Cartoon image of a science girl wearing goggles and lab coat holding beakers.

Five apps I use in the science classroom as a low vision student

Favorite apps used in high school and college lab science classes like biology, geology and chemistry.

As part of my high school and college general education requirements, I had to take several different lab science courses in topics such as geology, biology, chemistry, and environmental science, in addition to applied science courses for my data science major. While each class covered different topics, there are a few different iPad apps that I used in each of these classes to help with making information accessible and easier to read for someone with vision loss. Here are five apps I use in the science classroom as a low vision student, which I downloaded for my personal iPad and/or Android phone.

Completing science labs and assignments – Notability

I was introduced to the Notability app by the educational technology specialist at my second high school, and it was an instant game changer for completing science labs and assignments. I find it easier to carry my iPad around the classroom compared to a laptop, and Notability allows me to edit and annotate Word and PDF copies of assignments downloaded from the class website or a shared folder with my teacher, giving me options to type, draw, dictate, or write answers on assignments using a stylus or finger. I found it easier to write answers for my chemistry assignments with Notability on my iPad compared to a computer, because I could adjust the viewing angle under the bifocal lens of my glasses more easily and use different colored ink to label different sections of equations. The Notability app is free, though there is a paid subscription available as well, and available for iOS devices.

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Taking notes and scanning in documents – Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Lens

I love using Microsoft OneNote for notetaking across all of my classes, but it’s especially helpful for science classes since I can insert multimedia content such as images, sound recordings, math notation, drawings, and other types of content, and have it sync across multiple devices. To make it easier to copy information from the whiteboard, I often pair Microsoft OneNote with the Microsoft Office Lens app, which allows users to create OCR scans of whiteboards, documents, and other types of content- I insert images of the whiteboard into my Microsoft OneNote notebooks so I can read them more easily. Both the Microsoft OneNote and Office Lens apps are free for iOS and Android devices, and require a free Microsoft account for use.

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Identifying objects and searching for high resolution images – Google Lens

When I was taking a geology class in college, the professor often shared several different examples of rocks and crystals that were difficult for me to see the details of. One strategy I used to view items with a higher level of detail was to take a picture with the Google Assistant camera (which is now part of the Google Lens app) and search the web for a higher resolution image of whatever I was holding. This also came in handy when identifying plants in another class, as well as when visiting a science museum. The Google Lens app is free and available for Android devices.

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Enlarging environmental objects or observing visual changes – camera/magnifier

Whenever I had to enlarge labels in a science lab or other small visual details, I would pull out the camera or Apple Magnifier applications to zoom in on text or whatever needed to be enlarged so that I could see it more easily- this was especially useful in my high school science classes when I didn’t have a portable video magnifier. The Magnifier application for iOS provides several different options for low vision users that are comparable to video magnifiers, including display filters, adjustable brightness, and high contrast mode. The Camera app comes pre-installed on iOS and Android devices, and the Magnifier app developed by Apple can be downloaded for free on the iOS App Store.

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Watching videos with audio description – DCMP/YouDescribe

I wish I knew about the Described and Captioned Media Project (DCMP) when I was in high school, as it has a tremendous library of free educational videos that have captioning and audio description that can be watched by the entire class. YouDescribe is another awesome tool for finding audio described science videos that allows anyone to create their own audio description for YouTube videos or search for audio description tracks for existing videos. Both YouDescribe and DCMP have their own mobile applications, but I typically access these tools on their respective websites.

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Bonus: Reading the period table/using a calculator – multiple options

There are multiple options for accessible periodic tables and accessible calculator applications for students with low vision as well as nonvisual learners- I’ve linked these posts and a few other science related posts below for further reading.

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By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023; original post published January 2018

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