Imagine a big ball of rock and ice hurtling through space that grows a tail as it approaches the sun. Can you picture that?
Well, maybe not. You might wonder, what kind of tail? Is it long like a monkey’s, curled like a pig’s, or bobbed like a poodle’s?
Well, none of those, I might tell you. It’s more like a jet condensation trail, only a little wider and not as long—relatively speaking, that is.
But what if you’d never actually seen a con trail—or a monkey or poodle tail for that matter. We could go on like this forever, playing a sort of 20 questions game, each of us becoming more exasperated.
Obviously, if I could just show you the image of a comet, you would quickly understand what I’m describing. That’s the challenge science teachers face, though, when trying to help students with visual impairments grasp difficult science concepts: They can’t rely on simple images from textbooks. They must help students use manipulative and tactile tools to “see” what they’re learning.
For the past three years, McREL has been working with Edinboro University, Tactile Learning Adventures, and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind to develop an intervention to help teachers create tactile graphics and written descriptions for visually impaired students.
The project, titled ACE (for Adapted Curriculum Enhancements) and funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, has created and studied the effectiveness of materials and lessons designed to help grades 6–12 mainstream teachers adapt lessons for students with visual impairments.
So how do you help a student with visual impairments visualize a comet? Here’s a hint: it involves a Styrofoam ball, some ribbons, and a hair dryer.
View this lesson and download other free lessons and materials from the ACE website at http://www.ace-education.org/.
Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.