Because my self-contained special education classroom is located within one of the highest-performing high schools in the state, I am sometimes afforded unique opportunities. This year, my school is participating in a Digital Learning Initiative and, as a result, each of my student has been issued a Chromebook.
At first, there was some discussion about whether students with the most significant disabilities would be included in the initiative. Actually, discussion isn’t the best descriptor…the truth is, no one seemed to know what was supposed to happen with those students. Obviously, our students with disabilities might not be able to take full advantage of the benefits of the Chromebook. Some commented that they wouldn’t be able to use them independently and another device, such as an iPad, might be more appropriate.
In the end, the decision was made through inaction. All students were to receive a device at registration and so each of my students has a Chromebook for this year.
We have been in session for less than a month, but here are some of my favorite (free!) apps/extensions for the Chrome browser so far.
YouTweak– YouTweak lets you personalize YouTube to some extent. I use YouTweak to hide suggestions from the subscriptions page and redirect youtube.com to the subscriptions page. Doing this allows me some limited control over what master-clickers have access to. This will NOT prevent typists from searching for their favorite videos, but it is great for trying to rein in those high school students who, on their own, would pass their time watching Teletubbies or Sesame Street. Instead, you can help them subscribe to some age-appropriate channels that they are also interested in. Some of our favorite subscriptions so far are The Slow-Mo Guys, Devin SuperTramp, and the oddly hypnotic drawings of Heather Rooney.
AdBlock (or AdBlock Plus)– AdBlock does exactly what it sounds like. It blocks some advertisements from loading on different websites. This allows websites to load more quickly and also limits distractions.It also reduces those problem areas on websites that, if you accidentally click on them, takes you to the advertisers’ site to make a purchase. This great for everyone (except the advertisers)!
Playtimer for Kids – I. Love. This. Extension.! The Play-Timer for Kids is designed for parents to limit their kids’ screentime. I love it because I can assign a certain number of minutes on an educational website. For example, my students have Chromebook time each day during Homeroom. I can set the Play timer for ten minutes and it will play a relaxing chime sound and display a ‘Time’s Up!’ banner when the timer goes off. Easy to set and use!
Read & Write for Google – Teachers get a free premium subscription to Read & Write for Google, but students can also access some of the great features of this extension. After their free 30-day trial of Read & Write, students can continue to have most websites read aloud to them. Although some sites can be kind of glitchy, it should work wherever you see the purple puzzle piece.
Budget Happy– Budget Happy is a website that students can use to track how much money they have. My students often have goals to manage a small personal budget and this allows students with cognitive disabilities to do so fairly easily. You can make this as complex or as simple as you would like by adding envelopes with different amounts of money.
I typically have students use two envelopes–one practice and one for their community money–and then they can use their receipts when we return from community trips to enter in the amount spent.
Wunderlist- Wunderlist is an amazingly easy app that readers can use to manage a daily schedule. I have ‘master schedules’ laminated for each day of the week, and each morning students can type in each item on their to-do list. Make sure you change the settings so each item gets added to the bottom of the list rather than the top as you type it in. As students finish each item on their list, they click the checkbox and get rewarded with a satisfying ding! I have yet to find a scheduler for non-readers that I like as well.
That’s all for now! I’m sure I will discover more and more useful apps/extensions as the year goes on.Remember, you can still take advantage of these apps and extensions even if you do not have Chromebooks. They should all work within the Chrome browser on any computer.