Sunday, September 13, 2009

Assistive Technology: Eye Gaze, Face Tracking, and HeadMouse Open Source, Free, and Low-Cost Alternatives

I'm working with a few students who have multiple special needs who are in need of assistive communication technologies that are not expensive. Although my first idea was to look at eye gaze technology, the possibility of face tracking is also appealing. Take a look at the following video from SeeingMachines, a commercial company:

SeeingMachines offers a free version that doesn't provide all of the features I'd need.

The HeadMouse concept is something that I think has potential.

The $$$ option is the HeadMouse Extreme. It provides head-controlled wireless computer access, and uses a wireless optical sensor that tracks a disposable target that can be affixed to glasses, a forehead, or hat.  The resolution is very precise, and allows control over a range of activities such as graphics work, CAD, and gaming, in addition to typical productivity tasks.

 HeadMouse on LaptopHeadMouse on Display

Photos are from the Origin Instruments website, where you can find additional information about the HeadMouse Extreme system as well as other assistive technology and augmentative communication systems.

Alternative to HeadMouse Extreme:

HeadMouse2 is an open-source project from the Grupo de Robotica at the University of Lleida in Spain. The free software works with Virtual Keyboard, another free application.

Here are the links:

Virtual Keyboard



COGAIN stands for Communication by Gaze Interaction.  This group was created to overcome the current problems in research and development in the field that include software that works solely with a certain eye tracking device, and in the process, contribute to bringing down the price of eye tracking systems so that more people will benefit from this technology.

The COGAIN website provides a list of open-source gaze tracking, freeware, and low-cost eye tracking resources. There is enough information available for DYI purposes:

Open Source Resources

COGAIN's Early Language and Literacy Resources

Links to books and games can be found on the COGAIN Early Literacy web-page. Children in the Picture  collaborated with COGAIN for some of the literacy resources.

  • Note:  "Scope's In The Picture campaign is about encouraging publishers, illustrators and writers to embrace diversity - so that disabled children, who have been virtually invisible until recently, are included alongside others in illustrations and story lines in books for young readers."
COGAIN's Bibliography:  Eye Tracker Development and Gaze Tracking Implementation:  Systems, Hardware, Software, Algorithms

Gaze-Aware Systems, Attentive Interfaces, and Applied Eye Tracking

Research Papers, Bibliographies, Article Collections

COGAIN's Links

COGAIN's Downloads

More to come!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Social Stories: Link to the ultimate Social Stories resource (test) site!

It is Saturday, and I know that there are hundreds of teachers online, searching for social story resources for their students who have autism spectrum disorders or other disabilities that interfere with social interaction and communication skills.   

I am putting up a link to a mega-list of social story links. If you scroll down the massive page, you will find social stories and additional links.  I have not explored the site or evaluated any of the stories.  I plan to choose some of the best that I find, and link them from this blog

Readers are welcome to post links to good social stories and social stories resources in the comment section.  This is NOT the spot for commercially-made social stories, as those can be found elsewhere.

Here is the link.  From the title, it looks like it was a "test" page, so perhaps there is a cleaned-up version elsewhere.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ru Zarin's Interactive Multi-touch Applications for the Cognitively Disabled: Social stories, talking symbols, a piano, and more!

Trollskogen Final Demo from Ru Zarin on Vimeo.

The above video is a demonstration of Ru Zarin's masters degree project at Umea Universitet.

This project examined ways to use multi-touch technologies to support communication and learning among children with Down syndrome, autism, and related diagnoses within the age group of 5-8. I especially liked the animated social story application.

"Trollskogen is a communicative framework designed to enhance communication among people with cognitive disabilities. The forest is split up into interactive modules that provide a fun and engaging learning environment while helping improve on certain aspects of speech, reading/writing and symbol based languages. This framework has been deployed on a custom multi-touch table prototype built at the Interactive institute UmeƄ, enabling the children to interact with their fingers in a more natural, intuitive way rather than a traditional keyboard/mouse setup."


Ru collaborated with the illustrator Linda Arvidsson for the characters and objects found in the troll forest theme.  

I especially liked the Troll Forest Cabin, which is shown in the social stories section of the video.

Cross posted on the Interactive Multimedia Technology blog.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Thomas G. West's Blog: In the Mind's Eye, Dyslexic Renaissance

Who is Thomas G. West?   He is the author of In the Mind's Eye: Visual Thinkers, Gifted People With Dyslexia and Other Learning Difficulties, Computer Images and the Ironies of Creativity and also Thinking Like Einstein: Returning To Our Visual Roots With The Emerging Revolution In Computer Information Visualization 

I don't know how I missed Thomas G. West's blog, as his books and writings have influenced the last ten years or so of my life.  They inspired me to study technology, take a deep look at visual thinking, and follow my instincts to take a visual/multimedia approach to the way I communicate through my blogs.  (For examples of this method of communication, take a look at my Interactive Multimedia Technology blog.)

Here is a link to his blog, which he started in March, 2009:

In the Mind's Eye, Dyslexic Renaissance 

"Visual thinking, visual thinkers, visual technologies, visual giftedness, dyslexia, learning difficulties, brain diversity, creativity, scientific discovery, scientific visualization, computer graphics, entrepreneurial business, art and design, history of science, visual aspects of cultural and economic history"

A new edition of In the Mind's Eye will be published later this year, perhaps this month. I look forward to seeing what West has to say.  If you read some of Thomas West's blog post, you'll get an idea of what he explores in his books.  (Warning;  no pictures, just words.)

Visual Overload and Visual Crowding: When More Means Less (via Eide Neurolearning Blog)

Ken McGrew, of IQ Corner, shared this link to a post on the Eide Neurolearning Blog, which is worth the read, as it has specific suggestions regarding how information should be presented to students who have dyslexia or related reading difficulties:

Visual Overload and Visual Crowding-When More Means Less


Crowding, reading, and developmental dyslexia
Martelli, M., Di Filippo, G., Spinelli, D., & Zoccolotti, P. (2009). Crowding, reading, and developmental dyslexia. Journal of Vision, 9(4):14, 1-18,, doi:10.1167/9.4.14
The following passage was posted on the Eide Neurolearning blog.  It was a meme that went around the internet several years ago, and was translated into many languages. An in-depth look at the passage, as well as examples of the passage in various languages are  posted online by Matt Davis, of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge.
"Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe."

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Quest for (free) interactive activities and books on the web: Toon University, StarFall, StoryLine Online

It is the beginning of the school year, and many teachers are walking into classrooms with interactive whiteboards, thanks to the stimulus money earmarked for the schools.  

I have lots of resources for interactive whiteboards that I hope to share on this blog over the next few months. If you have some to share, please leave a comment.  I'm looking for FREE resources, but links to fully-functioning trials for inexpensive applications are also welcome.  Please share only your most favorite, high-quality sites.  Also please provide information about the site, including subject matter, grade/age level, and how it can be used with students.

Toon University

From the title of this site, you can guess that it is "cartoony".  That's ok.  Toon University offers a few free web-based activities that just might encourage you to sign up for a full-year subscription for $99.95.  This price includes 1 parent log-in and 2 child logins.  You can explore the site with a free 10-day trial.  The site allows users to toggle between English and Spanish,  and the parent-teacher log-in allows lets you see student activity, scores, and progress.

I especially like the book "I like to dance with my sister".   "My dad dances like a bird... My uncle dances like a dryer".  Cute.

Children can use the picture navigation system, which is organized by subject, or they can type in what they are looking for in the search-box in the upper left-hand corner:

To save you time, I've listed the free toon university links below:

(click here for flash version)

The Elvis That Cried "Mouse!" (K-4th)
I Like To Dance (K-2nd)
See ToonBooks written by kids!

1st-6th Grade Language Arts / Math Games
Discovering Coin Values (1st)
Comparing Number Values (2nd)
Advanced Alphabetizing (3rd)
Prime Factoring (4th)
Geography: U.S. States (5th)
Angles (6th)

Smartoon Cartoons
The Planets Adventure! (1st-6th)
The History of Money (1st-6th)

Pre-K to K Activities
The Letter "M" (Pre-K to K)

myBrainTeaser Create Your Own Games

Click Here for Samples

I've mentioned the Starfall website in the past.  It is still free, and still going strong, for students who are reading between the K-2 level.  In addition to free interactive stories, games, songs, and thematic activities,  the StarFall site offers low-cost writing journals and books.


Educator Information
Parent Information
Screen shot of one of the activities in the "Who Am I?" section. This is easy-to-use on an interactive whiteboard.

The Starfall music section is worth a listen, too.

Storyline Online

The Screen Actors Guild Foundation is the sponsor of Storyline Online, featuring actors and actresses from the guild who read children's books aloud.  One the website, there are downloadable lessons and activities that relate to each book.  Each video can be selected for the full screen and has captions that can be turned on or off.  These options make it good for use on a classroom interactive whiteboard.

Here is a list of stories available on Storyline Online:

To Be a Drum, by Evelyn Coleman; read by James Earl Jones
Guji Guji, by Chih Yuan Chen; read by Robert Guillaume
Sebastian's Roller Skates, by Joan De Deu Prats; read by Caitlin Wachs
Sophie's Masterpiece, by Eileen Spinelli; read by CCH Pounder

Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon; read by Pamela Reed

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, by Mem Fox; read by Bradley Whitford

No Mirrors in My Nana's House, by Ysaye M. Barnwell; read by Tia and Tamera Mowry

The Night I Followed the Dog, by Nina Laden; read by Amanda Bynes  

Thank you, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco; read by Jane Kaczmarek

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, by Patricia Polacco; read by Melissa Gilbert

Knots on a Counting Rope, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault; read by Bonnie Bartlett and William Daniels

Brave Irene, by William Steig; read by Al Gore

A Bad Case of Stripes, by David Shannon; read by Sean Astin

Private I. Guana, by Nina Laden; read by Esai Morales

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch, by Eileen Spinelli; read by Hector Elizondo

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg; read by Lou Diamond Phillips

Me and My Cat, by Satoshi Kitamura; read by Elijah Wood

Dad, Are You the Tooth Fairy, by Jason Alexander; read by Jason Alexander

When Pigasso Met Mootisse, by Nina Laden; read by Eric Close

White Socks Only, by Evelyn Coleman; read by Amber Rose Tamblyn

Romeow and Drooliet, by Nina Laden; read by Haylie Duff

Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson; read by Camryn Manheim

More to come!

Kindlelab Project: Open source & 3D immersive educational tools for K-12 education

Here is the plug:

The Kindlelab Project

"... Kindlelab is a consortium of educational designers, developers, thought leaders, and teachers working together to ensure open source and 3D immersive educational tools find their way into the K-12 educational setting. Any organization, individual, or company whose goal it is to ``ensure open source 3D immersive educational tools find their way into the K-12 educational setting`` are eligible and welcome to submit their application to be considered as a partner or contributor to this consortium. To become a partner submit your application here. For more information about how our consortium can help you with design, development, and consulting projects on your open source 3D immersive education project send us a note at "

The Kindlelab Project is just starting up, and includes organizations such as the Immersive Education Initiative and the Reaction Grid. Open source software platforms related to the Kindlelabs Project include the Opensimulator Project, the OpenCobalt Project, the Wonderland Project, and Edusim.

Rich White, of the Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Service Center, is the guy driving the KindleLab Project. He's known for his involvement in the Edusim project, ".. a slimmed down version of the core Open Cobalt Metaverse Project. Edusim is a 3D multi-user virtual world platform and authoring toolkit intended for your classroom interactive whiteboard (but equally powerful on the students laptop or desktop computers !).."

Even through there are funds from the stimulus package earmarked for technology in the schools, it is not enough to outfit every teacher's classroom with shiny IWB's. There are solutions out there! The following video by Rich White demonstrates how to make an interactive whiteboard for little cost, using a $20.00 BlueTooth adaptor, a $25.00 tripod, an existing projector, and an ordinary whiteboard. This concept is based on Johnny Chung Lee's Wiimote Project.

KindleLab on the WiiMote

Here's a screen shot of a KindleLab cell lesson/project by Rich White:


From Rich White and Greenbush TV:

How to use Google 3D Warehouse to Build & Share Colbalt & Edusim Virtual Worlds

The NeuroNetwork: A professional network dedicated to the study of the brain

I am the first to admit that the process of returning to school to take computer courses, combined with easy access to the Internet has turned me into a knowledge junkie, and since I have limited time to feed this habit, I've joined a few on-line groups where I can browse around if I get the urge.

The most recent group I've joined is the NeuroNetwork. Why?

During the 2008-09 year, I participated in neuropsychology training geared for school psychologists who work with children and teens who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. There is so much going on in neuropsychology and related fields, and some of it I had never heard of before. There is quite a few things going on within the intersection of technology and the cognitive sciences!

The NeuroNetwork has over 1000 members. Here is a visual of the interests of the members:

There are several subgroups within the NeuroNetwork. Here's information about some of them:

Theoretical Neuroscience

Theoretical Neuroscience

"Dedicated to exploring theoretical constructs in neuroscience, using a synergy of experimental, mathmatical, and computational methods"

Neuropsychiatry in Schizophrenia and Intellectual Disabilities

"The interest in neurobiological approaches and the cerebral and systemic pathology of mental disorders is essential. Neurotransmitter, brain imaging, etc."

Brain-Computer Interfaces

Brain-computer interfaces
"Bridging the gap between human and machine minds. We discuss everything related to invasive and non-invasive BCI."

"A discussion place especially dedicated to neuropsychology and its empirical research on the relation between brain and human cognitive, emotional, and behavioral function as well as its clinical application."

Organization for Computational Neurosciences
Organization for Computational Neurosciences (OCNS)

"The Organization for Computational Neurosciences (OCNS) organizes the international Computational Neuroscience meeting (CNS) each year. CNS is a premier forum for experimental and theoretical results addressing computation in the brain"

Upcoming Conference:

CNS 2010 July 25th - 29th, San Antonio, Texas

CNS 2009 Program Book (pdf)

Sample topics from CNS 2009:
CARMEN: An e-science virtual laboratory supporting collaboration in neuroinformatics
Python in Neuroscience
Quantitative Models of Natural Behaviour
Cortical Microcircuit Models of Information Processing and Placticity
Methods of Information Theory in Computational Neuroscience
CRCNS.ORG: A repository of high-quality data sets and tools for computational neuroscience
Emergence of behavioral primitives in self-organizing control and composition of behavior for autonomous robots
Large scale model of the human brain

Motivational Video Clip: "If you never failed, you never lived". (Do you know who is sitting in your classroom?)

Good motivational video clip: "If you never failed, you never lived" (Do you know who is sitting in your classroom?)

(cross-posted on the Interactive Multimedia Technology blog)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

SMARTtables in North Carolina:

Kicking SMART up a notch (Morgan Wall, The Mount Airy News 9/2/09)

"The table is hands-on and interactive, allowing students to use a number of their senses to learn. It can be beneficial to visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners."

"Shoals Elementary has two SMART Tables which can be checked out through the main office. Riggs sees them mostly as being for K-2 students but said 3-5 students can use them as well."

I wonder if any teachers at schools who have adopted Universal Design for Learning strategies have SMARTtables in their classrooms. If so, please leave a comment!