Tactile to Digital Part 1: Math Robot

Bridging the gap between tactile graphics and digital materials: math facts.

Math fact drills with a twist: APH’s Math Robot app and it’s humorous robot jokes! Students will laugh along with the “know-it-all” math robot and may even enjoy practicing math fact drills!

Before introducing your student to the app, take a few minutes to use this app to teach critical tech skills. The power of a touch screen device is the ability to – you guessed it – touch the screen! When students touch the screen, they KNOW exactly where they are physically on the screen and they can develop a mental map of the screen’s layout. If the student simply right/left swipes around the screen, the student misses the whole chunk of critical information. Swiping around the screen does not provide information of where the screen reader cursor is on the screen; the student does not know physically where the cursor is, the spatial relationships between items on the screen and the student cannot develop a mental layout of the screen. Students need to develop these critical tech skills early on to become efficient, tech savvy power users. Example: In the Math Robot app, where is the Delete button? If swiping right, all the student knows is that Delete button is between the number 9 and the zero. If the student is dragging his/her finger on the screen, the student knows the Delete button is in the the bottom left corner. At any time, the tech savvy student can simply move his finger to the bottom right corner to Delete a number; while the right swiping student would have to swipe right numerous times to reach the Delete button.

Right and left swiping can accomplish the basic math goals of this app, but the student is not learning the foundational tech skills. When initially learning tech skills, best practice dictates that student should first be introduced to a tactile representation of the app. Teach the student to use systematic search patterns as he/she explores the tactile graphic. While there are different methods, I do recommend that the student use the same search pattern on the tactile graphic that he/she would use when exploring the touch screen device – meaning that the student should start at the top left and search moving in across the row to the right (as if he/she is reading a line of text). The main difference is that when exploring a tactile graphic, the student should use both hands; however, when exploring a touch screen, the student can only explore using one finger – ideally dragging the finger not swiping.  

While exploring the tactile graphic, encourage the student to identify where each item is on the page and to identify spatial relationships between items themselves. Use good directional terms, including top, middle, bottom, left, center, right and corner. (See Spatial Tech Standards 1: Directional Terms post.)

Ask the student to describe the layout of the numbers and buttons (4 rows and 3 columns) and what is in each square in the table. This is a great opportunity to teach the Numeric Keypad Layout (9-key entry). When a student develops a mental map of things, such as the numeric keypad, the student can transfer that knowledge. In this case, once the student understands a numeric keypad, he will recognize and be able to use any numeric keypad. (See Learning Numeric Keypad Layout: Activities post.)

Image of Math Robot tactile graphic with braille.

After exploring and learning the spatial concepts using the tactile graphics, ask the student to open the Math Robot app and have the student systematically explore the screen by dragging his/her finger around the iPad screen. Can he/she find the same items on the digital screen? Can he find and compare the same item on both the tactile graphic and the digital screen?

As with all activities, students will initially need more prompts the first time or two, then fading prompts when repeating a similar activity with a new tactile graphic and a new app layout. As the student builds connections between tactile graphics and digital resources, has mental images to pull from, and the tech skills to explore new apps, the need for tactile images will decrease. Young students who are building concepts definitely need the initial tactile graphics to help bridge the gap between tactile graphics and digital resources.  Older students who might have high understanding of tactile graphics but who have not yet applied that knowledge to digital resources may also need specific instruction to make the digital transition.

Apps like Math Robot can be used to teach so many concepts! If the Math Robot lesson includes numeric keypads and the student fully understands the concept of a numeric keypad, he/she will transfer this knowledge to other numeric keypads, such as bank machines, digital door locks, and more – with little or no further instruction.

Tactile Graphics for Math Robot App

A big thank you to Transcribing Mariners who have donated the embossable graphics work for the Paths to Technology Resource Library and this blog post. A huge thank you to Jessica McDowell, TVI extraordinaire, creating the PIAF/Swell Graphics and for sharing her work on bridging the gap between tactile graphics and digital resources!


Attached File(s)
By Diane Brauner

Cartoon boy sitting at a desk looking at a bar chart on his computer and text

Moving Forward with Accessible Digital Math: Part 2

Math worksheet with three order of operations equations including 4 x 3 - 6.

Digitally accessible math worksheets

Tactile graphic of Math Melodies Add and Delete screen with text

Tactile to Digital Part 2: Math Melodies