Sunday, December 30, 2018

Checklist for Accessible Teaching & Presenting

Graphic about accessibility indicating the following accessibility needs: visual, hearing, cognitive, speech, mobilityInnovative educators usually know the basics of ensuring their tech works before presenting to students, staff, and families. Check the sound. Check the monitor. But that's just the beginning. If we really want to ensure we are including everyone in have access to what we are presenting, technology can take us even further.

Here are some ideas based on recommendations from WC3 Website Accessibility Initiative to you get started.

1) Invite Technology Use

Too often those without accessibility needs demonize technology, yet technology may be just the tool that is needed to include everyone. Of course set parameters around expectations for those in the room, but do NOT tell them how to access content. Technology can be used as a tool to focus, access information in a visual or auditory way and much more.

2) Ensure All Material Is Available in Accessible formats

Create all content digitally. Then send participants a link to all material in advance. At the event ensure there is an easy way to access the link to the content in case they didn't receive it in advance. If they have the material in advance or during the session this will enable all participants to access materials in the way that suits them best and meets their needs.

When creating materials, ensure they follow accessibility guidelines such as proper heading structure, alt text, correct hyperlinks, color contrast, and closed captioning.

3) Check the Mic!

Some people don't like presenting with microphones and do a very cursory check to see if folks can hear them without the mic. This puts those who can't hear in an uncomfortable situation. Rather than just using the mic so everyone can hear, you put the onus on the participant who may have hearing issues. Don't do that. If you're presenting in a large room, put the burden on yourself.  Use the mic. Then still work to ensure everyone can hear well and let those who might need assistance in hearing know where the speakers are amplifying the sound.

4) Have Participants Use the Mic or Repeat

Does a participant have a question or something to contribute? Make sure that what they are sharing can be understood by the room. You can do this in a few ways. Here are some options:
  • Have the participant come to the mic
  • Have a way for participants to submit questions digitally
  • Repeat the question or contribution (though this takes extra time)

5) Create an Accessible Presentation

Make text and visuals large enough to read or understand. Use an easy-to-read font. When in doubt, keep it simple. Use sufficient color contrast. 

6) Close Caption Your Multiple Languages

Use tools like dictation or MS Translator to provide captions in your language as well as the language your audience speaks. This works well to help those with cognitive or language issues access information.

7) Describe Media

If you are showing images make sure that all participants know what appears in the image by describing it. Work this into the natural flow of what you are presenting by talking about the image you are showing i.e. as we can see in the title of this headline story from the Wall Street Journal that reads...

If you show a video ensure it has closed captioning.  If your video does not have words, but instead is just images, ensure you describe it as it is playing.

8) Use Plain Language

Presentations are not the time to show off your vocabulary or knowledge of jargon, acronyms, or idioms. Not only will those who are new to the language or have cognitive disabilities have difficulty accessing the information, it is also harder for the information to be picked up by dictation or translation tools.  

Your Turn

What do you think? Are you using any of these strategies when you present to students, staff, or families? Are there some ideas you see here that you may incorporate into your practice? Are there strategies that you use that are not listed here? 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

5 Unplugged Holiday Game Recommendations from Innovative Educators

Even innovative educators recognize the value of unplugging a bit during the holidays for family games. Here are some recommendations that may not be on your list. This list is gathered from a group of innovative educators who gathered over the holidays and shared some of their favorite games to play with family and friends.

Games for the Holidays

The Metagame

The Metagame is the ultimate cure for awkward silences. It sparks conversation about everything from high art to trashy entertainment and everything in­ between. It's not about knowing facts — it's about having opinions and sharing them with your friends.
Cards from the Metagame


Pandemic is a cooperative board game in which players work as a team to treat infections around the world while gathering resources for cures. First published in 2007, the game's unique combination of cooperative gameplay, engrossing premise, and compelling design have proved a hit with everyone from hardcore gamers to casual players. 
Game box for Pandemic

Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice is fun for any zombie fan (or the whole zombie family). The 13 custom dice are your victims. Push your luck to eat their brains, but stop before the shotgun blasts end your turn! Two or more can play. Each game takes 10 to 20 minutes, and can be taught in a single round.
Game box for Zombie Dice

Monopoly Game: Cheaters Addition

Lean into those iconic (yet unspoken) Monopoly moments in which rules are bent, money is borrowed, and funny business is welcomed. The outlandish suggestions on the board, cards, and rules encourage players to express their inner cheater to own it all while they buy, sell, dream, and scheme. Fake a die roll, steal some bills from the bank, and even skip out on rent. Complete a cheat to get a reward, but fail a cheat and pay the consequences! No houses in this edition – only hotels – and pretend handcuff unit may leave players ""chained"" to the board. 
Game box for Monopoly: Cheaters edition
Two teams try to solve logical riddles and moves on a board (which actually is a paper from a block with a "racing track"). Each time team comes up with the right solution they may move one step and demand another question or throw a die (0-3) and let the turn continue to the other team.
Game box for MindTrap

Your Turn

What do you think? Have you played any of these games? Are any new to you? What are some non-traditional games you might add to the list?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Preparing Students for the New Collar Workforce

College and career readiness was popularized in 2009 under the Obama administration's Race-to-the-Top initiative and it is what fuels the Common Core Standards. College and career readiness is the directive under which most government schools have been operating since then. 

The problem is that honoring, respecting, and preparing our nation for college and career readiness leaves two thirds of our nation's adults (according to the most recent census bureau statistics) as outcasts. Unworthy. Disrespected. Less than.

Most of the generation of parents who raised us and the parents of our students did not graduate college. The college and career readiness mantra is a constant reminder that they have failed in some way even if they did not feel like failures before.

Not only that, but the college degree today has become devalued. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that the underemployment rate for recent college grads was 43.5 percent. A report issued  by the Pew Research Center found that only 46 percent of employed Millennials believe their education was very useful in preparing them for a job or career.

The dependence on college clearly is not keeping up with workforce demands.

If not college, then what?

At this year's World Maker Faire Ed Forum in New York City speaker Sarah Boisvert author of “TheNew Collar Workforce" explained to the attendees that educators embracing the "College for All" mindset are neglecting the majority of the population for whom college graduation is not a reality. That doesn't mean given up on students. It means recognizing it is okay if college graduation is not a goal. It doesn't need to be. 

That's because today's workforce has many positions available that don't require a traditional college degree. Instead these are skills students can learn in fab labs, maker spaces, and tinker studios. Maker educator Kevin Jarrett, gives them a more familiar name: Digital shop class. There students make things that matter using tools like laser engravers, 3D printers, robotics, and more. These are relevant vocational skills that can prepare students for what some are calling "new collar jobs." These are jobs operating and maintaining machine tools that look a lot different than the blue collar jobs of the past. Instead they have a new set of required skills. Knowing how to operate the machines commonly found in the digital shop class is key for success.  

In her work with the Fab Lab Hub, Sarah Boisvert is using a different strategy than college to prepare students for the new collar workforce. She is developing a digital badge micro-certification program that provides new collar job training. To do this she and her team spoke with 200 large, medium, and small employers in the industry. These employers said they need people with hands-on experience in making things and knowledge of how to repair faulty equipment. The exact activity that happens in these digital shop classes. 

Digital Badges for New Collar Jobs Include:

  • Design for 3D Printing
  • Introduction to CAD Design
  • Fundamentals of SLA 3D Printing
  • Troubleshooting FDM 3D Printers
  • Laser Safety in Manufacturing
  • Master Badges as 3D Printing Operator or Laser Service Technician are a stack of Digital Badges that certify a higher level of skill.
Digital Badges were developed by a collaboration between IBM and Mozilla. They are a secure platform to recognize achievement.

Boisvert, along with Dale Daughtery who created the World Maker Faire suggested that this college obsession was one of the factors that led to our current president being elected into office. He understood that there was a large segment of the population for whom college is not the holy grail.  He saw these people. He spoke to them. He respected them and told them they were important too. Even if they had not graduated college and even if the old factory jobs were gone, there would be new opportunities available.

Possibly influencing Trump is IBM CEO Ginni Rometty who when he was running for office, advised President-Elect Donald Trump of the importance of this new collar workforce. Her letter expressed what she shared in her opinion column for USA Today which urged politicians and business leaders to not think in terms of white collar or blue collar jobs, but to broadly consider these future unfilled positions as “new collar” jobs.

Rometty stresses the importance of looking beyond the four-year degree and instead looking to whether a potential employee has “relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training.” She explains that there is a current talent shortage in the tech industry. IBM alone plans to hire 25,000 new employees in the course of four years and that’s just one company. says we have 570,926 jobs nationwide and only 49,291 qualified workers.

A New Educational Model – Pathways in Tech Early College High School

Preparation of the workforce for these new collar jobs, many of which don’t require a four-year degree, is crucial. While the Micro credential certification Boisvert’s Fab Lab Hut is putting in place is one path, IBM has designed a new educational model that many other companies have embraced. It is six-year public high school that combine a relevant traditional curriculum with necessary skills from community colleges, mentoring and real-world job experience. The first of these schools – called Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH has achieved graduation rates and successful job placement that rival elite private schools. 35% of students from the first class graduate one to two years ahead of schedule with both high school diplomas and two-year college degrees.

Your Turn

How are you or your school preparing students for the new collar workforce? In what ways do you ensure all your students have opportunities to develop hands on experience? What type of new learning spaces are being embraced by your school are district? What conversations are you having with students and families about some of the new paths to success that are now available to them?

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Technology Makes Accessible Possible in Inclusive Classrooms

If you are an innovative educator, than you know that you serve students with varying abilities and learning differences. Some are visible, like a person in a wheelchair. Some may not be visible such as a person who is colorblind. Some have varying levels of visibility such as someone on the autism spectrum. Some may progress and become more visible over time or as you get to know the student. There are also those who have multiple disabilities which can affect areas like cognition, speech, and mobility.  Disability can come in a wide variety of forms, both visible and invisible and can affect any of us at any time.

Here is a breakdown of areas where learners may need support:


Low vision

eye icon


Hard of hearing

hearing icon


Learning disabilities
cognitive icon


Speech impediment
Unable to speak

speech icon


Spinal cord


Post traumatic stress syndrome

Conventional Approaches Weren't Inclusive

In the traditional classroom of the 20th century, for the most part, students affected by learning differences often had no special accommodations. Those that did may have had to be separated from other students receiving intense, often intrusive interventions. 

Ways Technology Makes Accessible Possible

Today, in the modern classroom, this no longer has to be the case for students. Technology makes accessible possible for so many more students than ever before. Once content is digital students can
  • Have the content read to them
  • Change the colors
  • Change the contrast
  • Turn content into pictures
  • Make math visual
  • Add captions to videos 
  • Speak and have their speech turned into text
  • Turn text into Braille 
  • See information in one language and easily turn it into a chosen language and then have it read to them
  • Type content and hear it read back to them to ensure it makes sense
  • Receive assistance with spelling and grammar
  • Use the keyboard only without a mouse to navigate
  • Have a screen reader navigate the page
  • Access text at their reading level
  • Play soothing music to help a student focus or relieve anxiety

Instead of the prohibitive costs associated with accessibility devices in the past, all of this is simply built into many browsers and operating systems. There is no additional cost. As the costs of devices decreases they are now less expensive than buying paper, pencils, notebooks, calculators, printers, rulers, and all the other tools. 

For that same few hundred dollars per year, at what is often less then the cost of low tech, schools that understand the power of an inclusive classroom, can ensure every student has an accessibility hub available to them. They'll also train their teachers how to use these tools and ensure all students devices are set up for optimum learning and creation.  

Your Turn

How do you provide an inclusive classroom? In what ways do you ensure all your students have customized their devices to ensure all accessibility needs are met? How do you create content and material that is accessible to all learners (i.e. using alt text, headings, proper links)? How are you empowering students to know and use the tools that make learning most accessible to them? 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Alexa, Google Home, or HomePod: Easy Peasy Guide to Determining What's Right For You

If you're an innovative educator you might be wondering which device is best to set up your smart home or classroom. How do you decide which device is right for you? While all devices have other smart gadgets they can interact with, below are the basics to get you started on figuring out what will work best for you.

Amazon's Alexa Echo

You love: Amazon
Purchasing: Amazon is your go to place for purchasing
Books: You like Audible
Television: You like Firestick
Music: You like Amazon Music

Google's Home

You love: Google
Purchasing: You like Google Store
Books: You like Google Play Audio Books
Television: You like Chromecast
Music: You like Google Play Music, YouTube Music, and Spotify

Apple's HomePod with Siri

You love: Apple
Purchasing: Doesn't seem to have an online purchasing partner
Books: You like Apple Books / iBooks
Television: You like AppleTV
Music: You like iTunes and Apple Music

The Verdict?

It all depends on the ecosystem you have bought into. If you love Apple, go for the HomePod with Siri. You'll get your Apple Music with great sound, but it's not as smart as the competitors.  If you love the ease of Amazon, enjoy instant purchases, use Audible and Amazon Music, then Alexa is right for you. If you have bought into the Google ecosystem, use Google Books, Google Music, Spotify, or YouTube Music, and enjoy shopping on Google, then go with Google home.

If you use one platform, the nice thing is that all your devices can pick up where you left off and sync with one another.  However,  if you like of little of each, go cross-platform and use each with that which they're compatible.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

#NYCSchoolsTechChat on Learning Opportunities - Thursday at 7pm EST

Join us this Thursday as we discuss professional learning opportunities. 

Your host, #NYCSchoolTech teacher Eileen Lennon will moderate with me throwing in my two cents. Also on hand will be special guests from some of our partners who bring these opportunities to teachers. 

You can prepare for the conversation by thinking about answers to these questions: Q1 What are some of the best professional learning opportunities you have provided or attended? What was valuable about the learning? #NYCSchoolsTechChat Q2 What are some of your tips and tricks to keep professional learning opportunities hands-on, interactive, and engaging? #NYCSchoolsTechChat Q3 Share a link to an agenda/materials of a great opportunity you attended? #NYCSchoolsTechChat Q4 Share a link to your favorite place to visit to find upcoming learning opportunities? #NYCSchoolsTechChat Q5 What are important considerations we should have around ensuring professional learning opportunities provide a valuable experience? #NYCSchoolsTechChat Q6 What are some ways ed tech companies can support schools in the professional learning efforts? #NYCSchoolsTechChat

Chat details are below: Date: Thursday, Dec 6 Time: 7:00 pm Topic: Professional Learning Opportunities Your Host: @eileen_lennon (@NYCSchools) Co-Host: @InnovativeEdu (@NYCSchools)

Remember to respond using the hashtag #NYCSchoolsTechChat and include the number of the question you are answering in your response i.e. A1 and your answer.
We hope you can view the chat live, but if you are unable, please visit our archive at You can also participate in the chat at that link or if you have an iPhone download the app at