What’s your background, and how did you get started in education?
I graduated from Kansas State University in 1997 with a master’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders. After graduating as an SLP, I worked in a variety of settings including public schools, private schools, skilled nursing facilities, and acute care hospitals. After trying out several areas of practice, I knew that I wanted to focus on working with children. In 2001, I had the opportunity to work in a private school for children with hearing loss that used an auditory verbal approach. The technology of hearing aids and cochlear implants was initially terrifying to me, but it very quickly became a passion. I received certification for Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSL) as an Auditory Verbal Therapist in 2006, and I have worked solely in the specialty of hearing loss for over 21 years. I currently work on the cochlear implant team at a major pediatric hospital.
What’s your favorite memory from your time as an educator?
I will never forget one child that I worked with early in my career. I’ll call him “Jay.” Jay was a five year old boy that was born with a profound bilateral hearing loss. His sole means of communication at that time was American Sign Language—he spoke no words verbally and understood no spoken language. When I met him as a five year old, he had just received bilateral cochlear implants, and his parents were determined that they wanted him to be a verbal communicator. I knew that in order to achieve this, everyone would need to be on-board to support him—his family, school team, all professionals working with him—and Jay would need to be motivated to learn spoken language. With two years of intense therapy, amazing family support, and a wonderful educational team, Jay’s auditory-oral speech and language skills were approaching age level. This was so exciting and rewarding for me to observe, and I was so grateful to be a part of his success.
How did you first hear about Boom Cards?
Like many others, my introduction to Boom Cards was at the beginning of the pandemic. I think we were all in a scramble trying to figure out how we were going to switch to a virtual mode of instruction. It was very intimidating. One of the therapists on our team suggested Boom Cards, so I decided to check it out. I couldn’t believe that I had found such an amazing plethora of virtual activities! How had I missed knowing about Boom Cards?! I was hooked. Boom Cards became my primary go-to for teletherapy.
Before you started using Boom Cards did you have a preconceived idea of what “online learning” meant?
I think I had previously pictured online learning as very limiting, maybe a bit boring. I couldn’t imagine trying to maintain a child’s attention and focus without having physical games and materials. Would I load up worksheets on the screen? Would I just “drill” from boring lists for articulation? How would I play games for reinforcement or engage students in some fun rewarding activities? Boom Cards solved all of these problems for me, and I discovered that online learning can be incredibly fun and engaging!
How did Boom Learning change the way you were thinking about technology in the classroom?
Prior to delving into online learning, I rarely used technology in my in-person speech therapy sessions. Now, Boom Cards are frequently used for many of my sessions—whether in-person or virtual. I like that Boom Learning gives the option of printing decks, which continues to be a life saver at times when I’m struggling to find physical materials to address a particular goal. The kids seem to love Boom Card activities whether for in-person or for virtual learning, and that has opened a whole new set of opportunities for me to use technology. If I have an engaged and motivated child, I feel that I have a child that is going to progress.
When did you realize that you might be really good at designing curriculum with Boom Cards?
I think that most speech therapists are rock stars at making materials and being creative. I had always enjoyed making activities, but virtual activities were very new to me. I initially purchased a lot of Boom Cards from other sellers, but also began creating a few decks to more specifically meet the needs of the children I served. In working with children on my own caseload, I began learning what they liked, and didn’t like, about the decks I had created; what was motivating, and what was not. My students provided the feedback that I needed to apply in future decks. It was a gradual transition from making very basic decks, to learning additional tips and tricks over time, to getting more and more creative. I’m always learning how to become a better creator of Boom Cards.
Who is your audience when you design new decks?
I design Boom Cards for SLPs to use with children of all ages, since the bulk of my experience has been with providing speech-language therapy for children aged 0-18 years. In addition to typical speech and language goals, I also have many decks that target goals for children with hearing loss.
Can you describe the sequence of events that led to you becoming a successful publisher?
At first, I started creating Boom Card decks solely for my own use. It was really just a fun pastime for me. There wasn’t a lot to do during the pandemic lockdowns, so making Boom Cards for my caseload was a good hobby. I spent a lot of time searching the Help Desk and watching hours and hours of YouTube videos about how to create decks. Eventually, I decided to step out on a limb and open a Boom Cards store. It was fun to actually make a little money doing something that I was thoroughly enjoying. My store motto is “therapy should be fun,” and I always strive to do that. Creativity, fun, and originality is in the forefront of what I like to provide in the decks that I design.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get noticed as a publisher on Boom Learning?
The biggest key is to create good, quality decks. Design decks that are motivating and engaging for the child, but also address specific, clearly-defined goals. Be original, unique, creative. Provide excellent customer service by responding timely to buyer questions or feedback, and promptly correct any errors that are brought to your attention. Let your buyers know that they are valued whenever you get the opportunity.
What was the biggest surprise you’ve had while making and selling Boom Cards?
How fun it is! When I was first introduced to Boom Cards, I had no idea I would be creating my own materials and how much I would enjoy doing it. I think my brain is ALWAYS thinking about ideas for future decks. My list is so long right now that I’m not sure I’ll ever work my way through it.
How has the pandemic changed the way you look at education technology?
Through the pandemic I was able to see first-hand how technology can be successfully used. I don’t know how I could have survived without technology during the pandemic. Even now, during in-person therapy sessions, I regularly pull up an activity or two using Boom Cards on an iPad.
What are some opportunities you see for new publishers that are just getting started?
As a new publisher, it will take some time and effort to grow your store, but if you create quality decks, the opportunities are endless.
Do you make a living by selling Boom Cards?
After about two years of selling Boom Cards, I was able to cut back to part time at my primary job, so I can definitely envision the possibility. Creating Boom Cards doesn’t really feel like “work” to me; it’s more of a hobby. I can be working on creating a new deck and not even realize that several hours have passed. That’s how I know that I’m doing something that I love. I’m not uber-focused on growing a business necessarily, but I do strive to provide excellent customer service and respond quickly to feedback from buyers. Beyond doing that, I’m just enjoying my creative outlet while having the benefit of watching my business grow at the same time.
Have you always considered yourself to be an entrepreneur?
I think I’ve always had “entrepreneur blood” running through my veins. Creating my own source of income has long been a big motivator for me. For example, I remember, many years ago, wanting to buy a Kindle. At the time, Kindles were $400. I decided that if I wanted to spend money for that, I would sell my physical books until I had saved the money to buy it. I quickly made my goal, but continued selling books (even going to estate sales to buy more books in bulk) for a long time after that…because it was fun and motivating for me.
Any last words of wisdom?
Be patient. Building a business doesn’t happen overnight. Continually and deliberately learn new tips and tricks. Most importantly, have fun!
Check out some of Sandy’s recent decks in the Boom Store.