Saturday, January 16, 2016

New Assistive Technology for Kids with Dysgraphia Results From Channeling Frustration into Inspiration


Update: Fundraising Successful. Parents Turned Inventors Say Their Free App for Students with Dysgraphia Now Supports Algebra Students too. 


ModMath 2.0 also allows students to print their assignments or send them electronically through e-mail, text or dropbox.

San Francisco - Two year back, a free app called ModMath quietly debuted in the Apple app store. The developers, a husband and wife team from San Francisco, were not part of the tech scene. They weren’t trying to come up with the next SnapChat or Uber. And they didn’t care about funding from Kleiner Perkins.

What they did care about was helping their son who was falling behind in math because his handwriting was so illegible, even he couldn’t read it. Their son who is dyslexic also has dysgraphia, a condition that often accompanies dyslexia. The condition makes it difficult to write legibly and impairs the ability to get thoughts down on paper.

Prior to the invention of ModMath, the only option for kids with severe dysgraphia was to dictate to an adult how to work through each problem and have that person write down exactly what he or she said. “This wasn’t a great long-term solution, as I suspect my son wouldn’t be too happy to have me as his college roommate,” says co-developer, Dawn Denberg, mother of a bright 13-year-old boy, who perseveres academically despite his learning disabilities.

Children with dysgraphia understand math concepts, but they can’t write legibly enough or keep number columns neat enough to effectively add, subtract, multiply, or divide multi-digit equations.
The app, which works on the iPad, is called ModMath. It eliminates the need for students to write out math equations long hand. Think Excel, but without a calculator to do the calculations. Kids use the touch screen and on-screen keypad to set up and solve problems. They can work through complicated math concepts, including multiplying multi-digit numbers, long division, regrouping and adding fractions with unlike denominators.

These parents, turned app developers, ponied up $12,500 and hired a computer engineer to create a beta version. “I’d spent countless hours searching for a technology that would help our son and it simply didn’t exist,” says Denberg. “It was a stretch for us financially, but giving up was not a viable solution And if our son was having this problem we figured there must be thousands also struggling.”
They were right. We get e-mails from parents with all sorts of disabilities, including ADHD, Autism and dyspraxia,” says Denberg. “They all felt just as lost as we did,” says Denberg.   To date, the app has been downloaded by more than 100,000 people and gets rave reviews from both parents and educators. “We received a steady stream of letters thanking us for creating ModMath. But an equal number beg for additional features like a keyboard that can support algebra students,” says Denberg. 

After tapping out their personal resources on the beta version, they decided to take ModMath to the next level by turning it into a full-on nonprofit charity. “We entered into a fiscal sponsorship deal with a nonprofit called MarinLink and received a grant of $10,000 from the Christopher’s Way Foundation.  

Additionally, they launched a Kickstarter campaign and raised more than $20,000 to pay for upgrades.  “Our beta version was put together on a shoe string budget, so it was a bit-glitchy,” says Denberg. “We really shook the tress to make this upgrade happen.”

The new an improved ModMath with all new bells and whistles launched last month. “The new version works for exponents, square roots as well as complex algebraic equations, which means we can now reach a much wider group of kids.”


Are the Denbergs committed to futher improving ModMath?  “Absolutely. We ran out of money to do anything further for free, but we decided to start charging a nominal fee for the next upgrade,” says Denberg. “We’re a nonprofit, but we’re trying to avoid being a negative profit,” says Denberg.The next update, to be released in March, will include a feature that allows student the option of uploading worksheets. “It will be a huge time saver as kids now have to input each math problem by hand,” says Denberg.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

If You build it, They Will Come

Back our kickstarter campaign and help us create a ModMath 2.0 for algebra students and Android users.



Everyone and their mother has an idea for an app. And we all hold out hope that perhaps we'll be the next SnapChat or Uber. I’d like that as much as the next guy. But when my app quietly debuted in the app store last year, funding from Kleiner Perkins was the last thing on my mind.
My husband and I built an app called ModMath out of desperation. Our son, who is dyslexic, was falling behind in math because his handwriting is so terrible, even he couldn’t read it. And because he couldn’t write math problems he couldn’t solve the math problems. His writing disability, known as dysgraphia, commonly co-occurs with dyslexia. And although there’s plenty of speech-to-text programs to help with writing assignments, there’s was nothing to help with math.
We tried lots of interventions, everything from pencil huggers to alternative grip pens, and special paper with raised lines to keep his writing more uniform. Years of occupational therapy went nowhere, as did more controversial interventions like vision therapy. Through it all, I searched for an assistive technology to solve this problem. I queried teachers, learning specialists, and other parents in the LD community. I scoured the Internet for leads, but I found nothing.
Our only option was for Henry to dictate to me how to work through each problem. I wrote down what he said. This was not a workable long-term solution, unless he wanted me to be his college roommate some day. One evening, after Henry had gotten through another homework-related meltdown, I voiced my frustration to my husband. “Why don’t we make something?” he suggested.
 So we did. Our free app uses the touch screen and an on-screen keypad so kids can set up and solve math problems without ever using pencil and paper. Assignments are laid out on virtual graph paper that can be printed or e-mailed to the teacher. It was a stretch for us financially, but giving up was not a viable solution. Plus, we figured there must be thousands of kids out there just like our son Henry that could also use the app. We were right.
And, as the saying goes: If you build it they will come. To date, nearly 27,000 people have downloaded ModMath for free. We receive a steady stream of letters thanking us for creating ModMath.  But an equal number beg for additional features like a keyboard that can support algebra students. Many also express interest in an Android version as the iPad is simply out of reach to them financially.
Since we tapped out our personal resources on the beta version, we decided to take ModMath to the next level by turning it into a full-on nonprofit charity. This allows us to seek grant money from various foundations. We’ve already received a $10,000 commitment from the Christopher’s Way Foundation. Additionally, We launched a Kickstarter campaign and hope to raise at least $20,000.
Our beta version was put together on a shoe-string budget, so it’s a bit glitchy. To do this right, our software consultants say our proposed updates will cost about $25,000. And it will take another $30,000 to make the Android version. Friends and colleagues were incredulous that we’ve decided not to monetize our product.  Anyone who has an iPad can afford an app that costs a couple bucks, was a refrain we heard over and over.  And while I don’t disagree with this logic, our goal is to get ModMath into the hands of as many LD kids as possible. And if we don’t charge, organizations are much more willing to give us free publicity. This increases our opportunity to reach the children and families who need it most.
And, in fact, until we began promoting ModMath, we didn’t fully realize the breadth of the need.  We’ve since learned that dysgraphia not only co-occurs with dyslexia but with a host of other issues, including ADHD, autism and dyspraxia. These parents all felt as lost as we did.   

And while the prospect of being the next app instant millionaires is not without appeal, the heart-felt thank you notes are payment enough. Though we sure would like a few more donations to our Kickstarter campaign! 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Join our Kickstarter campaign and Bring ModMath to Android Users and Algebra Students

Make ModMath 2.0 a Reality


You may recall my first blog last April. I wrote about  ModMath, a new iPad app my husband and I developed to help kids with dysgraphia complete math homework without pen or paper.

We built this app out of desperation. Our son, Henry, was falling behind in math because his handwriting is so terrible, even he couldn’t read it. And because he couldn’t write math problems, he couldn’t solve the math problems. Despite an exhaustive search, we couldn’t find an existing technology to help him.

Our free app uses the touch screen and an on-screen keypad to set up and solve math problems without ever using pencil and paper. Assignments are laid out on virtual graph paper that can be e-mailed to the teacher.

The response to our app from the LD community has been overwhelming. Thousands have shared our story with their social media communities. To date, we’ve had nearly 27,000 people download our app.

We receive a steady stream of letters thanking us for creating ModMath. However, we receive an equal number  of queries asking for additional features like a keyboard that can support higher-level math courses. (The current version is geared towards kindergarten thru six graders.)  

Parents also ask us to create an Android version.. We’ve even had teachers write in asking if it would be possible to create worksheets for their students using ModMath. 

We are committed to adding whatever enhancment we can afford. However, we’ve already tapped out our personal funds on the beta version. So here’s what we’re up to:

We’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign, where anyone moved to do so can make a donation. Here’s a link to our video and site. Give if you can. And if you can’t,  just promoting our story on social media will help us reach our goal.

Additionally, we entered into a fiscal sponsorship deal with a nonprofit called MarinLink.  This qualifies us for 501c3 status, and allows us to seek grant money from various foundations.

Kids with learning disabilities have enough challenges. And if there’s a way to eliminate even one isn’t it worth it to rise to the occasion?


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Modmath Gets Facebook Page

Okay, folks, our Facebook page is up in running. Come visit us and share your ModMath story with others. Also, you can now find us on twitter @modmath. We need more followers to make people recognize this software is legit. And, of course, to help spread the word!


Friday, March 28, 2014

Mod Math Improves Math Skills in Kids With Dysgraphia


When people ask me what is the biggest stumbling block for my son, Henry, who has dyslexia and ADHD, I tell them that it’s his handwriting. If they’re in the know about learning disabilities, I’ll use the clinical term for horrific handwriting, dysgraphia.

Speech-to-text programs, like Dragon, are a godsend for kids like Henry. My son uses it to for almost every subject. It’s useless, however, for mathematics.

This is a big problem because Henry’s handwriting is so bad that often even he can’t read it. And, because the ADHD impairs his working memory, by the time he gets to step two of any equation, even he’s not sure if the number he wrote down was meant to be, say, a four or a nine. As for creating number columns neat enough to effectively add, subtract, multiply, or divide multi-digit equations, forget it. A 5 from the tens column, for example, will migrate to the space below a 7 from the hundreds column. The final calculations are wildly off base.
 Our only option was for Henry to dictate to me how to work through each problem. I would write down what he said. This was not a great long-term solution, unless he wanted me as his college roommate some day. Every so often, I'd force him to work independently. But this resulted in frustration, tears, and disappointment.  
 We tried lots of interventions, everything from pencil huggers to alternative grip pens, and special paper with raised lines to keep his writing more uniform. Years of occupational therapy went nowhere, as did more controversial interventions like vision therapy. 
Through it all, I searched for an assistive technology to circumvent this problem. I queried teachers, learning specialists, and other parents in the LD community. I scoured the Internet for leads, but found nothing.
One evening, after Henry had gotten through another homework-related meltdown, I voiced my frustration to my husband, stupefied that I couldn’t find anything to help our son. I wasn’t looking for a solution, just a sympathetic ear. But my husband doesn’t like talking about problems that don’t have solutions. Sometimes, I just feel like bitching, and sometimes he’s willing to listen. But sometimes we both end up irked by our personality differences. In this case, however, his pragmatism was a stroke of genius. “Why don’t we make one?” he suggested.
 So began our journey to create an app that could help not just our son, but any child who struggles with dysgraphia. The app, which works on the iPad, is called ModMath. It eliminates the need for students to write out math equations long hand. Think Excel, but without a calculator to do the calculations. Kids use the touch screen and on-screen keypad to set up and solve problems. Henry can now work through complicated math concepts, including multiplying multi-digit numbers, long division, regrouping and adding fractions with unlike deonominators. His assignments are laid out on virtual graph paper that can be printed out or e-mailed to the teacher. When he does make a calculation error, his teachers can now easily see where he went wrong and offer guidance because it’s all legibly laid out.

Don’t be too impressed with our ingenuity. We didn’t write a single line of code. My husband is a creative director and co-owner of a boutique ad agency called Division of Labor. He regularly contracts with software developers to create content for clients. So we knew where to go to get the job done. (Thanks Tall Tale Digital)

Friends and colleagues were incredulous that we had decided not to charge for the product.  “Anyone who has an iPad can afford an app that costs a couple bucks” was a refrain we heard a lot. We don’t disagree with that logic, but our goal is to get ModMath into the hands of as many LD kids as possible. If we don’t charge, organizations are much more willing to give us free publicity. This increases our opportunity to reach the children and families who need it most.
We do hope to create a ModMath 2.0 with additional features. However, we've already over-invested our personal funds. So we started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary dollars. 

If you’d like to tell us about additional features you'd like to see, or if you just want to let us know how ModMath has helped your child, we'd love to hear from you at contact@modmath.com.

Oh, and if you would, please like our Facebook page and/or write a positive review of the app for people in the iTunes store to read would greatly appreciate.