Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Great Tool for Reluctant Emerging Writers!

Two years ago I wrote about Scribble Press, a favorite app of mine, which I referred to as Mad Libs with Super Powers. Well, the folks at Scribble Press have teamed up with the folks at Fingerprint Play and developed an app called Scribble My Story. It is described as a "junior version" of Scribble Press.

The key differences between Scribble Press and Scribble My Story are outlined here:
1) Scribble My Story has audio!  Pre-written stories are read aloud, and there is also the option to record your own voice as you write your own story.
2) Scribble My Story takes advantage of the Fingerprint platform so parents can keep in touch with what their kids are learning and what books they are creating.
3) There is a wealth of new artwork available, much of it based on the popular characters from Fingerprint Play’s Big Kid Life. 

4) Photo and web image support is not a feature of Scribble My Story
5). Scribble My Story is free! 

 Scribble My Story is geared towards kids ages 3-7, with an age appropriate user interface and easy drawing tools.  There are 6 stories in the free download, and more to download for small fees ($0.99).

FingerPrint Play brings more interactivity for the family including a shared family account which allows parents to track their kid's progress, message one-another, and a "parent gate" to control in-app purchasing.

This app, like it's predecessor is a great way to engage reluctant writers, either using their index finger, if they aren't quite ready for a writing tool, or to introduce a stylus. It should prove to be a great tool for Occupational Therapists!

Happy Therapy!

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Note-Taking Conundrum

Researchers and educators have suggested note-taking-by-hand produces greater efficacy for learning than note-taking-by-keyboard. Supporting this notion, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer*, posit that handwriting may create deeper processing of the content.

Mueller and Oppenheimer conducted three studies, and concluded that subjects who took notes via keyboard were able to generate more written product.

Students who took notes keyboarding were not as capable as their handwriting peers in remembering factual details, demonstrating conceptual comprehension, or synthesizing the material.  

According to Cindi May**, who writes for Scientific American:
"What drives this paradoxical finding?  Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning.  Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture.  Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information.  Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention.  By contrast, when typing students can easily produce a written record of the lecture without processing its meaning, as faster typing speeds allow students to transcribe a lecture word for word without devoting much thought to the content."

For those of us working with students with special needs, who are doubly challenged by handwriting this becomes even more complicated. If the student cannot read his/her writing, what than? If the student's rate of handwriting is half the speed of his/her peers, what than? There are the obvious benefits of being able to quickly reorganize and edit word-processed work.

So, food for thought. No answers here, but when we make recommendations to switch a student to keyboarding, and possibly jettison handwriting, we need to consider the whole impact. Perhaps, we switch students, but ask the team to continue addressing handwriting. It may be that the student benefits from keyboarding notes, and then taking a short-hand set of notes at home.

I'd be curious to hear reader's thoughts on this.

Happy Therapy!

*Pam A., M., & Daniel M., O. (2014, January 16). The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from

**May, C. (2014, June 3). A Learning Secret: Don't Take Notes with a Laptop. Retrieved September 12, 2014.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Do the Math...

Often, when we think of students who struggle with handwriting, we are focused on composition. And, indeed, this can be the bulk of the student's obstacle. However, if a student has significant dysgraphia, we will often find it impacts his or her ability to write out their math problems as well.

Over the years, if I was going to make a technological intervention in such a situation, it would include a laptop and accompanying software such as MathPad" from Intellitools. I have really found MathPad to be a great program for the right student. MathPad allows the user to solve arithmetic problems on-screen. The teacher can pre-load problems, which are presented individually. This program is both Mac and PC compatible, and retails for about $99.


More recently, a fellow OT shared with me the iPad app Mod Math by Division of Labor SF. This app is free, simple, and really intuitive to use.

ModMath is a great app for students who struggle with the writing process!

The app removes the need for a keyboard, allowing the user to interact with program using the touch screen.

So free versus a hundred dollars... in some ways the math is easy to do (sorry for the pun).  ModMath is a great app, and will likely be my go-to for many of my students. The cost output is significantly lower than the Intellitools software and a laptop.

However, don't throw out the Intellitools product, there are some really terrific features, which for the right situation will make the proper choice! For one thing there are 300 bonus problems that come with MathPad.  MathPad allows the teacher or student to enter problems directly into the program or to import problem lists created with a word processor. MathPad automatically sets up problems using the correct vertical format. Students can go to the Problem List box to check their answers. MathPad places a check if the problem is answered correctly, or a dash if it’s incorrect. The program lets you set up a file for each student and keeps a portfolio of his or her work.  MathPad also will read the problem to the student, including their answer.

In an email conversation with their representative, Dawn, I learned that they are planning "to launch a kickstarter campaign to raise money for an update to Modmath that will allow students to use it for algebra". In addition they are also hoping to make a version for droid.

So, two great choices to help students whose writing is getting in the way of their math success. Happy therapy!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Increasingly Arne Duncan hears concerns about standardized testing...

Well, one more for the day... Guess I'm on fire Tek-ninjas!
Our fearless United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan writes a blog about education. It is often interesting, and mostly infuriating to me, as I don't see Mr. Duncan as a supporter of education, and so I am not a fan.  Ironic, I know, given his office. 
Recently he posted to his blog "A Back to School Conversation with Teachers and School Leaders.  In this article he write that:
"There are three main issues [he's] heard about repeatedly from educators:
  1. It doesn’t make sense to hold them accountable during this transition year for results on the new assessments – a test many of them have not seen before – and as many are coming up to speed with new standards.
  2. The standardized tests they have today focus too much on basic skills, not enough on critical thinking and deeper learning.
  3. Testing – and test preparation – takes up too much time."

If you've followed much of his work, this all is an about face for him. It does not fit with what seems to be his agenda to support high-stakes testing, and (the real cynic in me thinks) dismantle public education.

But don't take my word for it, head over there, read it yourself, and leave him a comment. 
I left a comment, and so far, the FBI has not visited me.

Happy testing!

When To Refer, When Not To Refer

My inspiration to write today came from an email from a friend, and fellow Occupational Therapist from a nearby state. She wrote:
"Our Assistive Tech team keeps getting overwhelmed with referrals for an AT Eval or Consultation....How do you divide up the roles in your county? Any process tips you'd recommend to cut back on needless referrals or to put back some effort into the teams making the referrals? I've heard staff say, "Let's make an AT referral" as soon as a parent asks the team if the student might do better with keyboarding. I feel like the OT or teacher could answer that question without involving an AT referral. Any thoughts?"
We occasionally get referrals that don't require our expertise. When this happens, we follow up with a phone call to the referrer and try to get a bead on the situation. Are there questions that the team genuinely needs help with or are they simply looking for confirmation of their thinking. With newer staff, it is often an issue of sharing with them what our respective roles are. Occasionally, we may be faced with a potentially litigious situation, and so we are called in to be thorough.

In order to head off unnecessary referrals, we make a point to offer in-services to various staff groups (OT, SLP, PT, teachers) to really delineate what our respective roles are from our perspective.

For example, Occupational Therapists already have significant "Assistive Technology" as part of their domain. Consider adaptive eating utensils or cups, weighted vests, or pencil grips. An OT would never make a referral for such low-tech equipment, because they consider it a part of their domain. I posit that keyboarding software is a part of such equipment for most OT's. Similarly, many simple switches are part of a SLP's bailiwick as well.

Our Assistive Technology team considers our role as assessing need and prescribing technology interventions when the team "requires" such assistance. 

If the team already has a handle on the tools required to create an effective intervention, they probably don't need an evaluation, or possibly even consultation.

Assistive Technology teams are not here to replace your clinical reasoning. 

That being stated, I do have staff who will utilize their considerable knowledge, plan interventions, and then call or email to to see what we think regarding what they are doing, and whether or not we think they "missed" something. In my estimation, this is a great way to use available resources.

Other teams may handle such situations differently, and I'd be curious to hear from folks.

Thanks for reading, and happy therapy!

Return to School... searching for my muse

Good day folks. Here in North Carolina students are officially back in school, at least if they attend one of our many beleaguered public institutions they are.

It has been a looooong time since I last posted. I've had a terrific summer full of backpacking, mountain biking, family time, and the beach. Also, to be candid, my writing muse seems to have gone on a walk-about, and I've simply not felt the drive. I'm hoping to get back into the groove with this return to school!

Good luck this school year!