Assistive Technology Supports for Math

by Cindy L. Richardson

Beyond instructional strategies, curriculum modifications, and the use of manipulatives, number fact cards, and calculators, the broader category of computer software has emerged as a popular support for students struggling with math. Until recently, software that might support a student struggling with math fell in two categories: access software or drill-and-practice software.

Access software can be thought of as software that provides a student with a disability the opportunity to engage in the same curriculum as typical peers, only using a different platform to enter answers (e.g., pencil and paper are replaced with a computer and perhaps a peripheral device such as a joystick or alternate keyboard). These programs are often referred to as electronic accessible worksheets. Unfortunately, not only are very few applications available, but those available target only basic arithmetic calculations/skills (i.e., addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Furthermore, while these programs assist the student in setting up more complex computations such as borrowing or carrying, none of them provide on-screen manipulative support.

The other type of software thought to support students with mild disabilities is known as drill-and-practice software. As the name suggests, developers of these applications promise that if students has the opportunity to practice math facts and strategies through an engaging, game-like format, success is all but certain.

For students with learning disabilities in mathematics, the nature of the struggle as well as the strategies for remediation can be complex. Appropriate support often involves a combination of individualized instructional strategies and numerous opportunities to use concrete manipulatives as skills are being developed. One of the most exciting new software programs to emerge as developers struggled to address these issues is MathPad Plus Fractions and Decimals, described below.

Title: MathPad Plus Fractions and Decimals
Type of Software: Electronic worksheet with on-screen manipulative support

Which Students Can Benefit?

  • Students who are unable to use pencil and paper to solve mathematical problems or who become easily frustrated due to physical, organizational, or visual issues;

  • Students who could benefit from being able to represent abstract concepts with the use of on-screen manipulatives (e.g., fraction pie charts, decimal cubes/grids);

  • Students who become overwhelmed when presented with an entire worksheet of math problems;

  • Students who could benefit from having the program read the directions as well as each equation;

  • Students who access the computer by using a standard keyboard, and students who need to use an alternate keyboard, or switch users who need a program with scanning capability.

What Makes MathPad Plus Fractions and Decimals an Effective Support for Students?

  • This application provides students with a mode (screen) for entering their answers (Worksheet Mode) and a mode for performing calculations and working with on-screen manipulatives (Manipulatives Mode). Students can easily move between the two modes at any point in solving a problem.

  • In Worksheet Mode, there is only one problem on the screen at any given time, so the student is not overwhelmed or distracted by multiple problems.

  • In Manipulatives Mode, students can set up and perform complex math functions by clicking on-screen tools that perform such tasks as regrouping, crossing out, calculating the reciprocal of a fraction, and converting like denominators.

  • Students can use the cut-and-paste functions to carry their work from the Manipulatives Mode to the Worksheet Mode where they can enter their answers and check their work.

  • Students can receive auditory as well as visual feedback on the correctness of any computations they have made in solving the problems, as well as on their final answers.

  • An on-screen four-function calculator can be accessed at any time.

What Makes MathPad Plus Fractions and Decimals an Effective Tool for Teachers?

  • Individual student preferences with regard to speech, background, text color and size, and paper format (e.g., grid lines, columns, etc.) can be set easily.

  • Teachers can temporarily disable the access of manipulatives or other program features during a testing situation.

  • The application is password protected to prevent students from making changes to program settings.

  • Students can start using the program immediately, since the application contains 20 predesigned worksheets that range from solving simple to complex equations involving fractions, decimals, word problems, percentages, and money.

  • Teachers can import their own problem list or create a worksheet of problems within the program.

  • Student work can be printed out in a variety of formats.

What are Curricular Applications for MathPad Plus Fractions and Decimals?

  • Use MathPad Plus Fractions and Decimals as an instructional tool to illustrate how abstract mathematical equations are set up and solved using the on-screen manipulatives feature. Divide the class into small groups or teams. Adopt a game show format to turn the learning of these concepts into a fun-filled experience. Whether each team is given the same problem to be the first to solve, or whether individual representatives compete until they get stumped (try incorporating the "lifeline concept" from "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"), struggling students get to participate and also gain insight from the problem-solving skills of others.

  • Play Stump the Teacher by having students generate problems to solve. After a few times of showing how problems would be set up and solved using on-screen manipulatives, divide the large group and have each smaller group take turns trying to stump the others.

MathPad Plus Fractions and Decimals is manufactured by IntelliTools, (800) 899-6687 or The program is available for Windows or Macintosh computers and sells for $99.95 for single copies. If you are considering this program as a tool to support the comprehension and computational abilities of a student or a group of students and would like more information, please contact Cindy Richardson, Assistive Technology Specialist at (757) 221-2374 or [[cxric2]].

Date: November/December 2001