Monday, March 30, 2015

Time for Kids Magazine

As a classroom teacher I always found it a challenge to find rich non-fiction resources that were tailored to a younger reading level. I routinely found a divide between the complexity of the text and the quality of the content. This made finding resources for current events, science, and social studies lessons difficult. However, one resources that manages to blend exceptional content with varied reading levels is Time for Kids.

Time for Kids is a weekly news magazine created by Time magazine (that means you get a 52 week subscription!). There are specific magazines created for different grade clusters, and all the content is created with Common Core in mind. The writers behind Time for Kids not only provide you with a magazine but also create printable teacher guides and lesson plans associated with the articles to further help children explore the topics discussed. The availability of both print and digital editions make it truly accessible for children both at school and at home. The digital versions infuse high quality video to increase engagement, and a vocabulary building tool called Power Words which highlights novel terminology for students to master. Furthermore, the digital magazine has an integrated read-aloud function which allows even struggling readers to access the content. You can get an overview of the features of Time for Kids on this video. Both in print and digitally, it is an excellent resource for getting children to read non-fiction material on a variety of current topics.

Beyond giving students access to high quality non-fiction content, Time for Kids also has an online resource titled Homework Helper which further helps to build literacy skills. This resource is open and available without a subscription.   Model papers are available under their A+ Papers section to teach students how to craft everything from a traditional essay, to a biography, to new articles. The Grammar Wizard allows students to practice and hone their punctuation skills, while Flash Card Maker provides flash cards across curricular areas or the option to create your own deck for studying. In addition, Writing Tips stages out the writing process for writers, making it easier for struggling writers to follow the step-by-step process involved in crafting high quality discourse. If students need further assistance, the Writers Toolkit provides links to vetted websites providing a children’s dictionary, thesaurus and vocabulary assistance. Finally, Time for Kids is constantly partnering with other educational institutions to develop programs and curriculum to teach students everything from financial literacy to engaging in community service initiatives. Teachers and parents can explore the programs which feature lessons, games and activities on the TFK Extras section of the website.

Whether you are simply looking to amplify a child’s exposure to current events and non-fiction topics or develop their literacy skills, Time for Kids offers numerous tools to help achieve your goal. The best part is that kids will have fun doing it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Private School Parents: Don't Miss the Bus!

New York parents whose children will be attending private schools next September need to be mindful of the April 1st deadline for requesting free bus transportation for their student. Check with your school district for the form to file, but be sure to get it in within the next week. In fact, we missed the New Jersey deadline for bus requests, which was March 10th.  New Jersey parents who want to plan ahead for next year can look at the New Jersey Department of Education website dealing with bus transportation for details and forms. Wherever you live, make sure you are aware of the deadline in your state.

In New York, private school transportation is limited to schools within 15 miles from a student's residence. Other states have different limits, which are usually greater in areas where longer travel distances tend to be the norm.

As we have noted in past blogs, different rules apply to students who have IEPs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Where an IEP specifies that a student is to receive bus service, standard deadlines and distance requirements do not apply. However, there are general limits on distance (50 miles in New York State) which will only be waived in special circumstances.

Transportation is considered a "related service" in an IEP or a 504 Plan. Bus service is not automatically provided for students who receive services or accommodations under either of these two laws. The determination as to whether or what kind of bus service is needed depends upon the circumstances of each student. A student with a reading disorder who has an IEP and attends her local school will generally not need or receive bus services other than those provided to all students. A student with an orthopedic or visual disability will.

A student who will be attending a private special education school within 50 miles of his or her home is generally provided with door to door bus service whether or not the student has a physical or mental condition which might necessitate such transportation. Additional aspects of bus service, including whether there is a paraprofessional on the bus, or a one-on-one aide for a particular student, depend on the student's needs as set forth in their IEP.

Bus service for students with IEPs does not depend on whether the student was enrolled by his or her parents or whether the student was placed in a special education school by their district. But families should keep in mind that it is the district in which the school is located, rather than the district in which they reside, that is responsible for the IEP.  For parents who reside outside of New York City, for example, and who privately place their child in a special education school within the New York City limits, it is not the suburban district, but the New York City Department of Education that would develop an IEP to provide transportation.

Photo credit: redjar via flickr cc

Friday, March 20, 2015

What Happens to My Child's IEP When We Move?

Questions from Yellin Center families tend to come in bunches, and recently we have spoken to several families who are planning to move at the end of the school year and are concerned about what happens to their child's IEP in their new location.

The answer depends on where you are going. The simplest situation is when you are moving from one neighborhood to another in the same city or school district. Since IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) are created with a school district rather than an individual school, they are not affected when a student moves from one school to another within the district. For that same reason, students moving from an elementary to a middle school, or from a middle school to a high school, do not necessarily need a new IEP -- although changes in the school setting, like having multiple teachers or dealing with new and more difficult academic demands, may require a change in academic supports or accommodations.

When a family moves from one school district to another district within the same state, the IDEA provides that a student with an IEP shall receive " comparable to those described in the previously held IEP, in consultation with the parents until such time as the [new district] adopts the previously held IEP or develops, adopts, and implements a new IEP that is consistent with Federal and State law." [Sec. 614(d)(2)(C)(i)(I)].

So, when a student moves within the same state, the new district may utilize the IEP from the prior district or develop a new IEP. Note that no new evaluation is required; the new district can use the existing evaluation if it is still timely (less than three years old).

The rules are a bit different when the move is from one state to another. In that circumstance, the new district, in the new state, is required to provide the student with "services comparable to those described in the previously held IEP, in consultation with the parents until such time as the [new district] conducts an evaluation ..., if determined to be necessary by [the new district], and develops a new IEP, if appropriate, that is consistent with Federal and State law." [Sec. 614(d)(2)(C)(i)(II)]. Thus, a move to a new state should also trigger a new evaluation, although a full evaluation may not be required if a new evaluation had been begun before the move.

IDEA regulations require school districts to promptly exchange relevant records when a child changes school districts, subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Relevant records include existing evaluation data, and such an exchange of any relevant records can avoid duplicating previously conducted evaluations, and provides critical data to the new school district to ensure the timely completion of the evaluation.

For most students, a move to a new school district is not a common occurrence. Families can often plan their moves so that they happen during the summer, between terms. But for some highly mobile children, including those from military families, migrant children, children in the foster care system, and children who are homeless, moving from one school to another can happen often, and sometimes on short notice. In 2013 the U.S. Department of Education reached out to State Directors of Special Education to address the needs of such children and to make sure that their rights are honored during their transitions.

photo credit: TheMuuj via flickr CC

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bored? Count Your Blessings

Most adults have clear memories of feeling bored. Long-awaited summer vacations turned quickly into endless, hot days with "nothing to do." Waiting for a doctor's appointment meant staring at the wallpaper in the pediatrician's office for an eternity. Boredom, however, seems to be endangered these days. With ever-present electronics and more structured activities than ever before, both kids and adults enjoy near constant stimulation no matter where they are. And some research suggests that this could be stifling.

Many experts are finding a link between boredom and creativity; it shouldn't be surprising that there's a link between the two, if you think about it for a while. After all, how many of us have our best ideas during mundane undertakings like long drives, showers, or jogs? This tendency is being actively investigated by lots of academics; for example, take a 2013 study published in the Creativity Research Journal —yes, it's a thing. The control group was asked to list as many creative uses for a plastic cup as possible. The experimental group had the same task, but first they read for a while from a phone book. The readers tended to come up with more ideas, so the mind-numbing task was associated with more creative idea generation.

Some experts worry that young people's constant exposure to stimuli may be damaging. It makes perfect sense to bend over backwards to entertain kids, especially young ones, in some scenarios; airplane rides, toddlers, and iPads were meant to go together. But adults who hand over gadgets, schedule too many activities, or drop what they're doing to make suggestions are depriving kids of the chance to figure out how to creatively entertain themselves.

Of course kids, particularly teenagers, will likely chafe if parents allow boredom to descend too rapidly. We recommend starting slowly. Make a family rule that no gadgets are allowed during car rides, in lines, or in waiting rooms, for example. In these situations, ask questions that encourage kids to notice what and who is around them. Watching the world go by is a supremely entertaining and imaginative activity that never gets old if one watches with the right perspective. At home, help kids make a list of things they could do when they announce, "I'm bored!" Hang it on the fridge, and encourage them to consult and add to it.

Adults should keep in mind, though, that kids remember what they see much more readily than what they hear. If you're the type who pulls out a cell phone to kill the time it takes the elevator to ascend a few floors, you may need to embrace boredom yourself. Think of these little moments as luxurious opportunities to refresh your mind. Take a few deep breaths and concentrate on relaxing your shoulders and neck. Channel Sherlock Holmes and look around you carefully, noting small details. It's a win-win: Not only will you be providing a good example, but you'll end up feeling calmer and more serene. And maybe the perfect, creative solution to that nagging problem will present itself at last.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Extra Special Pi Day

This Saturday, March 14th, is Pi day. Pi, usually represented by the Greek letter π, is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.Why March 14th? Because the first  few digits of Pi are 3.14, or 3/14. This year, in 2015, we get to celebrate two extra digits, carrying Pi a bit further to 3.1415 and making this a special Pi day. While mathematicians using computers have calculated Pi to almost three trillion places, we're pretty happy with getting just a couple of extra places -- to 3/14/15.

Even better, Pi day falls on a Saturday, so mathematically minded kids and their parents can celebrate the day together. How? You can check out the Museum of Mathematics in New York City for their celebration. Or learn about Pi online. You can bake a pie or order a pizza and quickly check the ratio of its circumference to its diameter - before someone starts eating it. Who says math isn't fun?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Learning from the Gates Foundation

I have written about my interest in global citizenship in previous posts. So, when I recently was invited to attend the Gates Social with Anil Dash on digital technology and its ability to effect world change, I was, needless to say, ecstatic. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an organization I follow closely. They are effecting change across sectors both nationally and internationally. If you aren’t familiar with their work, I encourage you to explore their website, where you will find research, stories and detailed accounts of the projects being undertaken. Furthermore, the Gates Annual letter came out in January, and it is an excellent succinct overview of where the Gates Foundation hopes to be headed across industries in the coming 15 years.

As for the Gates Social, I had to brave a blizzard to attend the event, but I am so very glad I did. I left the day inspired and excited about the developments being made across sectors, and immensely thankful to have connected with other like minded, passionate attendees. My hope in the global progress being made was surely renewed. Furthermore, I came away with a deeper knowledge of mobile banking and the ability it has to empower the world’s poor and the innovations occurring in the agricultural industry. These are areas where my expertise isn’t robust, so I was thrilled to glean novel insights from both the speakers and the attendees.

However, education played a major role in the discussions of the day. Since this is my area of greatest interest and expertise and the area in which I am most invested, my biggest take away from the Gates Social was how mindful the Gates Foundation is being as they invest in and champion the shift from brick and mortar education to a more online, accessible and digital model of learning. 

During the event those in the room had a chance to dig into the Gates Annual letter, and ask the tough questions of Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the current CEO of the Gates Foundation. The Gates Letter concisely articulates the global shift toward digitizing education, and the variety of tools that have the power to transform the current state of the education sector. What excited me most was that the letter doesn’t shy away from advocating that this fundamental change will not and could not replace teachers. As a former teacher, I could not agree more. However, with my background in leading Ed Tech professional development for teachers and past research into tech Pro-d, this had me curious about how the Gates Foundation plans to support teachers in building their 21st century teaching skills so they are able to effectively integrate and utilize these new tools. I had the chance to ask Dr. Desmond-Hellmann this very question. Her response was as eloquent as it was detailed. Dr. Desmond-Hellmann began by affirming that teachers need to be at the heart of any change, and that the Gates Foundation was mindful of this fact. She went on to elaborate her experiences in the schools and what she has observed there. This excited me, as I am thankful to hear of policy makers spending their time getting into the field before they make key decisions. Dr. Desmond-Hellmann concluded by affirming that she is aware of the barriers in terms of teacher readiness and expertise when implementing new technology. This awareness is critical, because even without a formal teacher support plan, being mindful the hurdles in the implementation process is a good place to start crafting one. 

As I write this, I am aware that the role of the Gates Foundation in education and educational policy is not without its detractors. The Gates Foundation has put significant resources behind the implementation of Common Core standards nationwide, and these are the subject of much debate and controversy among parents, educators and administrators. Whatever your position on the implementation of the Common Core, I hope that the Foundation's work in educational technology can be appreciated for its positive impact for teachers and their students.

I am so thankful to have been invited to join the conversation at the first Gates Social hosted in New York City, and hope to be able to attend any future events held in our region. I am equally excited to watch as the Gates Foundation works out the vision they have laid out in their current Annual letter over the next 15 years. The last thing I leave you with also happens to be the conclusion of the Gates Annual letter, and that is their call for Global Citizens. The Gates Foundation is launching an initiative to gather like-minded passionate people and inform them of the headway being made in making our globe a more equitable place to live. So head over to the Gates Letter and register as a Global Citizen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Exploring Real Life with Minecraft

If you spend any time around young people, you've likely heard plenty about Minecraft, the video game that kids can't seem to get enough of. Although too much screen time is to be avoided, many parents don't mind Minecraft because it rewards creativity and critical thinking. Ty Hollett, a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, is working on a project that makes Minecraft even more virtuous. 

Hollett has created a "makerspace" called Studio NPL at the downtown Nashville Public Library. Using concepts from Minecraft, he is encouraging young people to re-envision a housing community in East Nashville. Hollett's clever program got us thinking about ways to take advantage of kids' obsession with Minecraft. We love the idea of using Minecraft to explore urban planning, but why stop there? Themes in the game can serve as a wonderful platform for introducing and exploring all kinds of other real-world topics. Creative teachers and parents will no doubt have plenty of their own ideas; here are a few of ours:

Cartography – In adventure mode, players can explore "maps" created by other players. Navigating around the map and exploring the virtual world is tremendous fun for young people. Kids will likely be more interested in drawing a map of their own Minecraft world than in looking at a map of Spain. Encourage them to draw lines of latitude and longitude and a compass rose to learn about coordinates and cardinal directions in a format that is personally meaningful to them. The geography of the real world will make much more sense in history class.

Architecture – Players are able to build anything they can imagine, so why not challenge them to re-create some famous structures? This is the perfect opportunity to discuss international landmarks. You can even get into physics by discussing how certain shapes, like the arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, lend themselves well to distributing force.

Internet Research – What better way to develop web literacy than purpose-driven inquiry? Minecraft doesn't come with instructions, so players have to figure things out in one of two ways: 1) trial and error, or 2) Internet research. The uninitiated would be stunned by the number of instructional videos and articles on the web. Because finding tricks to help them succeed feels relevant, kids will experiment with search terms until they become masters at navigating the wealth of information online. And many who resist reading a novel will pore through hundreds of words to glean information that feels critically important.

Geology --  As the name implies, mining is important in Minecraft. Players must create pickaxes, first out of wood--which is the only available material, initially--to mine minerals in order to build things. Some kids may be surprised to learn the realistic information about minerals and their properties that is built into Minecraft. Just as on Earth, the most common element in Minecraft is iron, and one can mine iron ore in order to smelt it and turn it into a stronger pickaxe. (Yes, Minecraft covers smelting.) It gets better: Pickaxes made of different materials behave the way they would in the real world. A gold pickaxe gives a player bragging rights but doesn't do a great job of mining hard minerals because it is too malleable. A diamond pickaxe, on the other hand, can mine even the toughest minerals, like obsidian.

Monday, March 2, 2015

ACCES-VR and Vocational Services for Young Adults

A recent inquiry from the parents of a young adult had us looking at our past blogs, seeking information about vocational rehabilitation in New York. We were surprised to see that we had last addressed this issue five years ago -- in 2010. Much has changed since then and it's more than time to update this information.

In fact, in 2011, the entire vocational education system in New York was revamped, and the new agency changed its name from VESID (Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities) to ACCES-VR ( Adult Career and Continuing Education Services - Vocational Rehabilitation). Special education services, which had been part of VESID, were integrated with general educational services for students through 12th grade, a move we thought was long overdue.

 While today's blog looks at changes in the New York system, vocational rehabilitation programs exist in every state, growing out of a series of federal laws that go back almost 100 years and which were designed to provide federal funding to states to establish programs for vocational guidance, training, occupational adjustment services, and job placement for adults with disabilities.

Who can benefit from such programs? Let's look at a couple of actual examples to see some of the Transition and Youth services that might be available to young adults, which ACCES-VR considers to be any individual from late high school age through age 25:
  • "Sam", a twelfth grader at a public high school, hopes to attend a local college. Sam is a good student who has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. He has an IEP and, as part of his post-high school transition planning, his IEP Team is looking at what he will need to succeed in college. Although ACCES-VR and other vocational rehabilitation agencies provide adult services, they also work with high school aged youth who will be in need of support to move to adult employment. Through ACCES-VR Sam may get help (beyond what his high school can provide) to learn to drive so he can travel from his home to the local college.
  • "Sally", who is 24,  had graduated from college and was working at her first job when she suffered an emotional crisis. She left her job, moved back to her parents' house, and was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder. She entered treatment and slowly, over a number of months, felt better and wanted to go back to work. Through ACCES-VR, she was referred to an agency that helped her get back into the work force, with the help of an understanding employer and a job coach. After a period of time in this supportive environment, she was ready to move on to the regular job market and is now again employed in her chosen field.
For individuals over the age of 25, ACCES-VR offers services to assist with entering or re-entering the workforce. You can get a good overview of these adult services in a brochure they publish

Since vocational rehabilitation programs are operated individually by each state, residents of New Jersey should contact their program at Jobs for Jersey and those in Connecticut should contact that state's  Bureau of Rehabilitative Services. Residents of other states can check a list from the federal Department of Education to find their state's agency. Note that individuals with visual impairments are dealt with via other agencies, so the list may contain a separate agency for these individuals.