Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Dynamic Duo of Apps

I am often asked, "What are your favorite apps?"  I have a love/hate relationship with this question.  There isn't a set list that I refer to as my favorites because each app targets a skill very different from the next.  After giving this explanation I usually get, "Well...what is your favorite autism app?" Again...we need to think about a specific skill/task/area of need before we can make a decision about an app that might be a good fit for a student.  However, I really do love sharing apps that have worked well for teachers and students.  It's through other's suggestions based on their experiences that I have been able to find and fall in love with apps.  So with that being said, I am going to break my own rule and throw out two of my favorite apps of all time for special education classrooms.

There's a method to my madness with choosing these two apps.  Money is tight in any school district; as Assistive Technology Coordinator for a large school district, I need to think wisely about app purchases and how they can be used by all students in our classrooms.  If I could only choose two apps to go on our special education classroom devices, these would be the two I would choose.

Choiceworks, from Bee Visual LLC
There are many visual schedule apps on the market today.  I've purchased several and this app almost always is the student and teacher preferred choice.  I often hear teachers say, "Oh, I meant to make a visual schedule for that. I haven't gotten around to it yet."  I get it- it's a time consuming process to create the visuals, print, laminate, Velcro, and teach the schedule to a student.  Choiceworks, along with other visual schedule apps, takes a lot of that work off your plate.  With a built-in symbol library and the option to take your own photos and import into their library, it is fairly easy for teachers to create a visual schedule on the fly and makes it very personalized and meaningful to the student.  What sets Choiceworks apart is its included supports of "Waiting" boards, social narrative books, and "Feelings" boards.  It also offers the ability to add a timer to each task within a schedule.  It has text-to-speech, so the schedule can be read back to a student by the click of a button.  It's an app that works for all students.  It's an app that is adult-friendly.  And I love how you can save and share schedules you have created with others!  I've created some cheat sheets for the app to help newbies quickly create a schedule and learn the nuances of the app.
You can access those cheat sheets through this link to Google Docs:  Choiceworks App Cheat Sheets
To learn more about Choiceworks, visit their website here:

Book Creator for iPad, from Red Jumper Studio
Last year I set out on a mission to find a "productivity" app that would fit the needs of all students and offer teachers a plethora of options as to how it could be used within instruction.  The answer was Book Creator.  Lots of apps do some of the same things that Book Creator does (and sometimes for a much cheaper price.) However, I haven't found one yet with the combination of features that Book Creator has to offer.
Book Creator is an app that allows you to create your own book.
But by adding text, audio, video, drawings and importing pictures to each page, this mega app can be used for so much more than simply creating a book.  The speech language pathologists of my school district are using it to create social narratives, video modeling supports, and books that target Common Core.  It's a great way to adapt assessments for students who are non-verbal and face fine motor challenges with writing (teachers can create a version of the assessment where a student would read or listen to a question and then respond by activating a visual multiple choice selection layered with audio.)
 We can easily share these books through a shared Google Docs folder.  Whenever a teacher creates something they think others could benefit from, they simply send their "book" from within the app into their Google Drive app, into a shared Google Docs folder. Then all therapists and teachers can open
 it from their Google Drive app into iBooks and access the book as well.  The app also allows you to submit your creations to iBookstore.
Book Creator offers wonderful support with tutorials on how to work the app.  You can view those tutorials here: Book Creator Tutorials
Learn more about the app here:

Choiceworks and Book Creator can be used to support one student or a whole class.  They can be used throughout the entire school day, no matter what the activity.
We all wish we could have access to a million apps to fit every activity/task we are conducting in our classroom. But in a world were budgets only allow for a few choices, these are the two apps I would choose.  I am seeing first hand how students are benefiting from them.  I see how happy they are to interact with their visual schedule; how writing a book is much more pleasurable experience when they can take photos, add text and record their voices all on one place to create that book.  I see teachers who are relieved that making a picture schedule will not take a whole prep period (and can't get destroyed/lost/thrown away later in the week.) I see teachers creating lessons that bring accessibility to all students.
 Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

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