Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In-Tuh-Gray-Shun! Hallelujah!

So how do you end a semester of Selection and Integration of Instructional Technologies? With two things:

The final project, which you can find here, and a song ... sort of...

(With apologies to lyricist Lynn Ahrens, performer Essra Mohawk, and all of the creative geniuses behind this gem from Schoolhouse Rock. And special thanks to former student and musician Andrew C. for his talents.)

This almost feels blasphemous. Almost. (And "almost" has yet to stop me.)

UPDATE: Due to a recent request, you have two options. Choose wisely ...

Option #1: "I'm going to play it safe, I've just eaten, and I don't want to risk hysterical blindness." Click play for the instrumental

Option #2: "I have an empty stomach, I regularly throw caution to the wind, and I'll gamble that hysterical blindness is a temporary condition at best." Click here for the "vocal" version (and may God have mercy on your soul ...)

When Reginald was home with the flu, uh-huh-huh,
The teacher knew just what to do-hoo.
She made the connection
In the online direction
Which meant Reginald was getting that 

Hey! That's smart!
Sweet! How cool!
Yow! That's really clever providing me with an assistive technology!

Integration (Hey!) It's exciting (Sweet!) What a notion (Yow!)
It's usually set apart from a lesson that's missing Universal Learning Design,
It adds some karma to a unit that's not so strong.

So Geraldine thought she was all set, uh-huh-huh
She figured she was the teacher's pe-het
Assignments done to perfection,
With a podcast reflection -
But Geraldine was receiving some 

Well! I never thought I could learn so much!
Oh! I've never been so impressed in all my life!
Hey! I love that I can do more than just write my responses!

Integration (Well!) It's exciting (Oh!) What a notion (Hey!).
It's usually set apart from a lesson that's minus that thing called Gee-Ar-Ar,
It adds some karma to a unit that's not so strong.

It makes kids happy (Hurray!) Not sad (Aw!)
Enlightened (Whee!) Not mad (Rats!)
Delighted, (Wow!) And glad (Hey!)
The integration starts the day's plan right.

A research paper was assigned to them all, uh-huh-huh,
And Franklin? He was on the ba-hall.
He made a citation
For his researched quotation;
He's a cyber citizen because of

Wow! I cited this the right way!
Cha-ching! I know how to play this game!
Bazinga! I'm respecting intellectual property!

Integration (Wow!) It's exciting (Cha-ching!) What a notion (Bazinga!).
It's usually set apart from a lesson that ignores teaching cyber citizenry ,
It adds some karma to a unit that's not so strong.

It makes kids happy (Hurray!) Not sad (Aw!)
Enlightened (Whee!) Not mad (Rats!)
Delighted, (Wow!) And glad (Hey!)
The integration starts the day's plan right.

Integration (Hey!) It's exciting (Wow!) What a notion (Cool!).
It's usually set apart from a lesson that's missing a whole heckuvalot,
It adds some karma to a unit that's not so strong.

Integration! It's exciting! What a notion!
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah... YEA!

Darn! That's the end!

For you purists out there, here's the real deal (with a bit of assistive technology tossed in there).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

You're letting WHO do WHAT?

Ever think a blind kid could run a spotlight? A deaf kid do a sound check? A wheelchair-bound kid run scenery? A Downs Syndrom kid dance on stage?

Ask me that twenty years ago, and I'm not sure what I would have said. Today I can say "yeah, we've done that,"and we've done it with success.

Working in educational theater presents enough challenges for the ordinary director. Working with kids who have no challenges to speak of is enough for most of us. When we're faced with working with kids who have more severe challenges, we're faced with change, and creative thinking, and ... well, I'm not sure what we call it. At times if feels like panic, fear, worry, or anything else but opportunity.

And that's exactly what it is.

In the 19 years that I've been teaching at my school, our theater has been graced by two blind students, not quite a dozen deaf students (some profoundly, others functionally), four students with Downs Syndrome, three kids in wheelchairs (strangely enough, all three with acute rheumatoid arthritis), several with varying degrees of Asbergers ... and we've always tried to give them a shot and doing theater. Aside from it being "the right thing to do," it would often give we directors as well as our veteran theater students the opportunity to work with kids that we wouldn't work with otherwise. We have yet to have anyone come away from these experiences thinking that it was a mistake. 

That's the warm-fuzzy part of this: the kids get a chance to learn from each other. You don't need a stack of research to prove that - it's plainly obvious to even the casual observer. It raises the question, though, regarding what we provide: as instructors, are we doing enough to provide a quality educational experience? 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for the structure of instruction for those who need assistive learning - whether that is through technology, the help of an assistant, or the use of materials designed to assist. It provides us with guidance and presses us to think through a lot more scenarios than what we're probably used to.

A particularly challenging moment for me as a theater educator was several years ago when a deaf student wanted to help with sound. The mechanical part was easy - you don't really have to hear to make cable connections and flip on switches. The array of lights and indicators tell you when things are plugged in correctly. But how did she know that the mic worked? You have to hear that, right?

Sort of.

With the help of an interpreter, she was able work with another hearing student - but that was his hearing interpretation of the sound, not her deaf interpretation. She really didn't perform the sound check - it was someone else doing it and then telling her the mic was working. So how can a deaf person work in a theatrical sound environment?

Welcome to the 21st Century, and meet industrial designer Frederick Podzuweit. He has envisioned a collar called "Music For Deaf People" (MFDP) that allows deaf people to experience music. It looks something like this:

Podzuweit, F (2010). Music for Deaf People device.

It plugs in to a sound device much like a set of headphones, except instead of the signal running to transducer speakers, it runs to a series of membranes that vibrate, expand and contract with the beat and frequency of the sound source. The neck and shoulders receive the tactile sensation, and therefore create a relationship between the intended sound and the sensation of the collar. This allows a deaf person to experience and sense sound by way of the sense of touch.

Suddenly here is a device that solves the dilemma. By connecting this to a sound output device (a sound mixer, iPod, speaker, wireless receiver, etc) my deaf student could do a sound check alone (or at least without the help of an interpreter.) How would the MFDP be used in the classroom? Here is one possible lesson scenario using my Stage Design class as an example.

(UPDATE: Sadly, this is only a conceptual design and not a reality - yet. If only I were good with tools, electronics and pneumatic actuators ...)

Still not convinced that deaf people can perform in the sound-rich environment of theater? Evelyn Glennie is a fantastic example of how a deaf person can still hear sound and perform music. This is her TedTalks presentation from 2003:

We live in a great age - our technology is allowing for more and better opportunities for students, be it in the arts or the math class. We need to keep looking for ways that allow them to learn better, and allow us to teach them better.