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My monthly post is live today on Homeschool Mosaics​. After losing my father just a week and a half before, Nala, my new guide dog, appeared at my door to brighten my world with her sweet personality. Find out about her home training experience which was new to me, but worked out perfectly. God always knows what is in store for us and has the perfect plan! Don’t you just love that about Him? He loves us so much.

http://homeschoolmosaics.com/second-match-made-in-heaven-part-2-training/

My purpose in posting on Homeschool Mosaics was not to just brag about my younger son’s wedding day (which you know we, parents like to do) because if you aren’t involved in the wedding it can be boring hearing about it in great detail, but I wanted to give people a glimpse into my way of experiencing a memorable event, the hard work that tactile ASL interpreters have to do, and the importance of SSPs, interpreters, and people willing to understand the needs of the DeafBlind. I am sharing it now with you, my friends, in the hopes that you will enjoy it, too. Everybody told me they cried, which wasn’t my intent LOL, but I will give you fair warning that some say you might need tissues handy.http://homeschoolmosaics.com/the-wedding/

TeenCoder™ logo of professor reclining next to the words TeenCoder Java SeriesI used to love programming, and I still love to watch my students learning to love programming. There have only been a few homeschooling programming curriculum choices, and we have used them. They are usually limited to basic stuff and not much in the way of modern languages. Past that, we introduce students to the various industry standards available at most local bookstores in the computer section. I go back to BASIC, Fortran, and COBOL (shh, like any respectable programmer from way back when, I am not really admitting that I know COBOL), so yeah, I’m old and old school. Having had to learn so much over again in life like reading, living skills, computer skills using assistive technology because I am Deaf and blind, I have lost much of my interest in programming at this age and time. However, there are many DeafBlind programmers in the industry, so it can be done. As a teacher though, I am always looking for good curriculum even for programming. I recently got the chance to review Homeschool Programming.com’s TeenCoder™: Java Programming course.

 

With TeenCoder™ courses, you get everything you need to learn and apply the skills taught for a good solid foundation. Course begins with using the basic textedit/notepad and terminal for hand coding and compiling for your first program which is the famous “Hello, World” popular since the beginning days of programmings. The course carries you through Strings, User Input, Basic Flow Control, Debugging, Object-Oriented Java, Graphical Java, Swing Input Controls, Arrays and Collections, Derived Classes, and more. Every concept you need to jump start your learning and carry you through to more formal applications. Explanations are clear and easy to understand with the why you do it fully covered. Activities are fun and apply the concepts learned well. There is plenty to allow you to build your expertise as you move through the chapters. Solutions are provided including screen shots to help you know what you are supposed to get. As you step into development packages, the course recommends and uses free software and gives detailed instructions for downloading and installing. You do not need to purchase anything beyond the course materials to complete the course. Having used other course materials and industry-standard, I can tell you that this textbook is a much better read.

 

My fellow reviewers at Mosaics Reviews have spent a lot of time with this course and other TeenCoder™ courses, too. I will let you read their detailed reviews and opinions here. As usual, my main objective when possible, is accessibility. Several felt that their students enjoyed the courses and could easily do the work on their own which is a plus for a family where the parent may not be into computers, especially programming. I know my students were reluctant to stop the course each day wanting to continue through more than one subject time. That sounds like a win to me. Another parent and I both agree that with other courses used or industry-standard texts the students just didn’t seem to learn much. These TeenCoder™ courses seem to get much more information across and allows the student to really be able to apply the concepts to very detailed activities. One parent stated that their student did the work on their own, but got  great help from TeenCoder™ staff when he emailed them directly about a problem. Some of the courses have videos available to according to one parent who used them. That could be a great help to some parents. Read the detailed reviews to get even more  information and tips.

Accessibility is the big question for me and my students always. My regular students loved the program and took off with it with almost no help from me or anyone. My blind and DeafBlind students along with me struggled at first trying to read the book. We had assistants sign in ASL or read the book to us which was slow, but because the book was so well-written we were all able to accomplish the tasks. The fun was there, but dampened some by the lack of true accessibility. I asked the developers if they would send us some accessible documents for the time-being because I felt from what we had done that the course materials could be useful and easily made accessible. They, after some thought, did so which I commend them for because giving strangers full access to your hard work can be scary. Upon looking at the materials, their were only a few images that wouldn’t be accessible to a screen reader and/or braille display which made it wonderful to us. Most everything including the code boxes to show exactly how the code was to look was actually text-based making it accessible to us. The few images could easily be tagged and the information listed as text, too, with little work. The document with the most images, of course, was the solutions book, but there were few screen shots even in that book. Almost everything had been described in text and text-based boxes. Perfect!

 

By making the books available through iBooks or e-pub formats from text-based source documents or through Bookshare.org, Homeschool Programming could offer their courses to not only regular education students, but also print disabled including dyslexics, blind, and DeafBlind with very little extra work and no extra expense. That would be a win for everyone as it would widen their market to all students and even schools.

 

Worried about the software they use for developing? Well, the textedit and terminal programs for hand-coding is text-based and naturally accessible. Their choice of Eclipse for IDE or Integrated Development Environments is perfect. It is almost totally accessible already. We found the tab close buttons were not linked to the screen reader, so we couldn’t close those, but opened tabs didn’t hinder us in any way. All of the instructions could be easily followed as listed by commands, instead of with the mouse as intended, of course. We used the command listings as is to use the menus for access. The initial screen had an image-based click environment where you had to click an image of an arrow. Of course, our screen reader couldn’t see that arrow image, but in the menu we were able to get get past the initial “desktop” image to get to the actual workbench area. Once there, we could use the keyboard to follow the steps in either the work area or the top menu to navigate, open files, type code, run programs, etc. Now, we are slower, especially since we didn’t have accessible documents in the beginning, but we are picking up speed now. Our fastest student has made it through Chapter 13 of 16 chapters which goes through page 262 of 310 including the Index. That chapter began activities that sight would seem beneficial to understand if you had never had sight. We had student assistants help our student with tactile representations of the images to give him the grasp of what the program was trying to accomplish. However, other activities to come shouldn’t be that difficult because all of our students play chess and other similar type games, so we should be able to understand the reading and some 3D representations of the visual aspects of the program will certainly help us know what the program is designed to do on screen for visual users. With that understanding, we blind and deafblind programmers can code visual games, too. This course will really go a along way helping our blind and deafblind students enhance their mental mapping skills, too.

Screen shot of Eclipse and working braille window.

Screen shot of Eclipse and working braille window.

 

As far as the few accessibility problems with Eclipse IDE, the program is totally usable, and we will contact the developers of this freeware program to help them make the few adjustments to accessibility. Even if that doesn’t change, this course is beneficial and usable to all populations if the interest to learn exist. Hopefully, the few statements needed to explain to blind and deafblind users how to follow the steps through the menu  instead of the mouse and the other couple of modifications or lack of access can be added to the course instructions because they really would be only simple additions. If the Homeschool Programming staff will make the course available through Apple’s iBooks or bookshare.org, we know we can learn programming through their material, and that would make us very happy, indeed!

 

The company has many different courses and different levels, too, so you need to check out their  web site athttp://homeschoolprogramming.com. The TeenCoder™:Java Programming can be purchased as textbook only $75, videos only $20, or package of book and videos $90. Videos, according to one parent may not be detailed, complete lessons, but can be very useful especially for those whose learning styles use multiple visual inputs and/or auditory input. Unfortunately, the videos are not closed captioned, so they are not useful for deaf students overly. That could be easily fixed, so maybe the company will do that in the future.This is an excellent course to introduce and build programming skills in Java. In fact, this old programmer may have just gotten interested again because the accessibility proved to me that I don’t have to start over learning again! Thanks, Homeschool Programming. You made my day for sure!

I received a copy of the above product to facilitate the writing of a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

discovery-kit

Many students struggle with learning to read. Many also learn to read despite poor teaching as more and more schools leave out phonics and reading fundamentals. Students who do well regardless of teaching seem to pick up on these basics naturally. They may not understand what they are doing completely, but the students sense these elements and use them to recognize words and meanings. Other students with and without learning difficulties may not fully sense these factors, and it hinders their reading development. What is needed is a a program that teaches reading basics well and in a multi-sensory method allowing it to be more beneficial for all types of students. One such program was sent to me a few months ago to review. I have been using it with several students since then with great success. One student is a five year old beginning reader. This student is fairly average in all ways except amazing cuteness. Another is a high schooler with learning disabilities including dyslexia who continues to struggle with reading. One is blind and hard of hearing and is nine. Two others are six and seven and have some mild learning issues. The program is Reading Horizons: Discovery. There is an online version. I won’t be reviewing it due to accessibility issues because I am DeafBlind. The website listed below has a page that lists reviews for their products from independent bloggers like myself. You can check out the other reviews for this program and the online program, too.

The introduction to Reading Horizons Discovery states, “Reading Horizons Discovery is an explicit, systematic, research-based phonics program based on the Reading Horizons method. Multi-sensory techniques are employed via direct instruction and the use of interactive computer software programs. The manuals and computer software are correlated to support each other, but each can be used independently of the other for instructional purposes. All students can benefit from using the explicit, sequential, direct instruction the Reading Horizons method has to offer.” The program is ideally suited for students with learning disabilities including those with dyslexia, but it is also very beneficial to all students because of its multi-sensory techniques and methods that integrates not only phonics, but also basic language arts skills. In addition, vocabulary development and spelling are integral parts of the program.

Providing posters, worksheets, software, online support, Reading Horizons’ method, in a nutshell attempt, involves using hand directions to dictate a letter, sound, or word, use hand directions to receive that letter, sound, or word repeated by the student. The letters, sounds, or words are dictated twice and the students repeat twice. The students will then write the letter, sound, or word once. These aspects helped the student to learn to focus and prepare to listen carefully. Another aspect of the method, is the markings and slide which are taught early on and used throughout the program. The program teaches 42 sounds of the alphabet. The vowel “a” is taught first. The consonant “b” is next. The slide is then introduced to teach, emphasize, and remind students to slide from the consonant to the vowel sound smoothly developing fluid pronunciation from the beginning. In word decoding as the students progress, students learn to mark the vowel first. Then slide through pronunciation of the consonant and vowels before adding the ending sound. The program teaches not only phonics, but also phonological awareness besides just phonemes, all of which is imperative for developing good reading skills for all students including dyslexics. The well-designed program of Reading Horizons ensures that these skills are not only learned, but mastered. The thorough teacher’s manual including complete, scripted lesson plans helps the busy teacher with lots of Reading experience and the less experienced teacher in the classroom or home.

Reading Horizons Discovery program is suitable for many types of students because it is multi-sensory and that phonics and phonological awareness are emphasized. What about other Special Needs besides Learning Disabled or developmentally delayed, for example? In my case, that question would be, “is it Deaf, Blind, and DeafBlind suitable?” Obviously, there are some that the program or any program based on auditory alone or visual alone would not work. With modifications, it could work for those who are hard of hearing, hearing blind, low vision, and DeafBlind who have some residual sight and hearing. As always, if you wish to try this program with these populations, you must focus on modifying the material and the methods emphasizing the primary mode of communication. Use ASL or a visual communication mode to go along with the hand motions of the program to ensure that the student understands the letters and words being taught. For low vision students, use larger print. For braille users after tactile readiness has been developed, you might think that there is no point, but many braille courses for young learners puts little focus on phonics or phonological awareness. Braille is still reading, but recognizing letters and words by feel, so the need for phonics and phonological awareness is still there and should be emphasized more to improve reading skills. Also, homeschoolers, who are an audience of my blog, often find that braille curriculum is too expensive for them and their blind students to use. Therefore, it is often necessary to modify regular programs for braille learners. Using the auditory cues of dictate and repeat either with or without tactile hand motions (DeafBlind, especially need), the student will still be taught to focus and prepare to listen carefully. Marking can be done verbally to note aspects such as finding and identifying the vowel sound first as can “slide” where the vocal or tactile motions are the reminder for the steps to help the students decode the words they feeling with their fingers. For those with less sight and hearing, we were using these signals both verbally and with hand motions that the student could feel with their hands as we spoke the reminders. At first, you would think this must be frivolous additions, but we have been finding these techniques are useful for helping students decode regardless of their learning issue. It was an easy task, too, understanding what the markings and motions were intended for to modify the techniques as needed while working with our students who have varying degrees of hearing and vision loss. For those who use less speech, their comprehension was occasionally gauged more on their signs and fingerspelling, though most had some ability to speak and/or receiving speech therapy time. Even the braille learner used the techniques while reading with fingers. We did the steps after the student read the individual letters first and indicated what the letter was. Then used the steps to indicate what the sounds were followed by using a motion of the hand forward to indicate the slide (the word “slide” was also spoken)  as the slide of the sounds (ex. fa) was then pronounced verbally. As with anything, some of our initial modifications were cumbersome or ineffective, but we recognized that the system can be useful if we are thoughtful of the purposes of the techniques and adjust as needed. The best educational research always goes on in the grassroots of  the individual classroom.

This has been a description of Reading Horizons Discovery in a nutshell. There is no way to cover it well here or cover the many types of students and how the program can be modified to help these special populations. I also know that there is no one program, text-based or software, that is suitable for all students. I can say that Reading Horizons Discovery does work for those I am working with and can for many others. As in my own case, I always have to be creative when using some product, but it is often worth the effort. Reading Horizons Discovery was worth the effort for me and several of my students.

Pricing information for the Discovery at Home reading set is as follows:

Discovery Product      Pricing 

Discovery Online Software     $  199.00

Discovery Instructor Materials     $  299.00

Discovery Software and Instructor Material Bundle     $  439.00

Discovery Little Books Grades 1-3     $  159.00

Discovery Little Books Kindergarten     $    29.99

To learn more about Reading Horizons Discovery program, go to http://www.readinghorizons.com.

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Thinkwell is an online math education site. I have heard so much about it that I thought I would try it out. I wanted to see if it was accessible for the deaf, blind, and deafblind. I also wanted to see if the program would be suitable for an accredited umbrella program that required the parent-teacher to submit documentation such as copies of tests and grades for credit. I had heard from many that it covered several age levels from middle school through high school and Advanced Placement and college level, too. While educationally, it might not be a suitable option for everyone, the program is high quality and proves beneficial to many.

While, I may not be discussing the academic portions of this program, I will quickly describe it to you. There are numerous chapters in each course covering a full curriculum of objectives for each course. Each chapter has a video lecture followed by practice assignments, a quiz, and a chapter test. There are also interactive activities for added interest, practice, and enrichment. Along with that, you will also find printable worksheet type exercises for off-line practice, too.  A fellow contributing writer and co-founder of Homeschool Mosaics reviewed this site a few months ago following actually using the programs for two years with her own son. You can get her educated opinion by reading her review on Homeschool Mosaics here:  http://homeschoolmosaics.com/thinkwell-for-math/ .

Now, let me tell you what I found out in regards to accessibility and umbrella programs. Although, the site isn’t totally accessible to a braille display, I was impressed by how much the site developers did try to consider handicapped students. Their lecture videos which are the key to the program are closed captioned. You can turn them on from the buttons at the bottom of the video window. In addition, I was shocked to see that they had a complete print transcript of the video’s audio with detailed descriptions of the examples written on a chalkboard in the video. This would make it very easy for a hearing blind student to follow the video during play. It also would make it possible for a blind student to use a screen reader to read the transcript for the video to further understand the teacher’s lecture. A deaf student could also use the transcript to augment the closed captioning, if needed, since the problem examples are described well. In addition, the transcript file is a text .pdf making it accessible to a braille display, too, so a deafblind student could use this transcript to access the all-important teacher lecture. I highly commend the site developers for taking this much needed, but rare extra step to add accessibility to the site. Normally, the deafblind student would not have the ability to use a site at all even if a transcript is provided, since most provide image-based rather than text-based .pdf files. The practice worksheets, quizzes, and tests that I have mentioned that follow each video lecture are also available in two formats:  the online, computer checked format and the .pdf format. There is no audio connected with the practice tests, quizzes or tests, so a deaf student can easily take the on-line test to receive their results. A hearing blind student can possible do the on-line format with the screen reader. I can’t verify that because I am DeafBlind, so I am unsure if the screen reader is voicing the on-line version. Regardless, the .pdf format of the worksheets, quizzes, and tests are also text-based instead of image-based, so a braille display will be able to read these. To facilitate this use, open the on-line version and let the student orally answer or open .pdf version , print,  and use a braille and slate to record the answers for these assignments. The teacher can then use the on-line format to record the student’s answers for computer grading and record-keeping.  This is definitely an easy way to do the program for the blind and deafblind. There are some animated flash interactive activities that are not accessible for blind and deafblind and possibly not to the deaf for the ones that have audio that is needed for completing the task. However, these are enrichment activities that are not critically needed to ensure successful completion of the courses. Although the blind and deafblind can’t do the entire site independently, the quality of the education is high, and there is sufficient access along with a simple step for modification to make this program a beneficial choice to those students who are already good with using a computer with a screen reader and/or braille display. So, if you need or want an on-line choice for your student’s math curriculum, Thinkwell is a beneficial option to try.

In addition to usable access for the disabled, Thinkwell pleases me as Principal of an accredited homeschool umbrella program, too. Regardless to whether the program is a divided home/center program or a home only program such as mine for the most part, Thinkwell has the capability to fit your documentation and contact hour requirements. The courses cover objectives for each subject and level well with suitable instruction and practice for a typical school year. All assignments can be printed as blank assignments to be used for on-site observation, as needed. Completed on-line activities can be printed with answers to show correct/incorrect questions specifically, as well as, the overall grade on the assignment. In addition, there is a suitable number of activities to allow for the programs that meet one, two, or three days a week and allow for practice at home through practice worksheets and interactive activities, as needed. Since there are also courses that are Advanced Placement level, students in these programs have access to AP materials that can be difficult for some students to obtain easily or affordably. Some colleges also use Thinkwell to provide actual college courses for them, so that adds to the evidence that Thinkwell provides quality instruction with a high quality content level, too.

A twelve month subscription to Thinkwell is $125-$150 for full year, full credit course, but there are many places that provide discount codes if you look for them. Either way, it isn’t too bad for a high quality program that is accessible and suitable for many accredited umbrella programs, too. You can find out more at http://www.thinkwellhomeschool.com/.

 

I was not asked by Thinkwell or anyone else to review this program. I chose it to review to provide options for disabled students and students involved in umbrella programs. I did use their advertised free trial to gain access to the program as any consumer can do. I have not and will not be compensated in any way for this review. The review expresses my honest opinion of this program.

Music is an important part of my life despite being deaf and blind. I was born with some hearing and learned to talk and sing before losing the ability to understand speech by age 8. I became profoundly deaf a few years later. Through it all, music sustained me. I practiced singing, playing piano and guitar over the years. I learned everything I could about music and musicians of every genre. When I no longer could hear it, I felt it. Music is still such a joy as I feel the vibrations of life. Next to experiencing music, I love sharing this love with my students. I encourage them to listen to music and to learn all about its properties, and those who have influenced this audible river of life and culture.
Though I play and sing, I know that I am no great talent which has never been dependent upon my hearing loss. In my teaching of music, I try to share my love of music and steer parents to actual teachers for instrumental, voice, and theory training. I concentrate on the exploration of sound through listening and the exploration of people who have influenced the development of music since the beginning of recorded time. Recently, I was sent a product to review that helps me a good deal. It is a guide to composers, A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers from Bright Ideas Press to be exact.
The authors have done the task of research on composers of classical music and share details about the various periods of history with the influences on classical music of each period. I think they made some excellent choices of which of the many composers to use in this guide along and agree with their reasoning to not use any number of other talented composers. Each period’s lesson is followed by a student reading guide as well as each composer covered in that period with a reading guide. An appendix is provided with a good glossary of terms, answer keys, and resource list for further investigation. You will also so find additional pages filled with various activities to help your students remember this good information. There are coloring pages, flash cards for each composer, a timeline, a geography activity for finding where in the world the composers lived, and resources to make a folder book. A folder book is similar to a lap book that shows all that a student has learned about a subject. Folder books are simpler and quicker, but they seem to be just as interesting.
The authors suggest a weekly schedule of listening to music at least three times a week, and how to schedule the activities and how to experience the music. You are free to choose your own method, but the guideline provided is very helpful to busy teachers.
For our special needs students, it is easy to adapt these lessons and activities to the individual needs. The clear line drawings can easily be tactiled to allow a blind student to enjoy the activity. Autistics often like music, so let them experience it and give them the information on the composers as their level allows. Deaf and DeafBlind can benefit from the feel as well as the information, so make sure you have good speakers to allow them to touch or have some played on an instrument allowing them to feel the instrument as it is played. Share with them the picture of Beethoven playing his piano on the floor without legs in order to better feel the vibrations.
Music and this guide will provide good experiences for your students no matter how far they take their learning. A Young Scholars Guide to Composers http://www.brightideaspress.com is a great tool no matter how you choose to use it in your studies. It is worth its price of $29.95 just in the research they have provided. Take your children for a ride on the river of music.

Though I was provided a product to review for this blog, I have not been compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

Looking for a delightful read? How about a good series that you can trust to give to your young students? Well, I have found it in Jim Baumgardner’s Sarah books published by Tate Publishing & Enterprises. These are the most beautifully written Christian children’s books that I have seen in a long time.

The characters are so alive that you are literally transported to another time and place. History is kept genuine without blemishing the tender hearts of your students with inappropriate material. The story is adventurous and intriguing to most any child keeping them hanging on to the very end regardless of reading ability. The knowledge gained from these stories is accurate and abundant which makes them perfect for any family especially a homeschooling family. The main character, Sarah, is orphaned in the first book, Sarah’s wish, plunging her into an unknown future. Her mother’s faith was instilled in her from an early age, and Sarah finds her courage to face the unknown by relying on God. Everything about these books is what parents are looking for to encourage their children and help them grow. Don’t worry about the character being a girl. This isn’t a “girls only” type book. The adventures are bold and varied making them perfect for the boy in your family, too.

I love the way the author said on his web site and in correspondence to the TOS Crew that he struggled with the historical accuracies of cursing and the “n word” during his writing. He looked at the prospect of keeping the story historically accurate, but also, considering whether the cursing added anything to the story. He, caring for children as a kindly father or grandfather, chose not to include cursing. More importantly, he found a terrific way of teaching history in another of the series, by teaching the use of the “n word”, but not by using it in dialogue as was often done during the time, but by developing a moment when Sarah could learn from a slave what the word meant to her and how it made her feel. This allows you, the parent, to continue that very conversation with your student teaching them a very important life lesson. I applaud the author’s efforts in teaching these values.

In addition, Mr. Baumgardner’s periodic newsletters add spice to the series with interesting and educational tidbits offered through the humor of himself and Granny, an elderly caretaker of Sarah’s, who is a bit eccentric, but a strong pillar of faith. The author uses the newsletters to teach more about history as he keeps interest in the series alive with contests and trivia questions. I thoroughly enjoy reading them and look forward to each funny installment. I know my students do, too.

As far as my special needs recommendations go, the author has beautiful print editions available, which he graciously will autograph to add even more of a special touch, with a decent size font in crisp contrast to the white pages. He also has audio book versions, as well, suitable for use by the blind, print disabled, and learning disabled student. The print versions seem to also come with a code that allows you to get a free audio download of that specific book, too, making it a very useful tool for the learning disabled student to read and listen to improve comprehension. Prices for the books and/or audio books are very affordable beginning at $9.99 for one print version and $16.99 for the separate audio book only. The author’s attention to special needs is appreciated. There isn’t anything available for the deafblind student, but it could easily be done by making the book available to http://www.bookshare.org. This organization is non-profit and provides various formats of shared books to disabled persons, schools, and organizations for disabled populations including deafblind and learning disabled through a subscription program which verifies the participants as certified disabled and protects the copyrights of authors and publishing companies. I recommend that Mr. Baumgardner and owners of Tate Publishing and Enterprising contact Bookshare.org to allow the access of their books to the deafblind. I thoroughly enjoyed the book I received and look forward to reading another, but it is not nearly as enjoyable to have to have a sighted person read the book and sign it to me. I would prefer to read it in braille for myself. I am sure the author would be gracious enough to consider this based on his voluntary attention to the disabled populations of whom he is familiar.

Children will love the series and parents will love being able to trust them. In fact, as this middle- aged woman can attest, adults will love them, too.
Check out the Sarah series at http://www.sarahbooks.com.

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