Tag Archives: UDL

A.T.TIPSCAST Episode #100: Movie Review Extravaganza

Collage of all four images of previous A.T.TIPSCAST Movie Review images

Episode Overview-

Episode #100 of the A.T.TIPSCAST features an audio version of all of the Assistive Technology Movie Reviews done so far, previously only available as blog-only posts. These include all of the following:

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol


The Hunger Games

The Avengers

This episode also features a bumper from Dr. Joy Zabala, the director of technical assistance at the Center for Applied Special Technologies and the National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials who invites you to check out all the resources at http://aim.cast.org and let’s you know you are listening to the A.T.TIPSCAST!

A.T.TIPS in this Episode-

A.T.TIP 287 – Random.org – Random Number Generator

Piano & Laylee Giveaway Winner-

Amy Braddock!


Upcoming Presentations


Mission Possible: Proliferating a Culture of Universal Design for Learning with Beth Poss & Chris Bugaj. January 29th & 30th, 2013 at the Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Contact Information-




Register as a fan of the show to receive e-mail alerts for new episodes


This episode features less than 30 second clips of music from all of the following artists:

1. U2- Mission Impossible Theme

2. The Imagination Movers – Everybody’s Game

3. Soundgarden – Live to Rise

Assistive Technology Movie Review: The Avengers

I’m a super hero geek and proud of it. I didn’t just grow up reading comics. I played games about super heroes, watched super hero cartoons, created robust fight sequences and narratives (often in that order) with super hero action figures, and pretended I was the one taking down the bad guys.

It was “Super” fun!

Today, I get to relive those adventures with my two little ones by fighting giant robots, thwarting the plans of treacherous villains, and protecting the lives of the innocent baby dolls scattered around the room.

Picture of Chris and his kids dressed like generic super heroes (masks and capes)

This is “Super” fun!

Over the past few years, the folks at Marvel have been releasing movies starring some of their most popular super heroes.  Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Thor have each had their own summer blockbuster movie (Iron Man actually had two).  These movies set the stage for the ultimate super hero team up, bringing all of them together in The Avengers.

Without even asking me about it, my wife made babysitter arrangements and pre-purchased the opening night tickets. She had watched all these movies with me, loving the Iron Man movies the most. She wasn’t nearly as excited as me to see The Avengers but when I told her it was directed by Joss Whedon, creator of her favorite show of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she was all in.

As you can probably guess, on the night of the big event, I found myself grinning from ear to ear, mesmerized for over two hours.  Despite the fact that I was ten years old again, I couldn’t help but draw some parallels between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and contemporary practices in the world of education and assistive technology.


The Tesseract as Curiosity and Engagement-
The movie starts with an action packed sequence of events where the villain of the movie, Loki, steals the Tesseract; a powerful energy source with the potential for creating sustainably clean energy for the planet. Loki plans to use the Tesseract to create a portal into space through which he can bring an invading alien army.

It comes to light during the movie that Loki has not been the only power looking to use the weapons for less than peaceful purposes. S.H.I.E.L.D. (a government agency) works to exploit the power of the Tesseract to create its own set of unique weaponry which can be used to keep the peace. Good intentions to be sure, but by keeping this fact a secret they cast a nefarious shadow of doubt over the entire organization.

The Tesseract is unharnessed energy, not unlike the enthusiasm of students entering school. Have you seen the overflowing brightness behind a kindergartener’s eyes before the first day? It is brimming with hope, eagerness, curiosity and a desire to learn. The raw energy is palpable. Students come to school, en masse, already engaged. Therefore, keeping them interested in school should be as easy as saying some incredibly cool catch phrase. Unfortunately, somehow, it’s not.

Educators, throughout the entire span of students’ educational careers, have the massive responsibility of helping students continue to feel engaged in their learning.  It is not the fault of the Tesseract that people are trying to exploit it. Likewise, it is never the students’ fault if and when they become disengaged with learning.

Students DO NOT CHOOSE to be bored.

The power of the Tesseract is like that of curiosity in students. Curiosity can be kept flowing through students by providing them with options about how they’d best like to learn. Curiosity will continue to drive student’s engagement when they get to make choices about how they’d best like to learn.

For now, the curriculum is set, static, and determined, but the ways for students to experience that content is changing, dynamic, and flexible. By providing students with options, you give them freedom, much like an Avenger keeping the world safe from a race of invading aliens. If educators approach each lesson plan by saying, “What’s the best way I can engage each learner?” and then successfully execute those lessons, they will have taken a heroic first step.

A Group of Individuals Does Not a Team Make
The Avengers brings together a group of individuals, each with his or her own set of unique traits and abilities which add something to the whole. Each character has a skill set that makes them a valuable asset and which makes them vital to the success of the mission. When an Individualized Education Program is being developed, individuals from different disciplines and perspectives come together for a common purpose. Each individual member brings his or her own set of talents to the table to formulate a plan which outlines the instructional needs of a student. However, a group of individuals working toward the same cause does not necessarily make it a team.

Throughout the course of the movie, the Avengers learn that individual feats of strength and demonstrations of skill might be impressive (and fun to watch) but don’t necessarily equate to getting the job done. It isn’t until the end of the movie, setting egos aside and learning to work together, do the Avengers truly form a team. Likewise, when developing and implementing an Individualized Education Program, the team should work synergistically, not separately. It is not the job of the speech therapist to work on goals related to communication, the job of the occupational therapist to work on fine motor goals, the job of the physical therapist to work on gross motor goals, the job of the parent to work on things at home, the job of the general and special education teachers to work on academic goals, or the job of the administrator to ensure that everything gets done. Rather, it’s the job of everyone, to work on every aspect of every goal, collaboratively. When this happens, the individual skills of professionals blur into something cohesive, a true team forms and the student is the one who ultimately wins.

Character Before Technology
Each hero in the Avengers utilizes a weapon that matches their individual set of skills. Captain America uses his iconic shield. Iron Man is outfitted with a suit of armor. Thor wields Mjolinir, a mighty hammer. Hawkeye shoots a bow. Black Widow uses acrobatics and firearms. And the Hulk is a weapon all unto himself.

In this movie, just like in all of the other Marvel movies, the focus is on the character, not the tools they use. The weapons support the characters, not the other way around. In this way, the weapons used by the heroes are similar to the process of selecting a device or strategy for a student.

When Steve Rogers was becoming Captain America, the plot wasn’t the discovery of some shield made of Vibranium and how someone could use it. Rather, it was about a man who stays true to himself while facing incredible circumstances. In Iron Man, the story isn’t about a man who sets out to develop an invincible suit of armor but rather, creates one out of necessity. Thor’s hammer serves as a symbol for doing what is right, but the story of Thor centers around humility.  Bruce Banner’s main conflict comes from an internal struggling for control not about the ramification of experimenting with gamma radiation. In truth, what gets to the core of all of these characters has nothing to do with the tools they use, but rather, who they are as people.

Device selection happens in much the same way. When selecting an intervention for a student or class, the question should be centered around who the student is and what they needed to accomplish, rather than the idea of having a tool and wondering who could use it. For Marvel, it’s not “We have this shield, suit of armor, mystical hammer, gamma radiation, bow, etc. We should give them to someone”. Instead, it’s “There’s this complex character who faces intense problems. What type of tools should we provide this person to help solve these problems?” For selecting specific assistive technology for students, it shouldn’t be “Look at this shiny cool tool, who should use?” Instead, it should be “This student (or groups of students) has a problem. Which tool(s) can this student (or these students) use to help address that problem?” When devices are selected based on the character of the student, rather than the other way around, one can be sure that the student is getting what is needed.

Sacrifices –
Agent Coulson has been described as the glue that holds the various Marvel movies together and helps to maintain continuity. The character makes an appearance in many of the other Marvel movies. He is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who helps to bring the individuals together because he believes in the idea of forming a cogent team of Superheroes. Agent Coulson makes the ultimate sacrifice to provide the final catalyst for driving the group to work together as a team.

Many educators do this too. Many live for their students, providing countless hours way beyond the limits of the typical work day to provide the very best service they can. They believe they are making a difference, investing in the future, and truly impacting the lives of students in a positive way. Coulson died because he believed in the Avengers. Educators sacrifice money, resources, and (most importantly) time to the idea that students, no matter their ability, can and will learn.

Also like the Avengers, educators perform these selfless tasks with mixed levels of support. At the end of the movie, the director makes the point to show how the public reacts differently to the knowledge that heroes exist. Some embrace the heroes, thanking them diligently. Others question their true intentions. Some even outright blame the heroes for the invasion. Educators, despite their passion and sacrifices, receive this same mixed response from the public at large, however, educators shouldn’t be chastised or scorned. Rather, they should be respected and revered for being the heroes they are.

Overall, the Avengers is a fun, action-packed thrill ride that brings a helicarrier-load of laughs and smiles. Engaging characters drive a compelling plot all supported by the backdrop of a fascinating universe. Working in the field of education is much the same. Teaching, and supporting students, is one of the most enriching and rewarding professions. It is filled with memorable, meaningful, jaw-dropping moments that leave an impression, move you to tears, and can make you feel like you’re the hero you always wanted to be.

Chris's face superimposed over the Avenger's faces

The Avengers Movie Poster

Assistive Technology Movie Review: Moneyball

As soon as I saw the trailer for Moneyball I added it to the Netflix queue. I didn’t feel compelled to see this movie in the theater because a) I’m not a big fan of baseball and b) I tend to spend theater dollars on movies laden with impressive special effects to maximize the big screen experience.  I was, however, interested in learning how mathematics and statistics could be applied in an formulaic approach to change how people think. When it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar I bumped it up in the queue.

Like in the last blog post about a movie, I wasn’t expecting to find correlations between a mainstream film and contemporary educational philosophies like Universal Design for Learning.  My apologizes to my wife for the frequent pausing of the DVD to take notes. I couldn’t help it. Ideas just kept pop flying into my head.

The movie, based on a true story, stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, a former baseball player turned general manager for the Oakland Athletics. The movie opens at the end of a successful season for the Athletics. Instead of celebrating however, Pitt finds that his star players have left to take higher paid contracts on other teams. Faced with replacing these high profile names within a limited budget and frustrated with a staff using traditional scouting methods, Pitt begins looking for a different approach to fill the missing roster spots.

The scouts, in my view, echo the mindset shared by some educators that “this is the way we’ve always done it and it has worked out fine so far.”  To some extent, this might be true. For sure, I grew up filling out an exorbitant amount of worksheets and I feel like I received a decent education. But, could it have been done differently? Could my educational experience been even more meaningful? I think so. More importantly, does this traditional approach of providing worksheets to practice a concept work for everyone? I think not.

The movie demonstrates, in glaring fashion, that change is difficult.  People who have been doing something the same way for years, no matter the profession, resist change. Pitt’s character proposes a shift away from tradition and it meets with opposition.

Moving education away from a continuous flow of worksheets following a rigid, one size fits all philosophy into a new world where students are provided with choices as to how best they’d like to engage in their own learning would yield better results.

On a trip to negotiate with the Cleveland Indians Pitt meets a Yale grad, played by Jonah Hill, who pitches a radical new theory of player evaluation. Hill suggests that a wide range of individual variables can each be given numerical values and a quotient can be calculated from these numbers.  This quotient can then be used to get the most productive players for the money available.  The final quotient they use to evaluate a player’s value, the one of paramount importance to Pitt and Hill’s characters, is tendency to get on base.

For years I’ve thought that a merit-based system of pay would be a benefit to education. The theory is simple. Pay teachers based on performance. The most poignant argument against a merit-based system is how to make it equitable based on all the variables present in a classroom. Once I tried to make a list of all the variables that would need to be considered if a merit-based system were to exist. The list was as big as the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

Hill’s character in the movie quantified each relevant variable and generated a formula which he used to boil it down into one number. To me, if this exists for all the relevant variables present on the baseball field, then this same approach could be applied to evaluate, and thus pay, teachers according to a quantified value. The approach, as applied to baseball, is called sabermetrics. It would an interesting project for a class of individuals studying statistics to try to duplicate these efforts applying them to contemporary classroom variables.  The result might just produce an equitable system for paying educators based on productivity rather than solely on a traditional step approach.

Once Pitt’s character implemented the new approach I leaned over to my wife and said, “If this works right off the bat (pardon the pun) it is going to be a really short movie”. Predictably, the new approach didn’t work right away and the nay-sayers felt justified in their negative prognostications. In the movie, things go awry for Pitt and Hill but they stick to their failing approach, dedicated to see it through to the end.

To me, teachers implementing different or varied technologies in their classrooms to meet the needs of the different and varied learners in their classrooms should understand that sometimes things don’t work the right way, right away. Chaos might ensue. Like Pitt and Hill’s characters, stick to it. One loss on the baseball field doesn’t mean the entire season is a wash.  Likewise, one lesson where the technology didn’t work correctly or where students got confused doesn’t mean the approach isn’t solid. If you make an error, letting the proverbial ball roll between your legs, that’s okay. Brush off the dust and use it as motivation to hit a home run at your next “at bat”.

Furthermore, in some instances technology might work to help a student the instant it is put in place. However, in most cases, it usually takes time to successfully implement a technology tool. Consider the examples of implementing word prediction for a student with spelling difficulties or an augmentative communication device for a student who has never used one before. Although these tools can be powerful and life-altering when used overtime, it usually takes some time for a person to learn to use these tools effectively. It typically takes patience, practice, training and time for a student to truly integrate these tools to make a difference in their lives. Therefore, like Pitt and Hill’s characters, stick to it. If the decision to place a device was founded on solid evidence, then it is likely to work. Don’t give up. Chances are, you won’t strike out.l

Faced with a doomed team at the bottom of the standings, the duo  move out of their introverted comfort zones to enact the help of the players. Once the players are educated about the philosophy and brought on board as partners in the approach , positive results begin to occur. The Athletics, remarkably, begin to win against teams that can afford much higher paid players. In this same way, students should be made aware of the teacher’s educational philosophy and be accepted as cohorts in the approach.  Like the players on the team, students will work to improve (and help each other to improve) if they have a shared vision, outlook, or campaign to get behind. Set and share an obtainable and collaborative classroom goal. Authentically involve the students in as many decisions as possible in an attempt to reach that goal. Refer to it and reflect on it together so no one starts striking out on bad pitches.

Likewise, this same approach of establishing and sharing a common goal works for any group or people working together. Grade levels teams, assistive technology teams, school wide and system wide faculties, or any group of people working to achieve a common goal will produce better results if everyone has taken ownership of that goal.

In baseball, the general manager doesn’t necessarily need to fix a flaw in a batter’s swing, he just needs to create the environment in which the player himself can grow to make adjustments. In this same way, a teacher does not need to dictate solutions to solve every problem students encounter, but rather, provide the proper guidance and support to let the students develop their own solutions.

In the end, of course, Pitt, Hill, and the Athletics go on to prove that their system works. The movie claims that professional baseball, steeped in tradition and history, changed forever after that season.  In the following years every team changed to adopt Pitt’s new statistical approach to player evaluation and acquisition.  The profession, and the economy surrounding it, was forever altered largely due to the ideas and efforts of two men.

Educators can have that same impact on their chosen profession. Whether looking at education globally or at each of its subsequent parts (like assistive technology), long standing practices should be challenged, turned over, and re-examined to see if they are truly effective. We might find that embracing new approaches, and showing the determination to stick to these approaches, could result in an effective grand slam for education as a whole.

cropped photo of Brad Pitt in the movie poster for MoneyballPicture of Chris posing like Brad Pitt in the poster for the movie Moneyball


A.T.TIPSCAST Episode #88: Online, Gesture-based Learning, Part 2

Episode Overview-

This episode of the A.T.TIPSCAST is sponsored by Texthelp Systems, provider of award-winning literacy solutions including Read&Write GOLD and Fluency Tutor. To learn about these products and their new suite of web apps go to www.texthelp.com.

Read & Write Gold, TextHelp, and Fluency Tutor logos

Episode #88 features the second of two episodes describing the use of websites featuring activities which utilize webcams to engage students through interactive, gesture-based activities.

This episode also features a bumper from Kelly Ligon, from the Virginia Department of Education’s Training and Technical Assistance Center, telling everyone about the new online version of the Techknowledgy Conference which you can access over at http://ttaconline.org/atsdp

A.T.TIPS In This Episode-

A.T.TIP #252 – Bubble Burst

Student matches nose to outline of a nose onscreen

A picture of a student popping bubbles with her noseA.T.TIP #253 – Catch The Hoops

Picture of Chris wearing a hat to catch hoops on head

A.T.TIP #254 – Furry Mind

Picture of Chris point to furry creatures from the game Furry Mind

A.T.TIP #255 – WebCam Mania

Picture of boy playing the soccer game in Web Cam Mania

Additional Information –

As a reminder of what was mentioned in Part 1, this is an example of a message where the user needs to allow the website access to the webcam.

Screenshot of message asking for user to allow access to webcam

Contact Information-




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A.T.TIPSCAST Episode 67: Glogster at Temple University

Episode Overview-

This episode of the A.T.TIPSCAST is sponsored by Texthelp Systems, provider of award-winning literacy solutions including Read&Write GOLD and Fluency Tutor. For more information, go to www.texthelp.com.

Read & Write Gold, TextHelp, and Fluency Tutor logos

Episode #67 features a recording of a live event from a presentation Beth Poss and I did at Temple University back in November of 2010. Beth and I are doing a Pre-Conference Workshop – UDL 2.0 Hands on! on January 26th from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm.  Sign up and join us for a day of interactive fun!  The episode also features a bumper from Sean Sweeney. Check out his Edublog Award Winning blog www.speechtechie.com.

A.T.TIPS In This Episode-

A.T.TIP #153: www.glogster.com

Upcoming Presentations-

Maryland Assistive Technology Network Webinars

Web 2.0 Tools, January 13th, 2011– 3:00pm – 4:00pm EST

ESBOCES Model Schools Technology Leadership Webinar Series

Practical AT – March 7th, 2011 – 8:00pm – 9:00pm with Sally Norton-Darr

UDL & Assistive TechnologyApril 4th, 2011 – 8:00pm – 9:00pm with Sally Norton-Darr

Eight is EnoughApril 6th, 2011 – 8:00pm – 9:00pm

Alternative Professional DevelopmentApril 11th, 2011 – 8:00pm – 9:00pm

Participant’s Choice – Social Media/Podcasting OR Web 2.oApril 13th, 2011 – 8:00pm – 9:00pm

The Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference 2011 – Orlando, Florida

Pre-Conference Workshop – UDL 2.0 Hands on! – January 26th – 8:00am – 4:00pm with Beth Poss

Re-energize Your Technology Implementation – January 27th – 9:20am – 10:20am with Mark Nichols

PD 2.0 – Interactive Web-based Technology for PD in AT – January 27th – 1:15pm – 3:15pm with Beth Poss

Other Resources Mentioned in This Episode-

UDL EXPLAINED VIDEO – http://bit.ly/udlexplained

2010 EDUBLOG AWARDS – Best Educational Podcast

Contact Information-

Join the A.T.TIPPERS group on Facebook and/or Classroom 2.0 ! You can also follow me on twitter.com.

Leave a comment down below or drop me a line at attipscast@gmail.com. Let me know what you think of the show! You can access the podcast and register as a fan of the show from here:

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Thanks everyone and happy listening!

A.T.TIPSCAST Special Episode #4: ISTE Author Podcast Interview

Episode Overview-

Hey everyone,

This special episode features an interview Sally Norton-Darr and I did for the ISTE Author Podcast Series.  In the interview we talk about what is assistive technology, why we wrote the book, why it is both practical and fun, and provide some tips for new and veteran assistive technology teams.  We also have some fun telling about some team pranks!  Enjoy!

Book Information-

Podcast Hosting