Moving Forward with Accessible Digital Math: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed several unique tech-related skills that students with visual impairments need to fully interact with and understand math in a digital format: Spatial concepts/mental mapping, Earcons and Sonification. In Part 2, we will look at bar charts, grids and tables and how to transition from these traditionally tactile formats to a digital format.

As always, young students should be introduced to new math concepts using manipulatives and tactile materials before applying the new concept to the corresponding digital format. Students are introduced to very basic concepts in kindergarten, building and expanding these concepts in first grade, second grade and beyond.

Bar Charts

In preschool and kindergarten, students learn to sort items using manipulatives with different characteristics. Classic sorting activities include grouping M&Ms by color (always a student favorite!) and grouping objects by shape. While sorting by color is not always an option for students with visual impairments, the manipulatives can be modified or substituted as needed so that the student can sort using different characteristics. After being sorted, these items are then compared to see which group has the most/least amount of items. Next, students learn to create a simple table or bar chart with the sorted manipulatives.

According to Technology Literacy Standards, in first grade, students are learning to create simple digital charts and graphs. For students who are using an iPad, simple bar charts can be created in the Pages app and accessed with VoiceOver by touching the chart on the screen. Students who are visually impaired can also create charts in spreadsheet applications, such as Excel. SAS Graphics Accelerator, a free Chrome extension, enables students who are visually impaired to create, navigate and analyze charts and graphs in an accessible format, using a combination of auditory and sonification.

Modifications of Manipulatives to Sort

  • M&M sorting activity: use different types of candy instead of color
  • Counting Block sorting activity: adhere different textures to the different colored blocks
  • Bar Chart: Tactile grid paper and foam sticker shapes

Resources

Grids and Tables

Math grids come in many forms: ten-frames (2x5 grid), hundreds chart (10x10), and basic grids of all sizes. Grids are used to teach rows and columns, positions in a table, etc. and are foundational concepts for x and y-axis grids used in coordinate planes. For students who are visually impaired, grids are a critical concept as these grids can help students organize items in space in a digital format. Example: A ten-frame is 2 rows and 5 columns (rectangle) while a Tic Tac Toe board is 3 rows and 3 columns (square). If a blind student truly understands a ten-frame and Tic Tac Toe board, he has an immediate mental map and can find the top left square and instantly drag his finger across the row or down the column - on a touch screen tablet and later using keyboard commands on a computer. Apps are often carefully designed to be user-friendly with a predictable lay out. Consider your iPad's home screen: The app icons are laid out in rows and columns (grid format) and apps fill up the screen starting in the top left corner.

Again, students should be introduced to tactile grids before transitioning to digital grids. There are numerous fun games - both tactile games and digital games - that can be used to teach grids. As teachers of the visually impaired, it is our job to highlight the grid format when introducing and playing these games. Students should learn to listen to the screen reader's announcement as the screen with a graph or grid loads; the screen reader should state the type of graph the number of rows and columns (if applicable) and other information. As a student moves through a grid, the screen reader should announce the new row or column. Classic games, such as Tic Tac Toe, Battleship, Memory (matching) and Sudoku are all examples of games that use a grid format and that are available in both tactile and digital formats.

There are numerous posts on transitioning from tactile activities to similar digital activities (see resource list below) with activities for all age groups. Currently, there are many older students who were not introduced to digital grids and digital spatial concepts in elementary school who often struggle with these spatial math concepts in upper grades. Luckily, there are now a number of fun digital games available for younger students which teach these critical concepts - this new generation of students are growing up with tech and tend to have strong spatial concepts!

Simple digital grid games include Ballyland Sound Memory (matching sounds), Ballyland CosmoBally, several digital games in the Math Melodies app and Positions in a Table stickers activity in the Numbers app. Some of the more challenging games include 3D Tic Tac Toe, Sea Battle (digital Battleship game), and Crossword Puzzles. Be sure to check out the numerous coding concept games too!

Resources

Summary

While math is not yet fully accessible in a digital format for young students who rely on screen readers, there are numerous activities available now to introduce basic math concepts including digital bar charts, tables, and grids. Students should simultaneously learn math concepts through tactile materials and apply these concepts to digital formats.These games span a range of levels and the skills can be expanded as the student moves up through the grade levels. With a solid foundation in tech skills and digital math skills, students will be able to apply these concepts in order to successfully and independently access higher level math in a digital format.  NOW is the time to start!