Notes From the Cookie Jar

Monday, November 11, 2013

Teaching Kids How to Use Dragon Naturally Speaking (Part 2)

So you've done all the work to get Dragon, you've researched equipment, you are all ready to hit the ground running, and you aren't sure where to start. Want to learn from my mistakes? Yep. I've made them. Between teaching my own kid to high schoolers and elementary aged kids, I've spent a lot of hours with Dragon and trying to make it fun for kids. The truth is, it's work. Once you have them trained and a voice profile built, the only way to really make Dragon work for them is to get them to use it and get comfortable with the program. I start off with the easy stuff, teach them the ins and outs of the program, and then wean them off my prompting so that they are completely independent. How long it takes them to get there really depends on the child-some will learn faster than others, and that's entirely okay.

1. Get them used to dictating.

A lot of kids aren't used to hearing their own voice, or saying their thoughts out loud to someone. To get them used to dictating, I start by scribing for them. When I do that, I also ask them to say punctuation, such as "period", "comma" and "question mark" so they are used to doing this for Dragon.  Getting used to hearing their voice and being conscious of how they are talking (speed, volume, etc) is a skill that some catch on to faster than others.

Trouble shooting: Dragon's accuracy declines if kids talk too fast, tend to slur words together, are too quiet, or aren't speaking clearly. Now is the time to point that out and encourage them to be conscious of how they speak.

2. Teach them some computer basics.

Knowing how to turn on the machine, save a file, format text, copy/paste, print and move things around is really helpful. Having a comfort level using a computer will make them more comfortable using Dragon.

3.  Run them through activities in the curriculum, and stick close by

This curriculum that I recently found is amazing.  I print it out and give it to each student in their own folder. Step by step, it takes kids through the functions of Dragon by starting small and working it's way up to more difficult and technical stuff. I recommend that you work through it yourself and become familiar with the program before you teach it. My students particularly loved the part where they are asked to cough, sneeze, or hum and see what happens. Much giggling ensued as they saw all the mumbo jumbo hitting the screen.

It's really important that you stick close by. To start, I talk to the student about what we are going to do, and I sit right beside them as they go through the activity. One of the first things I teach them is that whatever they say into the mike will be picked up and put on the screen, so they need to know how to make the mike go to sleep or turn it off. Sitting close by is also helpful if they are easily distracted and lose their place in the activity. I quietly point where they are, or if they forget to turn off the mike and begin talking,  I can reach over and click it off.

Once they are finished the activity, we talk about what they just did. I ask what they learned and may go over it again, showing them exactly what happened. It helps me to have my own laptop with my own Dragon voice profile on it, but you don't need to do this.  I ask if anything surprised them. I then may write notes for them right in their workbook.

3. Once they are comfortable, start dictating actual school work

Once the kids are comfortable dictating and know how to correct things, move things around, etc they can start dictating some school work. The pace at which the student picks up Dragon varies-some kids just run with it, while others take more practise.  Depending on their comfort level I may do the following:

a) hand them the laptop and let them run with it on their own but be close by for help

b) have them dictate to me, and I will scribe onto an index card. Then I  have them dictate from the card so they don't lose their train of thought or forget their answers. This helps with kids who have memory issues. I slowly wean them off dictating to me, and get them to try dictating more and more without the cards.

c) sit close by and have them dictate directly into Dragon

Whatever you do teach them how to save as they go, because as we all know with computer programs, sometimes things don't go as planned and you can lose work. This has happened to us a few times-especially when we were using Microsoft Word with Dragon, and not just Dragonpad.

4. Get them comfortable managing their own voice profiles

As the kids get more proficient, teach them how to back up their voice profiles to a memory stick. It's always good to keep a separate back up of those files so that if anything happens to the computer, you have it. This also teaches them to be responsible for themselves and will be helpful for school.

Once the kids are proficient, I like to get them to use the accuracy training section of  Dragon about once a week. Sometimes the reading can be a really long process, but often they enjoy it and it can pay off in the long run. Some of the readings are really long so I always tell them to just stop when they are tired.

Do you use Dragon? What about your kids? Let me know in the comments how it's worked for you.
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dragon Naturally Speaking With Children: What You Need To Know

About ten years ago, my husband went back to university. Already with a Master's degree in Psychology that wasn't getting him anywhere, he returned to get his Bachelor's degree in Social Work, hoping to land a job. The thing is, John is dyslexic. Writing papers was a long, hard process where he'd write things by hand and I would valiantly attempt to decipher his script onto a computer screen. Often, it took many hours.

Somewhere along the way, we discovered Dragon Naturally Speaking, and it changed his life. No longer relying on me to scribe his words, John could simply speak into a computer and have the words appear on the screen. The independence, and resulting improvement in his writing skills, was incredible. Today, he uses Dragon at work every day, writing emails and paper work with ease. In fact I haven't scribed for him in many years, and even when he does occasionally ask me to proofread something there are very little changes that need to be made.

Which is great, you say, for adults. what about children? Can children and youth who are learning disabled, or who have trouble with writing, benefit by using Dragon? As someone who works with youth and trains them to use Dragon, I say yes-but there is much you should know.

1. Dragon is a technical program that doesn't work for everyone

Too often, people think that they can just hand a youth a laptop with Dragon on it, train them, and it should work seamlessly. They get frustrated when it doesn't, then say that it's not really the greatest program, and set it aside.  This is just wrong. Dragon is built for professionals; doctors, lawyers, and the like and not really for kids. Youth can learn to use it, but they must be directly taught how. The kind of youth who succeed with Dragon can tolerate frustration and understand that by working now and teaching the program, it will pay off in the long run. They must be motivated and determined. It also helps if they are into computers and understand the basics of how they work such as how to save a file, basic formatting (underlining, bold, copy, paste), printing, moving files around, etc. They must be able to understand the commands that make Dragon work, and that by using them, it will be more accurate. A requirement that I have while training them is that they must follow my directions. If they don't, the program won't do what they want.

If the child is easily frustrated and cannot understand that hard work now will pay off later, they won't be successful with Dragon.

A note re: kids with autism: in my experience, I haven't had success with autistic kids using Dragon. Their level of frustration is high, they have difficulty not making extra sounds (which interferes with accuracy), and they often can't see that the end will justify the means. I'm not saying that it will never work, but I haven't had success here. It may be worth a try but there are many, many other programs out there that may be a better fit.

2. Be sure you have the right equipment

First of all, the computer that you have installed Dragon on has to have enough memory and a sufficient sound card to handle the program. If it doesn't, the program will not work. Dragon isn't a "well let's just try it and see" program, it's one where things have to be exactly right. There is no half way, with Dragon it's pretty much all or nothing. To see if your equipment is compatible, check this list.

From personal experience, I suggest that you have the optimal amount of memory required. Also, note that different operating systems require different kinds of memory and may affect how Dragon operates. Our experience has been that when new operating systems come out, they sometimes don't work well with Dragon and it takes a bit for the people at Nuance to catch up by releasing a patch.

Your microphone is important-the one that comes with Dragon is sufficient, but a better quality one will increase your accuracy.

3. Location, location, location is important

First of all, let me impart a really crucial piece of info on you: Dragon MUST be installed on a computer's hard drive for optimal performance, AND the youth needs to use the SAME computer each time. What you are doing is building a file. Each time one uses Dragon, the program learns your voice and adjusts itself-so logically you want to be building on that profile every time you use it. If you have Dragon on a server and multiple machines, using it here and there, you will only end up with multiple voice files that never accumulate into one really accurate file. The very point is to build your file, so this completely defeats the purpose. Having Dragon on a server, as my husband discovered at work, isn't the best because as you talk and Dragon deciphers what you are saying, the info must pass through the server and often becomes corrupt-which greatly decreases your accuracy. Dragon will become ridiculously slow, crash, it won't recognize commands, and behave erratically.

Once you have Dragon trained and you are using it, you should be able to use the program in environments with some background noise as long as you:

a) re-calibrate the microphone
b) have a really good noise cancelling microphone

Without these things, your accuracy will be impacted. With kids, I have found that sometimes it depends on the student. I have some students who speak clearly and with enough volume that they are successful even in a moderately noisy room, and others who do not and the program just can't pick up their voice well enough.

So, now you have the equipment and a motivated student, what do you do? Watch for part 2 this week when I point you to a great Dragon curriculum that I'm using, and give you tips and tricks on how to actually get kids in there and dictating.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Say No to the Selfie

summer hike

It's Labour day weekend, and we've decided to go on a family hike. This doesn't happen very often these days, since Kevin is older and now has things to do and places to go. John and I usually end up walking by ourselves, reminicing about the times when Kevin, young and full of energy, was easily tricked into running ahead and back. He never did figure out that we encouraged him to do this in order to wear him out, but after a few runs he'd be sufficiently tired to fall asleep when we got back to the car.

On this hike, I brought my Blackberry Z10 and decided I was going to take photos. Although somehow in the snapping of pictures, I had hit a button that is more useful for taking photos of myself rather than the usual point and shoot.

"Kev! Ack! What do I do?!" I squealed, holding the phone out to him. He takes it from me calmly, smiles, presses a few buttons, and hands it back. Gratefully, I accept it, until I realize the possibilities of taking my own photos-namely, I can use them as avatars for twitter.

"Wait! How do you get it back to that?" I run after him and thrust the phone back in his hands. Amused, he presses the buttons and watches as I begin taking photo after photo. He walks away but again, I'm stuck. Honestly, I'm not that great with smart phones. Again, I run after him.

"Wait! How do I do this? Show me." 

I make him stand while I take photos of us together, changing the light, the way we are standing, waving my arms in weird directions because he's so much taller and my arms are obviously not long enough to get us in the frame. He obliges for a few minutes, before wryly commenting,

"Mom. You are not going to turn into one of those girls who posts all kinds of bathroom selfies on Facebook, are you?" He looks at me with slight horror, I'm sure imagining his middle aged mother doing duck face portraits in the bathroom mirror. 

"Maybe." I snap a few more.

"Put it away," he commands before drawing himself up to full height in front of me and taking the phone. "Because if you do, I'll just have to unfriend you on Facebook."

"Please?" I jump after the phone, trying to get it back. "Just a photo of us? Just because I'm your Mom and I love you, and I have few photos?"

He holds it out of reach, but eventually relents and hands it back before giving me a stern warning.

"Say no to the selfie, Mom. Or I may need to hack your account."
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Monday, November 04, 2013

How to Get Your Teen to Clean Their Room

Our house has this downstairs room that really was the deciding factor when we bought it (besides the kitchen, of course) which Kevin has turned into his own personal little tech office, or 'man cave', as we've come to call it. In the last year he has turned it into a little business of his own and spends a lot of time down there doing site design, web security, and more.  Filled with all kinds of computer equipment, it's often not quite in the state I'd like it to be and after months of nagging, I decided to speak in a language that I thought he'd understand better. He is, after all, nearly an adult and was asking if he could turn that space into a full on office for a business he's launching. So, if you want to be treated like the CEO of a company, here's what you get when you are lacking in your housekeeping skills.

Dear Tenant:

Re: inspection on October 26, 2013

The state of the space I am allowing your business to occupy rent free was unacceptable. To be clear, my expectations for how said space will be kept is as follows: 

-all garbage will be placed in a garbage can and emptied weekly. No food garbage

-there will be no garbage and items loose on the floor.

-there will be no dirty clothes or dishes

-the bathroom will be cleaned on a weekly basis: toilet scrubbed, floor swiffered, mirror  and sink cleaned

-surfaces, including baseboards, space heaters, and windowsills will be wiped occasionally so they are free of dust and dirt

-carpet will be vacuumed weekly. 

You appear to be having difficulty keeping this space in a state that is acceptable. As a result, I have decided to conduct weekly inspections as opposed to bi-monthly. There has been some improvement, but not enough. My inspections will occur each Saturday at 3pm. If the room has not been cleaned, your business will be shut down as I call in a cleaning lady, at the charge of $30 an hour. (payable by you, of course)

If you continually fail to keep the space in a state as per the above requirements, I will have to consider eviction. However, if you have questions regarding how to clean anything in your space, the cleaning lady will be happy to help you free of charge. She will give you a tutorial, and after that you are responsible for the space yourself. 

Have a good weekend, 

Your landlord (otherwise known as YOUR MOM)

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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Sunday Awesome List

What better thing to start off November with that an awesome list? These will possibly make you think I'm kind of evil, but that's okay. Nobody was injured in the making of this awesome list.

1. Buying yourself Halloween candy.

Forget standing in a cold doorway, unable to go watch TV or relax for the evening because you are stuck handing out candy to all the people coming to your door. We've adopted a new tradition in our family; buy a few boxes of our favorite candies, turn off the lights and consume them all ourselves.

Sounds terrible, yes. On the plus side, it's really delicious. Plus you only get the good stuff, AND there's no stealing involved. Win-win, I say.

2.  Watching your husband sitting on the couch, dozing off. 

His head drops back, little by little with his mouth wide open, and you realize that he has gum in his mouth. You begin to panic that he could actually choke on said piece of gum, so you throw something at him to wake him up.

Possibly not the smartest idea. He didn't choke on the gum, but the ensuing "WHAT THE HELL?!" may have caused some ruckus. Oops. The next time you just sit and watch, wondering how on Earth he can fall asleep like that without it being really uncomfortable because seriously? That's just weird.

3.  The teenager, upon hearing you vent that you've had the worst day ever, announces he's taking you to Starbucks to get whatever drink you want because he thinks you just need one. 

When you finally have latte in hand and tell him how grateful you are, he admits that he really just wanted a coffee and figured the only way to get there was to buy you one too. He's so learned my ways.

4. When your husband senses impending doom for stealing your car keys.

My husband didn't live with me for 10 months. In that time, I developed a routine to NOT lose my car keys; I keep them in a bowl on the counter. One morning last month or so, I go to get them, and they aren't there. I check every single pocket, every purse, every jacket, and eventually give up and run for the spares, only I don't really know where THEY are so I tear apart the entire house.

Later I realize that John took my keys to work in Abbotsford, and likely has been freaking out all day once he realized that he has them. I don't call him to let him know everything is okay, but instead let this sense of impending doom hang over him for the entire day.  He comes home, quietly lets himself in, and immediately apologizes while I laugh at him.

He looked really bewildered, and relieved. I thought it was hilarious!

5. Finally abandoning the teenager.

After months of nagging the teenager that you WILL leave his ass behind at school if he isn't ready, you finally arrive one day at the school doors and can't find him. After 20 minutes of searching you finally go and get groceries, completely guilt free, while he waits and then realizing you aren't coming, walks home.

Thereafter, he's always at the doors and you take GREAT delight in pretending that you don't see him so he runs for the car while you laugh hysterically, watching his panic in your rear view mirror.

Now I'm just waiting to do it in the morning, when he's still half asleep and not ready when I need to leave.   *evil grin*
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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Back For National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo)


On my way to work every morning, I pass a large farm. The field was once waving with stalks of corn back in the late summer, but those have long since been cut and plowed under. You can see a barn, silo, and the mountains in the distance. In the mornings, often fog is hanging low to the ground, giving the scene an ethereal look, especially if the sun is hitting things at the right angle. It's quite beautiful, really.

Every morning when I pass that farm, I think of stopping and taking a picture, and every morning, I've reminded myself I don't have a blog. Or at least, one that I have really written on. The same thing happened all summer on every motorcycle ride we took out to the mountains, winding our way up to Cache Creek or over to Manning Park. The photo above is along the highway in Agassiz, BC.  I'd see beautiful things that I'd want to share, but none of it ever seemed to fit where I was actually writing. I'm not all about food, you see. There's a lot more to me than recipes and what I ate for dinner, and yet I felt like that's the only thing I confined myself to.

summer days
Summer days were all about the motorcycle and Starbucks

The last few months after I closed this space I've tried to find where I fit, and the truth is, I don't feel like I fit anywhere. I've been untethered, floating between this space and that, at times hating social media and never quite finding it the same as I used to. I love writing about food, yes-but there is so much more to me than that, and the entire reason why I began blogging in the first place really had nothing to do with food.

The truth is, I have missed writing. Not writing recipes or how to do something in the kitchen, pitching products or marketing, but real, soulful writing, which is what always gave me joy and for awhile there, I thought I had completely lost. Lately I've had piece after piece rolling in my head with no place to put them down and they've been like little thorns in my shoe-pricking and niggling, leaving me restless and irritable. I need to write-and about more than how to bake cookies, mind you.

When I first began blogging I tried to do NaBloPoMo, but the universe intervened and ruined my plans. Twice the power went out, another year something else happened, and I swore off of it ever after. Novembers would come and go, and I'd stubbornly declare that I do NOT participate because dammit, the universe didn't like me. Why tempt fate?

Until this year, of course. To rid myself of those niggling little thorns, or perhaps I just miss writing for me (and nobody else), Notes From the Cookie Jar is back for the month of November.

Life is finally normal again. I am really, truly, happy once more. For the next 30 days, I plan to share it with you. I want to flex those writing muscles again.

Will it continue after that? I'm not sure. Let's just get through November and see, shall we?

on the bike
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Thursday, July 11, 2013


Years ago, I started Notes from the Cookie Jar because I wanted to see what blogging was and found myself hooked. The community, the creativity, all of it immediately drew me in. Before long I was teaching myself html and jumping in, feet first, to all things blogging had to offer.

It's been a crazy ride. If anyone told me that I'd have all the opportunities that have been offered me in the past 5 yrs would come along, I would've said they were crazy. Life has been amazing, but in the past year, things have changed.

Where I was when this blog started has changed. When I began blogging, I wanted to tell our story about Kevin and what it was like raising a child with dyspraxia. Partly because it was therapeutic for me to write about it, and also because I wanted people to know they weren't alone. I wanted to write about what it was like living in a small town on the west coast, just minutes from the ocean. I was writing to find myself after important relationships in my life seemed to just disintegrate.

Blogging gave me so much; a community, friends, self confidence. I have learned to do things that I never would've done otherwise. At one time I thought blogging could be a new career, but since then I've learned that leaving a job that provides a steady paycheck with benefits and a pension were not practical to give up. Writing can still be a passion but a hobby as well.

Then in the last few years life completely turned everything upside down, fell apart, and re-arranged itself.

I tried to come back here and write but somehow, nothing would come. I really had nothing to say. I didn't want this to become a 'my husband is sick and my best friend is dying' blog. I didn't want to be a train wreck on display as I struggled through the hardest few years of my life and had some moments so deep and dark I wondered if I needed to check into the psych ward at the local hospital. It felt fake to come here and chirp about how wonderful life was when it really wasn't.  I also found that my son, now almost 18 and who is practically a man, needs to tell his own stories. We don't live by the ocean anymore. I don't have to advocate for Kevin with his school. John is no longer sick. Anne is no longer here to have coffee with by the ocean or create beauty in her garden.

The life that I blogged about here for so long is gone. In some ways I feel like it died last August with Anne and when we moved 10 days later, because things have never been the same.

There's nowhere else to go from here. This chapter of my life is finished, and here I am; in a new town, with a life that is completely different stretched before me. The only constant in all of this is my love for the kitchen and helping to teach other people how to cook real, wholesome food. For months I have felt, deeply, that it's time to let go of what once was and turn the page to a whole new chapter.

So, this is goodbye from Notes From the Cookie Jar. Thank you so much for reading. I just don't think it's fair to give you only a half hearted attempt anymore, writing about things that are no longer here or relavant. I had said to friends that I was going to wait until December to make this decision but the truth is, I didn't think it was fair to wait. I know in my heart that this is the right thing to do.

Shutting down Notes doesn't mean I will quit blogging altogether; you are going to find me taking up the reins more over at Chasing Tomatoes. No longer just a recipe blog, it's going to be my space to talk all about our new life here in the Fraser Valley, with the focus on all the things I have grown so much to love. I want to explore the Fraser Valley and show you all the wonderful farms and things I find. I'll talk about things that have become my passions-school gardens, teaching kids how to cook, and more. You'll still find me over at Yummy Mummy Club and on Twitter. So this isn't really goodbye, just a bit of a change. I plan to spend my summer working on Chasing Tomatoes to make it the best it's ever been. It's time to focus on what I'm passionate about, instead of doing what feels too much like work and obligation.

Thank you so much for the comments and love and support. You have been amazing. I couldn't ask for better readers and friends.

Ready for the next step? I sure am.

Love Karen


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