Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Site visit with Brian Darby at Educational Options, Santa Clara

November 13 2008

Brian Darby’s class is not your typical adult education scene. His learners have mental and physical disabilities of varying degrees and spend every day of every week of the year with Brian, the other AWD teachers, teaching assistants and program staff at Educational Options, Santa Clara Adult Education. Some of Brian’s adult learners live in board and care facilities or with relatives. Some live in supported living settings or in residence hotels or apartments. They all want an improved quality of life afforded by the acquisition of life skills and knowledge that will enable them to live more independently, maintain healthy friendships and lifestyles and become more active citizens in their community. Some learners in Educational Options AWD program are job training at the school cafeteria.

When I entered Brian’s class around 11:00 in the morning, a You Tube video of Backstreet Boys was playing projected on the screen and the whole room was humming, singing along and moving to the rhythm. Everyone was energized and participating.

Then Brian moved on to his lesson using Google Maps Street View feature. He zoomed in on the map of the school surroundings and showed the streets and places of interest in the neighborhood. By engaging the learners with familiar sights Brian was able to work on their letter recognition, practice the school name and address, talk about bus routes the learners take to get to school and their favorite stores and food. By using the multimedia in his presentation, Brian was able to keep his learners’ attention for a longer time than he would by simply talking to them. In our conversation after class, Brian emphasized the importance of using visuals and music when working with learners with disabilities. He used the time we had together to educate me on many challenges adults with disabilities face ranging from basic life skills such as cooking and personal grooming, to acting independently within a community, to social interactions, and pursuing recreational activities. Despite the many odds against them, Brian stressed that most of his learners are very accomplished human beings – in comparison to those ‘non-disabled’ aspects of population with substance abuse and other socially unacceptable issues.

In the afternoon, learners engaged in planning a birthday party and going over next week’s activities. They used the electronic calendar projected onto the screen to do so. Some learners had laptops in front of them so that they can work independently. Others worked on the software programs installed on the desktop stations alongside the wall. One of their favorite Web sites is Starfall (phonics and reading).

Brian’s TIMAC project will be to train other teachers and instructional assistants to offer a similar lesson with Google Maps while covering many skills AWD need. Since not all the teachers have the access to the Internet, Brian’s plan is to develop a PowerPoint lesson using screenshots of maps. He will also be offering other tech support to teachers and aids at set times before and after their teaching hours of 10 to 3. In conversations with Brian’s coordinator, Annabel Tomacder-Ruiz, and the director of SCAE, Daniene Marciano, I learned that Brian is viewed as a tech guru, not only within AWD program, but agency-wide, and that they are all excited at the prospect of Brian sharing hit technology expertise with the colleagues.

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