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Math & Dyscalculia

The following are questions and answers from Dr. Tracy Gray on this topic.

How can I track down appropriate software for my daughter with multiple disabilities?

Finding the right software program, or programs, can be challenging, especially for students who have multiple disabilities or are struggling academically in a number of different areas. Some of the process of finding something that works well for your daughter might be trial and error, as you find the tools that work best for her; but a few resources can help get you started.

LD OnLine is a great source of information for parents. Checking out some of the many articles on teaching strategies for students may give you a better idea of what types of support your daughter would benefit most from. There are several resources that might help you figure out what technologies might work best for a student with an auditory processing disorder.

Though audio books may not be the best solution for your daughter, she may still benefit from hearing text read aloud, using a text-to-speech program and following along with text on the computer. Many reading programs that do this can highlight each word or each sentence as it is spoken, giving your daughter two ways to get the information. The highlighting can also help her focus on the information being read to her. Try looking for reading and writing programs that have text-to-speech, dynamic highlighting and allow your daughter to control the speed of the reading. She might also benefit from software programs that focus on early reading skills. Our article on Learning to Read with Multimedia Materials has some good suggestions.

Are there any downloadable games or software available that are not timed?

I know of a couple of resources that may be of help to you. MathTools is a community digital library that supports the use and development of software for mathematics education. Through this site you can search by grade level and math topics to find a wealth of games and activities. As you will see, some of them are timed, although many are not. Improving Basic Mathematics Instruction, a monograph published by the Technology and Media Division of CEC, offers resources and tips for selecting the appropriate technology for students with disabilities and includes a matrix of online games reviewed for several features, including whether it is timed. As noted above, the TechMatrix offers valuable information on the features of more than twenty math software products that will help you find math games and activities to motivate your son to increase his math skills.

Are there any scanning devices available that can help my dyslexic child improve his reading and math skills?

There are many devices that can scan and read. As with all assistive technology, the key is to find the right match for the individual user. You know your child better than anyone. You need to find out all you can about the various devices. The TechMatrix is a gateway to reading and math software products that provides a brief description, including a side-by-side comparison, and links to more product details that will help you identify the most appropriate software for your child. There are several reading pens on the market in addition to the ones listed on the matrices, such as the Reading Pen II, the LeapFrog Fly Pen and the Wizard. You might want to contact the distributors to ask for an evaluation copy or whether the company is displaying the devices somewhere close by where you and your child can go and try it out. You might want to pose a question on a listserv provided by Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT), where parents and practitioners post their questions and comments about AT. There are currently several postings on the listserv related to reading pens. I recommend that you review the TechMatrix to compare the various products, search the Internet for product information for the different talking/reading pens, and also search the QIAT listserv by keyword to learn from the experiences of other parents and teachers.

Can you recommend any computer games that can help my daughter understand math concepts?

There are a lot of good computer math games. The challenge is to select the ones that best meet the needs of the student. There are numerous online math games that are absolutely free, Learning Mathematics with Virtual Manipulatives provides background information on virtual math manipulatives and links to several really great math sites appropriate for various grade levels. You can also search for age appropriate math software products and resources on the TechMatrix, an online database which can help you match up your daughter with appropriate technology tools. As you know, having fun while practicing and reinforcing concepts and facts is important.

I encourage you to look for software and online sites that offer scenarios that will hook into your daughter's interest and can make the concepts come alive rather than drilling only on equations and facts.

How should I handle my trouble with math?

One reason that math might have become more of a problem for you as you moved into higher levels of mathematics is that the concepts you were learning about became more abstract. Early math is fairly concrete and easy to visualize — adding 12 and 26 is something you can picture in your head, or represent using blocks or counters. When you start to move into subjects like Algebra and Calculus, many of the concepts are more abstract and can be harder to understand, especially for students with learning disabilities. There is also a great deal of writing involved in these higher level classes, with lengthy formulas and multiple steps that need to be copied exactly. When you combine these challenges with dysgraphia and the difficulty that many people have with more abstract thinking, it isn't surprising that you'd find Algebra tricky!

There are a couple of things you can try, both high and low-tech. For a low-tech solution, you might try asking your teacher to provide you with copies of the formulas you need, or worksheets with the formulas pre-printed, so you don't have to worry about copying information down incorrectly. You could also ask if your teacher would review your notes after class to make sure that you haven't missed any important information. If notetaking is the primary reason that you're having difficulty understanding the material, working with your teacher can be an easy solution.

If you're also having difficulty understanding the concepts, using a software program that helps you visualize the mathematics might be beneficial for you. Riverdeep has a series of math programs available that might be helpful. Some of their programs are only available to schools, but the Mighty Math series (Astro Algebra and Cosmic Geometry) might be good to look at. You might also want to check out virtual manipulatives. Like the counting blocks you may have used in elementary school, virtual manipulatives can help you visualize a math problem or process and make an abstract concept more concrete. A number of websites have virtual manipulatives for different areas and levels of math:

How can I prepare parents for our new online curriculum?

If the parents in your school district are not familiar with online learning, and the platform you will be using, it might be helpful to start out with a discussion of why you chose to use technology to teach mathematics, and how the tool you're using might benefit your students. It's possible that parents will be skeptical about using online technology tools such as virtual manipulatives or math games, so highlight benefits for students, particularly those with disabilities or who are non-English speakers. In particular, parents should hear about how technology usage can help teachers differentiate instruction and meet the needs of a variety of learners.

An excellent way of preparing parents and helping them to understand the online system you are using is to make the workshop engaging and interactive. If teachers will be using interactive whiteboards during classroom instruction, ask parents to come up and manipulate objects on screen, or solve word problems. Parents should also have an opportunity to experiment with the various features of the online system and should be given access to the same things their students will see. If there is a parent section of your online program, be sure that parents understand how to use it. Be sure to also provide resources for parents to engage in mathematics activities at home with their children. If students will be using the online system outside of school, parents can participate in completion of activities or modules. You may also opt to provide parents with suggestions for math games they can play with their children to help solidify skills.

Possible sites to include on a parent resource list:


Math Playground

PBS Kids Play


BBC Numeracy Games

How can I help a student with dyscalculia learn two-digit addition?

Color coding is a low tech but very effective strategy to use with students who have difficulty keeping their numbers in the right place. Use a different color for the ones' column and the tens' column, and give the student a crayon or pencil of each color. Help him add the numbers of the same color, then write the solution in the appropriate place with the matching color.

As he improves, you can begin to omit the color from one column at a time until eventually he can perform the task without the assistance of color-coding. Strategies to Facilitate Math Concepts and Homework contains a visual and detailed explanation of this method.

Consider showing him one of several free, online videos that visually demonstrate two-digit addition, as well. Simple Flash files or videos, like those from Math Is Fun or Math Mastery, show the continuity between steps better than we can using pencil and paper. Seeing the big picture and the movement of the numbers may help your student catch on. A free, online game, like Callum's Addition Pyramid or Who Wants to Be a Mathionaire, is also a great way to encourage him to practice this skill.

How can I use the SMART Board in my math classroom more interactively to meet the needs of all my students?

One of the great features of interactive whiteboards (such as the SMART Board) is that you can use them to allow students to manipulate objects on screen, add text and diagrams to math problems, and save work. These features can have several benefits for your students, particularly those who are struggling. Because you can save the lessons and activities you present on the interactive whiteboard, you can upload your lessons to a classroom website for student review at a later date. This can be helpful for students with disabilities who may benefit from repetition. It also allows any student to revisit the lesson from home to refresh their memory about how to solve a problem.

The interactivity of the whiteboard is also a benefit for kids with LD, as well as students with a variety of learning styles. Because students can come up to the board to add diagrams, highlighting, arrows, text and move objects on screen, it addresses the needs of students who are more tactile and kinesthetic learners. Providing a colorful visual representation of math problems can also be helpful for visual learners.

You might consider using interactive applications for math that will enable students to participate more during lessons. Virtual manipulatives and applets are a good choice. Check out some of these resources for ideas:

You might also check out some teacher-created websites on the use of interactive whiteboards, they can be a great way to share lesson plans and ideas.

Is there a computer program that allows students to do math computation?

Computer-aided instruction has been shown to be an effective tool for mathematics instruction, and there are many math software products on the market. Children who find it difficult to write math problems legibly or accurately can benefit from computer-based programs that allow them to focus on calculating and problem solving. Some software programs have a game-like format, others allow a student to solve teacher-made problems. The key is to select programs that are rich in content as well as motivational for your student. 10 Tips for Software Selection for Math Instruction may assist you in making an appropriate product selection. See also the Tech Matrix for reviews of math software programs and related research.

What technology helps math, handwriting, and spelling?

You mention several different concerns that you have with your son's performance in school. Based on your descriptions, it sounds like memory may be an area of significant difficulty for your son. This may be what is preventing him from learning his multiplication facts and remembering spelling words.

A low-tech solution is to provide your son with a multiplication grid to use while completing math assignments. Some teachers opt to provide these grids for all students, while others give them only to students who are having particular difficulties. Similarly, a list of spelling words added to a personal dictionary to use in the weeks after the spelling test may help him build confidence to use the words in his writing. These types of reference tools can be great resources for students who struggle with memory and accessing information quickly.

Without knowing more about your son’s handwriting and spelling issues, it is difficult to recommend a specific tool. Is there a physical issue that interferes with your son's ability to write legibly? Does he have difficulty holding a pencil? A student with these issues may require different technological solutions than a student who has difficulty placing letters correctly on the page, or who switches letters (b for d, or p for b, etc.).

However, for many students with difficulty writing, word prediction software, (see From Illegible to Understandable) can be helpful. Other writing tools (see Tech Tools for Students with LD) such as talking word processors and portable note-taking devices may also be helpful. With any of these tools, it is best to discuss them with your son's special education teachers, and the school's assistive technology coordinator to ensure you find the best fit.

Finally, another good resource for locating assistive technology tools for different student needs is the Tech Matrix. As with any of the other technology tools mentioned, it is best to look at the different options with your son's teachers and the school technology coordinator to ensure that tools selected will be appropriate.

Can you recommend programs to assist students in the third to fifth grade who are struggling with math?

There are many programs available for students who struggle with math. The key is to select programs that are rich in content that also match the specific needs of the students.

The Tech Matrix provides reviews of math software programs and related research. Products and research are categorized by the content areas identified by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics to help you find software that address the topic of concern: Number and operations; Geometry, Measurement, Data Analysis and Probability, Algebra.

Features in the reviews may also help you identify products that can meet a particular need. A growing number of software programs offer a variety of features to help struggling students learn math skills, such as speaking the problems aloud, taking dictated answers, or adjusting the speed of expected responses.

Another valuable resource is the Learning Mathematics with Virtual Manipulatives that discusses how online manipulatives activities allow students to interact with and test concepts. The many free resources linked in this article are engaging for students and can help make abstract concepts more real. In addition, I suggest that you work with your child's teacher to identify activities that could reinforce classroom work in an alternative manner.

10 Tips for Software Selection for Math Instruction are resources that may help you in your search for activities that can reinforce your child’s math lessons.

You may also find MathTools, an online community library of technology tools, lessons, activities, and support materials for teaching and learning math.

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