Susan's Math Technology Corner The Audio Graphing Calculator (AGC)
From ViewPlus Technologies, Inc.
Osterhaus, S.A. (2010). Susan’s math technology corner: The Audio Graphing Calculator (AGC) From ViewPlus Technologies, Inc. Division on Visual Impairments Quarterly, 55(4), 25-27.
The use of a scientific graphing calculator is now an integral part of advanced mathematics classrooms across the U.S., and they are a requirement for many statewide assessments.
The Audio Graphing Calculator (AGC) is a computer software program available from ViewPlus Technologies, Inc. www.viewplus.com The AGC was first introduced in March 2001 as the Accessible Graphing Calculator. Since that time, ViewPlus released Version 2 in 2006 and most recently Version 3 in 2007 and changed its name to the Audio Graphing Calculator.
As you know from previous evaluations, I am always looking for the "best buy" in any math technology. However, although my definition of best buy includes price affordability - user-friendliness, features, and reliability are equally important.
You may download a free 30-day fully functional copy of the AGC from the web at http://downloads.viewplus.com/software/AGC/. Then, check it out for yourself to make sure that it is the right product for your needs. The cost of a single copy license is $295. You can upgrade AGC 2.0 to 3.0 for $195.
The AGC was developed from the ground up to be of universal design, and it is a Windows computer program that features a graphing calculator capable of displaying graphs both visually and audibly as a tone graph. With technology specifically designed for the blind, we often find that although it may be user-friendly for the blind student, there is an extensive learning curve for their sighted teacher. Since the AGC is truly accessible by both the blind and sighted, teachers, parents, and peers do not need to learn to use a special device in order to teach or assist these students.
In fact, the regular ed math teacher may very well wish to use the AGC with the entire class. In this day and age when math anxiety is rampant, and there is an emphasis on the multi-sensory approach, the math teacher is looking for any tool that will capture the attention of and increase understanding in all her students.
The AGC is a complex program and requires some practice before a student will become proficient and totally independent in its use. However, I have noticed that those of my students already technologically proficient in the use of a screen reader are the quickest to learn how to navigate in the self-voiced AGC.
It is not necessary that the student learn all the features of the AGC at once in order to benefit from its use. I feel that features should be introduced as needed, and the AGC should never replace the student learning how to graph manually. The best student knows how to use all the various tools in his/her toolbox.
The AGC comes with an HTML and a self-voiced user manual, getting started instructions, specific instructions regarding the use of screen readers and magnification, and help both off and on-line. On-line tutorials can be found at: http://downloads.viewplus.com/tutorials/AGC+3.0/
The AGC has a scientific keypad calculator; an expression evaluator with the ability to define or import constants and expressions; two data set screens that permit the user to enter equations to graph, import and edit data tables, and compute a number of standard statistical properties; and the ability to plot either data set, their sum or difference, or their first derivative. The user can now graph two functions on the same coordinate plane, and work with matrices. There are various hot keys that allow the user to find relative maximums and minimums and x-axis intersections for functions. When two functions are graphed, there is a hot key to find points of intersection. There are several display options for tone-graph audio plots, and it is self-voicing for usability by people who are blind or dyslexic or kinesthetic learners.
Navigating the AGC is actually pretty user-friendly. Using the arrow, space bar, tab, and shift-tab keys let one move around fairly quickly, but many items can also be selected by using a hot key shortcut. The speech rate, pitch, and volume controls on the Speech screen can be easily adjusted to the individual user's satisfaction. The AGC screen can also be magnified repeatedly (using F8) and then decreased again (using F7). The domain, range, use of grid lines, tick marks, or none, and thickness of the graph can be adjusted to the user's specific requirements from the Plot screen, allowing for further individualization.
Reliability and Flexibility
The AGC is accessible to all. The on-screen graphics are easily seen by a low vision student, and the graph can be listened to by using the audio wave feature. Print copies can be made using any standard printer using a variety of fonts including braille. The print copies created with a braille font can be copied onto Swell Touch paper (available from the American Thermoform Corp. www.americanthermoform.com or Humanware www.humanware.com) and run through a tactile imaging machine to create a raised line graphic. The Braille Swell Paper font (called Swell Braille) is highly recommended, and it can be downloaded for free from http://www.tsbvi.edu/Education/fonts.html. However, in my opinion, the best way to create a tactile graphic is to emboss directly from the AGC to a TIGER (braille/graphics embosser) from ViewPlus.
I highly recommend this calculator program for students taking high school algebra and beyond. It is especially beneficial at the Algebra II level.
Susan A. Osterhaus, M.Ed., CTVI
Statewide Mathematics Consultant
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Austin, TX 78756