game I call "Subtraction Bowling" using Stax cans. That is always a great day in class. Good luck.

Welcome to my blog. While I am in the process of getting everything set up and running, you can check out some of my previous posts from the Council for Exceptional Children's blog for new teachers Reality101. My most recent post concerns IEP writing: Our Most Critical Work. Thanks for stopping by and look forward to more posts about special education, teaching, and education in general.