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Educational Technology Specialist
3452 Lake Lynda Drive, Suite 260
Orlando, FL 32817
The Kids Network: Leveraging Learning project is an award winning series of twelve science thematic units. These twelve units align with multiple National Science Education Standards (NSES) as well as the Standards for the English Language Arts (SELA). Each of the twelve units follow a similar plan. First, the students gather information and analyze their data. Then, they use web-based forms to send letters to a unit specific database. Next, the class will query the database for information on other areas of the country that interest them. Then, they use their information in downloaded mapping and graphing tools to compare with specific data from the unit website. Finally, the students are given opportunities to study people and data from a location other than their own. The hands-on investigations, online inquiries, data and communication activities, and final activities are described in a carefully designed Teacher's Guide for each unit.
This curriculum has been selected as the basis for the project because it is one of the most thoroughly researched and highly respected online science curricula in use today. The two units selected to be prototypes for the adaptation for deaf students were What's the Weather? and Are We Getting Enough Oxygen? With the weather unit, students in elementary grades design and set up weather observation stations. Findings from their studies, communication with other students doing the unit, and the investigation of dramatic weather events help them realize what weather is and how people around the world are affected by it. With the oxygen unit, students in middle grades explore how the human body gathers oxygen and expels carbon dioxide and how smoking, diet and air quality influence the body. The students will discover how individual behaviors can affect their health, as well as others.
Reports advocate the engagement of learners in "hands-on, minds-on" experiences that lead to in-depth understanding of fundamental ideas of science content and process which can expand and develop over a lifetime (TIMMS 1996, NAEP 1996, NSF 1999). Regrettably, quality science materials designed to engage students in experiences that result in mastery of standards-based learning outcomes are often inaccessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing (d/hh) and whose first language is sign language. This project provides an unprecedented opportunity to begin bridging the gap between theory and practice and offer all students, whose primary mode of communication is sign, access to the opportunities and experiences that are the heart of good science teaching and learning. Findings from research demonstrate that individuals who are deaf/hh are significantly underrepresented in the fields of science and engineering (Burgstahler 1994). Studies also show that, historically, it has been difficult for these individuals to gain entry into courses in schools of higher education that lead to such careers (Caccamise and Lang 1996). A factor contributing to this disparity is that 50% of students who are deaf leave high school with a reading level for English text that is below the fourth grade. Compounding this problem is the recent and growing practice of delivering curriculum and software online. These text-based instructional materials- both written and voiced- provide a vast array of content information, problem solving strategies, and help information that offer opportunities to probe questions, share and compare data, and test ideas. Yet, access to these materials presupposes the ability to understand written or spoken English, putting many opportunities for science learning out of reach of a large number of students are d/hh. However, findings from one study point the way to making these materials more accessible. Wilson and Hyde (1997) discovered when students who are deaf have access to signed English pictures in association with printed test, their reading comprehension is significantly enhanced. Therefore, offering online science materials to students who are deaf/hh in sign language has the potential to increase the efficacy of these instructional materials in promoting standards-based teaching and increasing the extent to which students master specified learning outcomes.
For this project, several adaptations and accommodations were made. First, the PC-based Signing Avatar(tm) technology was used to give students who are deaf or hard of hearing access in a pop up browser window to variants of American Sign Language (ASL). By using the 3-D characters, the students who are deaf or hard of hearing are engaged in active learning. In fact, evaluation data shows evidence of improved reading comprehension. In one evaluation, comprehension scores of young learners reading below grade level increased from 17% to 67% after using them. In a separate evaluation, scores increased from 40% to 80% (Sims 2000).
Additional pictures, photographs and charts have also been added to the online units to better describe and explain the key concepts. The information on the online site was broken further down into concise statements sometimes using simplified vocabulary when necessary. The directions for various activities have also been modified into smaller steps. Key concepts are explained in print and sign language in a special glossary section accessible when the student clicks on the highlighted word or concept. Also, the students make models, communicate with other classes around the nation, and are given an alternative form of the pre-designed test to demonstrate their understanding of the information.
In essence, to prepare students in the elementary and middle grades who are deaf or hard of hearing for rigorous science study in high school can expand over a lifetime and might lead to careers in science and engineering, they need greater access to same learning opportunities provided for hearing students.
Burgstahler, S. (1994). Increasing the Representation of People with Disabilities in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, in Journal of Information Technology and Disability, vol. 24 (4).
Caccamise, F. and Lang, H. (1996). Signs for Science and Mathematics: A Resource Book for Teachers and Students, National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
National Assessment of Education Progress. (1996). Digest of Educational Statistics. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
National Science Foundation. (1999). Preparing our children: Math and science education in national interest. Washington, DC: National Science Task Force on Mathematics and Science Achievement.
Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) International Study Center. (1996). Science Achievement in the Middle School. Massachusetts: Boston College.
Sims, E. (2000). SigningAvatars, Final Report for SBIR Phase II Project, Contract # ED-98-0045, U.S. Department of Education.
Wilson, T. and Hyde, M. (1997). The Use of Signed English Pictures to Facilitate Reading Comprehension by Deaf Students. American Annals of the Deaf, 142, 333-341.
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