SXSWedu Teacher of the Day: Elizabeth Alarcon

SXSWedu Teacher of the Day

From our time spent at SXSWedu, will be featuring one teacher per day who is bringing technology, creativity and innovation into their classroom. Be sure to read more about our other Featured Teachers and learn how you can bring their practices in your classroom.

SXSWedu Elizabeth Alarcon
Functional Communications Teacher, Round Rock ISD, Austin, TX

We met Elizabeth during the EdTechWomen meeting at this year's SXSWedu. We were so inspired by her spirit, her story and her students that we spoke to her about the innovative work she is doing as a Special Education teacher in Austin, TX.

Learn more about her insight on this year's conference and why she loves going to work everyday.

What are some events you attended at this year's SXSWedu that resonated with you?

EA: This year's SXSWedu was my first. "The Hip Hop Fellow" was great. I'm working on my dissertation about incorporating music in to the classroom, so I tried to catch all of the talks that spoke about hip hop and other forms of music.I have seen how well my students respond to me when I'm able to connect with them musically.

I cannot tell you how many students start to pay attention when you start to break down Algebra using money gained from Notorious B.I.G's album sales.

At the end of the week, my favorite event was the Ed Tech Women mixer. It was so nice to meet women leading the way for me, encouraging advancement, and just being excellent lasses in educational technology! At this year's conference, I also got to teach a stop motion animation class to students during the interactive portion of SXSW.

Tell us about yourself, your students, and the work you're doing.

EA: Currently, I am running a Functional Communications Classroom. My students tend to have very high unwanted behaviors and little to no communication skills. Cognitively, the range can fall between 18 months and 3 years old. My background is in deaf education and special education with a focus on students with Autism.

Most of the day is focused on learning communication skills using The Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) and general immersion in communication. There is a lot of data to be collected everyday (examples include cold probes, spontaneous data collection, behavior data.) Last year, I would take home carts filled with data to analyze and graph. Each kid had their own set of picture cards, different sets of word charts associated with said cards, a program book to graph each skill gained or lost, and also their goals and objectives that need to have skill tracking sheets as well. Like all teachers, I did not have a moment to spare during the day, so I brought all of the data home.

I took most of the 2014 summer break to come up with a way to make my data and graphing paperless using Google apps like Sheets, Forms, etc. It was great to be able to color code all the communicative operants for easy identification. Currently, Im trying to figure out a way to shuffle a desired amount of picture cards so students can correctly identify an object without the response being rote. I'm reading up on programming and playing around with a few different programs.

SXSWedu Alarcon

Example of skills tracking sheet for VB-MAPP

I teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to my students using the Unique Learning System (ULS) on the SmartBoard. This program takes the main idea of the standards and breaks it down to a level specific to the student. The ULS also supplies books with associated visuals, so my students are able to follow along pretty well. I do monthly pre- and post-tests as well as daily assessments.

To track the progress and mastery of goals and objectives, I use the Vizzle program. I have the ability to create a book, game, gear process, visual schedule, sorting, topic sentences, or match to sample. I also may use an existing assessment that directly links to a specific objective for the student. This program really has saved me copious amounts of time tracking mastery of goals and objectives.

Communication with Parents

To communicate with parents more effectively and allow them access to documentation pertaining to their child, I set up websites for each student that only the parents and I have access to. Using Google Forms, I can fill out a daily behavior update in real time. This has helped me record daily data or ABC data with more ease and efficiency. I embedded the paperless data sheets for the desired student in each website as well. This allows the parents to see the progress made in class and what needs to be worked on as well. There are pictures streaming on there that are specific to each day and also a link to my twitter so parents can see real time activity and read articles if desired. Its a newer idea, but my hope is this will be enough transparency and promotion of self-advocacy that those old communication journals will be a thing of the past!

Tech Thursdays

Every Thursday I have “Tech Thursday”. This is when I get to go a little technology crazy! I take all of our TEKS that we worked on that week and I make interactive learning opportunities for the kids. We learn how to code using match to sample skills (which are skills tracked in the VB-MAPP).

Teacher of the Day

Emaze is great when I only have a few minutes to throw something together. This is great on days when I have prepared a lesson plan and I can tell by the students’ energy that they aren't feeling it at the moment. I throw on a quick GoNoodle brain break and curve my lesson to what they may be more willing to do.

EdPuzzle is hands down my favorite site. Currently, we are talking force motion energy. I love baseball, so I'm applying it to the lessons for the month. I want my kids to show me running, but they are all different communication and cognitive levels so sometimes a video about force motion is too much. Edpuzzle allows teachers to insert multiple choice, fill in the blank, or comments into YouTube videos.

SXSWedu Alarcon

Ms. Alarcon's students use EdPuzzle in the classroom

In the example seen above, I inserted a comment saying “show me run” which is a receptive communication skill. This is tracked live in the students skills tracking document. I am able to tie together all aspects of my classroom with one interactive learning experience. It is a great alternative during story time as well because you can add comprehension questions as you go.

Interactive Media

We have an interactive television on [our school's] campus. I can visually discuss our community while using GoogleBuild and Google Maps. Both of these tools allow my students to tour our community without the risk of becoming overstimulated in an uncontrolled environment.

SXSWedu Alarcon

Ms. Alarcon's students use Google Build and Google Maps to interact with and explore their community

Fine Motor Friday

“Fine Motor Friday” is our time to relax and get a little silly. I have the students identify colors, shapes and comparisons in mini scavenger hunts. We play Kerplunk and Jenga to work on students’ pincer grasp. This past week we talked about "Who We Are." We looked in mirrors and identified different parts of our body (ears, nose, eyes.) We then created baseball pendants with our names, and then used pictures of each other and matched them with our names on the pendants.

SXSWedu Alarcon

I'm very excited to say that we have finished our first chapter book! We took and made QR codes that let my students' peers listen to them explain the book. We learned about QR codes, photoshop and green screens. We also learned about facial expressions. It was a great experience and now the general education kids can scan our front wall to see everything we had been reading about. Designing the front wall on Fridays as a class has really welcomed the other students in and I have noticed an increase in students requesting to be my assistant as well as kids just coming in to assist with prepping for the day.

SXSWedu Alarcon

The student-designed front wall of Ms. Alarcon's classroom

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