Saturday, October 26, 2013

Portable Word Processor- The Forte

One of my favorite assistive technology tools to use with students who have difficulty with writing tasks is a portable word processor. There's a fairly new product on the market called Forte.  After testing it out over the last two weeks, I think it will quickly become one of my favorite portable word processing solutions.


The Basics
It's pretty simple:  the Forte is a portable word processor featuring a text screen and keyboard.  It comes with some key features which provide wonderful writing support to students.  It's extremely light weight and compact which makes it easy to transport.  (The device is comparable in size to an iPad.)  It runs on a factory installed rechargeable battery, so just plug it into an outlet to charge.

Transferring documents off of the Forte for printing is a fairly simple and fluid process- transfer to a USB flash drive or transfer directly to a computer through a provided USB cord. Consumers can choose among different packages when purchasing a Forte, depending on the features/tool supports they need included on the device.  The most expensive package will run just a touch under $250 per unit (price goes down when buying in bulk.)  But for $250 you get a whole lot of features and supports to play around with- so let's take a look at some of those features that make me drool...                          
      
User Writing Supports
The basics- Includes spell check, adjustable font and text display, thesaurus, translation and dictionary tool. Create files and folders and never worry about losing your work...it's automatically saved on the device each time you close a file.

Word Prediction- customize the size of your word prediction list and simply select and enter a word from the list that you would like added to the document.

Text to Speech capabilities- depending on your package, use head phones to access audio or use the external speaker built into the device.

Calendar- forget that assignment notebook and use this built-in calendar tool.  Includes automatic reminders and alerts for upcoming events.

Spell It- Teachers can import spelling lists and students can use this tool to quiz themselves through ten interactive exercises, including a final spelling test.

Math Facts- ten math activities that focus on timed exercises regarding math facts.  Includes automatic tracking and monitoring.

Writing Prompts- Comes with several built-in writing prompts to get ideas flowing for writing.  It also provides different editing checklists, tips and reminders on how to improve a piece of writing. One of my favorite features is the Score button.  This provides students with a grade-level estimated score on their writing and writing stats.  Students can quickly assess their writing score and continue to edit and add to their document to improve the score.

Keyboard Instruction- includes Perfect Form, a tutorial for appropriate keyboarding form and drills.

Split Screen with vocabulary lists- I really love this feature! Targeted vocabulary can be added to the Forte. Students then can go into Split Screen mode, which will display their vocabulary list and check off the words used within their document.

The Bottom Line
This tool is easy for students to physically manage, quickly allows staff and students to be trained on how to operate, provides several tools and supports for writing, and has an age-appropriate appearance that won't make students feel like they stick out like a sore thumb in the classroom.  It has all the supports needed for students who struggle with organization, fine motor issues, and expressive writing difficulty.  Forget the mouse...no need for one when all editing options are accessible through the keyboarding buttons. It's a more affordable option than purchasing a tablet if you are just looking for a writing support system.

Last but certainly not least, you can't beat the customer service that Advanced Keyboard Technologies, Inc. provides.  Whenever I have a question or need some quick trouble-shooting support related to their products, I typically get a response within a few hours.  That's pretty hard to come by in this day of age.

For more information regarding Forte Writers, check out http://www.writerlearning.com/
Home screen display






Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pairing a Blue2 Bluetooth Dual Pedal Switch with iOS7

If you're like me, you need some step-by-step directions (with visuals!) to help navigate through the process of pairing your Bluetooth switch with the new iOS.  Below are step-by-step directions to help you through the process if you are using a Blue2 Dual Pedal switch.  You can also access these directions as a PDF through Google Docs here: Pairing a Blue2 Bluetooth Dual Pedal Switch with iOS7

For more information regarding switch access and the iPad, check out Jane Farrall's Consulting Blog: How Do I Pair A Switch with an iPad



Directions for Pairing:
Go to the Settings App

Select the Bluetooth tab; turn Bluetooth On (You will see your iPad “Searching” under DEVICES)

On your Blue2 dual switch device, turn power ON

You will now see Dual Pedal show up under DEVICES.  It will say “Not Paired” (See picture below)

Tap on top of Dual Pedal.  You will see a Bluetooth Pairing Request box pop up with a four digit code, which needs to be entered in order to pair your Dual Pedal







































Use the numbered keys on the Blue2 to enter in the code.  The numbers are very small and hard to see…also there are only 5 keys to choose from.  If you look closely, you will see that each key has two numbers assigned to it…1-5 and 6-0. (Refer to picture below.)



















In order to use these keys to enter the four digit code, directly select the key for numbers 1-5 or hold the Shift pedal and select the key when entering numbers 6-0.  After you have typed in your four digit code, select the Enter pedal.

You should now see the iPad notify you that your device is “Connected” (see image below)


Click on the General Tab within the Settings App

Select Accessibility

Underneath Physical and Motor, select Switch Control






































Turn Switch Control ON

Select “Switches”; select blue2

Choose your switch actions.  Scanner will activate your Shift pedal.  System will activate your Enter pedal.


Within the Switch Control menu, there are several items you can customize and turn on/off.  Make sure you take a look at all of your options in order to fully optimize your switch experience.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tools That Support Social Skills

This week I've been investigating how technology can help support teaching social skills.  I've used these tools before for various instructional purposes but I really love how they can be used to support students tackling social challenges in the school setting.                                                           

The Power Card Tool
Power Cards involve incorporating a highly preferred subject and using it to make a connection to the social skill you are targeting with your student.  For more information on how to create Power Cards and the research behind their effectiveness, check out the links below:
Using the Power Card Strategy
The Power Card Strategy

I love using the Trading Card Creator from www.readwritethink.org for creating Power Cards. It's free, super quick, and easy for a student to   participate in the process. ReadWriteThink has several interactive tools that are great to use in the   classroom, so make sure to explore the other tools on the website if you get a chance!
The Comic Strip Tool
Allowing a student to help develop a comic strip to sort through social situations and feelings is another fun way to collaborate on problem solving skills.  For more information, take a look at the following link:  Comic Strips and Social Skills
There are certainly a plethora of comic creator tools available on the web and in app form...and I've tried several.  The Story Me App (available to iPads running on iOS 6.0 or higher) is by far the most user-friendly, time efficient tool I've found.  And it's free!
The Multi-Media Social Narratives Tool
I love using multi-media displays with students because it provides audio and visual cues.  ProShow (available on iDevices and online) provides three different account options depending on your needs.  This tool allows you to upload photos, video, text and music to create a slide show.  I use a variety of slide show apps but I always come back to this one- I love how I can access it on all my devices and the many options for sharing my creations.  For more information pertaining to social narratives, visit The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders.