Around 3 years ago, I wrote this blog post about Tech Ideas for SEN and this is when Anthony Rhys contacted me via Twitter about the use of gesture-based technology in his school. I can’t find his original tweet but here is the reply to it –
@trinityfieldsit just look at your wiki, fantastic resource. Will reply to email on Monday but some great stuff you are doing!!
— James Winchester (@jwinchester25) April 29, 2012
This conversation via Twitter led to the creation of the Gesture-Based Technology PLC and since then this has grown to include many different schools and practitioners.
At BETT, Anthony and myself were fortunate to present on the work that we have done with Gesture Based Technology and how it has had a huge impact on the lives of the complex learners that we work with. At the end it was nice to reflect on how much the PLC had achieved and also looking forward to the next steps especially using video analysis more effectively with SEN students. (see link – http://videoanalysissen.wikispaces.com thanks to Andrew Walker for his excellent work in starting this up. )
Below is the link to the prezi which gives a quick overview of the work that has been done – it was great to be able to share the work of the PLC and looking back its is quite unbelievable that we have achieved so much in such a short period of time.
This year, I once again got to travel up to the big smoke and attend BETT to see what had change in a year since the last time I visited. Though I was certain not a lot had change, I was excited to not only be proven wrong, but the opportunity to meet up with fantastic practitioners was lure enough to make the journey.
This year was different in that I had a slight plan of action to ensure that I covered everything that I needed to. I wanted to explore the different interactive boards available especially one that would cater for PMLD, discuss and try out different software available for Eyegaze and look at some of the other smaller stands to seek out unique products that could make a real difference to the teaching and learning of our SEN students.
The SEN zone on the whole was massively under represented again, with the majority of stands showing off their ideas of a interactive wall and floor displays. It really infuriates me that these companies can charge such high premiums for their installations (£9800 in one case) where with a little know how, you can do your own installations at a fraction of the cost using Kinects and webcams. (Quick plug – head over to GestureSEN to see what a group of schools are doing with this technology) Anyway moan over, onto the highlights of what I saw at BETT this year.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this at BETT. It is a universally designed laser controller that gives users instant access to hundreds of musical instruments, sound effects and songs. It works by users breaking the beams to trigger a instrument. There are 4 beams which can be set up to play different instruments. The nice thing about this is that each instrument is played in tune and users can either play single notes or break the beams to play the instrument continuously. This is great for cause and effect, sequencing, fine and gross motor skills and working directionality with students.
The added bonus of this system is that it can be used with switches, adapted keyboards and the accompanying iOS app so this makes accessible for a large range of students. It is also Eyegaze compatible!! Lastly the price is very affordable for schools and I was shocked to hear that it only cost £250 for the hardware, software and accompanying activity guide. My order will be going in soon!!
I always liked visiting this stand because it is great to see what new products they have to offer. This year they had a whole range of outdoor resources which I felt would excellent to create your own talking garden. Some of the products included:
Talking Turtles – these are a waterproof set of recordable turtles which could be used in sand, water and other sensory materials. You are able to record a message on them that could correspond to the numbers in them to reinforce mathematical understanding.
Talking Daisy’s and Tree – again another resource that you are able to record messages on. They would be a bright and attractive addition to a outdoor area and great for working on speaking and listening skills – talking number lines, treasure hunts etc. The great thing about these is that they can be left outdoors so no dragging them back and forth to the classroom.
Wonder Bug – this could be describe as a rugged outdoor Beebot. It can be used in all conditions and could add to some great adventures in the woods. Also can be used with washable paint so you could use it to create some great artwork with your students.
We have used Hills Components for a while now for projectors mounts as they offer great value for money. When I visited thier stand I was interested to see that they had launched a new website and this came with a number of new products. If you order in bulk many of the items can be purchased at very low prices like the £10 iPad mount which I will mention below.
Unbreakable Headphones – this look like an excellent purchase for many schools especially in special ed as we seem to be breaking headphones left, right and centre. They come with a braided cable, steel tensioned headband and anti pull cables on areas where traditional headphones break. Again great value especially when purchasing a bulk order as the price comes down to as low as £3 per headphone.
iPad mounts and stands – they had a range of iPad stands and mounts and it’s worth exploring their website further as their prices seem very responsible on comparison to others. They also showed us iPad mount for wheelchairs that allowed the iPad to be clip in and off when you need it to. The RRP is £29 however as they are an educational supplier if you were to bulk order these the price could come down to as low as £10, which I think is very competitive.
Acctim Lulu Teach Time Clock – I really like the look of this clock and think its bright colours give an alternative and fun way to teach the time.
EyeGaze software – though it’s taking some time to be released, the software that Inclusive are working on looks like a great addition to the range of EyeGaze technology. Some attractive and fun activities have been designed with the added inclusion of assessment tracking to enable to see how students are progressing with their use of EyeGaze technology.
One of my briefs for the show was to explore what interactive mobile smartboards there were which would be suitable for PMLD students. The main thing I was interested in was a board that enable access for students laying on a bed or reclining back in their chairs. Many boards would tilt into a table but when it came to tilt the other they did not make the grade. I was about to give up hope, when I got directed towards the Osborne stand.
iCore Flip 180 – finally I found the board I was looking for!! What is great about this is that is has full 180 degree tilt so can go from being a flat table to being turn upside down so that students can access on a bed if needed. It is also height adjustable so lots of different angles can be achieved. This is certainly a product that I am going to explore further and I they offer free trails to ensure that it is the right product for your students.
Overall, I really enjoyed BETT this year, it was great to meet up with Andrew Walker (@andtomac) and Susan McCarthy (@SusanMcCarthy) from the gesture based PLC plus meeting Sarah McDonald (@daisyrah) for the first time. In addition I had a very interesting chat with Hector Minto (@hminto) about the development of EyeGaze and I am looking forward to our school investing in this technology. I also attended an excellent seminar by Carol Allen (@caroljallen) about the technology and autism and then enjoyed a great chat with her over coffee, discussing a range of topics. Lastly the Teachmeet was an excellent event in the evening with a great range of speakers and some excellent class tools to take back to school and share with others. Big thank you and well done to the organisers for putting on a fantastic event.
Even though it was a long day, it was certainly worthwhile and I am already looking forward to attending next year.
Since the Gesture based Technology PLC was created in November last year, our focus has expanded to many devices and this has led to the setup of a central portal page that links to all the hardware that we are currently using with our students.
So if you are interested in using iPads, Eyegaze, Kinect, LeapMotion or any gesture based tech visit the GestureSEN wiki for information about how to use these devices to promote engagement, movement and creativity with students with severe learning difficulties.
After retuning home from another fantastic meeting discussing and examining the impact of gesture based technology on the students we work with, I wanted to share some of the findings from the day. Big thanks to Heronsbridge School for hosting the meeting and I always enjoy going to new schools and having a look around and there were many fantastic examples of how they support and develop their students learning throughout the school.
The meeting started with an update on where we were in terms of future developments, in particular the introduction of the Leap Motion and Kinect One which we discussed the potential of these pieces of technology and the impact they could have on our students. If you have not seen the Kinect One have a look at my previous post here. An exciting development with the PLC is being able to have a hand in developing our own applications with the Cariad Interactive team and this is certainly something to look forward to.
Onto the evidence sharing, where there were some fantastic videos of students using the technology. What is great to see from the examples shown, was the engagement shown by students who would usually struggle with concentrating on tasks for long periods of time. They clearly enjoyed interacting with the various programmes like Somantics and Visikord and through perseverance students showed excellent progress in their engagement. For example a student from Pen Maes, showed vocalisations which they never did at school and this was great to see their excitement from interacting with technology that enable them to have a control on their environment.
In the afternoon, Barri Farrimond from the MUSE Project showcased some of their music technology applications which aim to increase independence and engagement using music making tools that enable access for all. One of the applications shown was Looper Dooper (currently in BETA, but sign up to the mailing list to get the free download). Its a really simple music making app that create loops and you can record any sounds to these. Below is a video of Barry explaining how it works;
In addition, he showed a Kinect application which acts like a Soundbeam which when finished will be another useful tool to use with our students.
Again another worthwhile day and those who are interested in learning more about gesture based technology check out the KinectSEN wiki.
Last week, Microsoft announced their successor to the Xbox 360 and while many people around the world were interested in what the Xbox One would deliver, I was far more interested in the latest incarnation of the Kinect. Since starting to use the Kinect in the classroom with many of our students, I have been fortunate to be part of a Professional Learning Community looking at the impact of gesture based technology and I have seen many excellent examples of promoting engagement with SEN students. When I finally saw the video below that, details the specifications and showcases what the new Kinect can do in terms of data it receives, I am very excited about the impact this could have on the students we work with.
Imagine students on the Autistic Spectrum exploring their emotions, using the facial recognition software or students doing playing a game where they can only proceed if their bodies are in the right positions as part of their physio routines. The accuracy of the cameras will have a larger impact on those students with limited mobility as it should allow for these student to have greater control over their environments to make things happen. I am certainly excited and the big bonus is that they are going to make a Windows versions which hopefully will open up the technology to a larger range of developers
Better start saving!!!!!