Academic journal article Science and Children

Sounds of Science: Accommodating Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in a Unit on Sound

Academic journal article Science and Children

Sounds of Science: Accommodating Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in a Unit on Sound

Article excerpt

Inquiry-based active learning in science is helpful to all students but especially to those who have a hearing loss. For many deaf or hard of hearing students, the English language may be their second language, with American Sign Language (ASL) being their primary language. Therefore, many of the accommodations for the deaf are similar to those for hearing English Language Learners (ELL) (Easterbrooks and Stephenson 2006). These accommodations usually involve a multisensory approach that utilizes visuals along with hands-on experiences. From these inquiry-based experiences, new science-specific vocabulary emerges. When deaf students who sign are faced with new vocabulary, it is best to present these new words in ASL; therefore, it is crucial to provide the specific words to their interpreter before the lesson (Science for Students with Disabilities 2017). Last, in order for deaf students to communicate through the written language, graphic organizers can provide a visual representation of a system or expected work (Dexter, Park, and Hughes 2011).

These accommodations for deaf or hard of hearing students can be very effective for most science topics, but what about the study of sound as a science phenomenon? Sound is traditionally taught in early elementary classrooms through student explorations such as plucking rulers on the table, striking water-filled glass soda bottles, talking on tin-can telephones, or making musical instruments. All of these activities rely on the fact that students can actually hear the sounds, but what if there is a student in the class that cannot hear the sounds like the other students?

This article describes a sound unit that was completed in a first-grade classroom with a deaf student. Instead of using the more traditional sound activities that require the hearing of the sounds, the students focused more on visualization and the tactile evidence of differing sounds. This unit was implemented during the literacy block of instructional time with the science center incorporated within the other independent literacy centers so the teacher could work with a smaller group of students. Throughout the unit, the teacher introduced new vocabulary and documented student understanding through shared writing, so this unit is also aligned to the following Common Core English Language Arts Standards: CC.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.4, CC.ELA-LITERACY.L.1.5, and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.8.


Before beginning the sound unit, the teacher made a simple drum by removing the neck of a round balloon and stretching the remaining portion of the balloon over the open end of a tin can. Once students were gathered at the rug, she placed this drum under a document camera so that all the students could view it. The teacher sprinkled a pinch of salt on the balloon surface (Figure 1), showed the students a tuning fork, and explained that each tuning fork plays a single note and that they are sometimes used to tune musical instruments. The teacher demonstrated how to make the note by striking the tuning fork on a golf ball and asked, "What do you hear?" A golf ball creates a loud clear tone, but any solid dense non-metal surface will work. For the hearing students, they heard the note. For the deaf student, the teacher struck it again and had her come up to touch it so she could feel the vibrations. In this whole-class setting, the deaf student was allowed to touch the tuning fork for time management purposes; however, the teacher explained that all the students would be able to touch the tuning fork during small-group investigations.

She struck the tuning fork on a golf ball again and placed the tuning fork about 1 cm over the surface of the drum. This action made the salt "dance." She then asked the students, "What happens when the tuning fork is held over the salt?" "Did the tuning fork have to touch the salt to make it dance?" The teacher struck the tuning fork again and held the tuning fork in different directions over the salt and asked, "Does it make a difference which direction you hold the tuning fork? …

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