Two boys with visual impairments in science classroom

Setting Up the Science Classroom for Students with Visual Impairments

Tips for TVIs and science teachers to set up an accessible science classroom for students who are blind or who have low vision

For teachers and students this is a busy time of year! However there is a group of teachers that is probably even busier than most: the itinerant teacher of the visually impaired.   And if these teachers have a student taking a middle or high school science class, it may be even busier!  Textbooks, graphs, charts, materials and labs all need to be accessible.  In addition, for the science teachers, this may the first time they have even met a blind person!  Most teachers want to do a good job including students with visual impairments in their classes.  Science classrooms can be more accessible than the teachers may originally believe!

Begin with an Inventory of the Science Classroom

First of all when the teacher of the visually impaired visits the science classroom find a time when the science teacher is not busy and walk around the classroom together.  Notice all the hands-on items already available. In a biology classroom there is usually a full size skeleton. There may also be full or half size models of the human torso.  Frequently the cell models are tactual. Giving all the students an opportunity to touch models enhances learning.

Tactile DNA model
Tactile DNA model

In the chemistry class room the usually are models of atoms that are 3-D and molecular model kits that are tactual. The Earth science classroom may have topographical maps that are great to touch. And in the middle school classroom, there are wonderful models of simple machines that are hands on.  In general, for younger the children, science is more hands on. Studies have shown that hands on science benefits all students at all ages!

Explore Materials from APH

Next, the teacher of the visually impaired can introduce the science teacher to some of the wonderful science materials produced by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH).  Some of these materials can be used when the TVI does pre-teaching with the student but the science teacher may find some of these materials work well for the whole class!

Interactive Periodic Table Study
Azer’s Interactive Periodic Table Study

For example when learning chemistry, Azer’s Interactive Periodic Table Study Set enables students who read braille and with low vision to create their own periodic table on a large tri-fold board, and to use the tactile and brightly colored element symbols to write chemical formulas and chemical equations including subscripts and superscripts. Here at Perkins we additionally adapted our Azer’s Kit by making long strips of cardboard with Velcro on them. These strips fit nicely on the desk top and work well for writing out reactions.  Most students using braille note takers and computers quickly learn to write this on their devices after practicing with Azer’s kit.

In biology, the APH Life Science Tactile Graphics book has textured tactile drawings in bright colors of almost every important illustration needed in a typical biology course.  More and more teachers are using online resources that are accessible for all to read. However, the pictures in the online text so critical in biology are not accessible to many students who are visually impaired. 3-D models or tactile graphics greatly improve comprehension, as well as making science more interesting to the students, many teachers and students report.

Contents of Cell Zone kit
Contents of Cell Zone kit

Also for biology but produced by Cell Zone is a 3-D cell model, which makes it possible to recreate what is actually being seen under the microscope for the student unable to see images through a microscope or on a screen.

Identify Materials and Equipment That Are Not Accessible

Finally the TVI needs to identify materials and equipment that are not accessible to the student and begin to collect these well in advance of the first day of school!  Many larger school systems have science supplies on hand but smaller systems may not. Some supplies may need to be ordered or borrowed! Some basic equipment such as tactile or large print rulers probably have already been used in math class as well as a talking regular or scientific calculator. There may already be a talking thermometer in the school.  Other adaptations may be readily available since “math is the language of science”. However, the TVI may need to create many of these containing specific data, if they are not in a braille textbook for the subject being taught.

Data Collection

Since data collection is such an important part of science working closely with the adaptive technology or computer teacher, if that is not the TVI’s specialty, can be helpful to the student. Technology for data collection is used in many science classrooms today, as data is collected for temperature, pH, and salinity and so much more. Many companies produce data collection software, but Vernier has worked together for many years with Dr. Cary Supalo to produce talking data collection instruments. These are distributed through Dr. Supalo’s company Independence Science.

Collage of setting up the science classroom

By Kate Fraser

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