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Friday, May 20, 2011

Second Grade Love Inventions

Here's a fact for you: Second grade loves inventions, and I love
second grade.

For the sixth time in three years, I visited Mrs. McCombs second
grade classroom. During part of the year, they work on light and
sound. At the end of the year, they study inventions. This
recent visit was to show off some of my assistive technology.

I did this lesson for my son's class when he was in second grade.
They really enjoyed it. I demonstrated my Perkins Brailler,
Screen Braille Communicator and a tactile drawing board. This
year I diced to make some changes to improved the presentation.

First, I gave the students the usual demonstration about how
annoying technology can be and that you must always remain
patient. This, of course, was not planned. Last time it was the
SBC that wouldn't work. This time it was the Perkins Brailler.
The paper got jammed and while trying to fix the problem, I
accidently made it worse. We finally got the paper out so I
could try again.

Mrs. McCombs has her own slate and stylus. (I gave it to her a
few years ago.) During the light and sound unit, she did three
days of special centers. One center was on braille reading and
writing. The kids got to practice with the braille writing
equipment. Each child was able to write his or her name.

We talked about how hard it was to write in braille. They felt
it was a challenge to punch the right dots and figure out how to
do everything backwards.

I introduced the Perkins Brailler as an invention that makes
writing braille much easier. Since they had experience with the
slate and stylus, they could understand what I meant.

How do you know which keys to press? I have this cool wooden
block that is in the shape of one braille cell. You put in pegs
to form the letter in braille. Then you change the box to a
straight line. By lining up the pegs with the keys on the
Perkins Brailler, you know exactly which keys to press. I
demonstrated how this works with the help of a volunteer. With
this little gizmo and by copying off a braille/print alphabet
card, the students were actually able to write using the

I didn't want to TALK too long. Children get so much more out
of hands on experience. So I just told them I brought in some
braille games that they would all get to play in a few minutes.
What is great about these games is that they can be used by
sighted and blind people together. I'm not just stuck playing
with other people who are blind. I can play with anyone. I
especially like playing games with JD.

Last, I showed them my Deaf-Blind Communicator. After telling
them a little about what it can do and how the braille display
works, I demonstrated face-to-face communication using the
Companion (cell phone.) I was nervous about this part. This
machine is so expensive and can be a bit quirky. I didn't know
if second graders would be able to work it. I also didn't know
if they could handle thumb typing. JD told me not to worry
because all kids do thumb typing on their Nintendo game
systems. He was right. These kids did better with thumb typing
on a cell phone than the class from two years ago did with
regular qwerty typing on the SBC. I was really able to
communicate with this group of kids. That was the best part of

We broke up into centers. My father helped one group use the
Perkins BRailler JD was there to help, and he was the
self-proclaimed "Master of the Games." He showed kids how to
play Shut the Box and Chess with tactile pieces. He also had
tactile checkers and dice. He enjoyed playing Chess. He was
bragging about getting out of class in order to play games for an
hour. But he really did a wonderful job and demonstrated true
leadership abilities.

My mother had another group playing War with print/braille
playing cards. I think she liked it, too. She loves cards, and
she's the only person I know who still plays Solitaire using an
actual deck of paper playing cards.

My group took turns talking to me using the DBC. Each child
typed in his or her name so I would know who I was speaking to.
Then we talked about things like school, summer and reading.
We rotated groups so all the kids got a chance to try everything.

The visit went really well. All the kids were absorbed in
trying out these new devices and games. This is the kind of
stuff they usually wouldn't get the opportunity to try. Now they
can understand how technology helps deaf-blind people function
as productive members of society. That is a precious lesson,

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