Desmos Audio Tracing: Introducing Sonified Graphs

Digital math. (sigh) If you are a teacher of the visually impaired, your first experiences trying to teach math concepts with digital resources was probably frustrating as so many math concepts are visual and so many math apps were not accessible. Now that students are using digital resources - including math resources - what tools are accessible and what tech skills do our students need to learn? 

Desmos, an advanced graphing calculator, is a web application and a mobile application and Desmos is accessible with screen readers! It is now an embedded tool on the calculator portion of the digital SAT, PSAT, ACT, and NWEA MAP Growth tests. Desmos is also used on year-end tests for 27 states (and counting). When should a student with visual impairments be introduce Desmos?

Yue-Ting Siu shares her introductory to Desmos audio graphs lesson with her second grade student. In the video, the student learns how to turn audio trace on/off and how to play the audio trace. Desmos' Audio Trace is mode allows a student who is blind or low vision to explore the graph by sound rather than by sight. (Note: Audio Trace is also known as "sonification" in other apps.) Watch the video below and see how exciting listening to an accessible graph can be! (smile)


Note: In the video, the student imitates the sound of each graph. The last graph, he draws a "U-shaped" graph on the table! Ting goes on to share that after the video clip, mom asked, How do you know that the graph is a "U" and not a "V"? The student sigh a big sign, and said, "Of course it's a "U". If it was a "V" the sound would be a point." Yes, this second grade student truly understands these audio graphs!

Audio Trace Commands

  • Alt + T: Turn Audio Trace on/off
  • H: Hear the graph

Intro to Audio Graphs

As always, students should be introduced to tactile materials before transitioning to the digital equivalent. Ting shares that her second grade student had many experiences feeling and exploring line graphs using tactile graphics. Below is Ting's multi-week lesson plan in her own words. . .

Here is a general layout of my multi-week lesson plan for introducing a second grader to sonification and data visualization (video shared with parent permission):

  1. Draw an X-Y axis on a Draftsman explain where (0,0) is along the axis.
  2. Introduce the idea of how graphs sound: Sound moves from left to right along the x-axis, and the pitch goes up along the y-axis.
  3. Draw a straight line on the X-Y graph. As the student traces it, teacher can face the student and move from the student's left to right, and make a sound effect from a low to high pitch to represent the line. 
  4. Make a new X-Y graph and draw a simple curved line. Teacher can stand facing the student and sonify the line again to demonstrate to the student 
  5. Teacher can also stand next to the student and they move and make the sound effect of the line together. 
  6. When the student demonstrates they understand how lines can be represented by sounds, it's time to introduce them to sonification on Desmos or the SAS Graphics Accelerator (both free tools for accessible data visualizations). 
  7. After listening to a sonification on the computer, have the student draw the line they heard.
  8. Students can also insert their own equations or data table to create their own graphs for sonification. If they do this, then be sure to show the student how they can emboss the graph as a tactile graphic (Desmos allows for output to an embosser) or provide tactile drawing materials for the student to draw by hand.

Note: Video and multi-week lesson reposted on Paths to Technology with permission. See Ting's original YouTube post here.