I revised the original very short version of this post after Dr. Andrew Van Schaack commented so helpfully on it. I’d like to recommend that you read his comment first (and follow the link he shares there to learn A LOT more), then experience the YouTube video (with or without translatable captions), and then read my post below. Last summer at NECC (2009) I was honored to meet Jim Marggraff, Dr. Andrew Van Schaack, Holly De Leon, and others at the Livescribe booth. Andy, as Dr. Van Schaack, graciously asked me to call him, showed me early prototypes of both a talking Braille Periodic Table and a TalkingScientific calculator. I was blown away by these because of what they would surely mean to students with vision loss as these students must struggle to understand relationships and properties of the elements in chemistry and/or might not be able to afford talking scientific calculators (the latter typically cost at least $250 U.S. each). Andy also told me how it might also be possible to create a talking/audible graphing calculator. Later he shared some really helpful advanced techniques for using Livescribe Smartpen & paper which he details in the Teaching Strategy Guides he has authored (more about these in separate posts). The talking periodic table "knows" a lot about the elements. With clicks of the Smartpen it can yield the following information about any element: Symbol, Name, Atomic Weight, Density, Melting point, Boiling point, Atomic radius, Ionic radius, Electronegativity, Ionization energy, Electron affinity, Heat of Fusion, and a few (?) others. Andy explained that he and Dr. Josh Miele of the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute had been developing these tools with funding from an NSF (National Science Foundation) grant. He also shared that one of the most challenging issues with developing these applications wasn’t necessarily the programming but rather with finding just the right paper that would last reasonable long with frequent use (tapping of a Livescribe Smartpen with either an inking or preferably non-inking tip). Although the talking periodic table and talking scientific calculators aren’t yet available (as of 12/28/2009) I was delighted to find a video on YouTube by CrunchGear in which Pulse Smartpen inventor, Jim Marggraff, demonstrates this ground-breaking tool. So hopefully it’s okay for me to help "spill the beans" about this extraordinary forthcoming tool which I actually see as a tool that supports UDL (Universally Designed Learning) as all chemistry students and teachers would undoubtedly find it invaluable in their studies and work.
Last Friday our 8 year old daughter Sarah and I spent an extraordinary hour and a half with Lisa Tomberlin – the Vision Specialist for the Monona Grove School District where we live. During this time Lisa showed us some of the tools used by and with students with vision loss and we explored together how the Livescribe smartpen might be used to complement these.
At one point I showed Lisa a Livescribe-enabled Talking Test and she came up with a brilliant idea. She wondered if it might be possible to add a bump to each of the “talking dots” on the Livescribe paper using a tool from the APH Tactile Graphics Kit (which I knew nothing about). With just a little experimentation both Lisa and I were very excited to learn that “YES!” you could easily use the Tong Tool E-point Symbol to do this. Further experimentation showed that the “bumps” could be created either before or after adding audio.
The following 5 minute video demonstrates how the Tactile Talking Test works and then shows how to use the APH E-point Symbol to add “Talking bumps” to Livescribe paper.
One thing I didn’t mention in the video is that students with vision loss can listen to test questions privately if desired using Livescribe earbuds and that they can also control the playback speed and volume if these controls are also made tactile/bumpy.
Earlier today I asked our daughter Sarah to close her eyes (since she doesn’t have vision loss) to try out the “bumpy” paper test and to see if she could locate particular talking bumps. What was neat was how she showed me how she could use her left hand to feel the bump and then just tap, tap, tap close to it with the Livescribe smartpen, that she was holding in her right hand, until she heard the audio begin playing. This made me realize that it might be wise to replace the inking Livescribe tip with the non-inking tip so that students with vision loss won’t add extra ink to audio bumps. If a Tactile Talking Test is used frequently the bumps might need refreshing or new bumps can be added with fresh audio.
We also explored how the Sewell raised line drawing kit could be used with the Livescribe smartpen which was something I had read about in Dr. Andy Van Schaack’s research paper and read about online. Look for more posts about this and related ideas as we co-develop them.