Academic journal article Science and Children

TRAVELING WITH SCIENCE: Working with Orientation and Mobility Specialists to Make Science Accessible for Kindergarten Students with Visual Impairments

Academic journal article Science and Children

TRAVELING WITH SCIENCE: Working with Orientation and Mobility Specialists to Make Science Accessible for Kindergarten Students with Visual Impairments

Article excerpt

For early elementary students with vision loss, these seemingly simple questions can pose great difficulty, especially when conceptual development is being established. Because students with vision loss are unable to observe non-verbal cues within environmental settings, supplemental learning techniques must be utilized for learning. In science, connecting real-world experiences with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is one way of helping students with vision loss understand, apply, and retain skills being taught in a classroom setting.

There are 62,528 school-age students with visual impairments in the United States (APH 2016) who are eligible to receive specialized services to meet unique learning needs related to vision loss. Because much of what we learn is visual, students with visual impairments need to be taught using explicit methods developed to help them grasp scientific concepts, such as the use of tactile models or real-life objects. Under federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) requires teachers to address the needs of all students. This means that if a teacher has a student with vision loss in a classroom, that teacher must consider accommodations that address inability to see visual materials often used in a science classroom.

This article explores how science teachers and orientation and mobility instructors can work together to provide access to science content for students with visual impairments while incorporating the orientation and mobility curriculum. Specifically, ideas for providing lessons in forces and motion to kindergarten students through co-teaching and co-planning are provided to enable all students' access to the science curriculum.

Specialized Instruction for Students with Visual Impairments

Students with vision loss are taught an expanded core curriculum (ECC). The ECC is an established set of specialized skills created to allow students to receive instruction in areas that vision is typically needed--such as cleaning a stain on a shirt, matching clothes, cooking, or recognizing facial expressions. These are skills that must be taught beyond the core curriculum of math, science, and English. One area of the ECC is called orientation and mobility.

Orientation and mobility (O&M) addresses independent travel and movement for students with visual impairments. Orientation and mobility instructors are people who are trained and licensed to teach these skills. They start with teaching about a student's position in space and continue to teach the physical act of traveling from one place to another. Orientation and mobility instructors often work within school and classroom settings. For additional ways to collaborate between science teachers and O&M instructors, see NSTA Connection.

Science and O&M

What does O&M have to do with science? While O&M is part of the ECC, much of what the O&M instructor teaches can easily be incorporated into the science classroom. For instance, in field-based lessons, the O&M instructor can help ensure students access and complete activities. An O&M instructor can also help the science teacher set up labs in the classroom, keeping ease of movement, organization, and safety in mind. Crossover between the disciplines of O&M and science can be incorporated into lessons to help students retain concepts. This crossover can incorporate benchmarks outlined within the NGSS with skills taught in the O&M curriculum.

To support this idea of crossover, we selected elementary science investigations addressing the Kindergarten standards of Forces and Motion to illustrate how an O&M instructor can support the scientific learning of students with visual impairments in the general education setting. It is important to illustrate this working relationship because "...many lesson plans presented in curriculum guides fail to consider the needs of students with disabilities. …

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