Tag Archives: UDL

Try Eyegaze on Windows!

Have you ever wanted to type on your Windows computer without using your hands or your voice?  A growing number of people are controlling the computer using little more than small head movements.  This technology, commonly referred to as “Eyegaze,” benefits users with motor issues that prevent them from operating a computer in ways that are considered basic to many people.  Such users may include those with ALS (aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), Cerebral Palsy, or Muscular Dystrophy.

In its early days, eyegaze technology was incredibly expensive.  The only way most people who could most benefit from this technology could acquire it was by participating in medical or therapeutic studies where the cost of the technology was covered.

Now, you can download an eyegaze interface program to your Windows computer for free.  Actually, Camera Mouse is nearing its 10th anniversary as a freely available program, thanks to the people at Boston College.  When paired with on-screen keyboard software, everything that you could do with the keyboard and mouse can be done with your computer’s webcam, just by moving your head.

So, where can you get on-screen keyboard software?  In Windows, you already have it.  The one that comes with Windows is perfectly adequate.  In fact, the on-screen keyboard built-in to Windows 10 includes word prediction capability.  This can make eyegaze typing significantly faster.  Eyegaze typing typically works by registering a “click” after the mouse cursor stays in the same space for a set period of time (“dwell time”).

Simpler on-screen keyboard software is also available.  Two programs that are designed to work well with Camera Mouse and incorporate a text-to-speech option are Midas Touch and Staggered Speech.

I am typing this sentence using eyegaze and the Windows 10 on-screen keyboard.

Yes, it’s slow.  That sentence took me over one minute to type.  But for a person who cannot use a standard keyboard or speech-to-text technology, typing a sentence in 60 seconds is a gateway to a fundamental communication option that opens up meaningful participation in the world.  Once a user gets more practice with eyegaze technology, they generally will want the “dwell time” reduced from one or two seconds to a half-second or less.  If I were to practice, and tweak the software settings, I could soon get to a point where I can reproduce that sentence in under a minute.

And, thanks to the technology, if I store a commonly-used sentence in a memory bank, I can reproduce the sentence in far less time than it would take me to type it conventionally, with my 55wpm fingers.

So, why would you want to use Camera Mouse and the Windows on-screen keyboard?  Here are three great reasons!

  1. The Lure of the Gadget – Some people avoid unfamiliar technology because of a fear of it not doing what is expected.  Some people, on the other hand, just can’t resist trying a technology just to see what it does.  If you’re the type who has a natural curiosity for technological wizardry, eyegaze is a super-cool interface to try out!  Camera Mouse doesn’t disable your built-in keyboard and mouse, so any time you need to bail out and shut off the eyegaze tracker, you can do so easily.
  2. Contribute to advancement – Eyegaze technology – and other assistive technologies – continue to get better because of the feedback developers get from users who try their software and give them feedback.  Most advancements in software design and capability started with a user who said, “Y’know, it would be great if this could….”
  3. Build Empathy – If you ever encounter a person who relies on such technology, you will have first-hand experience with what they deal with – both the struggle and the possibilities.  Also, should you happen to work with an individual who has difficulty using typical computer interface controls (e.g., keyboard and mouse), you can more effectively introduce and support the use of eyegaze technology for that individual.  Supplementary or alternative interfaces such as eyegaze give people with significant motor impairments a way to use computers to do many things that typical people take for granted.

For the college course I am teaching, I plan to have each of my students take a turn at using Camera Mouse and an on-screen keyboard to type a sentence.  I will not be grading them on how fast they type the sentence.  I will not be grading them on how few mistakes there are.  I don’t even care (much) if they remember the name of the program we will use or if they practice and get better at it.  My goal is for them to build empathy for the kids they will one day work with who either rely on eyegaze technology to effectively communicate, or who could significantly benefit from such technology.  When the rest of the group is in a typing class, there is no good reason why a student who does not have the physical capacity to type on a standard keyboard should be given some alternate activity that has nothing to do with typing.

But, making that a reality in our schools will require the efforts of educators who demand equity and excellence for every student, regardless of any disability label they’ve been given.


Ten Best Math Instruction Tools

In his excellent TEDx talk, “Math Class Needs a Makeover”, Dan Meyer affirms some basic truths about math class: 1) anyone can learn to be successful in math, 2) traditional approaches to math instruction have poorly served a large number of our students, and 3) making math instruction practical is the key to making it “stick”.  He never uses the term “UDL” in his talk, but the changes he proposes are all about changing how we represent material, how we express our conclusions, and how we engage with the curriculum – the three principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Here are my ten eleven twelve favorite sites to use to support math instruction.  None of them are procedural guides or electronic worksheets.  They all involve building an environment that the student can manipulate and get immediate feedback on their efforts.  Some of them can be done quickly.  Some take longer.  But, they all make effective use of the “problem-based learning” model.

  1. NLVMhttp://nlvm.usu.edu
    A vast array of math manipulatives, indexed by grade band and by sub-topic (Number & Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, and Data Analysis & Probability). This is a long-time favorite of mine.  Most of the applications are built on the Java platform, which unfortunately means they will not work on a Chromebook.  If you have a teacher station with a browser that still runs Java, some of the manipulatives work extremely well with an interactive whiteboard.
  2. iSolveIthttp://isolveit.cast.org/home
    CAST provides two iOS apps that keep the goal of developing logic and reasoning skill at the focus, beyond simply providing a right answer.
  3. Interactivatehttp://www.shodor.org/interactivate/
    Interactivate includes the standard fare of manipulative activities and stock lessons, but goes the extra step of providing ideas and material for Class Discussions.  Also has an associated iOS app.
  4. Illuminationshttps://illuminations.nctm.org/
    The National Council on Teaching Mathematics provides this set of manipulatives, titled “Illuminations”.  Searchable by grade band and sub-topic.  Includes Common Core and NCTM standards.
  5. PhET Interactive Simulationshttps://phet.colorado.edu/
    Colorado University provides this set of modern HTML5-based manipulatives.  Math is the basis for some, and is a strong undercurrent for many of the science activities.  Because of the modern platform, these work well on just about any device or screen size.
  6. NRichhttps://nrich.maths.org/students
    Includes printable support materials for class and teachers.  And, it gives you a chance to explain to the class why the word “maths” shows up all over the place!  Don’t get thrown off by the UK terminology, the activities are indexed for US grade levels as well.
  7. SolveMe Math Mobileshttps://solveme.edc.org/
    Without using the words “equation” or “algebra”, this interactive puzzle game provides a great introduction to those concepts, while reinforcing number sense and application of basic operations.
  8. Cargo Bridge from Limex Games – http://limexgames.com/games/cargo_bridge/
    The guy has to push the box home.  But, there’s a chasm in the way!  Build a bridge to support the guy and the box, with the limited supplies you have available.  You’ll never hear the question, “When am I ever gonna need to know about triangles in real life?”
  9. “Full Steam Ahead” gamehttp://www.ssgreatbritain.org/full-steam-ahead
    Math abounds in a set of physics and engineering problems based on the real-life advances designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  As you progress through the early tasks, more types of challenges are unlocked.  Build, Test, Tweak, Repeat.
  10. Math Playgroundhttp://www.mathplayground.com/math_manipulatives.html
    Somewhat limited set of resources, but the ones that are available are very useful.  Geared more for upper elementary.  Should work well with modern browsers.
  11. Desmos Graphing Calculatorhttps://www.desmos.com/
    A graphing calculator for your browser!  Powerful save, overlay, and editing tools.
  12. Geogebrahttps://www.geogebra.org/
    Online graphing calculator, and a host of additional tools for math instruction, including geometry, algebra, calculus, statistics, and more.  Downloadable materials as well as online activities.

UDL and the “Hidden Curriculum”

In the 1992 film “A Few Good Men,” prosecutor Capt. Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon) questions Cpl. Barnes (Noah Wyle) about the term “Code Red”.  The term cannot be found in the “Marine Outline for Recruit Training” or the Standard Operating Procedure Manual for Rifle Security Company, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Captain Ross suggests that if the term is not specifically named and described in either of these two books, then it either doesn’t exist or is unimportant. The defense attorney, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), points out that the mess hall isn’t named or located in either of those manuals either, but Cpl. Barnes has never missed a meal. How did Cpl. Barnes know what to do and where to go if the mess hall wasn’t explicitly taught to him by his books or his sergeant? His response is as brilliant as it is simple, “Well, I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time, sir.”

School has its own set of unwritten codes and rules. Many students do a great job of deciphering and adhering to these norms by observing them in action. However, some students do not learn these rules so easily in this manner. They are part of what Jean Anyon and others have called “The Hidden Curriculum,” and the phenomenon contributes to achievement / opportunity / support gaps for many students, especially those in historically disadvantaged subgroups.  “The Hidden Curriculum” may include expectations of behavior, content familiarity, and social interaction that are never explicitly taught.  When a student meets these expectations naturally, we deem them “school-ready”.  When a student does not, we somehow conclude that the student is deficient and not the expectation.

In no academic subject area do we expect the students already to have mastered the content before they are admitted to the classroom.  Why should we expect students to have mastered “The Hidden Curriculum” as a prerequisite to being allowed in the classroom, especially when it has not been explicitly taught?

Educators and educational systems can go a long way toward addressing achievement / opportunity / support gaps in their learning environments by looking for “The Hidden Curriculum” and taking actions designed to explicitly teach requisite skills to students who need it.  Or, perhaps even better, redesign those systems to reduce or eliminate inequitable expectations within the “Hidden Curriculum” that perpetuate lack of success for students in historically disadvantaged subgroups.

In other words, when it’s chow time, don’t assume a hungry kid will already know to follow the crowd to the mess hall.

Ten Important Things Amelia Needs You to Know

Ohio’s State Professional Development Grant (SPDG) provides resources for select districts to participate in important work around changing outcomes and improving achievement for diverse learners.

I was honored to be asked to speak at a state-level meeting of SPDG district representatives at the Battelle for Kids “Connect for Success” conference.

My presentation was titled “Ten Important Things Amelia Needs You to Know”.  Big thanks to my friend Patti Porto for getting video of the presentation for me!

The slides are available at goo.gl/8YisM1.

Teaching Left-handed Kids

Some students in today’s educational system are left-handed.  These students have unique educational needs compared to their typical peers.  Common academic activities such as handwriting, drawing, and using scissors require varying levels of modification to accommodate the needs of individuals who are left-handed. Even playtime activities like baseball or golf require alternative or modified equipment to allow students who are left-handed to participate more fully.

Teachers may find it frustrating at first to deal with the unique needs of students who are left-handed.  The constant need to modify assignments can take up a significant amount of the teacher’s valuable time that could be spent in assisting other students. Also, teacher preparation programs do relatively little to familiarize new teachers with the unique needs of this small but important part of the population. These factors contribute to a lack of success for students who are left-handed in typical classrooms.

To maximize efficiency and effective use of limited resources, all students who are left-handed should be educated in a separate educational environment. Students who are left-handed should be provided with a teacher who has specialized credentials in working just with these students. The opportunity for the students to spend most of their time alongside similar individuals will build a greater sense of camaraderie and community. This will also benefit the classroom teachers who will no longer have to spend their time modifying work for students who are left-handed. And, it will benefit the typical students who have previously faced distraction from their studies due to having students who are left-handed in their classroom doing things differently, needing extra assistance, or working in separate groups from typical students.

To enhance these students’ sense of belonging to the school community, we will begin the steps necessary to put together resources to provide activities like sports teams and cheerleading squads for students who are left-handed. We are very excited to announce our first planned event will be a prom, next Spring, only for students who are left-handed!

We are committed to increasing our efforts in early identification of students who are left-handed. Early identification of students who are left-handed will help us provide necessary services that will help increase success of students who are left-handed in a specialized functional curriculum, to give them the best chance of adapting to life after school in a workplace and world dominated by right-handed individuals.

Okay, does all that stuff above seem really stupid?  Yes?  Good.  Now, take out the phrase “Students who are left-handed” and replace it with “students who have Autism” or “Downs Syndrome”or “students who are deaf” or “blind” or any other label we place on students. Why would we think that removing those people from the presence of their peers in classrooms is any more helpful, or any less discriminatory, then doing so with students who are left-handed, or green eyed, or of a particular race?

Just include.

Web Accessibility and Online/Blended Learning Environments

The emerging field of online/blended learning environments holds great promise for students with a wide variety of challenges.  However, the mere fact of a course being all or partly online does not automatically give many students more of a chance of being successful.

In short, the field needs much more attention to furrowing and fertilizing than has yet been afforded it.  Students who would have done exemplary work in a traditional classroom setting doing exemplary work in an online/blended setting is no evidence that the online/blended setting holds any special value at all.

Tonight, I have the opportunity to speak with an online class about Universal Design for Learning from the particular perspective of providing flexible, engaging learning environments and experiences in the online/blended learning model.

If I were the sort who could crank out a few thousand words a week, this could be my next book.

I have a google doc of the resources that I am using.  It will continually evolve.  You are welcome to look, use, and comment.


Writing Tools Workshop

During my Tech Tools to Support the Five-Step Writing Process workshop in Piketon, OH, last Friday (5/1/15), groups used Rory’s Story Cybes to write “Somebody… – Wanted… – But… – So…” stories today.  Here are the two brave souls who agreed to record their stories!

Story #1

Story #2

The Five-Step Writing Process CAN be done quickly!  And combining the picture manipulatives with the “Somebody… Wanted… But… So…” formula helps writers construct a fun story in just a few minutes!

Thanks to everyone who made this workshop so much fun!