2006 Conference General Sessions

VIRTUAL PENCIL, INTERACTIVE ARITHMETIC SOFTWARE FOR PENCIL-IMPAIRED STUDENTS

Presenter # 1
Jim Watson
Henter Math, LLC
P.O. Box 40430
St. Petersurg, FL 33743
—0430
(888) 533—6284 — Toll Free
(727) 302—9422 — Fax
Email: jim@hentermath.com

Virtual Pencil is assistive software for students that are pencil impaired. It displays arithmetic visually and audibly, while the user interacts with the problem, going through each step, working towards a solution. Help messages and tutoring information are also available.

The traditional pencil is a problem for people that are blind, or people that can’t grip it or move it, or those that are learning disabled. A pencil plays a key part in learning Math, and other equation-solving disciplines. Typically a student uses a pencil to ‘work through” a math problem, writing down the intermediate answers and using them to get the
final answer. But if you can’t operate a pencil then you can’t write down the intermediate answers, which makes it very difficult to use them in acquiring the final answer, and does not leave anything on the paper to show that you actually worked through the problem and you know how to solve it. Of course, if you are blind, the pencil doesn’t tell you what numbers to add together either.

Virtual Pencil is computer software that is used to interactively solve math problems. t is designed for those who are pencil impaired: unable to operate a pencil effectively. This is not a tutorial, although tutorial mode is part of the package. Think of it as a virtual pencil, a tool that can be used to solve a math problem. It moves to the right spot on the “paper”, guided by the user, and inputs the answers that the user selects. When used with a screen reader the numbers and actions are read out loud, or displayed in Braille.

The math problem is displayed on the screen, one number above the other with digits lined up in vertical columns. The Tutor tells the student where he is in the problem, what steps need to be done to solve it, and will even do the navigating and provide the answer. In test mode the student does not have the help provided by the tutor; extended tutor or next step features. He or she must know how to navigate around the problem, where to read the digitals in the intermediate steps, and where to put the answers. Just like using a pencil.

Teachers can create on assignment , password protect it, and then send it to the student via email, save it to a diskette, save it to the hard drive, or print it or emboss it. When emailing it or saving it, the password will stay with the assignment file wherever it goes. This is designed to prevent students from switching from test mode to tutor mode, so the test results will be valid. When an assignment or test is created in Virtual Pencil, the same file can be printed—out for the able—bodied students in the class, saving the teacher a lot of time.

There are many options to change the look and behavior of Virtual Pencil, like the font size and color, the amount of information displayed or spoken, sound effects, hot keys, and message strings.
The current product handles addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with hecimals and fractions.