Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Leveraging Technology to Aid Children with Autism (and other disabilities)

[Also posted on educatorslog.in]

Following from the success and lessons from their workshop in Dehradun where they used technology to help kids with autism, Dr. Arun Mehta and his colleagues are currently conducting a similar workshop in Bangalore (May 26-30, 2007). The participants include children of various ages with autism, their parents, special educators, volunteers (from IBM and some independent - like me).

I registered my interest (and shared some software ideas and links) with the group following a comment to this post here on educatorslog.in which announced the workshop and the googlegroup that had been set up to exchange emails, in the weeks leading up to the workshop among the various people interested in this event and initiative. I have had the pleasure, over the last couple of days to volunteer my time - attend some sessions and share my ideas on how some technologies such as Scratch (see my previous post here) could be used as a simple iconic, visual introduction to programming (to create games as well as explore shapes and other ideas around space and geometry).

Computers and other digital technologies with their multi-media affordances, have been known to serve as learning and communication aids for children with disabilities such as autism. Little has been tried out in India, though, and Dr. Arun Mehta and Vickram Crishna (of the Hawkings project and eLocuter fame) and their colleagues are probably the first in India to try to help parents and special educators become familiar with hardware and software that they can use with children with disabilities based on each child's specific needs and condition.

Among the software being discussed and shared at this workshop-

  • Natak - a role-playing and drama-making software by C-DAC
  • Jaws - software for the visually impaired (audio feedback for keyboard input, screen-reader for audio version of everything on the screen)
  • e-Locuter - computer "talks" for a non-verbal user and allows user to give computer inputs through one key. Read this 2004 article by Frederick Noronha.
  • Dasher - for keyboard-less typing - user can type using only mouse movements (without clicking)
  • Scratch - a fun, simple introduction to programming (see my previous post here)
  • Basic photography, image and sound manipulation - preparing powerpoint slide shows with images and sound
  • Edubuntu - a complete Linux-based operating system, (freely available with community based support) specially for children - packaged with tons of educational applications and games

Most or all of the software being shared and discussed is free and open source. Dr. Mehta is in fact planning to customize eLocuter with specific vocabulary lists of everyday words for all the children who have participated in this workshop!

To see technology being leveraged to help children with disabilities has been such a learning, and an eye-opener for me. Kudos to Dr. Arun Mehta and his collegues who are organizing the workshop - Vickram Crishna (of Net Radiophony), Dr. Veronica Mathias (Autism Society of India) and Dr. Nalini Menon (Spastics Society of Karnataka)!


Some related articles:

Article on the earlier Dehradun workshop
A write up on A for Autism... M for Mouse - a film on this initiative
Use of video modeling to help teach children with autism
A for Autism... M for Mouse

Scratch officially released by MIT Media Lab

[Also posted on educatorslog.in]

You may recall my earlier post here - Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas about kids and programming. I'd mentioned Scratch - a great programming environment for kids of all ages to get creative with computers that was due to be released by MIT Media Lab. Well it's here! Fun, easy, colorful, wysiwyg, lots of features, great online community for sharing your projects.

Check out this MIT press release as well as links to Mitch Resnick's videos about the product that are linked from the site and go ahead and download this free, fantastic product...

---------------------Mailer from Mitch Resnick announcing Scratch-------------------------

New software from Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab

As you may know, our research group at the MIT Media Lab has been
working for several years on a new programming language, called
Scratch, that enables kids to create their own interactive stories,
games, music, and animations.

This week, we are officially releasing Scratch and launching the
Scratch website (http://scratch.mit.edu), where people can share
their Scratch creations with one another.

Scratch builds on our group's previous work that led to the LEGO
MINDSTORMS and PicoCricket robotics kits. Just as the MINDSTORMS and
PicoCricket kits allow kids to program and control physical
creations, Scratch lets them program and control media-rich creations
on the screen. As kids create and share Scratch projects, they learn
important mathematical and computational ideas, while also gaining a
deeper understanding of the process of design.

I hope you'll go to the Scratch website at http://scratch.mit.edu,
where you can download Scratch software and share projects created
with Scratch.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences with Scratch. If you
have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me.

Mitch Resnick
Professor of Learning Research
Lifelong Kindergarten group
MIT Media Lab

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Creativity in the Classroom

[Read more on this at educatorslog.in]

Creativity & Innovation seem to be buzzwords today, not just in the world of design, but in the corporate world as well as in education today. I wrote a couple of posts about a year ago on the idea of "possibility thinking" - in this post and this one.

I attended an immensely fascinating workshop on Creativity at the recently held TAISI conference in Bangalore (where I also held a session - on "Technology Tools for Collaboration" - see previous post here). This workshop conducted by Dr. Susan Baum of the International Center for Talent Development was called "Creativity 1,2,3", and was centered around characteristics of creative thinking and creativity in children, and how to nurture these in the classroom.

I found the presentation slides to this workshop. Some slides relating to participant involvement & action during the workshop may not make sense, but there are several slides dedicated to what "creative folks" do and look like, "divergent thinking", brainstorming strategies in the classroom that encourage kids to be creative, and "problem finding (not problem solving) and discovery in science."

The big take-aways for teachers were --

  • to provide ample opportunities in the classroom for play and "problem finding" (a more important skill than "problem solving"),
  • to teach divergent thinking skills and integrate them into the curriculum, and most of all,
  • to model creativity and spontaneity in the classroom.