By: Carmen Willings
The student who is blind or visually impaired will typically need some accommodations to safely and fully access the science curriculum. It is important to meet with the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments to discuss the curriculum and objectives and content that will be covered during the school year. This is important for students following the standard course of study as well as those following a modified curriculum. The student's unique visual needs should be taken into consideration when determining how to make materials accessible. Science materials may include measuring devices, charts, reading materials, and equipment.
In Early Childhood Classrooms and Self Contained Rooms
The science station, area or room is also a great area to house class plants and pets if your school permits. Caring for pets and plants is an excellent way to learn about life science as well as responsibility. Students who are blind or have low vision can participate in experiments and gain experience with measuring, balancing and weighing a variety of materials when provided with simple material adaptations or modifications. Incorporating concrete experiences within the natural environment can provide students with a greater understanding of their world (seasons, wet and dry, plants, and insects). Providing a variety of magnification devices for the closer examination will benefit sited students as well as students with low vision.
Importance of Collaboration
It is essential for the classroom teacher to collaborate with the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) on the upcoming curriculum. Collaboration can take place in a variety of ways, but ideally, there should be a beginning of the year discussion about the topics for the year/semester. What concepts are going to be introduced? What concepts will need to be reviewed? Working together as a team, they can develop strategies to create concrete experiences and adapt materials, models, and charts that meet the students unique learning and visual needs.
Incorporate Tactual Exploration and Fine Motor Development
The science area naturally provides students with the opportunities to develop their tactual exploration and fine motor skills through the exploration and manipulation of real materials. Students can: stroke small animal’s hair while caring for a class pet or studying animal life; squeeze a spray bottle to water class plants; pull weeds and snip old flowers when discussing plant life, or mold clay or dough into cells or DNA.
Incorporate Low Vision Devices
Students can practice using low vision devices in science too Go on a rock hunt and examine and label the rock collection; compare fingerprints; compare and categorize stamps in a stamp collection; examine miscellaneous collections of student interest or themes; study and compare leaves, and study nature on a nature hike.
Incorporate Visual Skills
There are also many fun ways to encourage students with low vision to use their vision within the science area. You might consider collecting items in one color to study. Create an I Spy box by scattering theme-related materials in a box. Provide the student with duplicate items and challenge him to locate the match. Have the students look at changes while melting ice cubes, making ice cubes, watching flowers bloom and watching snowflakes melt. Study the movement of water in puddles, in fish tanks, raindrops on the window, dew on leaves, grass ,and flowers, by filling plastic bottles with water.
Purposefully incorporating concepts such as size (small, medium, large), quantity (many, few), texture (hard/soft, rough/smooth), temperature, moisture, smell, taste, sound/pitch, comparison terms, and empty/full is natural within this station. Incorporate positional concepts such as in/out, on top of, underneath. It will also be natural to incorporate listening to and follow directions when experimenting (begin with simple one-step directions and progress to more difficult two-step directions). Also encourage students to recognize, identify, and imitate sounds like those of classroom pets.
Provide a variety of materials
Pre-Made Tactual Graphics
The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) as well as other sources, offer a variety of materials to support the science curriculum. APH materials are available to students who are eligible for federal quota funds.
Three-dimensional models are beneficial to all students when learning about science. This is particularly true for students with visual impairments. Students should be provided with models that they can touch, explore and examine. Although two-dimensional tactile graphics can be beneficial and useful, it is best to start with either the real object or, when this is not possible, a three-dimensional object. The ideal for students to first explore real objects, then compare those to a model.
DNA Twist is a model, available through APH, that demonstrates the structure of the DNA molecule in a way that is accessible to students who are blind and visually impaired. The DNA Twist model is made of two foam sidebars representing the sugar-phosphate “backbone” and ten rungs representing the paired bases. The paired-base rungs are made of contrasting colors and textures to convey the concept of the base-pairing rules that govern the structure of double-stranded DNA molecules. The model holds its shape when twisted.
Tactile Astronomy, a web resource from Amazing Space, is a downloadable tactile image library for microcapsule paper. It is a library of selected Hubble images that can be printed in a tactile format.
This two-volume set of thermoformed tactile graphics gives an overview of the human body. It includes the skeletal, muscular, nervous, and endocrine, cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems. Each tactual diagram has braille and print labels accompanied by a brief braille description.
These tactile graphics set from APH consists of vacuum-formed raised-line drawings that are intended to supplement the graphics in a students adapted textbook. It depicts objects, concepts, and relationships that are covered in nearly all elementary science textbooks. The drawings use several types of lines and textures, as well as different heights. The lines and areas with the highest relief signify the most important features in a diagram.
This product from APH includes a collection of vacuum-formed, full-color raised-line tactile graphics intended to supplement the figures and diagrams in life science textbooks. It depicts organisms, processes, concepts, and patterns that are typically covered in middle and high school life science courses.
Sense of Science: Plants are a product from APH. The kit includes a set of colorful, raised-line overlays designed to be used with a lightbox, or as a stand-alone item. Overlays include bean seed cross-section, flower, leaf, tree, etc.
Sense of Science: Animals are a product from APH. The kit includes a set of colorful, raised-line overlays designed to be used with a light box, or as stand-alone items. Overlays include an ant, bird, fish, life cycle of a frog, etc.
This Periodic Table, available from APH, is available in a durable and colorful print-braille version. The chart comes with a reference book that contains additional tables listing the elements by name, atomic number, electron configurations, etc.
Tactile Vision Graphics is a great source of a range of pre-made tactile diagrams. Science diagrams include Layers of Skin, Spinal Column, Respiratory System, Nervous System, The Eye, Lymphatic System, Circulatory System, The Heart, The Brain, and the Digestive System. They also provide braille/tactile maps, cards, books, and math diagrams.
This interactive study set, available from APH, is designed to make learning about the periodic table of the elements accessible to students with visual impairments and blindness. The tangible materials can assist in the instruction and demonstration of concepts related to the arrangement of the periodic table, atomic structure, ionic and covalent bonding, and balancing of chemical equations to students who benefit from a hands-on, interactive model. Special attention was given to make the materials tactually discriminable and visually appealing to students who are blind or with low vision, yet appropriate for all students regardless of visual acuity.
Sense of Science: Anatomy is a product of APH. The kit includes a set of colorful, raised-line overlays designed to be used with a lightbox, or as a stand-alone item. Activities include a learning objective, a list of vocabulary and needed materials, a step-by-step procedure, extended activities, visual adaptations, math and language connections, and science tidbits. Activities are complemented by visual/tactile overlays and fold-out 2-dimensional displays.
Tactile Demonstration Thermometer
The Tactile Demonstration Thermometer from APH allows students to independently read, set, and compare temperatures. A two-textured, two-colored adjustable mercury column with an easy-grip tactile indicator. It includes both Fahrenheit and Celsius scales presented in both large print and braille. Tactile degree markings every 5 and 10 degrees. The mercury column slides up and down to demonstrate temperature reading.
eTouchSciences recently developed the Novint Falcon, a haptic device that allows students to interact with 3D objects that are displayed on the computer screen. Current apps that work with this new technology allow students to feel the shapes and textures of the parts of a plant cell, experience how much things weigh on other planets, explore a volcano and feel the lava flow, and learn about surface area and volume. To the right is a YouTube video of how this device works!
In science class, students will need to be able to measure lengths, time, volumes, and weights. Some students will be successful using the existing classroom tools independently or paired with low vision devices while other students will need specialized equipment.
A liquid level indicator provides auditory feedback when the liquid nears the top.
Talking Digital Scales
Talking digital scales allow students to measure accurately.
Talking Digital Thermometer
The digital thermometer allows students with no useful or low vision to independently measure with accuracy. The probe is long enough to safely measure chemicals or liquids from a distance.
A micro video or CCD (charged coupled device) camera allows an image to be displayed on a TV monitor, computer screen, or electronic magnifier. This allows the student to enlarge the image to the extent needed to see it.
Perkins School for the Blind hosts a site entitled "Accessible Science" which is a great resource on making each area of the science curriculum accessible. Additionally, they offer classroom printouts on accessible science experiments.
The American Chemical Society is an independent membership organization for chemistry professionals. It distributes free training materials about classroom modifications for students with vision loss as well as other disabilities.
MOLinsight is a web portal to open- source software. It offers free software that allows a screen reader user to access an electronic version of the periodic table and a free program that reads aloud the visual configurations of atoms and molecules.
The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials provides information for students with sensory, physical, cognitive, or learning differences and their teachers about accessible instructional materials.
National Center for Blind Youth in Science is an initiative of the National Federation of the Blind. Users may find information about how to adapt science lessons, where to find accessible math programs, and what non-visual techniques are most effective in the STEM areas.
SciTrain provides free online courses for high school math and science teachers to train them to be more effective instructors for students with disabilities.
Adapting Science for Students with Visual Impairments: A Handbook for the Classroom Teacher and Teacher of the Visually Impaired.
This resource book from APH provides suggestions in making operational science activities accessible to students who are visually impaired or blind. It includes a preparation checklist to alert the teacher to safety issues. It also includes a skills checklist to ready the student for laboratory and classroom activities.
Resources to Support You in Teaching Students with Visual Impairments
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Accommodations for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired Recorded Presentation
Ensuring the student has access to the curriculum and entire educational environment is a key role of the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments. This presentation provides an overview of accommodations for students who are blind or visually impaired. I discuss considerations for providing accommodations, go over common accommodations, strategies for preparing the student for job accommodations and strategies for communicating needs to teams and employers.
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