Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Math-Phobia: Your Days Are Numbered!

Math can be tricky enough for students without special needs, so any help we can offer our kids in this department is a definite plus.
Jenny Eather has created a site she calls "A Maths Dictionary for Kids" which I like very much. She has provided definitions with visual illustrations and interactive activities for elementary math terms for every letter of the alphabet. Handy as a reference or study tool, especially for kids who are visual learners. Many of the interactive screens would work well with an interactive whiteboard for a tactile experience or for large-group lessons. If I had one criticism, it's that sometimes the page is visually quite crowded and some kids won't be able to process all that's there.
Virtual manipulatives are another type of tool to consider. They're not only for students who are visual learners, but also for those who may have difficulty handling regular manipulatives. Also, if you've already got the computers, you're not paying for real manipulatives, so you don't need to be a math wizard to figure out that they can save money, too. Most teachers already know about the excellent National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, which comes in a free online version and a low-cost downloadable application as well. I love the base-ten blocks. Try moving a hundreds block into the tens column and watch it explode into ten 10's. Select ten blocks and they automatically group together to effortlessly stick them together. Works great on an interactive whiteboard!
As for "drill & kill" math games, there are a million of them on the web, but one really stands out. Timez Attack from BigBrainz.com teaches and drills multiplication facts in an exciting graphical environment. The developers are Playstation programmers, so they know what kids like. Timez Attack comes in a free version and a paid version. The paid version has more graphical environments to play through, but both teach the times tables from 1 to 12.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Free (and not-so-free), Online (and not-so-online) Games for Autism

Here are a couple of free online games for kids with autism to work on reading facial expressions. The first is The Feelings Game, a simple interactive game where you click on the face that's happy, disgusted, angry, etc.

The other one is just called Facial Expressions; this one is not so much a quiz game like The Feelings Game, but more for exploring different features of facial expressions. You can manipulate individual elements of a facial expression, such as the eyebrows, the shape of the mouth, etc. There are presets for standard expressions as well. I wish the graphics were a little more smooth, though. I've seen more realistic images on my cousin's VIC-20. Both games are from Do2Learn.com, a company that also has some pretty slick-looking software for special needs, but most of them fall in the not-so-free and not-so-online category. There's Faceland, for example to stick with the skill of reading facial expressions. Looks pretty fun, actually, but at that price tag ($179), I hope they have some proof that autistic children can generalize the learning from the software and apply it in real life.


Girl Face Matching Screen ShotNow back to my favourite price tag: free. Here's a downloadable game along the same theme, called Girl Face Matching. At least the graphics are not bad.

With all of these software choices, I would recommend regularly reinforcing the learning with actual humans' facial expressions after playing the computer game so that the connection with the real world is more likely to be made. Children with ASD are, after all, prone to have difficulty generalizing learning, especially the complexities of social behaviour.

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