Earlier this year, I visited JD's class to read to the students. I was quite surprised when his teacher had me come back last month to do it again. I was even more shocked when she asked me to return for a third visit. That's how I ended up back in Second grade today.
For Social Studies, the class has been learning about inventions. JD's teacher wanted me to bring some of my technology to show to the students. Much of what I have is not portable. I had to think carefully about what I could show them.
I sat at a table with my equipment while the class crowded in around me. JD sat beside me and proclaimed, "I'm the Class Assistant so I get to help you!" He's the Star Student this week in honor of his birthday. JD was so cute. He beamed with obvious pride as I began my lesson.
Since I had already demonstrated braille reading and the braille alphabet, I thought this would be a good opportunity to show the class braille writing. The students were fascinated and listened intently. First, I demonstrated how to write braille using a slate and stylus. This isn't exactly high tech but I thought it was a good starting point. They needed to see the original way in order to understand the invention that makes it easier.
I told the students that writing with a slate and stylus is very hard because you have to do it backwards. They seemed awed by the idea of writing in reverse. I attempted to write "chair" but didn't do so well. I forgot to reverse the "h" and "r". I ended up writing "cjaiw." The children laughed when I read my mistake. I was a little embarrassed but their laughter somehow made me feel better.
JD was ready with a solution. Looking at my supplies, he said, "Use the eraser." So I demonstrated how to use the wooden eraser to rub out the dots and fix an error.
Now I was ready to show them the nifty invention we call a Perkin's Brailler. I reminded them of the story I recently read to the class. When the children wrote in their notebooks, David wrote using his Braille Writer. This is the machine I would be showing them. I usually call it a Perkin's.
I put paper in the Perkin's and explained the directions. The children could not imagine how someone can type with only nine keys. I told them why the Perkin's has so few keys. There are three special keys and six keys that represent a braille cell. You only need those six keys for typing in braille because there are only six dots in a braille cell.
To show how it works, I typed "chair." This time I got it right. I explained that it's easy on a Perkin's because you don't have to write everything backwards or punch one dot at a time.
Next up was a tactile drawing board. I don't even know how it works, but it's so cool. I asked for a volunteer. Vince came up and drew a picture on a piece of paper placed over the front of the drawing board. When he finished, I turned the picture over and showed the students the raised lines created by Vince's drawing. They loved it. All the kids wanted to touch the paper to feel the outline of the picture. Again, I explained that the drawing board, like the slate and stylus, makes everything in reverse. If they wanted to write their name or a message, they would have to do it backwards.
Finally, I demonstrated an invention that is just for people who are deaf-blind. The little machine is known as a Screen Braille Communicator (SBC). The sighted person types their message on a regular keyboard. On the other half of the machine, there is a small braille display and Perkin's style keyboard. There is also a little screen that displays print. When someone types to me on the SBC, I can read their message on the braille display. Since I am oral, I usually use my voice to respond. For this demonstration, however, I typed on the Perkin's keyboard and let the students read my response on the print display. They really liked the SBC. Everyone expressed desire to talk to me using the device.
With the demonstration over, the class broke into groups. While some students worked in centers or at their desks, a group of four kids came to my table to try out the equipment. My father helped children use the drawing board. My mother and the teacher assisted kids in writing with the slate and stylus and Perkin's Brailler. These children are very sharp minded. They wanted to actually write real braille, not play around with nonsense writing.
The teacher still had her braille alphabet card from my last visit. She let the kids use it as a model for writing letters. Once my mother understood how the Perkin's works, she did her best to help the kids write braille. She came up with the idea of using a mirror to reverse letters so the kids could see how to do them for the slate and stylus. I was so amazed when Corey handed me a paper with his name in perfect braille. He had used the slate and stylus to do this. Wow!
While all that was going on, I talked to children on the SBC. They all came up, one at a time, to talk to me. They typed their messages slowly, which is good because I can't read fast typing on that device. Some kids asked questions and made smart comments. Most of the time, I had to carry the conversation and prompt them with questions. "Are you having a good day? Do you like school? Do you like to read?" We talked a lot about books. We all like Harry Potter and Magic Tree House.
It was incredible to talk directly to the children. I have been among them for three years. Yet this was the first time I've ever actually talked to them on my own. It was great fun.
The PE teacher came in while I was chatting with students. He stood over my shoulder to watch for a few minutes. He told my mother, "It's amazing all the things she is able to do." He wanted to try out the SBC, too. But the kids wouldn't give him a turn. Maybe next time.
What was supposed to be a short demonstration turned into a 90 minute lesson. I was there until the last bell rang. The students were so into all the equipment that the teacher didn't want to stop them. She even kept the drawing board and my extra slate and stylus so the children can do more work with them this week.
JD's teacher was very pleased. She told me the lesson was "absolutely awesome." She asked if I would do it again next year. Of course I'd love to! I'm a teacher at heart. Kids are the best. It's thrilling to have this opportunity to share with them. When I'm with those children, I feel like I'm the luckiest one there. I'm so glad I had a chance at another class visit.