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.
Tuesday 23rd July was the day that my LeapMotion was delivered. I was very excited about this piece of technology and the impact it could have on access and engagement for the students that I work with.
For those who don’t know the LeapMotion is a small, USB sized device that works like a mini-kinect to track movements of the fingers. It’s ‘working area’ is an invisible cube about a metre across above the device and it will pick up fine hand and finger movements- these can then be converted instantly to effects on the screen- so causing visual and audio effects. Unlike the Kinect – which does whole body tracking. the Leap will only track hand and finger movement which potentially limits the audience that we would use the device with.
First impressions of the Leap are that it is very accurate in detecting hand and finger movement and I quickly went to Airspace (the Leap Motion app store) to see what has been developed for the device. When playing around with the apps, I found those that require fine motor skills were quite difficult to use for example Blocks – a jenga -like game – which requires you to ‘pinch’ your fingers to remove the blocks. However where I feel the Leap will be most useful for our students is in its ability to track hand movements and the apps Midnight, Flocking, Airharp and Vitrun – beautifully demonstrated this. I found myself engaged with these apps in particular Midnight and spent time trying to manipulate the environment to see what I could create.
After the initial trial at home, I was eager to try the Leap out with our students. Considering it was the last day of term, I still managed to find time for one of our students to have a go with the LeapMotion. The student has muscular dystrophy and has limited movement in his arms. I was intrigued to see how he got on with using the Leap, as I found even when I used it, the positioning of the device was crucial. He started with Midnight and really enjoyed making changes to the environment in front of him. He soon got to grips with changing fingers to make things happen and mentioned that he like the different colours that he was making on screen.
As any typical teenage boy, he is quite keen with playing computer games, so he tried out Cut the Rope. This game requires quite fine motor skills – using your finger to swipe the ropes to cut them. This is where I noticed that positioning of the device for those with difficulty with their mobility is crucial . He was quite determined to continue the game but he did get frustrated on occasions when his finger swipes were not fast enough to cut the rope. The last app that he tried was Vitrun and he had greater success with this app as it requires you to hold you hand out flat above the device to move the ball forward and backwards. Again, he enjoyed this app and was engaged for long periods of time which was promising to see.
Apps that I recommend to try:
Midnight – $2.39 A beautiful particle system that is controlled using your hand. Also plays music to add to the experience. Watch the video below:
Flocking – Free – Fish will follow you fingers on screen. Really nice and simple sensory application.
Airharp – $1.19 – exactly what it says, play a harp using you hands – nice interaction for simple cause and effect.
Vitrun Air – $3.59 – Simple game that involves moving a ball thorugh a range of obstacles with very easy controls.
I am impressed with the Leap and can see potential for it in an SEN setting as an enabling device that allows those with limited movement to be able to interact with a screen. Factors that will be important in the success of using this device are similar to all devices such as iPads, switches, Eygaze – positioning and app selection. Hopefully now that the Leap has been released, I am hoping that more developers will create content for it and I look forward to seeing what they develop for it.
Anthony Rhys (@trinityfieldsit) has setup a LeapSEN wiki which over the next couple of months we hope to fill with information about how to get the best out of the Leap for SEN students as part of the Gesture Based PLC group. For more information about this and other gesture based tech visit –http://kinectsen.wikispaces.com/
Over the last year, those who follow this blog, know that I have started to get involved in the use of gesture-based technology. This has been an exciting journey so far and has been fantastic to meet and work with so many like minded people like Anthony Rhys (@trinityfieldsict), Susan McCarthy (@LittleAngelsSch, @SusancMcCarthy), Andrew Walker (@andtomac), Ceri Williams (@cerirwilliams) and Keith Manville (@open_sen) to name a few.
Today, at our school we had the opportunity to invite Hector Minto (@hminto) from Tobii and Lee Blemings (@sensoryguru) from SensoryGuru to run an EyeGaze Clinic with our students and staff at Oak Grove College. It was great to see our students use the technology in many different ways from eye control, to what I believe is more important, eye tracking. It certainly changes the playing field for assessing students as it allows you to see exactly where students are looking which is great tool for educators. By seeing where students are looking you can instantly talk about exactly what they are looking at and test their comprehension. When looking at EyeGaze, you instantly think about using it with PMLD students, but the system can be used for so much more than that. Below is an example of what can be done just using an Oxford reading tree book and eye tracking:
In addition there is more and more software becoming available starting at a sensory cause and effect level, up to choosing and communicating.
There were so many positive comments from staff with the majority saying ‘that is amazing’ and ‘so when are we getting one?’ Certainly I will be looking to get in our school as soon as possible!!
If you would like to see more information about Eyegaze and how it is being used in Special Schools please take a look at http://eyegazesen.wikispaces.com/