The inclusive science group is made of interested educators from all phases and sectors who have an interest in teaching students who have additional support needs or special educational needs. It is organised by Rob Butler from the ASE and Jane Essex (ASE and RSC member) who both have an interest in this area of science education. Membership of this group is open to anyone, and attendance at the meetings is optional. Notes taken during the discussion will be shared with the whole group. You can join by filling in the form at https://www.ase.org.uk/ise
Meeting 6th October 2021
Focus – Working with visually impaired learners
The notes don’t identify the contributions from members of the group unless they specifically request to be identified.
The group had received a request to discuss working with visually impaired learners in science. Jane suggested we expand this description to include learners with sensory difficulties, for example autistic learners who use their peripheral vision to avoid over-stimulation.
Rob opened with some of the strategies he had used (which came from the visual impairment team that supported his learners)
Try to reduce glare by keeping blinds closed and using the classroom lighting (especially if you have modern LED lighting) Rob shared an anecdote about always being praised for closing blinds when the visual impairment team were observing, he didn’t have the heart to tell them he never opened them as his other learners preferred them closed as well (and it stopped distractions from outside as well as his lab was on the ground floor)
Contrast can be important – this can be as simple as putting coloured tape on the end of tubing to help learners find it. Rob often added indicators (or dye) to liquids so that learners could see where they were filling to as colourless liquids can be hard to see. This can be combined with putting an elastic band or dry wipe marker line on a measuring cylinder/beaker to show learners where to fill up to. An attendee at a previous group meeting had recommended loom bands for this purpose, and anyone with young children could have these laying unused around their home. There are also probes that can be used to indicate when a certain amount of liquid has been measured, and digital versions of tools like thermometers could be more accessible for visually impaired learners. A talking balance could be useful to many learners, not just those with visual impairments.
Microscopes were mentioned as an issue. There are several different ways of making microscopy more accessible. Rob used a Wi-Fi microscope which could connect to his laptop (or to a phone/tablet) Not only did all the class see the same image projected from his laptop but it allowed the teacher (or another learner) to provide assistance, sharing a common image. It also allows the teacher to capture images which can be processed to improve the contrast or made into another type of resource like a 3D image. It was also suggested that focusing on the edge of the coverslip and then moving the slide could make microscopy more accessible for some learners. Buying microscopes with a coarse and fine focus will help students with poor motor control focus more easily. It is also possible to buy microscopes with two eyepieces called a demonstration model that could help some learners) USB microscopes can help cut the costs if high magnifications aren’t required and some models can even be connected to a mobile phone. Paul Tyler has shared many examples on Twitter.
If you have a 3D printer there is a library of materials that can be 3D printed. One school had a printer with special ink that would rise of the page allowing learners to feel the impression.
It was also suggested that a reader pen could be useful and to check the models available as some could read and store text for learners. Some of the accessibility features of Google Docs could also support these leaners.
Mobile phones can also help, whether it be through the use of clip on lenses to transform them into microscopes, or through apps that help with accessibility. An app to read and say the name of the colour could be useful to some learners who may not be able to see the colour range of a particular indicator or if they are partially sighted.
Making 3D or tactile models where possible can help, for example model cells. Models (or processed images) could also help learners who find a microscope difficult for other reasons, for example sensory reasons.
Colour blindness (colour vision deficiency) is more common than many teachers realise, and many delegates have experienced learners or family members who can’t see a full range/spectrum of schools. If you have these learners in your group, check which indicators you use so learners can see the start and endpoint of a reaction. It’s also important to consider reactions with a colour change and to try not to use RAGing (red/amber/green highlighting) with these learners. Chromatography can pose a problem for these learners and Jane shared an experiment she had done with learners where she replaced the traditional inks with essential oils and let learners sniff along the chromatogram to see how the smells had separated/moved.