SpecDrums by Sphero: Turn Colors Into Sounds and Sounds Into Learning

Students with visual impairments rely on their other senses like touch and hearing to create meaning of their environment. As educators, we are responsible for assisting students in their development of tactile awareness and listening comprehension. Additionally, we must guide the evolution of these competencies as students get older. These are not just academics abilities, but are also helpful in developing orientation and mobility skills.

As technology advances, we are given opportunities to create new ways to teach these skills to our students. It is very important, as teachers for the visually impaired, that we make an effort to not fear technology, but to be open to using it in our lessons with students. Technology is naturally interesting and engaging to students and will also certainly be a part of their daily life in the future. 

You may be familiar with Sphero and their round robots from Diane Brauner’s post about SAS CodeSnaps. In January of this year, the company released a product called Specdrums which are available in 1 ring and 2 ring sets. The device itself is a hard silicone ring that is worn on a finger and has a color sensor on a flat base. The ring is connected to one of two available mobile apps, Specdrums Mix and Specdrums Music, which are available in both the GooglePlay Store and Apple App Store. Once synced to the app, the rings can be tapped against the included color play pad or on any object in the environment. Based on the tapped color, a different assigned sound will play from your device. In the app, you can control which sounds or notes are played for each of the 12 colors and can even record your own sounds. We found the device and apps easy to set up, use, and customize. The video below can explain a little more about Specdrums:

Educators are already using Specdrums in lessons about music and literacy. Some features of Specdrums that educators seem to enjoy:

  • The Specdrums Music app allows you to assign specific notes/sounds to specific colors. 
  • Various sound effects packs such as pets and wild animals are included in the Specdrums Music app.
  • In the Specdrums Mix app you get pre-made sound boards, but you can also edit a board to change each button to a pre-made or recorded sound (including your own voice). 
  • The Specdrums Mix app allows you to edit each button on a soundboard to a specific color by scanning an object or color in your environment using the Specdrums ring. Watch this video on customizing your soundboard in the Mix app.
  • Once the sounds are set up in either app, you’ll need to keep the app open as the sound comes from the device itself and not the Specdrums rings, but otherwise, students will not need to use the app to interact with their environment or the activity you have set up for them. They will simply tap any object, the Specdrums rings will scan the color, and the sound you set up will play.

Your creative juices are probably already flowing and we hope that the following ideas will only further motivate you to jump in and try this tool with your students. Obviously for teachers of students with visual impairments, the application of Specdrums may look a little different. Unfortunately, the Music app does not support VoiceOver. The Mix app does support some commands, but users may find it a little clunky when trying to switch between menus. Still, students can collaborate with their TVI or other students on the creation and coding side. On their own, teachers can use the apps to set up a wide variety of interactive and engaging experiences for their students. The Specdrums will be particularly useful in supporting the following areas:

  • Pre-literacy. Students can improve their mental and physical dexterity by isolating sounds, remembering and repeating patterns, and strengthening finger dexterity (for pre-braillers). Additionally, the concepts of cause-and-effect and sequencing will be embedded in any lesson involving the Specdrums.
  • Orientation and Mobility. Students can use Specdrums to gain confidence in exploring the environment. They can learn the colors of the environment along with the textures by using the sounds made when they tap to give them color-based feedback. 
  • Accessibly. Specdrums use may look different depending on the level of a student’s visual impairment, their cognitive level, and other multiple disabilities they may have, but there are still experiences accessible to all using the available Specdrums apps.
  • Coding. Students can unleash their musical creativity by making their own sound boards to play using with the Specdrums. Additionally, students can create their own sound effect books with pre-made and recorded sounds. While the teacher may set up many of the activities, students can be included in the process as well.

There are a variety of ways to create your own student-specific activities by utilizing combinations of colors, recording your own sounds, and exploring the features of the Specdrums apps. The main idea to remember before you create is that you can assign colors to specific sounds, musical notes, or words/sounds you record. So the element of color must be used in your design, but the output the student hears will be different based on what sounds you have assigned to each color.

  • Alphabet Song Board. Allows students to play the alphabet song with a Specdrum while they feel or view each letter. Color-coded backgrounds will tell the Specdrum which note to play for each letter.
  • Soundboard Freeplay. Students improve finger dexterity by creating, remembering and repeating patterns using the instruments and sounds of their choice.
  • Match Game. Matches can just be colored cards to help memory and differentiating sounds or could utilize braille and sounds. Students can use the Specdrums rings to check each match.
  • Interactive Sound Effect Book. Students can use sound effects or record sounds from their own environment to go along with their story using customized sounds in the Specdrums Mix app. These books can then be enjoyed and activated by any level student who is wearing the Specdrum ring simply by touching the colored page.
  • Environment Exploration.  Students can freely explore their environment and learn about the colors of objects with which they interact, matching a color to go with their tactile impression.
  • Environment Scavenger Hunt. Students can find objects by scanning their colors or scanning cards labelling them. 
  • Specdrums Simon. For this game, students can use their auditory skills to match patterns they hear.
  • Sentence Puzzles. Students can scan colored cards to hear words then sort them until they can hear a correct complete sentence.
  • Auditory Word Bank. Students can tap colored cards to hear their word options for a question.

These are just a few quick and simply ways the Specdrum can be integrated into personalized lessons to help students make sense of their environment using their listening and tactile skills with the support of technology. When you first get started, the Specdrums may feel like a music toy. But when you really start discovering the customizability, you will quickly see how you can adapt the Specdrums’ functions to your own teaching and meeting the needs of your students in terms of academics and orientation and mobility. 

We plan to write expanded blog posts with specific directions, pictures and videos for several of the activities listed above. Let us know which lesson is the most interesting to you so we can start from there!  



Read more about: Assistive Technology