Autodraw: Word Prediction for Drawing

autodraw iconGoogle has recently released the Autodraw AI for some fun and games for the casual artist. This tool, however, can serve as power assistive technology for students with disabilities who struggle with drawing and expressing, themselves especially in the early pre-writing days. For those who haven’t tried it out, Autodraw lets the user start to draw some basic shapes or lines and the AI will attempt to guess what the user is trying to draw providing options of icons. The user can then tap on the desired icon to insert it into their drawing.

For young learners, especially those with visual- motor, perceptual or motor planning difficulties drawing can be quite a frustrating challenge. Most early grade writing standards have some requirement of drawing and labeling the drawing based on a classroom topic or reading. The Autodraw tool can be a great support. Just check out the results:

drawing attempt of a banana
Original drawing
icon drawing of a banana
Icon selection based on the drawing.

Your Library Card = Goldmine!

library-cardAn often over looked resource is your local library. Be sure to check out your local library’s resources page for subscriptions to online databases that often charge a subscription fee. Entrance to these sites is through your local library’s website using your library card credentials.

The following is a list of student related resources available through the Brooklyn Public Library Website (a complete list of available resources can be found HERE):


  • BookFlix– (Requires card)- Video based books for young readers with read along text. Site uses Flash for content and may not be accessible on iOS devices unless using Flash friendly browser apps.
  • Flipster– (Requires card)- Provides access to popular magazines either through a web browser, Android, Kindle and iOS apps. Kids resources include Ask (teacher companion), Ranger Rick Jr, Discovery Girls, and Highlights.
  • Tumblebooks– (Requires card)- Early readers video based books with a variety of topics. Books are also available in multiple languages with human narration and sentence highlighting.

History & Culture

  • American History– (Requires Card)- Comprehensive resource library and research tools related to American history broken up by periods. Detailed summaries are available for each period with text to speech and translation support.
  • CultureGrams– (Requires Card)- Learn about the culture and day to day life of people across the word. There are US states, the world, and kids editions available. Content is readily broken down by category (places, history, people, cultural notes, and fun facts).  Text to speech enabled.
  • FreedomFlix– (Requires card)- Video and text companion on topics related to US history and civics. The available text has human narration with word highlighting as it reads and two available speeds.
  • Global Voices– Curates and translates current events news from around the world.
  • Mango Languages– (Requires card)- Learn a new language with video and activity cards.
  • Opposing Viewpoints– Collection of articles, media, images, and statistics based on topic. Text to speech and translation supports available.


General Research

  • Encyclopedia Britannica Online for Kids– (Requires card)
  • Kids InfoBits– (Requires card)- Easy to navigate picture based research for early grades. Text to speech and translation support.
  • Scholastic Go
  • SIRS Discover– (Requires card)- Materials have text to speech and translation supports. Content can also be filtered by Lexile reading level.
  • TrueFlix– (Requires card)- Video and accompanying text around a variety of topics (picture based category search). The text has human narration with word highlighting supports.

Instructional Resources

Chrome as Assistive Tech Infographic

The variety of web apps and Chrome extensions has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Many of these tools are available to students either for free or offer lower cost alternatives to what traditionally was considered cost prohibitive support. I complied a Coggle infographic to organize  some of the apps, extensions, and add-ons I use most frequently to support my students. Know of a good tool that’s not on the list? Be sure to comment.

As a side bar… most of these tools require a working internet connection. This on its own is prohibitive for many families. Everyone On (  is an organization that works in low income communities and schools to provide a router and affordable internet connection for household that qualify.

Educational Technology Models and Application for Assistive Technology

The field of educational technology is growing at a steady clip with new tools, apps, and services cropping up. Many of these tools are used to enhance learning and engagement in the classroom. Some facilitate project based learning or encourage easy data tracking for the teacher. As teachers are becoming more familiar with integrating technology into their classroom a window to incorporating assistive technology opens.

Currently, assistive technology is generally IEP driven and is meant to accommodate for an identified disability. These supports can range from magnifiers for visual disabilities, augmentative communication devices for the non-verbal, or text to speech for those struggling with learning disabilities. Very often however, teachers are faced with students in their classroom who for multiple reasons do not end up being identified for support nor receive the needed help. Additionally, abandonment of equipment is a significant concern within the assistive technology community. Finding the correct fit between the student, the teacher, and demands in the classroom become great hurdles to overcome despite the vested interest of all parties.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is a model evolving from the field of architecture, universal design. The most often referenced analogy is one of the ramp. Buildings originally designed with ramps not only allow access to a building for those in wheelchairs but also assist parents with strollers and delivery personnel. UDL aims to encourage curriculum planning and environmental design to create content that can be accessible to all students in the classroom. This may include having text to speech books available for all students or creating a classroom color coded organization system for notebooks and folders. Students are able to select the tools that best help them meet their learning goals. UDL is most powerful when implemented at the planning stages versus having to retrofit pre-existing curriculum. There are three main components to UDL which will be briefly reviewed given that this model is familiar to professionals in the assistive technology field. For further details be sure to visit

  • Multiple Means of Representation- Known as the recognition network, this area explores the “what” aspect of learning. It encourages providing a variety of modalities when explaining concepts.
  • Multiple Means of Expression- Known as the strategic network it represents the “how” of learning. This principle encourages a variety in how a learner can express their knowledge base.
  • Multiple Means of Engagement- Known as the affective network it represents the “why” of learning. This principle encourages looking at the learner’s motivation and desires for learning.

SAMR Model

SAMR is a model that has been developed to create a hierarchy of how technology is being integrated in the classroom. It starts with the most simplistic use of technology and graduates to more complex encouraging deep learning skills. Jonathan Brubaker had created this infographic illustrating the various SAMR levels comparing them to Starbucks offerings.

Assistive technology providers often focus on finding technology that can either serve in the Substitution or Augmentation portions of this model. If a student cannot write using pencil and paper, perhaps a portable word processor can substitute? A student is unable to read? Provide her with text to speech for reading materials. AT providers may however be in a unique position to encourage teachers to branch their pedagogy to the Modification and Redefinition segments of this model. Asking a teacher about the learning goals and outcomes of a unit or lesson may prove a more powerful question than what tasks need to be completed by the student daily. After all, successful completion of the tasks does not automatically result in learning. Supporting a teacher in redefining, might result in a scenario in which one group of students produce a video while another group produces a written report.


Reproduced by permission of the publisher

Another model currently being implemented in educational technology integration is the Technology- Pedagogy- Content model. The illustration below provides an overview of the three main segments a teacher needs to consider as well as overlapping domains. Classroom teachers need to establish competence in not only the technical use of available hardware and software but also how this technology can meet content requirements. Analysis of how pedagogically sound a technology is another pivotal role a classroom teacher takes on. When examining this model, the teacher’s level of competence in each of these areas can effect the successful integration of assistive technology for a student. A teacher who does not posses comfort in using technology nor have the skills to problem solve may be more reluctant to integrate AT tools. Likewise, if a teacher does not perceive that an AT tool meets pedagogical standard, its implementation may also falter. Supporting teachers in each of these three areas and their overlapping domains may ultimately help students with mandated assistive technology integrate this support and decrease abandonment.

Understanding the various educational pedagogy currently being applied in educational technology can help assistive technology providers in successfully supporting their students and beyond. Providers must also play a key role in demanding that many of the tools being used for the disabled population become readily available within the technology being developed for the classroom. Text to speech, word prediction (flexible spelling), speech to text, and writing with auditory feedback should not be fringe add-ons to a program. These tools often recommended should be integrated as a given. Assistive technology professionals are also uniquely qualified in understand where the gaps in learning exist for a particular learner and may better understand how content should be modified. Involvement in the development of educational tools are key especially in the area of adaptive learning technology. Many learning platforms are being developed to provide customization for learners. Although in its infancy, this adaptive technology mostly consists of moving a student up or down a hierarchy of difficulty given their response to a question. Providing better insight into how content can be modified to meet the needs of struggling learners can help improve this technology.

Speech to Text and Word Bank Writing: Google Doc Add-Ons

Add- ons are a great feature of Google Doc. They provide additional functionality through a side bar beside the document. To find and install add ons, navigate to the Add- ons dropdown menu and select Get add ons… On a recent look around I ran into two new add- ons to help support writing.

Speech Recognition

After installing the add-ons be sure to provide permissions to the microphone and press start. You can select which language to dictate in. Speech recognition works similarly to other dictation supports in accepting voice commands for periods, commas, etc. Giving it a test run, I must say I was impressed by the accuracy of the dictation. I also gave it a try in Spanish with some good results.
Check it out in action:


This add on allows a teacher to create a word bank with definitions which can be viewed to the side of the document. Using word clouds or word banks are a great way to guide reluctant writers and provide visual and memory supports for what should be included in the document.
Here is a short demo video of how Keyword works:

Two Great Timeline Web Apps

Timelines are a great and easy way to visually represent information in bite size chunks. As an example, timelines can help support struggling readers in understanding the sequence of events in a book.

Ginko App is a note taking app that uses markup for writing but can also be used to construct timelines and off shoots to the timeline. Its clean user interface makes it easy to understand and navigate through cards. As an example, here is a gingko I had started to scroll and navigate through the Common Core State Standards for ELA elementary schools.

Gingko layout for ELA CCSS

Gingko’s can either be private or public. There is a limit to how many you create for free with additional files created with a monthly membership fee (currently $4.99/ month).

Hstry is a great free tool that allows teachers to create interactive timelines. They have a user friendly tutorial that guides teachers through adding content. Timelines created are public and can be shared with others. A teacher can embed images, videos, and audio throughout the timeline. Interactive features include quizzes and feedback. Teacher accounts can create classes and add students as well as assign timelines for students.

In short, check out these tools in helping support student understanding of complex topics using a visual and interactive perspective. A Site for Teachers, Parents and Students Affected by Learning Disabilities

One of the reasons I am so invested in the use of technology in the schools in exactly for the benefit it offers students with learning disabilities. There are many students sitting in classrooms all over the world right now struggling to fit themselves into the box. Technology opens the doors for students to better access what they need to know and also show their teachers and the world what they have learned.

This is one reason why I am so excited to hear about the launch of in August 2014. This site is a partnership among multiple organizations helping students with learning disabilities and will be clearinghouse for resources, support groups, and events. The feature I am most looking forward to will be examples of just what the world looks like for students with learning disabilities when they read, write, and compute.

Stay tuned for updates…

Vox- Understand the News

From the makers of The Verge and Curbed a new venture in news: Vox. The mission of this site is to provide background knowledge and explain current new and events. Could this become a great classroom tool to help students understand current events? Stay tuned for updates when the site launches.

Update: Vox is up and running with a variety of articles, timelines, and card stacks that explain the history and background information for some of the current events. Check out this stack on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Two more explanatory journalism sites were also recently released:

The New York Times launched The Upshot with emphasis on data analysis and infographics.

FiveThirtyEight brought to you by the all knowing Nate Silver is also heavy on answering your burning questions like: “Do April Showers Bring May Flowers?”- using data, data, data.

Free Weekly PD for Teachers via Lynda

In my quest to learn how to make wonderful infographics I finally joined the online learning community of This site offers a large variety of professionally made training videos in a variety of mostly business and design related software and techniques.

In my browsing, I stumbled upon a wonderful resource: Teacher Tips with Aaron Quigley. He covers a variety of topics ranging from the flipped classroom, to web based programs, and how to best use Microsoft Office and Google Drive as a teacher. Although Lynda is a paid subscription, Aaron’s tips are available for free the week they are posted. Lessons are short and highly relevant. Well worth the time investment.