Thursday, February 25, 2010

CAST - Learning Tools

The goal of any accommodation is to make curriculum accessible to ALL students. Flexibility of materials and modalities is a core component necessary to reach this goal.

CAST (Founded in 1984 as the Center for Applied Specialized Technology) provides a wealth of information related to Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

According to their website:

"CAST's Mission: To expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning."

Universal Design for Learning is an educational approach with three primary principles :

  1. Multiple means of representation, to give diverse learners options for acquiring information and knowledge,
  2. Multiple means of action and expression, to provide learners options for demonstrating what they know,
  3. Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation
To achieve that Mission, CAST has a wide array of FREE Learning Tools available on their website to support educators, students and families. Check it out here

The latest tool available is CAST Science Writer, which is a free "web based writing tool that supports all students in the science report writing process."

Visit the Learning Tools page for all the CAST tools - here are a couple highlights (and my personal favorites!):

UDL Book Builder - promotes literacy for all students by enabling anyone to create a digital book to support reading.

UDL on line modules - these 2 modules introduce the principles and applications of UDL. Great resource to share with anyone not familiar with UDL.

Visit their website and explore - there is something there for everyone!

Have a good experience with one of the CAST tools?

Share it with us by leaving a comment below.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Web 2.0 Wednesday! Zamzar

Did you ever find a video online that you would love to download to your computer but don't know how to get it? Do you want to use a educational video from You Tube (yeah, there are some of those!) in the classroom but the school firewall is blocking it?

Well, look no further than Zamzar -

This on line video capture tool allows you to insert any URL and capture that video in any format you want (.avi, .mpg, .mov, ipod) The video clip is converted and when it is complete, you receive an email with a link to download the video. Once your file is converted, you only have 24 hours to download it.

The free accounts can convert up to 100 MB of files per day, per email account. (For extra file conversions, try using multiple email addresses!)

Check this one out - it is one of my favorites! Have you used other file conversion websites? Leave a comment and let us know.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Think Beyond the Label

I have been involved in many discussions regarding transition during the past few weeks. Typically it was regarding an individual with a disability transitioning from high school to life after high school, specifically the work force.

This website was forwarded to me, Thinking Beyond the Label. I thought it had some useful information regarding individuals with disabilities in the work force.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Web 2.0 Wednesday! Read The Words

This week we will be looking at a website that can provide text to speech support to any struggling student.

Read the Words -

Once you create your free login, you are able to copy and paste any text into the web page. After pasting your text, click the "Create Audio File" button and the website will convert your text into speech. You will receive an email once your file is finished and you can download it to your computer or embed it in a webpage. This mp3 file can then be used to support any struggling reader. There are options to change the voice and adjust the speed of the reading. Try it out and see if this support is beneficial for your students. Have you used it? Tell us about it by posting a comment.

Do you want to hear what the file sounds like? Click below to listen to this blog post.

Stimulus Funds - Mid Term Report + Presentation

Federal Stimulus Money - A Mid Term Report

Education Week has a really nice collection of resources about the Stimulus Funds located on their website.

According to the website:
"As the first year of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ends and the second year begins, Education Week takes a close look at the impact education stimulus dollars have had and sheds light on what the next year will bring."

In addition, for anyone who lives in NJ, NJCART (New Jersey Coalition for the Advancement of Assistive and Rehabilitation Technology) will spotlight this issue at their next meeting.

Here are the details:

Join us for our February meeting!

Federal Stimulus Funding for AT in Schools

Featuring a Panel Discussion
Hosted by the Middletown Township Public Schools
February 23, 2010, 1:00 - 4:00 pm

Learn about some of the Assistive Technology products and services that other New Jersey schools are purchasing with Federal Stimulus funds, and get more information for making decisions about AT that can help your students achieve their goals.


The Bayshore Middle School
834 Leonardville Road
Leonardo, NJ

RSVP Now for our February Meeting!
Email Mike at

Friday, February 12, 2010

Eye Strain and E-Readers

With E-Readers becoming more prevalent, people have voiced concerns about an increase in eye strain. Have you ever experienced eye fatigue when using a computer all day? But what about the e-ink displays on the electronic readers?

Now, there is some research that says there is no increase in eye strain from these electronic devices.

According to an article in today's New York Times Technology section, entitled "Do E-Readers Cause Eye Strain":

“Most of what our mothers told us about our eyes was wrong,” said Dr. Travis Meredith, chair of the ophthalmology department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “Sitting close to a television, or computer screen, isn’t bad for our eyes. It’s a variety of other factors that can cause physical fatigue.”

Check out the entire article here.

What do you think? Comment below.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Web 2.0 Wednesday! Jing

This week's Web 2.0 Wednesday post will focus on a free screen capture tool called Jing.

Check out the website @

I know we have all used the "Print Screen" key on the keyboard to capture a picture of our computer screen. While this method is functional, it does require pasting the screen capture into another program (usually Microsoft Paint) and then performing some editing.

Once you download Jing, which is available for either Windows or MAC, you can instantly capture any action on your screen as either a snapshot or a video.

Pictures are saved as a .PNG file format. Then you can use that file to post to the web, email, use in a presentation, or basically anything else you can think of!

Have you used Jing? If you have, tell us about it by leaving a comment.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Academic Version of Dragon Naturally Speaking Saves $$

I often recommend Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred to college students I work with who have challenges in the area writing. It has been an extremely helpful tool for students with physical disabilities that have difficulty accessing the keyboard to type efficiently. With Dragon, they are often able to complete those long, college papers with greater speed and less fatigue. For students with learning disabilities that affect their ability to get their thoughts onto paper or have spelling challenges, Dragon has also proved to be very useful. While it is definitely not the solution for everyone, for many college students, it is an invaluable tool.

I recently discovered an academic version of Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred offered on websites such as Staples or This version comes with a significant savings as compared to the typical version of Dragon Naturally Speaking Preferred. The Academic version ranges from $50--$80, while the typical Preferred version ranges from $115-$200.

To be eligible to use this academic version, you need to provide verification that you are a student, faculty, or staff of an accredited higher education institution or a public or private primary or secondary school. You can not get the product activation code without submitting proof of this. From reading a handful of reviews on, it seems that some feel this process has been somewhat tricky to navigate, although others felt it was very easy. There is detailed information on this process provided at: .

I haven’t had the opportunity to personally test this out with a student as of yet, but I plan to do so as soon as the opportunity arises.

Spell Checking Tools for Phonetic Spellers and Individuals with Dyslexia

When it comes to spelling there are individuals that are great spellers. For individuals like myself, I need all the help and support I can get. I am a phonetic speller. I have a vast database of words that I have learned to spell and correct from visually seeing the words corrected. I can pick a word from a list of words that are spelled correctly; however, there are times that I will confuse words. There are times that I spell a word correctly and it is not what I intended. I would rank myself as a fair speller that has learned that there are resources to support my lack of infinite vocabulary that I can spell. I know I am not alone in the world of less than stellar spellers but there is help out there.

Ginger software is the new tool on the market that supports struggling spellers like myself. It was first available in BETA then rolled out a complete working version this year. The software corrects spelling within context. For a struggling speller the English language has words that are regularly confused with each other. “Their” is a possessive meaning to belong. “There” is a place. Then you are the contraction “they’re” for they are. The English language is a challenge for students that struggle with writing. Ginger steps in and gives the student a helping hand in correcting word usage. It also comes with a grammar checker. If spelling were a person’s nightmare, the bully would be grammar. MS Word 2007 does a nice job at supporting minor grammar concerns. However, you need to know and understand what is being suggested to make corrections. Ginger software corrects full sentence instead of individual words. Instead of a snap shot of it gives a full picture of the students writing. The software also has text to speech built in. For a student that just needs that extra support for editing his or her own work or to listen to a-text without leaving the comfort of MS Word. For educators that monitoring their students’ progress in written expression, Ginger comes with a progress report. This allows everyone to see how the student is making progress in their writing with supports. You can download a trial of the software at . I often go to the website to load up a sentence that I need support with to their “try online”. It gives me the support that I am looking for without having all the bells and whistles of the software. Ginger Software has two options available for purchase: a monthly subscription for $5.90-$9.90 or a lifetime $79.20 to $119.20.

If you are looking for a free phonetic spell check tool, check out It was designed specifically for individuals with dyslexia. Ghotit has the same features as Ginger software. It corrects within context. The software does not correct grammar for ELL as well as Ginger software however; the spell check is in my opinion better. The feature that I like about Ghotit is that if Ghotit does not correct a misspelling the first time around, you send it through a second time and the software to generate another list of words. This is because the context of the writing has changed due to the corrections. As the context, changes so does the list of words that are offered. For a person that struggles with writing this can be a relief because I might escape the “try to spell it again”.

If you are using the web based Ghotit, you are limited to 999 characters. The plug in is currently in beta which attaches to the toolbar of MS WORD. The software has the added feature of text to speech and dictionary. The free online version does not have those available at this time. If you are a school, university or educational institutes the software will be FREE. All you have to do is give the software company your IP address. Then it can be installed on as many computers have as many users as you need. The individual only has to sign on with their log on and password for each computer. For home users the cost is $30.

Another of the features that Ghotit has that I like is that it links to Google images to give additional support to individuals. We know that not all words have pictures however, for images to appear for a word a student is trying to look up is helpful. Just a word of caution with images bewares of what may come up even for simple words like “was”.

I will have a more detailed review and comparison coming shortly.

Best Wishes,

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Web 2.0 Wednesday! Video Conference Tools

Starting today, we will share a new web 2.0 tool with you each Wednesday.These will be resources that we currently use – or something we just found out about and want to share with everyone.

In order to get us started with a bang – today we will look at 4 free video conferencing tools. Each of these tools will allow you to connect with people in remote locations - each tool is free but there is a limit to the number of people you can communicate with.

Skype –

  • Feature include: Software download, free 2 way video calls, file sharing option

ooVoo –

  • Features include: Software download, free 2-way video calls, Record and send 1 minute video messages, Create 1 video chat room to embed on a website, Send files up to 5MB at a time.

Palbee –

  • Features include: No Software download – all web based; free video conferencing with us to 5 participants, interactive on line “white board” for collaboration, sessions can be recorded and stored on-line

Tokbox –

  • Features include: no software download – all web based (this may be preferred for school personnel who are unable to download software), free for up to 20 people at a time!

Each of these tools is free so try them all. See which features work best for you and your situation.

If you have used any of these tools, or others, share your experiences with us! Add a comment to this post.