ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Diagnosis, ADD / ADHD Medication, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Digital Fitness, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Testing & Diagnosis, Dyslexia Treatment, Dyspraxia, Medication, Memory, Music, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Wii Fit

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I was interested in creating a cerebellum training program that was quicker, more effective than Dore. Myomancy was my notebook of interesting technology and relevant science. Over the years I’ve examined many different approaches to the treatment of dyslexia and ADHD. Some were simply nonsense, others had promise but were lacking the scientific, technological or business resources to make them viable. Some lacked the ethical honesty necessary when selling products to parents desperately worried about their children.

Slowly overtime I refined my ideas about how cerebellum training should work and how a independent company without much in the way financial resources could develop and sell such a product in an ethical manner. One main stumbling block has been the cost and availability of the technology necessary to track a user’s limb movements and balance. So I’ve been watching the progress of the Wii and latterly the Wii Fit with interest. The technology needed for cerebellum training was finally cheaply and readily available. What’s more many people already own it.

Originally I intended to make an announcement after slowly develop a proof of concept over the next few months but with the collapse of Dore and the shadow that will cast over the cerebellum training field, I’ve decided to move my plans forward. So I’m pleased to announced the creation of WyyMi, a project to create a free, open-source, open-science cerebellum training program.

What is WyyMi?
WyyMi is a project to develop a cerebellum training program to help people with dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia and similar educational problems.

Project Goals
To develop a system that cost nothing (or as close to nothing as possible) to use; to do it using open-source software; and to make freely available as much scientific evidence on its effectiveness as possible.

How Will It Work?
The idea is to use cheap and easily available computer hardware that can monitor and assess gross motor movements and balance. At the moment the Wii Remote and Wii Fit Balance Board seem the best candidates but they need to be adapted to work on PCs and Macs because the Wii console itself is difficult to develop for.

Using this hardware and software on the website, users will be perform a series of exercises. The amount of time spent training and the accuracy of the user’s movement will be logged on the server so that the user can track their progress and so the server can inform the user which exercises to do next. This data will also be aggregated, made anonymous and published so that it can be analyzed by any interested 3rd party. Ideally, symptom specific measures (e.g. spelling tests) will also be included so that the training programs effectiveness in treating educational problems can be measured.

Other than a broad statement of goals and the planned route for achieving them, there is nothing else on site at the moment. Progress is likely to slow, not least because I am working on another project at the moment as well maintaining my existing portfolio of web sites. If you wish to help in anyway, please see the announcement for ways you can contribute, not matter what your skills are.

Myomancy will be continuing to report on anything and everything I think is relevant to dyslexia, ADHD and autism. Obviously as I am planning to create my own training program, that might create a conflict of interest when discussing other people’s approach. I will try and be as unbiased as possible and make my conflict of interest clear.

Digital Fitness, Music, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii

Do you think that Guitar Hero is just about bad 80’s pop and heavy metal? Think again. Alex Wroten, a music student, has converted it into a genuine musical instatement for serious music.

One thing that struck me about [Guitar Hero] is that it has a stigma from those people who think it is ruining the potential musical literacy of children by giving them instant success versus practicing on a real instrument. This led me to want to turn the controller into a viable instrument.


I wrote Guitar Hero Instrument in MaxMSP on my Macbook to turn the XBOX Guitar Hero controller (only tested with GHII’s X-plorer controller!) into a playable instrument. This software has a lot of features, including harmonic tweaking, overdrive, delay, scale selection, and scale temperament (from 3 to 25-note equal temperament). It processes the controller input into pitches based on which button is pressed first and subsequent slurring; this gives the controller a range of 25 pitches (these pitches depend on base frequency, harmonic tweaking, and scale selection). The Guitar Hero controller’s tilt function is not mapped to any software feature at this time.

And here is a video of an original piece of music being performed with it.

More detail on Alex Wroten’s site.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Rhythm Games, Sony PSP

The 10th Annual Independent Games Festival has been a treasure trove of rhythm games and examples of how games could be included in education.

One of the award winning games is Audiosurf. Its not strictly a rhythm game but it music is an integral part of the game play. Its a simple premise, steer a spacecraft down a twisting, turning track collecting some coloured blocks whilst avoiding others. The twist is that the race track is generated from the music you choose to play from your MP3 collection. So you can have a fast and furious race course by selecting some thumping guitar or a slow, easy route if you choose a crooner like Frank Sinatra. What’s more, every time you race, the track and your score is uploaded to a server on the net and you can compare your music and your scores with others around the world.

Audiosurf introduces a couple of interesting concepts. It allows the user to completely control the level of difficulty through their song selection. A recording of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star will be vastly easier than anything by Motorhead. To see an example of this, watch this video of Audiosurf for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. The beginning is slow and mellow but later on (about 4:15 mins Wayne’s World fans) it kicks into serious headbanging guitar and everything gets much harder.

The other interesting aspect of selecting your own music is the possibility of Mozart Effect. I don’t refer to the much hyped and oversold Mozart Effect range of products but the more general principal than music, particularly complex classical music, has in the neurological development of children. There is good, but not overwhelming evidence, that music can help calm and mentally stimulate children. I’m willing to be that if the Mozart Effect is real, it will be enhanced if the children are exposed to it as part of an interactive game.

Winner of the Best Student Game at the Independent Games Festival was Synaesthete. In this free-to-download PC game, the player explores an abstract landscape populated by monsters and other dangers. To destroy the creatures you can fire a variety of attacks at them. The twist being that to attack them, you need to press keys in time with the backing music. What sets this game apart from rhythm games like Guitar Hero, is the level of choice the player has. With Guitar Hero, to score point you must play all the notes in time with the music. In Synaesthete, you can choose which notes to play, e.g. just the back beat, and your choice will effect which attacks you make. You can also simply explore the enviroment, avoiding the monsters.

What sets Synaesthete and Patapon (which we covered a couple of weeks ago), apart is that the rhythmic aspect of the game have been shifted from being the aim of the game to a simple game mechanic. The difference between these two points is subtle but important. In a traditional rhythm game, you score points by playing in time with the music so getting good at the rhythm is everything. When rhythm is reduced to a mechanic, the aim of the game is to explore the level, defeat the enemy tribe or rescue the princess. To do this the player has to learn rhythmic skills but these are combined with other skills and tactics in order to achieve the game’s objective.

Reducing the rhythmic element to the game to a mechanic makes the game more appealing to those with poor rhythmic skills. To use an analogy, if you asked people to learn to climb a cliff for the sake of climbing a cliff, some people would set out and learn how to climb because it looks fun. However, most will simply walk away because the reward for all that effort of learning to climb is not worth it. But, if you told people that hidden on the cliff face were a variety of prizes: money, computer games, cars etc, then far more people will learn to climb because of the rewards are worthwhile. Even people with a fear of heights would learn to climb if the prizes are ones that appeal to them. Climbing has now become a way of achieving a goal rather than the goal itself.

This distinction is lost on many educational game makers. Take for for example the traditional game of Hangman. In this the objective is to spell / guess a word and it certainly helps develop language skills. But those with weak language skills, who would most benefit from it, will be put off. They are being asked to learn to climb, simply for the sake of climbing a cliff. To reach those who most need this help, the spelling aspect must be something they learn on the way to a goal that interests the child. For more why and how games attract and keep players, see Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun. For an strange looking word game (its not clear exactly how it works) from the IGF have a look at Poesysteme.

The next rhythm game from the IGF is Cinnamon Beats. Its a puzzle game more than a rhythm game but rhythm is a key ingredient. It is not available yet and hard to describe as I’ve not played it but it involves bouncing balls off musical instruments and other objects so that they make the right noise at the right time.

One last rhythm game is Fretnice. I cannot find much about it other than the game is controlled using the guitar’s from Guitar Hero. The limited blurb suggests its a rhythm game where you are “playing the game as if it was a rock song”. Watch this trailer:

Finally, there is Crayon Physics Deluxe. Its a puzzle game using 2d physics similar to Phun except whereas Phun is just a sandbox for experimentation, Crayon Physics is a game with an objective. It looks a great way to teach problem solving skills to young children.

All these games show the possibility of teaching skills through inventive game play. The holy grail is to develop a game that teaches something obviously useful (e.g. spelling) in such a way that even those with poor language skills will want to keep playing it long after the lesson has finished.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS, Rhythm Games

Guitar Hero on the Nintendo DS

It seems the Nintendo DS was made for music. Not only does it have its own classic Korg MS-10 Synth but it will soon have Guitar Hero. In case you’ve missed it, Guitar Hero is a rhythm game with special controllers shaped like guitars. Play the game is somewhere between play the air guitar and play a real guitar. Its great fun with friends and a great way of learning rhythm.

Full details can be found on Guitar Hero Comes to DS

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS

The classic Korg MS-10 synthesizer is the drum machine behind tons of music from the A Flock of Seagulls to Goldfrapp. Now a version of it is going to be released on the Nintendo DS.

This hasn’t much to do with training your brain and body but it clearly shows the potential for these sort of devices as music makers. Converting this technology into a game that teaches rhythm and basic music skills is certainly possible. These skills, or their lack, have a connection to learning difficulties and an accessible game targeting them could be be one more weapon in the education system’s arsenal.

Source: DS-10 to Make Whole World Sing

Digital Fitness, Music, Nintendo DS

Linking education to the iPhone may seem like a huge leap but in two to three years it will be obvious.

Really I’m not talking about the iPhone, its about the iTouch (which is the iPhone without the phone bit) and what I’m really focusing on is the technology that drives it: the multi-touch screen; high quality graphics and sound; WiFi allowing it internet access anywhere. All this in a unit half the size of a DVD box. It may be expensive and only available from Apple but over the next few months, similar but cheaper products will be appearing. In two years time it will be bigger, better and everywhere.

This technology is not the only factor at play. Basic skills such as short-term memory and rhythm are showing themselves to have unexpected and significant impact on general levels of success. (See Intelligent Insights and Tick Tock Talk for more). Now couple this with the popularity of Dr Kawashima braining games on the Nintendo DS and the potential for a small, handheld education device is amazing. The One Laptop Per Child is setting the standard for creating robust, affordable devices that are suitable for children. Next may be the One iPhone Per Child or as it should be called, the iLearn.

This may seem unlikely and there are certainly a number of problems to overcome. Not least is that brain training hasn’t been conclusively be shown to work other than in limited areas. We need proof that learning how to playing a memory or rhythm game actually helps in the classroom. RoboMemo and Interactive Metronome have pointed the way with ADHD but more work is need. There also needs to be an open standard that has a long-life so schools can buy from multiple different suppliers knowing they will work together and that they are not going to be redundant in a couple of years.

The potential for an iPhone type device is amazing. The iGuitar and the iAno show just how much is possible on these devices. Being WiFi ready, an iLearn can download new content and enable group learning games. The teacher can easily have a master control unit that overrides or turns off the iLearn when required. All this could be done on a laptop now but laptops are fragile and, for a five to ten year-old, they are bulky. A small unit, the size of a paperback book would make it a usable size but manageable for small hands.

What the iPhone represents is a new class of handheld devices that allow real interaction with their users. Tiny keyboards and unreadable screens are a thing of the past. What we are finding out about the brain gives us unprecedented insight into how we learn and what intelligence really is. Some day soon, these two forces will combine in the iLearn.

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS

Respect, true respect, for a person is very rare. Too many acts that appear to be selfless acts of generosity turn out to be publicity seeking stunts and we have all grown cynical in our modern world. However one man who is getting my respect is Dr Kawashima, the brain behind Brain Age (or Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training as its called in the UK).

Dr Kawashima’s work for Nintendo could earn him $22 million through royalties but he has chosen not to take it. Under the rules of his University he works for, he is entitled to keep half the money with the rest going to the University. However Professor Ryuta Kawashima has said “My hobby is work” is giving all $22 million to the University to help built two new labs in the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer.

For his belief and dedication to science Dr Kawashima deserves respect. For maintaining his belief in the important of science and learning when someone is offering millions of dollars is incredible. No one would of question the Professor if he had taken the money. It was legal and accepted wisdom the researchers can earn royalties based on their academic works. Yet still he turn it down because he thought the money would be better spent building further research labs than buying him a big house and a fast car.

Respect Dr Kawashima. Respect.

Source: ‘Brain training’ Dr Kawashima has no time for games

Digital Fitness, Nintendo DS, Wii Fit

kawashima

Nintendo’s Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training (call Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day in the USA) has been a huge hit in Japan, the US and around the world. But who is Dr Kawashima?

Dr Kawashima, or to give him his proper title, Professor Kawashima, is a Japanese neuroscientist who has served in Japan’s National Council, advising on language and cultural issues. His neurological work has focused on brain imaging with fMRI and how to use what has been learnt from imaging to help children learn, old people retain their mental skills and patients regain them.

Based on his work, in 2003 Dr Kawashima released Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain in Japan and it was a huge best seller. This attracted the attention of Nintendo who were looking for ideas that would appeal to people outside the normal hardcore gamers. They wanted to be able sell their new handheld to a wide range of different people. Legend has it that Satoru Iwata, the president of Nintendo, arranged a meeting with Kawashima. Both their schedules were very busy and the only time they could get together was for an hour on the day that the Nintendo DS was launched. This hour long meeting turned into a three hour brainstorming session after which a team of developers were given 90 days to develop a prototype.

There is no doubt that Brain Training’s success has pushed Nintendo into other products that appeal to those who want to do more that just play games. The time and money invested in Wii Fit is clear example. With its new digital balance board controller and range of activities from jogging and snowboard through to meditation it has broad appeal as both a brain and body trainer.

The image accompanying this post will be recognizable to players of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Age. Regularly through the program he gives messages of support and encouragement. This doctored version comes from Add Letters.

Digital Fitness, Games, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii

I’m pleased to announce an expansion of Myomancy’s distinctive brand of independent news and reviews. From today we will be covering digital fitness products including Wii Fit, the soon to be released exercise system for the Nintendo Wii, Brain Training products on the Nintendo DS and elsewhere, rhythm bases games like Guitar Hero and lots more. In short if it involves electronics and has the potential to improve the brain or the body, then we will be reporting on it.

This is a natural extension of what Myomancy has been covering. Back in May 2004 we reported on Video Games Are Good For You (If They Involve Movement). In October 2005 we looked at the study by Professor Posner in Can Computer Games Help ADHD? and how games like Dance Dance Revolution have been shown to improve reading .

The science of how Wii Fit and dance games can improve coordination and rhythm and why this can help in education has been extensively covered. Currently specialised products such as Interactive Metronome have led the way but there is more and more evidence of how balance, coordination and rhythm training can help children and adults.