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Henter Math is pleased to announce the updated release of Virtual Pencil Algebra and Virtual Pencil Arithmetic. To see more information about the release, you may download this Microsoft Word Document: Announcing Virtual Pencil Upgrades.
The traditional pencil is a problem for people who are blind, or people who can't grip it or move it, or those who 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.
We are developing software to teach mathematics to people who are Pencil Impaired*. This is not a tutorial, although tutorial mode is part of the arithmetic package. Think of it as a virtual pencil, a tool that can be used to interactively solve a math problem. The software does the job of the pencil. It moves to the right spot on the "paper", guided by the user, and inputs the answers that the user selects. It can edit numbers and variables, insert fractions or square roots or other structures, and copy whole equations or expressions. When used with a screen reader the numbers and actions are read outloud. The user must navigate the screen and provide the input.
We currently have two products: VP Arithmetic handles addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, with fractions and decimals; VP Algebra handles quantities, radicals, exponents, subscripts, Greek letters, absolute values, matrices, fractions, and many editing features. It runs only in Windows, from Windows 95 and newer. You can download a demo from the downloads page, or purchase on-line from the orders page. Future versions will do higher levels of math, like trigonometry, differential equations, and calculus.
*Pencil Impaired: unable to operate a pencil effectively. That might include someone who is blind or visually impaired, or motor impaired, or learning disabled.
If you are blind or visually impaired you will need a screen reader to make VP talk or display in Braille. See the Products link for more information. If you are motor-impaired then you might use alternative keyboards or switches, or third-party voice input software. If you are learning-disabled then a screen reader to provide the voice output might be helpful too.
News Article: Personal experience inspires JAWS, by Karen Farber From One in Five, Fall 2003, Volume 2, Issue 4