Interview with The Social Express

blogEntryThumbnailI am pleased to have Marc Zimmerman and his company The Social Express participate in an interview. The Social Express™ is engaging, educational software for children and young adults with social learning challenges. The software - available for iPad, Mac, and PC - is designed to teach users how to think about and manage social situations, helping them to develop meaningful social relationships and succeed in life. The iPad app for The Social Express™ is being offered at a promotional rate of $44.99 through the end of April, celebrating Autism Awareness month. That’s 50% off the introductory price of $89.99!

I asked Marc and his company to answer five questions regarding The Social Express™. Below are the questions that were answered:

What was your company's inspiration for creating The Social Express?
The founders Marc and Tina Zimmerman are parents of identical twin boys who were diagnosed 10 years ago with Autism. Teaching them social awareness has always been their #1 goal. Their inspiration came when a therapist introduced her laptop into therapy. The twins were very interested in the technology but the program was not holding their attention. That’s the day they chatted about leveraging technology with engaging content.

What kind of research was done to create the content in The Social Express?
According to the content director Mary Anne MacLellan, M.A., CCC-SLP, The Social Express™ is based on best practices and programs that feature cognitive behavioral techniques and visual strategies. The lessons presented in the software adhere to California State Board of Education Content Standards and the Common Core Standards. References incorporated in The Social Express™ include the following:

Buron, K.D., & Curtis, M. (2004). The Incredible 5 Point Scale: Assisting students with autism spectrum disorders in understanding social interactions and controlling their emotions. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.

Crooke, P., Hendrix, R., Rachman, J. (2007). Brief Report: Measuring the Effectiveness of Teaching Social Thinking® to Children with Asperger Syndrome (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Gray, C. (2010). The new social story book: Revised and expanded 10th anniversary edition. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons Inc.

Gray, C. (1994). Comic Strip Conversations. Jenison, MI: Jenison Public Schools.

Myles, B.S., Trautman, M.L, Schelvan, R.L., (2004) The Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.

Williams, M.S., & Shellenberger, S. (1994). “How does your engine run?” A leader’s guide to the alert program for self-regulation. Albuquerque, NM: TherapyWorks, Inc.-the Alert Program

Winner, M.G. (2005). Think Social! San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing Inc.

Winner, M.G. (2007). Thinking about YOU Thinking about ME. San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing Inc.

Winner, M.G. (2008). A Politically Incorrect Look at Evidence-Based Practices and Teaching Social Skills: A literature review and discussion. San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing Inc.

Zins, J. (2004). Building Academic Success on Social and Emotional Learning: What Does The Research Say? New York: Teacher’s College Press.

How did your team collaborate to create The Social Express?
There were over 20 people collaborating on this project. Skype, conference calls, and personal interaction is how the team stayed in touch.

How did The Social Express fill any kind of void in the app market?
In addition to using a cognitive behavioral approach, it has been stated that The Social Express is the highest quality production app made to date. The company exhausted it’s resources to present animation that meets Hollywood’s standards and content that would be effective in teaching people social-emotional skills.

Describe a success story using The Social Express with a child.
Mandy Nite, the creator of Welcome to Their World blog, shares encouraging results about her young daughter’s progress since working with The Social Express. Nite posted the following assessment on her blog: “This app has everything imaginable about social skills learning except Nite’s daughter, who will turn eight years old soon, has significant social skill problems, high functioning autism and ADHD.  Nite explains that after her daughter completed just half of The Social Express lessons, “She is starting to use what she learned in The Social Express in the real-world.”Nite continues, “I’m amazed everyday by the progress she’s made. She has even started to talk with other children one on one slowly with a little prompting and a few reminders of social skills but is getting the hang of it.”

CUE Live 2012

I was honored to recently present at the CUE Conference as a spotlight speaker. During the conference on Friday, March 16th, I was asked to participate in a CUE Live interview with Mark Hammons. The video interview above includes a memorable experience using Proloquo2Go with one of my students, and my favorite apps for special needs with a mention of my app, ArtikPix. Check it out!

Interview with the Speech Ladies

blogEntryThumbnailI am pleased to have Cindy (right in the photo) and Kristina (left in the photo) Young - a mother-daughter pair of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) otherwise known as the Speech Ladies - participate in an interview. I interviewed Cindy and Kristina to learn more about them and their interests in the field of speech-language pathology. Cindy has been an SLP for about 31 years and has worked in the schools with kids in preschool through high school, as well as nursing homes, private practice and teaching undergrad classes at a local university. This is Kristina's first year in the schools and she is in the middle of her clinical fellowship year (CFY) as an SLP. Cindy and Kristina also co-author a blog at, where they share their experiences and insights in the world of speech language pathology.

Without further ado, below you will find five interview questions that Cindy and Kristina answered:

1. Why did you decide to become SLPs?

Cindy: As with most college students, I went through several career choices before discovering Speech Language Pathology. I was encouraged by a friend to shadow a lady at our local hospital that was an SLP. I did and I was captivated by the clients she saw and the rapport that she had established with the clients and their families. She also told me that the hospital was not the only setting for an SLP, so I then observed a SLP in a school setting. I was totally hooked and knew I had finally found something where I felt I could make a difference in the lives of others.

Kristina: It took me awhile to come to that decision. In college I had many different majors, but ultimately I knew I wanted to go into a service profession and my mom suggested speech language pathology. At first I was hesitant because all I knew of her job was that it included a lot of paperwork! However, I took a couple of classes and really enjoyed what I was learning. I was sure that speech was for me when I was able to enroll in an undergrad clinic class that allowed us to do direct therapy with clients. Though I’m still not big on the paperwork, I love getting to interact with my clients! I was also drawn to the field because I knew that once I graduated there would be a variety of job options.

2. What are the strengths of you being SLPs as a mother-daughter pair?

Cindy: Kristina keeps me up on the latest technology and has encouraged me to incorporate technology in therapy. She has just begun her first job and is very excited about being an SLP. Her enthusiasm is contagious! It is great to have someone to discuss ideas and brainstorm various approaches.

Kristina: The biggest strength for me is that I have a fabulous source of information right at my fingertips! I am able to call my mom at anytime to ask how she would handle a certain situation, tips for getting a child to produce a difficult sound, or questions about paperwork. I have a wonderful CF supervisor, but it is nice to have someone else to bounce ideas off of especially since she has so much more experience than I do.

3. What are the challenges of you being SLPs as a mother-daughter pair?

Cindy: So far we have not encountered any challenges.

Kristina: So far I can’t think of any big challenges we have faced. I think it helps that we work in different school systems. My mother is always very respectful of my opinion and is encouraging if I want to try out something new or different. She reminds me that there is always “more than one way to skin a cat”!

4. What's your favorite population to work with and why?

Cindy: I love the young ones. I spend most of my day dealing with preschool speech and language issues.

Kristina: My favorite population to work with is Pre-School to 5th grade. I just love the little ones! I think they are my favorite because they get so excited about anything. If I walk in and say today we are going to do speech therapy standing up, they are like “WOOHOO!” It is easy to get them motivated about good speech and language.

5. What's your favorite technology to use with students and why?

Cindy: The iPad has been my favorite. The device is portable and so far appears pretty indestructible. It has lots of versatile and affordable apps and many are even free. And, best of all the children love it!

Kristina: Right now I am loving my iPad! There are so many versatile apps to try out and it is easy to carry with me from school to school. I have also started using the promethean board with some of my language kids. The interactive whiteboard gives them a chance to be very interactive during the lessons and I hope that helps the material really sink in.

Interview with Alex Dunn

blogEntryThumbnailI am pleased to have Alex Dunn participate in an interview in which I asked her five questions regarding her involvement with interactive whiteboards. Alex Dunn is a Speech-Language Pathologist for the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), located in Oxford Mills, Ontario. She has been devoted over the last 16 years to exploring creative service delivery models to ensure ALL students, including those with severe communication challenges achieve the goal of meaningful educational and social participation. Most recently Alex has led the team that created Smart Inclusion, an initiative that combines assistive technology with emerging technology (i.e., interactive whiteboards, iPads, SMART Table) and theory to support inclusion – making the impossible, possible for ALL students. Alex has shared her passion for the inclusion of ALL students across Canada, United States, UK, Spain, Germany and Puerto Rico and has just been named the Smart Exemplary Educator of the Year for 2012.

Below you will find the five interview questions and her responses:

1) What types of students are you using interactive whiteboards with?
Smart Inclusion, research, which included the use of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) began four years ago when we were challenged to try to include several students who had severe communication challenges into the general education classrooms. Smart Inclusion involved using SMART products and other assistive and emerging technologies, coupled with critical speech language pathology and educational pedagogy to increase participation and achievement for ALL students including those with severe disabilities. Smart Inclusion is spreading throughout the world, and although originally designed to meet the needs of students with a range of disorders who were nonverbal or minimally verbal (e.g., Autism, Developmental Disability, Cerebral Palsy, Angelman’s Syndrome), we have discovered that the IWB as part of a universal design for learning (UDL) toolkit facilitates learning for all, “necessary for some, good for all.”

2) How do you use an interactive whiteboard with your students?
IWBs are generally used to facilitate academic and social participation, in whole class or small group, for my students with communication challenges in regular education and system classrooms. The IWB is used as part of a UDL Toolkit in combination with other emerging technologies (iPads, Document Cameras, Nintendo DSi, SMART Table, laptops, manipulatives like WikkiStix and paper pencil tasks) to facilitate a centers-based approach that spans kindergarten to high school. In education, the pendulum appears to be swinging to iDevices and other tablet technology but I am believer in maintaining a toolkit of approaches to allow for the most flexibility when offering multiple means of representation, engagement and expression. The critical piece that IWBs continue to offer my students is the ability to apply Carole Goossen’s Aided Language Stimulation principles, which I struggle to do with the tablet or other technology supports.

3) How do you feel interactive whiteboards are beneficial to student learning?
From research data collected from 2007-2009 (research articles and graphic data can be found at
Special needs students participated with peers in small and large group classroom activities to a greater degree in 2008-2009 compared to the previous school year.
  • All students in the classrooms were highly engaged in classroom activities using Assistive and SMART Technology. Engagement was defined by teachers as “attentive, interested in activities, not disruptive, excited about learning.”
  • Teachers reported that they were doing “more teaching, less behaviour management” with the entire class. There were significant decreases in referrals to the school office and serious behavioural incidents for several students (including some of the Smart Inclusion target students) whose behaviour had significantly impacted classroom participation and learning in previous years.
  • Special needs students were not only more engaged and participating to a greater extent in classroom activities with peers, but teachers felt students were meeting their Individual Education Program (IEP) goals sooner than expected. Some teachers made more adjustments to the IEPs than they felt was typical compared to their past practice.
  • Standardized language assessment pre- and post-data reveal that all students demonstrated growth in their speech and language skills; all students’ communication skills had improved to a greater degree when compared to growth over previous years1.
  • Teachers felt that diagnostic and on-the-spot assessments were enabled and helped inform their programming (i.e., precision teaching).
  • Classroom teachers began using what was previously thought to be “special needs” software with all students during both small and large group instruction.
  • Principals reported in interview that piloting the project in a small number of classrooms throughout the district created “proof of concept”, enabling them to plan on taking “the calculated risk” of integrating Smart Inclusion theory and technology into more classrooms within their schools.

4) What's one tip for using interactive whiteboards with students?
Do not be afraid to put any technology, including interactive whiteboard technology in the hands of your students = amazing things happen. If I can only give one tip I would suggest that we as educators see our roles as facilitator, taking advantage of teachable moments as they occur and that we need not limit our students by being “sage on the stage”; we all have something teach and we all have something to learn. When students complete tasks themselves, they are more invested in the outcome. During a recent assignment on animal classification, parents and educators watched in amazement as ALL students made one discovery after another as they explored Notebook in groups, (Notebook is SMART Technologies software that ships with the IWB). One boy discovered animation while another girl uncovered creative pens, and as both students announced their discoveries proudly, other students raced to over to learn how to apply these “finds” to their own group project.

5) How did you and your colleagues receive funding for interactive whiteboards?
Initially in May of 2008, 10 students with severe communication challenges were identified as eligible for a Ministry of Education Special Equipment Allowance (SEA) grant in Ontario Canada to purchase equipment for the fall 2009. This equipment included a SMART Board along with a variety of application software and AAC tools2. With SEA funding the purchased equipment follows the student anywhere they move within the province. Many Districts in Ontario continue to fund IWB through SEA. For us at our District, once we had proof of concept, Principals started funding using peripheral budgets. Charitable organizations and local companies began to support local schools with equipment. We also obtained some SMART Technology and as well as other emerging technologies through research grants.