Sal McKeown coped with the optical illusion of BETT 2013 – more is less – to pick her Inclusion Top 20
"Bett feels smaller this year," said Sarah Lawrence, a speech and language therapist from west London. Despite hearing from show organisers i2i that BETT 2013 was bigger than ever, I knew just what she meant.
When you stand in the middle of the five main aisles and can see both ends of the hall at ExCel it is hard to believe that two halls and a balcony's worth of stands from Olympia fit into that one space. But since the cavernous ExCel hall is more compact than the grand old lady of west Kensington, it meant that Sencos (special needs co-ordinators) did not get so footsore going round the show – and this year there were some real little gems.
I was running two Learn Live seminars in the special needs area, sponsored by special needs organisation nasen. One was on wikis, blogs and podcasting as a stimulus for literacy development. The other, with Angie McGlashon, co-author of our book Brilliant Ideas for Using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom (on the shortlist for the Education Resources Awards 2013), was on creative applications of ICT. So as I went round the show I was really looking for hardware, software and useful bits of kit which would fit these two areas and help young people explore curriculum subjects in different ways.
Here is my Top 20:
- Speaking and listening is a key concern for young people with behavioural issues. I met Keith Ford at the Talking Products stand. Keith is headteacher at St Martin's Garden, a primary school with an ASD centre in Bath. He was ordering Talking Tins which let pupils record ideas when trying to compose text. This means they are not trying to remember and spell at the same time. I really liked their Talking Photo Album and the Talking Tiles which cost £40 for six different colour tiles which will record and play back 40 seconds of voice, music or sound effects. These are ideal for sentence construction, matching and sequencing and for interactive displays.
- Pupils on Tyneside are using Kudlian Software's I Can Present for capturing 'pupil voice' interviews. This green screening software is a great tool for special needs because it is so simple and immediate. It is also easy to change he font and colours of prompts to make it easier for pupils to read.
- There are many symbol-based communication aids for young people who need a voice, but now, from Claro, comes ClaroCom. This is a word-based communication app for iPad aimed at people who can read but need a voice replacement or a fast messaging system for SMS, Facebook or Twitter. Previewed at BETT 2013, it will come into its own for people with multiple sclerosis or similar degenerative conditions. It has word and phrase prediction (picture) and comes many different languages. The full app is £30 and the cut-down version is £5.
- Vocab Express, available in ten languages including Japanese and Hebrew, is a great learning tool which uses native speakers, thematically-linked word lists and pictures. Learners can see an object and see and hear the word. Pupils test themselves and get a score so it will appeal to the little competitors in your class.
- Need help with note-taking and transcribing your recordings? Sonocent has Audio Notetaker, ideal for lectures and taking notes in discussion groups. To help the student concentrate on listening, the audio software will recreate a visual version of the spoken word with breaks where there are pauses. The listener can colour in key phrases or use different colours for different speakers and put extra information or opinions in the notes pane. Some schools get pupils to dictate into Audio Notetaker to practise dictating to a scribe in an exam. For dyslexic students this is a very necessary and tricky skill they need to master.
- Moving from speaking and listening to reading, have a look at Project X CODE from Oxford University Press. It's designed to accelerate the reading progress of young people with special needs. What really appeals to me is the great graphics and the guidance for teaching assistants who so often will be working with poor readers. Juliet Richards from Oxford University Press told me, "A school could buy the whole package: all the resources, training and support for three pupil premiums."
- Another scheme is the ebook library from Rising Stars. Research shows that boys like the eBook format for digital tablets like iPads. The new All Star High series has monosyllabic macho titles such as Fight, Bad and Trouble and there is also a Dangerous Games series.
- Widgit's Symwriter Online will let staff make resources for pupils who need support with reading and writing. Text is supported with symbols, pictures and speech. It also offers opportunities for symbol users to see their writing published as a web page and could prove to be an ideal vehicle to send news to a penpal abroad.
- Wellington College has been using Acer A510 tablets (see "Acer Windows 8 tablet boost for 'Shape the Future'") to help dyslexic learners with their writing. The A510 has an onscreen keyboard which emits a haptic pulse so pupils get feedback that they have hit a key cleanly.
- Other centres are pinning their hopes on the wireless Livescribe Echo Smartpen (see "Now you can 'pencast' lessons with the Livescribe Echo"). For this you will need their special paper too. It will transcribe scrawled hand-written notes into printed text and also capture more than 400 hours of audio which is thousands of pages of lecture notes.
- The Special Needs Village at BETT had some eye-catching resources for low-incidence disabilities. It is often hard to find resources which will stimulate young people with profound and multiple learning difficulties. Tapit Touch Accessible Platform Interactive Technology has a sophisticated algorithm, so if a learner knocks the screen or rests on it, the program classifies this as "non-intentional touch" and will not react. It is very clever and robust and can be used for a range of activities from cause and effect to music making.
- Eye gaze had me entranced. I met Sensory Guru's Lee Blemings who showed me Tobii eye control, which lets a severely disabled computer user control the cursor by eye movement and blinking. I have seen it used very effectively by a boy with motor neurone disease. I had wondered how assessors know it is going to work. I had a look at The Gaze Evaluator which measures attention patterns and can tell if a user is tracking patterns and stimuli and not just glancing at the screen. (Also seen at BETT by my colleague Merlin John was the forthcoing mobile version of Tobii, a compact device that can connect to any PC via USB.)
- Apollo Ensemble was a finalist for the BETT ICT Special Educational Needs award. Create some simple cause-and-effect activities or bring a jungle scene or Rio Carnival into your classroom. Apollo Creative can manage everything except authentic weather. The resources can be customised in lots of different ways and pupils control the whole rig themselves using switches or an Xbox controller if necessary.
- I used to support students in a welding department when I taught in a college of further education so I was fascinated to see how Cengage's virtual scenarios could provide simulations of practical experience. At Adam Smith College in Fife they have found that this approach works well for learners with attention deficit disorders who need strong visual stimuli to engage their attention. New modules for different vocational areas are in development.
- I used to teach numeracy in FE as well. Many of the students had a maths phobia and so I was not surprised to learn that when children lose their confidence and switch off maths, which usually happens at around the age of nine, it has lifelong consequences. Maths-Whizz motivates children aged five to thirteen, guaranteed. It has 1,200 lessons, interactive learning exercises and paper-based tests and worksheets to raise standards in maths.
- Meanwhile Twig has produced a new resource which answers some of the big questions of life: Why do Dalmatians have spots? Why do monkeys have tails? Do fish sleep? If you can't have David Attenborough in your classroom the next best thing is Tigtag (school subscription £99), a brand-new primary resource full of interesting facts and little videos designed for non-specialist teachers and curious children.
- Keeping parents informed about their children's attendance is becoming more complicated. Jacky Mason, student support manager at Sir Jonathan North Community College, finds that parents do not always inform the school when they change their mobile numbers so it is important to have a whole raft of strategies in place to reach them, especially when there is an urgent cause for concern. At their school they use ContactGroup's Call Parents. For iPad users Groupcall’s Emerge for Parents app is a useful tool. The company claims it provides parents with a "near real-time view of their children’s activity in school", providing real peace of mind.
- Most readers will be too young to remember the Concept Keyboard (an overlay keyboard) but some may know what a versatile, multilayered tool it was. Mantra Lingua has its own version called the Talking Touch Palette (see video below) where pupils or a teacher can create an overlay with sound spots. Use the special Mantra Lingua pen to hear the text which can be in up to 26 languages. This works well for audio description for blind learners. Robene Dutta. managing director of Mantra Lingua, was delighted to tell me that his company has created a range of talking clothes labels which work with the pen. Now blind people can make their own decisions about what to wear and develop their fashion sense. They will withstand washing temperatures of 50 degrees and will survive the tumble drier. While the labels will be fine, we make no guarantee that the clothes won't shrink.
- There was some first-rate hardware of course. I am going to trial the Avantis LearnPad2 soon because I have heard so much about it (see "iPad rival with better price and flexibility - LearnPad 2". And when I saw the on-stand demo I found the primary content very appealing and could see lots of ways it could work for older pupils with special needs. It uses QR codes so pupils can go straight to the bits they need. It keeps them on task and is really easy to add extra apps. And it's cheap!
- When you are working with challenging children the last thing you need to be doing is fiddling with the technology and checking for missing cables so I was interested to hear about Magic Studio. It combines a projector, computer, amplifier and inbuilt speakers. Project on to a wall and you can manipulate and annotate images and save on to an inbuilt hard drive. It is billed as "the world's first classroom Super Hero" and one of its most attractive qualities is to combine so much hardware for £1,500.
Finally, anyone with even the smallest connection to the world of special needs will know the name of Lorraine Petersen, ceo of nasen (the National Association of Special Educational Needs) so it was a wonderful moment when she won the BETT Outstanding Achievement award. Speaking at the annual BETT Awards, Dominic Savage, director general of BESA, described Lorraine: "Always with time for anyone or any group seeking help; always cheerful in the face of difficulties; always positive for the future and what nasen and its members can achieve, Lorraine is a much loved figure: within the industry, within education and within government circles.'"
Most of us know her for her tireless campaigning and her 100-watt smile. The special needs community owes a lot to Lorraine Petersen.
Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist. Her book, How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child, is published by Crimson Publishing. Brilliant Ideas for Using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom, co-authored with Angie McGlashon, has been shortlisted for an Education Resources Award