Monday, November 18, 2013

'Appy Hour Review: Write Room

I found Write Room, by Hog Bay Software, for free on Apps gone Free. Normally $4.99, I couldn't not try it.

Write Room is a super cool app that is easily modifiable to those with visual impairments, visual attention, or to those who just prefer working in a different font and background.

When comparing Write Room to Notes, issued standard on iPhone and iPad, there are notable differences. The background in Write Words is very customizable, as is the font. You are able to adjust size, color, and style all within the app.

It is set up with limited distractions visually. Similarly to Notes on the iPhones, there are no lines.  However, it takes just a quick tap on the title line to pull up options to print, email or rename.  Also, it has a word count and sync option within that feature.

Like Notes, you are able to create new documents and folders. You can send your documents via email or to your wireless printer.  Unlike Notes, you are unable to send it as a text message, which I hope is an option in their upgrade attempts.

This entire blog was type written using Write Room with yellow font on black background. I loved the high contrast. Maybe because my eyes are getting older or I just have this personal preference, the option to easily access a high contrast typing app is wonderful.

I think I am a convert from using Notes to using Write Room as my go to quick note taker. Take a chance and try it as well, while it is free.  Who knows, you just might like it as well.  And if you like working on it, there are versions for other Mac products, too.

As of this post, Write Room is still free while they work on updates, so download it now.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

'Appy Hour Review: Dragon Dictation

Dragon Dication by Nuance
"Welcome to happy hour review on Dragon dictation by Nuance. For giggles I am actually going to dictate part of the blog  on Dragon dictation app. Just to see how well it comes out. I am going to leave in all of the hum all of the errors to see how accurate this app really is. 

One of the things I've noticed is that next week is pretty accurate when I was playing with last time however OT often comes out it's own cheese oh well.

One of the very interesting ways to use this app is to practice articulation.  It forces the speaker to speak slowly and clearly. It's quite funny to try this with the dysarthric five year old. The stories that he was trying to tell came out horribly wrong and it did get a laugh.

Unfortunately what I have noticed is that the app frequently freezes one after I am mailing the intended notes to myself so that I can for the type it in my blog. The other thing I don't like is that it doesn't have a save feature. When I first started using it I would talk at length and close out.  and when I went to go send it to myself again it wasn't there so if you do not e-mail or text it or posted immediately after your completed with your dictation then it's not going to save it for you and you've lost your entire conversation with yourself.

I have to say though for a free app it's incredibly accurate. Comparing it to Dragon dictation for the computer which is generally a multi hundred dollar program it is a phenomenal find and peace assisted technology that can be incorporated into classroom use as long as the person has a quiet carrier to dictate."

As you can see, Dragon Dictation Free is pretty useful if you don't already have Siri, which I do not.  And as long as you are in a quiet area to speak, the notes are often spot on.  You do have to remember to state "period" or other sentence markers, or you will end up editing post dictation.  Also, you must be aware of the length of the time you are speaking.  After a few minutes of speaking, the app needs to process the information into text, which may result in the loss of train of thought.  For someone with dysgraphia or the average person with an older iPhone, this speech to text app can mean improved written output on the go.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

'Appy Hour Review: Inclusive Tech Apps Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Inclusive Tech 'Appy Hour Review.  This group of apps addresses slightly different tasks and skill development compared to the previous song based counting apps.  These apps are best for children with exceptional needs who are using cause and effect efficiently and you want to help them make more choices within their play or work on timing for switch activation.  Overall, if you find one app you like, chances are you will find others that help excite and engage the learners into persevering with the task.

Little Lost Penguin*
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use: Available in a single switch or touch based mode, you must help the Little Lost Penguin cross six obstacles and feed him along the way. Honestly, I purchased and tried the app without knowing much about it.  I learned by trial and error what was expected (like the kids would have to do).  This app addresses problem solving skills because the player needs to figure out and wait to jump at just the right time.
Visuals: Of course the penguin is cute.  The visual are more complex than the previous cause and effect apps, but it is made to engage different skills for different learners.
Auditory: Gentle waves in the background, and swoopy jumping sounds accompany the penguin and help bring attention back to the task.
Engagement Factor: I swear it was inspired by Happy Feet.   Most of my students are not ready for this app quite yet but I am hoping as they grow, this app will support their needs.
Overall: This is a cute beginner app to bring the students to a new level of skill development, when they are ready. I give it 4 out of 5 Coffee Cups.

Treasure Island*:
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use: This app can be used as touch based, single switch, and two switch modes. Goal of the game is to find the treasure by scanning and selecting a square on the map.
Visuals: The map is presented as a grid of 9 squares. Once you touched a spot, a dark blue foot stamps on that section of the map.  I don't feel it is contrasting enough and wish I could modify the stamp in a different color at times. However, the benefit of the blue stamp is that is not overly distracting that the students do not perseverate on it.  You have to weigh your needs.
Auditory:Hopefully you children don't scare easily, sometimes the creepy skeletons will say boo and laugh at them. But generally the sound effects that accompany the squares are not too scary.
Engagement Factor: I have boys, work with a lot of boys, it was nice to have a pirate game! Once you find the treasure you get a song and dance from the pirate himself.  The map and location of the treasure changes slightly in each game so students can't memorize location.
Overall: This app can be used to develop step scanning skills. Scan, scan, scan, select. And its fun to go on a treasure hunt.  I give it 4 out of 5 Coffee Cups for the Arrgggghhhhh factor.

Ease of Use: This is a simple cause and effect app that can be play with touch base, single or two switch mode.  The tired old man is trying to sleep, and silly musicians keep interrupting him. Depending on the switch you activate, you will either open the door to disrupt the old man's sleep, or the old man will pop up and say "Shhhh!". 
Visuals: Simple black background helps to decrease visual stimuli.  Bright, clear, and animated images are  to watch.
Auditory: If left alone, the musicians will play their instruments for about 15 seconds. But you can interrupt them by selecting the tired old man and he will tell them to SHHH!  There is no other extraneous noises, which is good to limit distractions.
Engagement Factor: The children really get a kick out of waking up the old man.  I swear that is an innate desire of most children.
Overall: Shhh! is fun and great way to explore the use of two switch mode.  5 out of 5 cups.

Big Trucks:
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use: This is a simple cause and effect app that can be play with touch base, single or two switch mode.  Interaction strictly makes the trucks make sounds and move on and off the screen. 
Visuals: Simple black background helps to decrease visual stimuli.  Bright clear truck images that have animation are pleasurable to watch.
Auditory: Each truck has a unique sound to go along its activation.
Engagement Factor:  Using the two switch activation, a child can build choice making.
Overall: This is a decent app for those with significant and complex needs.  It happened to flow with the preschool curriculum discussing stories like Goodnight, Construction Site. The students did appear to get less engaged after about 3-5 minutes, since they prefer the song based apps as previously reviewed.    I give it 3 out of 5 Coffee Cups.
Aunty Maggie's Recipe
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use:This is a simple cause and effect app that can be play with touch base, single or two switch mode.
Visuals: You get to chose 1 kid from a field of 4 that you want to make into a monster. Touch the brightly colored potions to add as many as you want to the cauldron.  Then touch the goblet to have the child drink it.  The child turns into a colorful monster and does a dance.  After the dance the child returns to normal to start the process again.  There is a quick X to return to the field of 4 child select screen in case the player wants to change it up.
Auditory: The setting is a spooky house, so the crickets are chirping in the background, which after a while, I wanted the option to shut it off.  But when you select the potions or the cup, it has a pleasant and reinforcing sound that indicates the player made a choice.
Engagement Factor: I really like this game. My five year old (and even the 8 y.o.) really likes this game. This game is fun to develop choice making, reasoning skills, hypotheses in an engaging monstrous way. You can build on language skills by asking what color? What do you think is going to happen? How many potions do you want to use? Do you like or dislike your monster?
Overall:  You really can have a lot of fun differentiating to the goals specific to your child.  5 of 5 Coffee Cups.
The one thing I wish I could have access to is a quick exit to the app's home screen.  In most of the apps, you have to exit the app completely then reenter into the app.  I have talked with the developers but they have tried diligently to limit the visual distractions which is why they don't provide the quick out.  But they understood my concerns.  So whether or not you like or dislike an app, I urge you to share your feedback with the developers via app store reviews, emails, or blogs.  It takes feedback to make things the best for the intended users.

*apps with this star means I purchased it independently.  The others I received a code to download it for free.  My thoughts, as odd as they are at times, are my own and are not influenced by the company.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In a pinch, Silly Putty is a great substitute...

I have been an occupational therapist for over 10 years and I have used a lot of therapeutic putty in days.  Theraputty is a resistive dough that is used to increase hand strength and overall function.  There are many brands like Cando and FEI.   But when used in conjunction with play based activities, the students get a work out without really knowing it.

Therapeutic putty will range in price and quality.  And for the most part, it is a staple in most areas of practice.  But as a parent and therapist, it's nice to have quick and easy options to share with others or take on the go.  That is why I always keep around Silly Putty.

Silly Putty now comes in a variety of colors and has the resistance level similar to that of firm therapeutic putty.  It's well know little egg case makes it perfect to throw in the pocket book or diaper bag to keep little hands busy while you are waiting for appointments or food to be delivered.

But you can diversify its use and support your child's education by adding random things.  I have found alphabet beads at Five Below that you can use to sort, spell, match, pattern, identify letter sounds, whatever your child needs to work on.
Put a twist on a favorite game like Hi Ho Cherry O! by hiding the cherries in the Silly Putty, spin the wheel and take them in and out of the putty as you count your way to 10 cherries out of the tree.
There are a bunch of ways you can add to an activity with this 70 year old classic.  Taking a minute to step outside of the box can bring new life to activities and increase engagement with you, your child or your clients.  And for a whopping $1 at most stores, it doesn't break the bank.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In my family of loomers, apparently I am the hooker....

I swear learning how to make friendship bracelets is a right of passage.  It used to be gimp or thread, now its the rubber band loom.

I giggle because I find it insanely therapeutic (oxymoron, yes).  I first figured it out at my nephew's party because they were having a hard time with the kit loom maker, that giant plastic maze.  But last week, I met an 8 year old girl who showed me how to do it with her two fingers in the shape of a V or peace sign.  When I was doing it that way, my fingers were getting tired quickly as well as I only have 2 hands to help my boys do it.  Then it dawned on me, chopsticks.
Starting of with the same figure 8 and adding the looms 1-2 at a time depending on if you want a fishtail or not, the chopstick provides an easy and stable workspace for loomers.  After teaching my own children (8 and 5), I thought it would be a great activity for some of my students.
So here I am with five 2nd graders with a variety of abilities, chopsticks and loom.  And you know what, it was wonderful.  This activity is engaging because their peers are making them.  It addresses fine motor strength and coordination, patterns, spatial awareness, bilateral hand coordination, and the list goes on and on.  The students were so proud of themselves for getting the few rows completed and are eager to continue.  They were helping each other and socializing.  It was probably one of the most satisfying group activities I had lead in a long time.

And now of course, I have created looming monsters.  The only thing they have difficulty with is placing on that annoying plastic hook.  Hence, why in family, I am the hooker.  Great.

You can find the loom kits at Michaels, but don't forget to check Five Below (their refill packs were 3 for $5), Job Lot and Target for the refills.  And the chopsticks- order out or check out specialty toy shops like BrainWaves in Narragansett, RI for the kits and cool dinosaur chopsticks like the ones pictured above.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

'Appy Hour Review: Inclusive Tech Switch Accessible Apps Part 1

Once I find an app I like, I tend to try the company's other apps to see how they may be beneficial to the children with whom I work.   Inclusive Technologies, based in the UK, has been a great find for my clientele.

The maker of Splat the Clowns has a plethora of switch accessible apps, so I figured I will do a compilation review of the ones that I have purchased, as well as the ones that I had received a code from the company to test drive.  Disclaimer, my thoughts, as odd as they are, are my own regardless of how I attained them :)

But because Inclusive Tech makes quite a few apps, most of which I love and use on a daily basis, I decided to do a 2 (or more) part 'Appy Hour to provide quick and concise reviews of their ease of use, visual, auditory, engagement factor, and overall thought.  And because I work some of the most amazing children with a variety of abilities and disabilities including Autism, Down's Syndrome, Developmental Delay, Cerebral Palsy, Visual Impairment, and Spina Bifida, I have had a chance to differentiate the use of these apps with really great results.  So here we go...

Five Swimming Sharks*
Ease of Use: Either in touch base mode or with switch interface, this app is very easy to use.  After setting up the Bluetooth switch interface, just enter the app, Switch Settings, click enable switch then x out. Easy peasey lemon squeezey.  This is single and 2 switch capable.  It has the song and 3 additional counting activities to the number 5.  I only wish that the third counting activity, counting in sets, had an easy exit besides exiting the app completely with the iPad's home button.
Visuals: Clear, bold colors accompany the words and numbers associated with the song and 3 counting games making it really good for early readers.  Not overly complicated for children with visual impairments.
Auditory:  I know the song is set to a tune from my childhood, but I cannot figure it out! Either way, it is consistent verse allows for easy learning.  Students and staff were shocked initially at the duck-eating shark but soon realized the humor in it.  And the british singer is pleasant to listen to.
Engagement Factor: The students are enamored with the cause and effect.  I have watched as my students learn wait, my turn, targeting, and counting.  I have printed and laminated the pictures of all of the apps so they can make choices, and they often will deliberately choose this one.
Overall: 5 out of 5 Coffee Cups.  This app can support early math and literacy concepts easily in the classroom and at home.   Click here for a youtube video posted by TecAssistive so you can have the song stuck in your head too.

Five Little Aliens:*
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use:  This was the second app I had purchased and got my hooked onto Inclusive Tech, honestly.  This is a single switch capable app with a song and two additional counting activities.  Same set up as above.
Visuals: How can you not love the cute little green men?  Clear simple animation accompanied with the words and numbers and a not-complicated background makes it easy to watch.
Auditory: I can never get these songs out of the my head. Neither can the teachers or the students. It is an easy tune to recall with consistent verse and the same lovely british singer.
Engagement Factor: When I see children with the most severe and impaired motor coordination hit that switch over and over to continue the song or count along, I know they are learning, playing and showing others they are as well.
Overall: Overflowing 5 out of 5 Coffee Cups.  Everything about this app I adore, and so do the kids.

Five Little Rock Stars*:
Cost: $2.99
Ease of Use: Can be used with and without a switch.  See above, as I have noticed Inclusive Tech is consistent with their switch enabling process. This is a single switch capable app.  It has the song and 2 additional counting activities to the number 5.
Visuals: The background is duller than the animated rock stars so it helps to keep the attention without being overly distracting.  The songs and activities are accompanied by the words on bottom of the screen, and the number is on top.  Between each activation, this makes it easy to reinforce number recognition, early reading skills, and counting.
Auditory:  The tune is catchy. The song has a longer verse as compared to the other interactive song apps and I do wish it was shorter, but my students love it still.
Engagement Factor: I crack up that this is becoming some of my students' favorite song.  Some of my students with significant oral apraxia can clearly say "rock star" when requesting this app.
Overall: Simialr to Five Little Aliens and Five Swimming Sharks, Rock Stars provides a song and additional counting games for numbers 1 -5.  If the kids love it and they are learning, its a 4 5/6th out of 5 Coffee Cups.

I find it incredibly important to be in touch with the app developers because as a therapist and parent, I am one of the many on the front lines.  If there are things I like, love, or dislike greatly, I tell them, either in an email or a review.  I had reached out to Inclusive Tech to share some of my thoughts and the person to whom I was connected was thoughtful and thorough with his response.  I hope to see some of my suggestions in future apps or versions.  But whether or not that happens, IT appears to be a company with the children in mind and I look forward to seeing more of their developments.

Oh, and if anyone can tell me the names of the songs that these are based to I will thank you forever, it has been driving me nuts!

*indicates that I purchased this app

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Think Fun-Analysis: Rush Hour, an oldie but still a goodie

Game On!

Recently, Think Fun revamped the look of their classic traffic jam game, Rush Hour.  Now in it's sleek and gray scale version, Rush Hour may be found on any Mensa-hopeful's shelf to help exercise your brain.
The basis of the game is to get the red car out of the traffic jam in the fewest moves possible.  Graded from beginner to expert, the single player must first set up the puzzle board with the black, gray and red cars.  Then moving one car at a time, spaces open up to eventually slide the red car out of the garage.  This may seem simple to you, but it is not.  This game uses many skills.  First, the ability to match the cars to the picture calls for significant spatial skills.  Then, problem solving, strategizing, and persistence must be harnessed in order to move the cars out of the way.  Let alone, the fine motor to manipulate the cars (though they could easily be moved with a mouth stick once set up).
My eight year old was able to persist independently to challenge 18 (out of 80) parking scenarios.  Then as the complexity increased, frustration emerged and he decided to hold off till another day.  The following day, he discovered the fail safe solving instructions in the back to which he referred as the "clues" and completed number 80.  I laughed and said he cheated, to which he replied "No I didn't, I just followed the directions."  Ya, got me there kid.
I didn't get much farther than him during some quiet time I had.   Mensa member, I am not.  But it was the pleasure of the pursuit.  The a-ha moment of getting the car out.  Apparently I need to work on my spatial skills.

I know many of my OT friends have been using Rush Hour for years.  It is a fun yet intellectual game rated for kids 8 and up.  Rush Hour is available at many stores from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and specialty toy shops around the way, as well as straight off the Think Fun website.   For $14.99, this is a wonderful game to keep a child or adult occupied on a rainy afternoon.  Because of the pieces, it doesn't travel too well.  However, there is an app for that.  Rush Hour Free and the full version  Rush Hour (for $2.99) are available on the App Store so you can play any time, any where.  My kids or I will play in the car, at a restaurant, doctor's offices etc.  There is even a mini Rush Hour Holiday version for .99 cents with presents and a penguin.  Really cute.

For a game that has been around since 1996, Rush Hour continues to provide edutainment to the young and young at heart.  Hmm...I wonder if there has ever been a clinical study on the benefits of this game on the aging brain....

Though I received Rush Hour for gratis in return for my review, my thoughts are my own, as out of the box they may be.