Lessons in today’s classrooms combine multiple subjects and frequently include tech skills. Even in kindergarten, most educational activities assume basic concepts that might be challenging for students with visual impairments. TSVIs are responsible for “planting the seeds” or pre-teaching concepts and for providing tactile materials to support gen ed lessons. Let’s take a look at a popular science/literacy/tech lesson based on the book, “Our Very Own Tree” by Lawerence F. Lowery. What concepts are needed to fully understand this book? Keep in mind that in preschool/kindergarten, students begin to build foundational science “roots” which grow and blossom as students apply and expand their knowledge throughout their school career.
Our Very Own Tree is about two girls who “adopt” an oak tree in a nearby park. These girls record all their observations about the tree throughout the year.
As always, students should explore the different parts of a real tree, such as the trunk, branches, twigs, roots, bark, acorn, and leaves. Trees come in all shapes and sizes, so be sure to compare trees: sapling vs. ancient tree, seasons such as winter vs. summer and types of trees (oak tree vs. pine tree vs. palm tree). If possible, explore and analyze trees throughout the year! Which trees produce fruit or nuts? Have your student crack a walnut to get to the edible pieces. Want to expand your tree knowledge? Learn more about maple trees and how maple syrup is collected! Don’t forget to include smells: flowering trees and pine trees – especially live Christmas Trees – have unique smells. Is the texture of the bark smooth or rough?
Collaborate with the student’s O&M. With young students, the O&M may do an Exploration Walk with hands-on activities that relate to O&M. How can trees assist on O&M routes? Does the student use a tree for a landmark along a route? Are there roots that can trip a student in his/her yard or the school’s playground? Can the student hug the tree trunk or does it take multiple students holding hands to circle the trunk? Are there any nearby sidewalks that are torn up beside an ancient tree because of tree roots? In the fall, does the student walk over leaves or nuts that have fallen from a tree? Has the student climbed a tree or been on a tire swing hung from a tree branch? Are there overhead limbs that the student’s head might bump? Do trees shade the sidewalk in the summer?
Bring in different types of leaves, tree flowers, pine needles, and nuts, depending on the season. Explore and determine the distinguishing characteristics and identify which type of tree the item belongs to.
After the student has explored real trees, the next step is to incorporate tactile graphics to build concepts. Tactile graphics skills are important and can teach many tree-related concepts. Not every student will have easy access to all the different tree types, leaves, flowers and nuts. Here are a few tactile graphics to get you started. Find coloring page images for trees or tree-related items that are native to your area. Tactile graphics are a critical compensatory skill and should be incorporated into lessons early on. Labeling images is a critical higher level science skill! Students should learn to label simple tactile images first. Labeling a tactile tree is an easy way to practice labeling skills.
Note: The images below are designed to be printed on capsule paper and used with a PIAF or Swell machine to raise the black lines.
If teaching a specific part of the tree (such as the trunk), for young students or students new to tactile graphics, you can choose to color in that area of the picture to make it easier for the student to identify or label. Example: If using the Parts of the Tree image and you want to highlight the branches, color the branches with a PIAF marker (or any black marker that works with a tactile graphics machine).
Hint: Print labeling worksheets often have a box for the student to write in or adhere a label to; there are often lines pointing to specific areas. With tactile graphic image, these boxes may be too small for braille and the drawn lines may make the tactile image cluttered. Use thin graphic tape to make a different tactile line where the label should be places; the graphic tape is easily distinguished from the raised tree lines. The graphic tape line should be placed closed to (almost touching) the area being labeled. If necessary, use a skinnier graphic tape line to point to the desired area.
Take a picture of your favorite tree, use an internet picture of a specific tree type, or take a picture of the tactile graphic tree used in the previous activity. Even young blind students can use a smart phone or tablet to take a picture – it can be a selfie of the student in front of his/her favorite tree!
Note: Mainstream national technology standards require students to add photos and images to slide presentations; this skill is introduced in first grade. In order to independently create slide shows with images, students with visual impairments need to know how to add image descriptions to photos that they take and how to use an app, such as Seeing AI, to identify what is in a picture. Keep in mind that artificial intelligence has and continues to improve, but may not correctly identify things in a picture.
Download the picture to the desired device (tablet or computer). Create a Tree Riddle Slide Show Book. Younger students can use the following prompts while older students can create their own riddle. Each slide should ideally have a picture and a sentence. Each image should have alt text. Ideally, the sentence should describe the item in detail.
Tree Riddle Book
Modification: Students can dictate or record their sentences.
This post includes national tech standards related to slide presentations and links to posts about how to create a slide presentation using different screen readers, devices and applications.
Want a more challenging activity? The student can research his/her favorite type of tree. Does it have a flower, does it produce nuts or fruits, what type of climate does the tree grow in? What color do the leaves turn in the fall? what is the wood used for?
Create a presentation about what you like to do with the tree or parts of the tree, such as climb, build a tree house, make a bonfire from fallen tree branches, etc.