Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kids Click: Your Quick Guide to Computer Access Methods for Young Children

by Tenley Mcdonald

Computers are increasingly present in early childhood classrooms, and they can be a fun way for young children to learn and interact with their peers. For young children with disabilities, however, access to computers can be a challenge. Fortunately, many options are available to help children use the computer so they can develop important early learning skills. Here are several popular options.

Touch Screen: Placed on or built into a computer monitor, a touch screen allows the user to activate the computer or select a program by touching the screen instead of using a mouse. The ability to make a direct selection is helpful for children who may have difficulty understanding the relationship between the mouse and the cursor on the monitor.

Switch: When a child is unable to use a standard keyboard or mouse, a switch offers a helpful alternative. Connected to the computer through a device called an interface, a switch is usually a large, one-button device that is activated when the child presses it. Scanning software moves across the choices on the screen, and the child presses the switch when the preferred option is highlighted. Software programs designed for children with disabilities often have scanning available in their options menus. If not, users must purchase scanning software separately.

Alternative Mouse: For young children who understand how to use a mouse but find the size daunting, several alternatives are available. A tiny mouse that’s easier for little hands to maneuver is one popular option. Another choice is a one-button mouse that eliminates the right-click function found on a standard mouse. Other alternatives include a trackball or joystick. With a trackball, the user moves a small ball on a stationary base to control the cursor. A joystick is another option to control the cursor and may be especially well-suited for a young child who already uses such a device to control his or her wheelchair.

Alternative Keyboard: With variations in size, shape, layout, or function, alternative keyboards give users the functions that meet their needs. Young beginners, for example, may find that keyboards with large keys and bright colors help them find letters more quickly. Some children may prefer a keyboard where letters are in alphabetical order instead of the standard QWERTY layout. Children who need visual clarity and would benefit from having tactile information on the keys may like keyboards with alternative labels. Those with fine-motor challenges may find that keyguards—hard plastic covers with holes for each key—help them avoid striking unwanted keys. For those who need to protect their keyboards from spills or saliva, thin plastic sheets called moisture guards are an option.

For more information about these and other assistive technology options, please contact the Simon Technology Center at 952-838-9000 or Members of the Simon Technology Center Library may borrow these and other items.

Web Spotlight: Tar Heel Reader

One of the biggest challenges parents and educators face in helping older struggling readers improve their literacy skills is finding appropriate reading material. Research shows that one of the ways struggling readers improve their skills is to read more text at their reading level. While they might benefit from the simplicity and text structure of books like Brown Bear Brown Bear by Eric Carle, most older struggling readers would be mortified to be caught reading such books. This challenge was addressed in a big way when Gary Bishop, Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina and Karen Erickson, Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies, took an idea and collaborate to create Tar Heel Reader. At last, a way to easily create books that consist of engaging pictures and easy to read text brought to you by Tar Heel Reader. Tar Heel Reader is a Web based FREE application that allows users to create and read books on a variety of topics. As of Augsut 5, 2009, 4,938 books have been created in 8 different languages and read by more than 1/2 million people from 109 different countries!

Content is driven by the people who use the site. Anyone can browse and read the ever growing collection. Books can be read aloud, downloaded, and used as a template to create your own version of a book. If you are interested in creating books, contact the Simon Technology Center at or the site manager at Tar Heel Reader at for the invitation code. It's not a secret, they just don't want the spammers to get a hold of it. Visit Tar Heel Reader at

Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four Blocks Way by Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver

Reading with Franz - a You Tube Video created by aacstuff about using a switch in various positions to access books on Tar Heel Reader.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Web Spotlight: Wordle

Consider the substance of the words that make up a speech, a description, a letter. Wordle is an online tool that allows users to create "word clouds" using text that you cut and paste from another source. The words that are larger in the clouds appear more frequently in the source text. Explore different configurations and color choices by selecting the randomize button.

More than just a toy, Wordle is a literacy tool to create word clouds and get learners interacting with text in a new and different way. Pictured are 100 words from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address created in Wordle and saved as an image. Visit Wordle online at and start creating today.

Do you use Wordle in an interesting and creative way for education? Please feel free to share by leaving a comment. We would love to hear from you.

Product Spotlight: Pulse Smartpen by Livescribe

The Pulse Smartpen records audio and links it to what you write. Missed something? Tap on your notes or drawings with the tip of your Pulse Smartpen to hear what was said while you were writing. The Pulse Smartpen requires Livescribe Dot Paper that can be purchased separately or can be printed from home with a Color LaserJet Printer that is Adobe PostScript compatible and can print at 600dpi or higher.

The Pulse Smartpen automatically captures everything as you write and draw. Transfer your notes to your computer, organize them, and even search for words within your notes. Find what you want in seconds. The microphone combined with on-board noise-canceling software enables the Smartpen to record crisp, clear sound. A built-in speaker plays back your recorded audio and provides audio feedback for Smartpen applications. Tap on the volume buttons on your dot paper to control speaker volume.

A USB connector recharges Pulse and transfers notes and audio to your PC. The Pulse magnetically docks into the USB Mobile Charging Cradle. This also allows Smartpen users to install new applications from

A high-speed infrared camera with Dot Positioning System (DPS) tracks everything you write, tap, or draw on Livescribe Dot Paper. The DPS not only enables printed controls for recording and playback on each page, but also interactive paper-based applications such as a calculator or a note playing piano.

The Pulse Smartpen is now available for demonstration at the Simon Technology Center Library. Please stop in during STC Library hours: Tuesdays noon to 6 p.m. or Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information on the Pulse Smartpen visit