Friday, February 22, 2008

Low Cost laptop - NOT the OLPC

Last year, I was excited about the Foleo from Palm. And then I was disappointed that Palm postponed the release of the Foleo because of poor reviews and constant criticism. With Palms recorder, it was one of the smartest moves they have made. Don’t get me wrong, I am a PALM carrier but I am the first to admit that the company leaves much to be desired. So out to the pile heap FOLEO goes.

Then there was all the hype with the OLPC because it was a tool that was affordable. The problem is that I personally cannot see many students wanting to use something that is such a live color of green. Especially if they are self-conscious about what others may think.

Now there are some products that have been getting a ton of buzz for about a year. Intel was seems to want to do the same thing that OLPC wanted to do. Apparently, there is some animosity between Intel and OLPC. Rumor has it that, Intel said something that OLPC didn’t like it. I really don’t think it matters but everyone needs something to talk about. How else do you get free publicity?

So anyway…

You must check out the
Asus Eee PC (pronounced “E P C”). The ASUS Eee PC is an ultra portable notebook computer with prices starting at $399 and $599. The strange little fact is that it was was developed jointly by Intel and ASUSTeK based on Intel's Classmate PC project. The difference is that Eee PC was directed at the consumer market. From the reviews and the blogs about this “laptop”, it is a well liked device. I would say that if you have a student that needs more flexibility then the DANA and you aren’t ready to go the full next step to a laptop this device could be a solution. The hard drive is small, only 4GB hard drive. However, using an SD card (most recommend this); it is a great tool for productivity. It runs open source software Open Office. Comes in a rainbow of pastel colors. Specs for the ASUS According to the website for ASUS - EeePC will also run Windows in the feature. Expect the price to increase.

It is said that the Eee PC was designed for the consumer market and the Classmate was designed for the developing nations. Here is what I don’t understand. If the Eee PC is for consumers in the US, why would you give Linxus and open source software for the price you are charging? The reason I ask this is that the Intel Classmate (not to be confused with the Humanware Classmate sold by DonJohnston,) comes with Windows XP or Linxus options, it can have MS Office 2003 and a 2 gig hard drive if you are running window or 1 gig hard drive if you are using Linux. It retails for $225-$400 depending on the configuration. It is a rugged designed laptop that has a beautiful leather cover that doubles as a sturdy handle. Specs for the Classmate (PDF File)

Mind-Controlled Video Games

Sci-fi is about to become reality there is a new game controller called the Emotiv EPOC Neuroheadset which can open a world of possibilities for children and adults with disabilities that haven’t been able to play video games. Or people like me who are not coordinated enough to play video games beyond the arrow up and shoot button. Game developers have finally game out with a tool that ALL players can be equal participants in an electronic game.

The Emotiv Neuroheadset is a wireless game control that is designed to allow games to use their thoughts, expressions and emotions to control the game. According to the company the headset can detect facial expressions, emotions and cognitive actions like pushing and pulling objects. According to the company dictionary

No matter how exciting this is for your typical gamer, the possibilities for children and adults with disabilities are off the charts. How cool would it be for teenagers to actually play a game without needing to coordinate body movements, special switch arrays or special set-ups for access?

“The Expressiv™ suite uses signals measured by Emotiv’s neuroheadset to interpret player facial expressions in real-time. It provides a natural enhancement to game interaction by allowing game characters to come to life. When a player smiles, their character can mimic the expression even before they are aware of their own feelings. These expressions can be combined to communicate more complex non-verbal expressions such as "flirt , "look sexy”. ”surprised” or “angry”. Artificial intelligence can now respond to players naturally, in ways only humans have been able to until now.” When I first saw the device I thought children and adults with access issues. But after reading this I started to think of individuals with Autism. Making a game that helps them develop understanding of facial expressions.

As of right now the Neuroheadset will only be sold with the game developed specifically for it but other PC games can be used. The exciting part is that IBM Corp. is teaming up with Emotiv to investigate what the other potentials could be outside of gaming. They are going to explore how humans and computers can interact with each other using the Neuroheadset.
Close your eyes…… and make a wish because realistically the Neuroheadset isn’t that expensive $299.

I am in contact with the company to see if I can see this game control in person. I might need to take a trip to San Francisco. I know it’s a sacrifice but someone has to be the person to go. So I will volunteer my brain to check out the device.

There is not date that I could find for when this can be found in stores or online. They had the launch party on the 19th of February. But as soon as I hear, I will let everyone know where and when it can be purchased.
Another article to read:
Also check out the video:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

E-Paper slap bracelets

Remember when slap bracelets were just made of thin piece of aluminum wrapped in fabric. Come on admit it, you had one or wished your parents would let you have them. They were the bb gun of the 80’s instead of shooting your eye out; you could cut your hand off. Ok so that is an over exaggeration, you wouldn’t cut your hand off but you could cause a nasty little cut.

The Chocolate Agency has made the next great device: E-Paper slap bracelets. This is an innovative concept so it is not on the market just yet and there is no release date that I could find.

Three cool ways to use the E-Paper

Variant 1: E-Paper MP3-MP4Enjoy music and pictures with the E-Paper MP3-MP4 player bracelet. Thanks to the e-paper technology, this device allows you to manipulate digital content – MP3-MP4 and images as if they were physical prints.

Variant 2: E-Paper GPSMove around freely with the E-Paper GPS bracelet. A “fixed map” function, using a movement-based interface with accelerometers, allows you to virtually fix the map in space and explore it by moving the device around, reproducing the traditional way of exploring a map with your finger.

Variant 3: E-Paper Digital Photo FrameWith e-paper, the digital photo frame becomes very creative and can last forever. It lets you play with images, and create new graphical interactions that change through time thanks to multiple slideshows. The glass cube displays three images at once that interact with the play of reflections. The glass cube is on an aluminum base and three sides are e-paper screens. There is an integrated battery with an induction dock. Put two cubes together and the adjacent sides connect themselves to display a panoramic image, enriching the interactions while displaying bigger photos. Put four, six or one hundred cubes together and see what happens.

If the E-paper can be programmed with images that a student can navigate through, then this could be a possible communication system for AAC users on the go. I could even see it being used for the student or adult who is out on a job site that needs some visual supports to complete a task independently. With this product I can invasion so many possibilities. The only limit is see is the possible cost. You know something cool like this is going to be expensive like everything else in the special needs realm.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Prescription bottles

For anyone dealing with multiple medications and the tiny labels that are put on the bottles will love this gadget. Anytime I have to refill a prescription, I dread making the phone call but the numbers are so small. I know if I am having problems I know others must be having the same issue.

I have found the gadget to help. It magnifies the label by 2x’s. That doesn’t sound like that big of a deal but that makes it so much easier to see the RX on the bottle. The little gadget is very easy to use, open and all you do is slide your bottle in.Turn the label toward the magnification window and you are ready to go. The cheapest I have found it is

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Alternative Keyboard with a Different Look

I was looking for a keyboard for a young girl that has limited range of her arms and minimal and a light touch. The one stipulation for the keyboard was that she had to use her hands as much as possible but also have an alternative method of access. I think I found the keyboard for her to try in the Lomak had (light operated mouse and keyboard). This keyboard not only addressed a keyboard issue but also a mouse issue for this young lady. A hand or head pointer controls a beam of light that highlights then confirms the key or mouse functions on the keyboard. By confirming each key, only the correct selection is entered, which reduces errors and increases input speed.

I am on the waiting list for the Lomak so as soon as the device comes, I will let everyone know how it goes. There is a US vendor which is
UPDATE 3-4-08
I am just 5 days shy of a month since I contacted the company that makes the LOMAK. I still haven't heard when I will get my hands on this device. :0( It does not make me a happy girl. How are you to recommend a tool for a student if you cannot try it out. I will let you let you know if I finally get to try it. JFVH
UPDATE: 4-7-08
It is now over 2 months since I contacted the company that makes the LOMAK. I still haven't heard when I will get my hands on this device. It is very disappointing that I still haven't gotten my hands the keyboard. It is also frustrating because you expect something to happen and still nothing. OK - so I guess this device is now off my list of things to try. I am sorry but life is too short to wait with no response.

The Customizable Mouse

What would you think if I told you that there is a mouse that is moldable? You would think that I really need to get some sleep because I am delusional. Well you might be right about the sleep but at this moment you would be wrong on the delusional part.

The way you look at a mouse is about to change. The new exciting mouse to keep you eye out for will be Moldable Mouse. The moldable mouse can be kneaded into any shape that the user needs and the shape is maintained. The mouse is made with non-toxic lightweight modeling clay, covered with nylon and polyurethane blend fabric. Just the thought of this has my brain thinking of all the students that I have worked with and suggested a mouse that was the best option at the moment but really was far from optimal. Even alterative adaptive mice are not adaptable to the human hand. Wouldn’t you love to have a mouse made especially for you?

The Moldable Mouse is allows a wide array of hand positions when using the mouse. Customization minimizes the chance of common mouse-related injuries such Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I bet you are wondering how you would click the buttons….. The click buttons and touch-sensitive scroll pad of the mouse are stick-on parts with built-in RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device), which can be repositioned for maximum comfort. Buttons that you can stick on any part of the mouse, doesn’t that make your mind wonder to all the students or adults that couldn’t use a mouse because the buttons weren’t in the right place for the individual.

The mouse will come in various colors. For the people that want to be green…. The base of the mouse, made of 100% recyclable PC/ABS plastic blend, houses the PCB (Printed Circuit Board), laser optics and batteries.

“Today, modern technology has made it possible for the product to conform to the contours of the user, rather than the other way around.” As we say in the field of assistive technology: Fit the technology to the user not the user to the technology. This mouse is a wonderful possibility.
There is no date for release. So I will have to watch for the date.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Dinner time Help

If you are like most people the last thing you want to think about after a long day of work is what you will feed yourself or the family for dinner. The other issue that is typically faced what is left in the house to cook.

I had the following items in the refrigerator: chicken, garlic, parmesan cheese. To say the least I am not the best cook. So onto the computer I started to see what I can make with the ingredients. And low and behold I hit the jackpot: This site is a life saver for the: don’t know what to make tonight or the pay check can’t come quick enough and we need to use what we got. There are many creative and wonderful dishes and if you are pressured for time, like I was, I picked the first one to show up: Chili Parmesan Chicken. In less then an hour I had a complete balanced meal on the table. No stress, little mess and nothing left over because everyone ate the chicken.

This site is awesome for the pre-planners that cook for the week.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Kidspiration 3

Kidspiration 3 will be released tomorrow. I am sure you were all sitting on the edge of your seat and waiting for the day to arrive. I know announcement came out 2-3 weeks ago but before I wrote about it I wanted to take the software through some paces. If you are running Kidspiration 2 = Do the UPGRADE. $39.95. If you don't already own still worth the price of $69.00

Kidspiration is a visual mapping tool for written expression. It is a wonderful tool to teach a student on how to create a paragraph from individual sentences and organize the sentences into a complete paragraph. The software was upgraded to 3,000+ symbols to give students visual support in core academic areas. Hands down the increased symbol library makes creating visual supports for students easy. One of my favorite aspects of this software is that a student can create their own symbol (symbol maker) for personalizing meaning. This can be done by drawing or using the black outline symbols that the student can tailor to their individual.

The new improvements to the program in the visual mapping aspect of the software:

NEW Sight vocabulary for the Dolch and Fry word list. Each entry includes definitions, recorded speech for pronunciation, synonyms and antonyms, parts of speech and sample sentences. Word Guide pairs 1,400 words with images to enhance word recognition and comprehension. This feature makes it worth the purchase price. It allows the student to see and hear definitions and a graphic to represent the word. For students that struggle with reading comprehension this makes reading easier.

Improved: One of the improvements that were needed was a longer recording to time. This allows you to create personalize audio directions in your own voice for students. For students that struggle with writing, this is a fast and easy way for students to get their ideas out because they can dictate their ideas into the visual mapping. The recording is very easy to use.

Transfer to word processor: This was an added feature in Kidspiration 2. It is still worth a mention because many do not use this feature. It allows a student to write their sentences or paragraph in Kidspiration and transfer it to word for the final draft.

Now the features that I am most confused about are the new Math aspect of the software. Kidspiration always had a math aspect but it has exploded in this new version. When I think of Kidspiration the Math isn’t the subject that I think of. The math features are excellent additions to the software but why add it to a piece of software that is already underutilized in schools. The argument can be made that this may encourage increased use of the software.

It cannot be said that they did a bad job at creating the templates and the math aspect of the software. Everything that they added can be used for elementary level students in K-4 but the question has to be asked why not create a separate math tool.

The company took a leap of faith last year when the begun their expansion into the math world with Inspirdata. Is the new feature, the company’s feelers for the market of math? If it is, smart move on their part to test the waters and get feedback before launching a full fledge software package for math.

Kidspiration new concepts help students build number sense and spatial reasoning. Math has moved beyond just being numbers. Students now need to explain how they worked their way to the answer. The software allows teachers to create visual representatives for math problems and create visual steps to how to solve the problem.

The areas that the math features focus on are the core conceptual foundations that students need. The areas are counting, place value, computation and geometric thinking. Now for differential instruction or UDL this allows students of all abilities to access the concepts of math. A student can be working on counting, another on one to one correspondence, and another on matching shapes or numbers. If a teacher can think outside of the actual label of the activities they present to the class it can be an awesome tool for all learners.

Directly from website

Kidspiration Color Tiles™Students use Kidspiration Color Tiles to count and compare, explore properties of number and operations and develop computation strategies. With Kidspiration Color Tiles, students learn to solve area and perimeter problems and model number patterns and the four basic operations.

Kidspiration Pattern Blocks™Students use Kidspiration Pattern Blocks to investigate the properties and attributes of shapes through composition and decomposition. They produce patterns and tessellations, explore similarity and congruence, experiment with symmetry and represent fractions.

Kidspiration Base Ten Blocks™ Students use Kidspiration Base Ten Blocks to understand place value and strengthen number sense. With Kidspiration Base Ten Blocks, they count, compare, group, partition and create equivalent representations of whole numbers and decimals. Kidspiration Base Ten Blocks also introduce students to procedures for operations on multi-digit numbers.

Kidspiration Fraction TilesStudents use Kidspiration Fraction Tiles to compare and order fractions and to understand equivalent fractions. They find common denominators; translate between improper fractions and mixed numbers and model basic operations with fractions.

Kidspiration Fraction Boxes™Students use Kidspiration Fraction Boxes to represent fractions visually to build a strong conceptual foundation for future work with fractions. Students compare, order, simplify and find equivalent fractions. They use Kidspiration Fraction Boxes to model basic operations with like and unlike denominators. Kidspiration Fraction Boxes also introduce students to improper fractions, mixed numbers and representing word problems.
Kidspiration Fraction Boxes are a dynamic fraction building tool using denominators up to 36. To build fractions, students set the number of parts and use colors and patterns to represent "parts of a whole" clearly. Students align boxes to model numbers greater than one and to compare fractions.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Safety Tats

This is a very cool idea for parents and educators. This mom came up with a hip way of helping child find their way back to the family or teacher. She came up with the idea of Safety Tattoos. It is a temporary safety tattoo. It is applied like any other temporary tattoo with a little water and powder.

It has the cute little designs and the contact number. For 30 tattoos it cost $19.95. There is not a person that is responsible for a child that does not fear a curious child wondering off or worse getting lost in the crowd. If you love visiting amusement parks, the beach or enjoy sports like skiing with your children there is always the risk of getting separated or hurt. With the safety tat emergency personal can contact to a parent or guardian especially when you have no where to put identification.

Start-to-Finish Literacy Starters Workshop

Literacy is a hot topic in the field of special education. It is an area that so many students with learning disabilities and significant disabilities don’t seem to get enough experience practicing. As an AT trainer, I often do trainings on literacy development for teachers that want to make a difference in their students lives. One of the struggles that I often have is that .It is often difficult materials to support and demonstrate the strategies that have been taught to me from going to workshops/trainings with Dr. Karen Erickson and Dr. David Koppenhaver. Finally, someone has put references and training materials to make it easier for trainers to demonstrate the importance of literacy and the possible outcomes.

Don Johnston Inc. is now offering Start to Finish literacy starters Workshop. The Start-To-Finish Literacy Starters Workshop is a two-hour training program designed to maximize the literacy outcomes of older beginning readers using Start-To-Finish Literacy Starters. Short video clips presented by Dr. Karen Erickson (on CD-ROM) and reproducible materials guide staff development.

Even though this material is based on older beginning readers the information can benefit all beginning readers.

Three main benefits:
  • Brings Karen Erickson’s research-based methods and implementation to your staff at a very reasonable cost. Her research-based methods for implementing Literacy Starters to older beginning readers ensure the best literacy outcomes possible.
  • Helps the facilitator prepare for and guide group trainings. Describes the workshop preparation, flow, video segments and activities.
  • Guides participant activities leveraging best practices in adult learning – maximizing learning and classroom implementation.

The cost is $249.00 and you can pre order yours using item code PS06.