Science teachers from across the country gathered at The Ohio State University’s Columbus campus last week to share best practices on how to adapt astronomy lessons for students with visual impairments. Hosted by Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, the Educator Professional Institute is part of a project that has been awarded a $1.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.
The NSF’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant is designed to help educators develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curricula for students with visual impairments. The project is administered by researchers from Ohio State, San José State University and John Hopkins University’s Space Telescope Science Institute.
“Ohio State does a lot of the research,” said Tiffany Wild, Ohio State associate professor of visual impairment teacher education and ITEST grant project researcher. “We’re collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. This project also funds one of our graduate students, who collects the qualitative data and travels to the various sites.”
During the institute, teachers assembled 3D printers that enable them to print models of meteorite samples and other astronomical objects to use as classroom materials.
“The idea is to bring everyone together so that they can work together and learn to enhance each other’s teaching effectiveness in those different areas,” said Thomas Madura, principal investigator for the ITEST grant and a San José State assistant professor. “We first teach them how to build the 3D printers – they come as a kit – and they learn how to assemble it and how the printer works and what it can do.”
The goal of the 3D printer workshop was to provide teachers with tools to encourage students with visual impairments to pursue educational and career paths in STEM, Madura said.
“It’s a little bit of a misconception that science has to be visual,” he said. “There are lots of other ways to do it, and tactile construction is one way, sound or auditory is another way, and then there’s visual. … What we’ve found is that as long as people have the appropriate tools, then they’re able to do the same work.”
In addition to the institute that convened at Ohio State, the ITEST grant funds STEM Career Exploration Labs throughout the year in which NASA specialists and other professionals with visual impairments speak to students about STEM careers.
“We have people who are blind computer scientists, blind engineers, blind astronomers and astrophysicists,” Madura said. “They talk to the students to say, ‘I was just like you, I am just like you.’”
EHE’s Department of Teaching and Learning is working with educators around the country to develop a national STEM research agenda for students with visual impairments, Wild said.
“The results of this research can impact the way we teach astronomy to students with visual impairments,” she said, “and ultimately increase accessibility for all those with visual impairments to the world of astronomy.”