Thursday, May 21, 2015

Talking BIG Math

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Recently I have been working with a unique situation.

I have a student whom I will call Mike. Mike is very bright. Exceedingly bright. Top of the curve bright. However, he has some significant motor impairments, which leave him unable to write with a pen/pencil, and unable to type functionally.

I have worked with Mike for many years. We've tried voice dictation on and off, but his voice quality was never quite good enough. I always thought, eventually his voice would mature, he might get better breath control, and the voice dictation software would continue to become better.  All of which has come true.

Mike is taking Calculus. He has been dictating formulas to a scribe/TA. It is challenging to find
people who can dictate such formulas easily that are also willing to work for a TA salary. Let me be clear, I don't mean to denigrate, the fact is, I would be hard pressed to scribe for him. Math has never been a strong point for me.

Recently Mike asked to give voice dictation a try again. We set him up with a Windows 7 computer and Dragon 12. Mike was able to successfully complete the Scott Adams training module, which is the hardest of the training modules. I choose the harder one, because in order for Mike to be able to use this tool functionally, he needs to be able to dictate with the sophisticated vocabulary he utilizes.  Anything else, would essentially be pointless. He struggled with just a few words, but overall it was a great success.

Along with Dragon Naturally Speaking, we are using Scientific Notebook and Math Talk.  Scientific Notebook is essentially a word processor designed to create documents that contain text, mathematics, and graphics. Scientific Notebook can be downloaded for a free 30 day trial to get a sense of what the software can do.  A student license is $79.

The third component, Math Talk is a unique and phenomenal piece of software that integrates with Dragon Naturally Speaking to allow the user to voice any math phrases, including pre-algebra, algebra, trig, calculus, statistics, and graphing. An individual student version retails for $275.

Now, these are all pretty robust pieces of software. Layering of technology can often lead to problems. But, when loaded correctly, following the directions from the folks at Math Talk, and the training is completed, it is very impressive what a user can accomplish.

This is not a particularly inexpensive intervention when you tally a laptop, Dragon Naturally Speaking  Scientific Notebook, and Math Talk. But, in the long haul, it is significantly less expensive than hiring a scribe.  Also, I have yet to find anything that will work in this type of situation. My expectation is that the intervention will open up a significant level of independence for Mike.

One more note to make. The dove-tailing of 3 pieces of software can at first seem daunting. It did to me, and I tend to be fluent in this sort of venture.  If you follow the written directions from the Math Talk, it will work.  Or, if you call Math Talk for help, you will get NanciLu on the phone. She is the creator and owner of the company. She will make you laugh, and help you experience success with dictating complex math to a computer.  That is a win!

For the right student, this intervention is phenomenal, and I encourage you to take a look at a video or two if you think you have that student.

Happy therapy!