Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Category Archives: Cool Miscellaneous Stuff

Are you priming students for success?

Last week Jason G wrote a post on starting the year out right by setting effective classroom rules. I would argue that this is one of the most important things you can do at the start of a school year (or semester).  In addition to setting appropriate rules, there are other things you can do anytime of the year that can help “prime” your students for success (even if they don’t realize it). I’ve highlighted a few studies below that will hopefully help explain what I mean.

Highway sign directing towards success or failure

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Word Clouds in Education

Word Clouds are more popular than ever. They frequently appear in social media posts, advertisements and everywhere in between. If you aren’t familiar with a word cloud, it is basically a graphical representation of text based content. Relevant words that are used more in the text appear larger. They attempt to provide an aesthetically pleasing graphical summary of what the text is saying. Here’s an example of a Word Cloud I created from a question I posted on Facebook and Twitter (I asked people to list two qualities of a great teacher):Image of Word Cloud

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What are Browser Extensions?

If you have an iPad or other “i-device” you are probably familiar with apps. “Apps” is short for applications that provide additional functionality to your device. There are thousands of apps ranging from supports for weather and business to games and education. We frequently discuss and recommend apps in sessions and here on our blog.

Web browsers, such as Google Chrome and Internet Explorer have similar supports that you may not be as familiar with. Instead of apps, these supports are referred to as extensions. Extensions basically “extend” the capabilities of your browser. Most browsers have their own store where you can find extensions for a variety of purposes. For example, to access the Google Chrome Web Store simply visit You can search for specific extensions or browse through categories ranging from Education to News and Entertainment.

A few of my favorite extensions include:

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Using Google Hangouts for Professional Development

For years I would co-present at various conferences on innovative tools for professional development.  It was obvious that one time sit-and-get training just wasn’t cutting it so we would focus on ways to use technology for follow up or on-going professional development.  While many tools are available for this sort of thing our goal was to point out free or low cost software that would be available to anyone interested.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), there were no shortage of these tools available and some are better for specific situations than others.  For example, if you need to do one-to-one video conference Skype is great, but if you need to add a third person ooVoo is better. Keeping up with all of the latest technologies, situations they would be best for, and the devices they work on became a job in and of itself.

Fast forward a few years and now I am using Google Hangouts for the majority of audio, video and chat interactions.   As with everything it has its pros and cons, some of which I’ve listed below


  • It’s Free
  • Up to 10 people on video chat at once
  • Works on most devices (including Chromebooks)
  • Ability to share your screen
  • Easy to take screenshots during the Hangout and review later
  • Can start instantly or invite others for a future date.


  • You must create a Google Account if you do not already have one
  • Scheduling a future meeting isn’t the most straight forward process
  • It takes some getting used to

Overall the cons are typical with any new program.  Everything from Facebook to your bank requires you to create an account so it should not be a surprise that you need one for Google as well.  Plus, if you are a Gmail user you already have one.

To schedule a hangout you will need to go to your Google+ account and create an event.  Once you have a Google account you will automatically have a Google+ account as well (it’s Google’s version of Facebook).  Just go to, choose events followed by “create event” or “plan a hangout”.  Note that Google let’s you specify if you want to hold a public hangout (anyone can attend) or a private hangout (where you invite who you want to attend).  Most people will choose private.  Anyone you invite will need a Google account as well.

Once you get everything set up the first time you will find the process much easier the next time around.  You will also see that your Google+ account keeps track of all of your previous hangouts and includes any screenshots you took and instant messages sent.

Ideas for how to use it deserves another post, but I see hangouts as a great way to hold ongoing professional development or to observe educators implementing strategies learned in face-to-face training.

Wayback Machine: A True Internet Archive

There have been a few times that I have come across a dead web link to a site that having access to would have been incredibly beneficial to my research and writing.  I came across a great tool that you (or your learners) can use when conducting research in the writing process. This tool is a web site named the Way Back Machine, you can find it here.

This site is an enormous internet archive of the internet from 1996 to current. It is pretty straightforward. You type in the web address (preferably copy and paste the link) you are wanting to view into the Wayback Machine search window and click the “Take me back” button. This will take you to a calendar that you can click on to connect with what you are wanting to find. Though it may not retain the visual layout of the original site, the text is there.

Don’t let links that go nowhere stifle you any longer!WayBack_Machine

Apps to Use for Video Self Modeling

Video self modeling is a great intervention strategy to use in a variety of settings to increase student behavioral success. Jason Carroll wrote a few great posts here and here in the past that are a great start to get an idea of what this is all about. If you want to read a recent meta-analysis of this strategy here’s a link to the article (it costs) and here’s a link to a great summary (it’s free!) that gives you the main nuts and bolts.

When considering the initial media equipment that was used in the early years of video self modeling, we have come a long way. Fortunately we have been able to trade in our VCR tapes for mobile devices! Here are 2 great apps that I have used to create video models:  iMovie and PuppetPals HD.

iMovie is a mainstream app that is a replication of the software available on Macs. With the app version of this tool you can record, edit, and deploy all from the same device. Using iMovie on my iPad, I’ve been able to make videos on the spot in almost any setting. With cases like LifeProof, you can even get them wet.

PuppetPals HD is actually an app that people (children mostly) use to create digital puppet shows. I’m sure the developers didn’t have VSM in mind during the development of this app. It is a free app, but if you upgrade (an in app purchase) then you can take pictures of people, objects, and settings and use these in the creation of the video. I have found this to be a helpful tool when creating a video model of a student that will not demonstrate the target behavior. Here’s a really simple example video created in this app.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts on using these apps to develop intervention media.

Universally Designed is now Systems of Support

Just a quick update regarding our blog if you are a subscriber… For years this blog has been referred to as Universally Designed.  Its purpose has always been to provide tips and tricks related to Assistive/Instructional Technology and Behavior.   The blog was part of our website, where we shared handouts and other materials used in keynotes, conference workshops, and webinars.  We have now decided to merge the two and call the blog Systems of Support.  This will allow us to continue to provide relevant information dedicated to helping educators succeed in the classroom while keeping all content in one location.

If you are a subscriber you will continue to receive weekly updates when new posts are made.  We know we’ve been a little behind lately on our postings, but the idea is that this transition will help us to once again make the blog a priority and deliver content you expect.

You will notice that the handouts and downloads on the resources page is now password protected. As always, that content is free so no worries about that! If you are already subscribed to our blog, then you will receive an email in the coming days with the password for the resources page. If you are new to the site, subscribe to our blog and once you confirm, you will automatically receive the password get access.

-The Jasons

Upcoming Webinar on Creating Mobile Content for your Classroom

Wednesday, October 10 (3:30pm – 4:30pm EST), will be the second of my webinar sessions as a part of an online series organized by the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA). This session will focus on creating content for the mobile devices (iPad, iPod, Droid) so that you can use your personalized classroom content rather than having to rely on pre-loaded material.  The focus is on simple and easy to implement, so don’t let the description make you wary. If you can attach a file to an email, then you will be able to stay engaged in this session.

As always, this will be practical, research-based, and ideas that can be immediately implemented in the learning environment. If you are interested in attending this webinar. Click on the link here to access additional details and session registration information (there is a nominal fee). Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Managing Multiple Student Email Accounts

Blogs, wikis and other web 2.0 technologies are often used in classrooms to help engage students.  Not only to they give students the opportunity to write for a much larger audience, but they help to foster many 21st century competencies such as collaboration, technology skills and much more.  Then of course there is the plethora of assistive technology software that tends to work well with these tools making assignments more accessible for students with disabilities.

Unfortunately despite the usefulness of many of these web 2.0 technologies they are not used as often as one would hope.  Although reasons vary, one common problem is the frequent requirement that students have their own account in order to be able to access the technology.  This is mostly understandable because in order for blogs and similar technologies to work in classrooms teachers must restrict access to make sure not just anyone can make a comment.  This is done by asking those who make posts or comments (students) to have an account.   Accounts require email addresses, and asking students to create accounts, verify them, and so on is just asking for trouble. It’s no wonder so many teachers just say its not worth it.

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Collecting Data on Your Smartphone

The last couple of posts, Collecting Data in Today’s Classroom and Accessing the Data You Just Collected, have been based on free ways to collect data online using Google Docs.  This method is both highly effective and efficient, but typically requires you to have a computer handy.  These days it is much more likely to have a smartphone or iPad close by, so this post is dedicated to demonstrating how easy it is to collect data using your mobile device.  I’ll focus on using an iPhone/iPad, since “iDevices” are the most popular mobile devices in schools, but if you are an android or other user the same idea should work there as well.

If you remember from the previous posts, Jason G walked us through how to create a form in google docs, then how to make sense of the data we collected.  What’s missing from the information provided so far is how to collect this data using a mobile device.

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