American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Special Issue: The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) STEM
An Interview with Kelly Lauer
From the Editor: Educational games are becoming increasingly popular with students and teachers in today's classrooms. Unfortunately, most of these games are highly graphical, placing blind students at a severe disadvantage. At least one company, Osmo, incorporates hands-on activities into its games for the iPad. In this interview, teacher Kelly Lauer explains how she uses Osmo games with her students at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia.
Deborah Kent Stein: Tell me a bit about the Overbrook School. How many students are enrolled?
Kelly Lauer: Overbrook was founded in 1832, so we’ve been around for a long time. We have about two hundred students, ages three to twenty-one. Some are day students, and the rest are residential. I've been teaching technology at the school for the past thirteen years.
DKS: What are the Osmo games? What makes them work so well for blind and low-vision students?
KL: Osmo has created a series of educational games for the iPad. They're unique in that they use manipulatives such as tiles and blocks in addition to the iPad screen. The iPad fits into a base with a reflector that allows the camera to see what's in front of it. The student uses the manipulatives and gets feedback from the iPad.
DKS: When do you introduce these games into the curriculum?
KL: Osmo games are designed for kids ages five to twelve. I like to start students on technology as early as kindergarten. Some of our students continue to benefit from these games even when they go into high school. Games really improve students' language and math skills. Using these games also boosts their confidence and improves their social and communication skills. They learn to play cooperatively, to work as a team.
DKS: Do you have to take any steps to make the games accessible?
KL: It's very easy to add dots or Braille labels to the tiles, and that helps reinforce the students' Braille skills. Moving and connecting the tiles is great for manual dexterity and spatial awareness.
DKS: How accessible is the screen? Do the games work with VoiceOver?
KL: With some of the games there are sound effects that let blind students know when they've scored or when something good or bad is going on. Unfortunately, though, with some of the games students have to get information from somebody who can look at the screen. It's definitely a drawback for the students who can't use the screen even with enlargement. Still, students really benefit from the hands-on elements of these games.
DKS: What are some of the Osmo games you use with your students?
KL: One of our favorites is Osmo Numbers. It's a game where students arrange physical tiles to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. It really helps them understand basic mathematical concepts.
Another favorite in our classrooms is Osmo Words. A picture appears on the screen, and students have to arrange the correct letter tiles to spell out the word. If someone quickly describes the picture, the students can engage in spelling words with the tiles.
Osmo Pizza Co. teaches kids some basic business principles. The game comes with a pizza tray, toppings, and play money. Players fill orders, make change, and try to keep their customers happy. The game is great for teaching financial literacy.
DKS: Are there any other skills that students gain through these games?
KL: Some of my students have developed a serious interest in coding through these games. Osmo Coding is a game that teaches kids to code by handling beautifully crafted blocks. They snap the blocks together like LEGOs in front of the iPad. The blocks form digital instructions that guide a character named Awbie on a quest through a digital forest to find delicious strawberries. I now have a couple of students who are interested in becoming app developers. Some of our graduates have careers as programmers, working at companies like Google and Comcast. Early exposure to coding can spark an interest that will lead to jobs later on.
DKS: How can teachers and parents find out more about Osmo games?
KL: The Osmo website gives a lot of information, including videos about many of the games. Visit https://www.playosmo.com to learn more.