Category Archives: Learning Ally app

How I Learned Biology with my Textbook, iBook and Audiobook

Miller and Levine Biology book on the iPad - A must!

Miller and Levine Biology book on the iPad – A must!

I finished up my high school freshman finals yesterday with a 100 on my biology final exam. Yea! My favorite subject this year was..yes, you guessed it…biology!

I had a fantastic time learning about biology, and here are just some of the topics that we studied during the year:

  • Ecology: Plants are autotrophs, which means they produce food from solar energy. They’re primary producers and very tasty to heterotrophs like us, since we get our food from consuming plants and other living things.
  • Cells: We have eukaryotic cells, which means our DNA is enclosed in a nucleus, unlike prokaryotic cells.
  • Genetics: A round of applause to Father Gregor Mendel for founding the science of modern genetics and for his experiments with pea plants. (They were easy to grow for the study dominant and recessive genes.)
  • Evolution: Ah. What fun it would have been to be on the HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin in 1831 and be able to explore nature, so new and mysterious. (I learned about Darwin’s Finches at a Science Under the Stars activity at the UT Brackenridge Field Lab a few years ago.)
  • Plants: CO2 + H2O — sunlight –> C6H12O6 + O2 (Photosynthesis, need I say more?)
  • Animals: Who knew cladograms could be so interesting? Cnidarians, like jelly fish and sea anemones, are the simplest animals to have radial body symmetry.
  • Human body: Thanks hypothalamus for monitoring concentrations of water in my blood and releasing more antidiuretic hormone (ADH) to let me know I’m thirsty.

Miller and Levine Biology Textbook, iBook, and Audiobook

We used the Biology textbook by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine. Although the book is wonderfully written with great illustrations, it wasn’t easy for me to learn from with my dyslexia. Fortunately, I was able to to get the iBook version from iTunes and the audiobook version from Learning Ally.

I liked being able to select portions of the iBook version and have my iPad read the text out loud to me. Unfortunately, it couldn’t read the text on pictures or diagrams, and that’s why it was helpful to have real people describing the drawings and reading the text in the Learning Ally audiobook that I also listened to using the Learning Ally iPhone app.

Miller and Levine Biology iBook quiz

Miller and Levine Biology iBook quiz

I also liked being able to take the quizzes with each iBook chapter to practice for my tests. (The iPad version is a lot lighter in the backpack too!)

Try this setup to be surrounded by all things biology: Have your printed biology textbook in front of you, your iBook on the iPad on your right, and your audiobook on your Learning Ally iPhone app to your left. Oh, and your herbarium on the wall in front of your desk!

(If you want to learn more about Learning Ally and what they and their many wonderful volunteers have done to help dyslexics and those with reading challenges, watch my YouTube video, The Sound of Reading.)

The iBook version of Miller and Levine’s biology book is only $15 on iTunes. Even if you’re not in high school, but you would like to learn about Biology in a fun and easy to understand way, the iBook version is well worth it.

As much as I love my iPad and audiobooks, I’m always going to treasure my printed textbook with all my notes, highlights, and well worn pages. Thank you Miller and Levine!

An awesome summer ahead

I’d also like to thank my wonderful teachers, especially my biology teacher, and my parents for all their help and encouragement this school year. I took a lot of walks with my Dad where we talked about what I learned in class, studied upcoming quizzes and tests, and talked about new advances in science. It was a great school year!

I really love science and I’m going to miss all the fun biology labs. (But I’m looking forward to some amazing chemistry labs coming up during my sophomore year.)

I hope you’ll join me for an awesome summer as I get caught up on my blog posts and videos on science, invasive species, and dyslexia. And I also hope you’ll help me kick off the summer at the first Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Thursday, June 12. I’m bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to help train future invasive hunters and have fun with plants at the same time!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Biology, Dyslexia, High school, iBooks, Invasive Hunter Academy, iPad, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Learning Ally app, Nature Nights

Central Texas Gardener Tackles Invasive Species

Linda Lehmusvirta, Commander Ben, and Tom Spencer on the Central Texas Gardener TV set

Linda Lehmusvirta, Commander Ben, and Tom Spencer on the Central Texas Gardener TV set

Last month, I had the great honor of being invited to appear on the Central Texas Gardner show that is aired on PBS. When I arrived, I was met by Linda Lehmusvirta, the producer of the show. She took me up to the studio where the show is filmed and introduced me to Tom Spencer, the host of the show. It was so great to meet both of them and they made me feel right at home.

Before the show started filming, Mr. Spencer and I took our places on the set and talked about different things while the make-up artist prepared us for our close-ups! 😉

When the show was about to begin Ms. Lehmusvirta took my mom to the control room. (My mom said it was really cool!) Once everything was “quiet on the set”, the cameras began to roll and Mr. Spenser asked me all sorts of questions about invasive species, my blog, my videos, and my work with the University of Texas and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The 10 minute interview went by so fast! It felt more like a minute.

The whole adventure was so much fun and I am so happy I had the chance to meet both Mr. Spenser and Ms. Lehmusvirta. They’re the best! Many thanks to both of them! 🙂

The KLRU schedule for the Central Texas Gardener show with my interview is listed below:

  • Saturday, September 14 – Noon and 4 pm
  • Sunday, September 15 – 9 am

Updated: Interview air dates.

Started high school

It’s been very busy with lots of homework, but I’ve been enjoying my first few weeks as a freshman in high school at St. Michael’s Catholic Academy (SMCA). I’ve been using my Learning Ally iPad app for the audio of all my textbooks, including biology and my English books!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Central Texas Gardener, High School, Invasive Species, iPad, KLRU, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Learning Ally, Learning Ally app, Linda Lehmusvirta, PBS, St. Michael's Catholic Academy, Tom Spencer, Wildflower Center

The 1 in 5 Initiative: Learning Ally Creates a Site for Dyslexics by Dyslexics

As I have shared with you in the past, I have very severe dyslexia, but luckily, I also have Learning Ally. For years now, I have used Learning Ally’s audiobooks, which has made it so much easier for me to keep up with my textbooks for school, as well as being able to listen to all sorts of books just for fun.

Learning Ally has a great website with lots of audiobooks and resources, so if you haven’t checked it out, be sure to soon. (The have a great iPhone and iPad app that I use to listen to my textbooks.) But now Learning Ally has even more to offer. They’ve started a new site called The 1 in 5 Initiative.

Their site is all about dyslexia. But it’s even more than that. It’s an interactive site where you can do all sorts of things like create blog posts as well as videos about yourself and your experiences with dyslexia. My “Commander Ben’s Dyslexia Story” video is also featured on their Being the one stories page.

Oh! I almost forgot…you may be wondering…Why do they call the site “1 in 5”? That’s because it is believed that 1 out every 5 people has some form of dyslexia.

So be sure to check out the 1 in 5 site soon. I think you’ll really like it.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Dyslexia, Dyslexic, iPad, iPhone, Learning Ally, Learning Ally app, The 1 in 5 Initiative

What is Dyslexia?…And What Does It Mean To Me?

“You should prefer a good scientist without literary abilities
than a literate one without scientific skills.”
Leonardo da Vinci, Dyslexic

Listening to my 8th grade science textbook using my Victor Reader Stream.

Today, I’m expanding my blog beyond my usual invasive species and scientific posts (but don’t worry, invasive species and science will still be my primary focus!…and in a way, this is a bit scientific too), to share a story with you about a topic that is near and dear to my heart…dyslexia.  Why dyslexia?  Well, because I have dyslexia.

So What Exactly is Dyslexia?

First, what is dyslexia?  To put it quite simply, all it means in Latin is “trouble with words”.  Sounds so simple but it really isn’t.  Just ask anyone with dyslexia who has tried to learn how to read!

From the Wikipedia definition, dyslexia is a very broad term defining a learning difference that impairs a person’s reading fluency,  accuracy, or comprehension.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Some of us with dyslexia can also have problems with handwriting – dysgraphia, and still others can also have challenges with math – dyscalculia.  I have struggles with both.

So how many of us have dyslexia?  Well, there really isn’t any definitive number but the National Institutes of Health estimate that about 15% of the world’s population has dyslexia.  That’s about 1 billion people!  But the good news is that people with dyslexia often have above average intelligence and are great at “thinking outside the box”.  So maybe I should say “that’s about 1 billion smart people!”

And So My Story Begins…

Young Commander Ben – Invasive Hunter!

My story starts way back when I was in kindergarten.  My teacher noticed how well I spoke and what a great vocabulary I had (traits not uncommon in people who have dyslexia), but at the same time how I struggled to recognizing the letters of the alphabet.  My school contacted my Mom, who had me tested, and sure enough…I had dyslexia.  Right away, my parents made arrangements for me to be taught how to read by a Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT).

Why right away?  Because according to dyslexia experts, such as Dr. Sally Shaywitz, M.D. at Yale University’s Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, early intervention is so important for helping kids with dyslexia learn how to read.

I spent 8 years working with a CALT and am now able to read…slowly.  Over the years, my reading teachers used a variety of Orton-Gillingham based multi-sensory approaches to teach me how to read.   “Multi-sensory” basically means  teaching visual, auditory, and tactile elements all together to help improve memory and learning.

For example, when I was little, my teacher would have me put plastic alphabet letters in order, then have me say each letter’s name and make its sound, then trace the letters with my finger.  These multi-sensory types of programs have been proven successful for about 70 years when teaching people with dyslexia how to read.

But With Reading Slowly, How Did I Keep Up With My Schoolwork?

Victor Reader Stream and Audio SD Cards

So how did I manage with my studies all these years?  And how did I keep up with my grade level reading?  That’s where Learning Ally comes in.  (Formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic.)  This is such a great organization of wonderful people who volunteer their time to read and record text books so that kids…and adults too…can have all the reading materials they need to stay informed.

Thanks to advances in technology, it’s as simple as picking out the book I need from the Learning Ally online catalog at their website, and then downloading it to an SD card.  Then I insert the card into my external reader, which is about the size of a small handheld tape player, called a “Victor Reader Stream” made by the HumanWare company.

This is the Learning Ally app for the iPhone.

There are also other ways I can listen to books, as with the Learning Ally app for mobile devices such as the iPhone, or on my laptop, but I really like the Stream because it can take a lot of battle damage which comes in handy on my invasive hunts! 😉

But What About Other Kinds Of Reading…And How About Writing?

iPad Dictation Mode

But what if I want to read something on the Internet?  And what about all the typing I have to do?  Not just for school but for my blog too!  Well, I’m so happy that I live in the 21st century!  Thanks to text readers and voice-to-text software, life is a lot easier for me now than before these inventions.  They’re not perfect, but they get better and better every year.

Here I am using the iPad Text to Speech function.

The latest Apple iPad has a text reader that sounds quite good.  All I have to do is highlight what I want to read, as you can see in the picture above, and then tap on the “speak” icon. The voice is a bit computerized sounding but it is very clear and easy to understand.

The iPad also has a small microphone icon – dictation mode –  that is a very reliable voice-to-text tool.  This is great because typing can be a bit of a challenge for me. (And don’t getting me started talking about how hard handwriting can be…)   Oh! And Siri on the iPhone is amazing!

Here I am using the iPad Diction Mode.

I Wouldn’t Change A Thing

It’s been a hard road for me but I wouldn’t change a thing because having dyslexia is part of who I am.  And I like to think that it has made me both tenacious when it comes to life in general, and empathetic to understanding the various struggles others have in their own lives.

But most important, I learned early on that the key to working with my dyslexia was to always persevere and never give up…and be eternally grateful for spell check! 😉  I think that’s something many of us can agree upon regardless of how well we read and spell.

But even more than spell check, it’s my parents to whom I’m really eternally grateful.  I can’t begin to thank them for all they have done for me.  They are so supportive and always there for me, making any sacrifices necessary when it comes to helping me get the help I need.  And they are always there to encourage me and reassure me that I can do anything I put my  mind to.

So, What’s Next?

Over the next few days, here on my blog, I’ll be sharing some stories and videos about my adventures with dyslexia.  I’m a very positive person 🙂 , and I think that I have always tried to maintain a good sense of humor about having dyslexia, so hopefully you’ll find my stories and videos, not only educational, but fun and entertaining too!

I really hope this information I’m sharing will help people with dyslexia stay informed about all the technology available to make our lives easier.  (And I hope that even folks without dyslexia, or teachers who work with kids who have dyslexia, will find this information useful!)  But most important, I hope that I can inspire other kids who have dyslexia to know that anything is possible and to never become discouraged.   We can achieve whatever we set our minds to!

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.
The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Thomas Edison, Dyslexic

Be sure to visit the Dyslexia page of my blog to read all my posts on this subject.

See you soon.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Academic Language Therapy Association, Apple, Certified Academic Language Reading Therapist, Certified Academic Language Therapist, Dictation, Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, Famous Dyslexics, HumanWare, iPad, iPhone, Learning Ally, Learning Ally app, Leonardo da Vinci, multi-sensory learning, National Institutes of Health, Orton Gillingham, Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, Siri, Thomas Edison, Victor Reader Stream, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity