Teaching science to students with vision impairment
Monday, 9 November 2015
Need inspiration for delivering inclusive and inspiring science lessons to pupils with vision impairment (VI)? Then read on to discover practical ideas and great resources from Sarah Holton, RNIB's Children and young people's officer.
Children with VI often have greatly reduced opportunities for incidental learning and the reinforcement of concepts. Science education provides important opportunities to:
fill any gaps in general knowledge of their development of spatial, numerical and scientific concepts
extend their understanding about the properties of objects and materials and biological and mechanical processes.
Resources for teaching key concepts
Accessible image books to support the teaching of key scientific concepts including titles about bones, joints and muscles, the respiratory system, forces and motion, atoms and compounds, salts and bases are available for free from the RNIB Bookshare website.
Advice for mainstream science teachers
Our Access to Education guidesuggests lots of ways to help you make sure that your student with VI can access your learning experiences and achieve the outcomes. As a science teacher, you should:
Use the experts – talk to the pupil, specialist teachers in your school or sensory service, your SENCO, the Head of Science and science technician.
Be realistic, practical and pragmatic - and set high expectations.
Don’t be afraid to tackle core visual concepts, like light and colour – blind pupils want and need to understand the language and ideas used around these subjects.
Plan resources for the whole class with the child in mind - other pupils often benefit from alternative ways of presenting information, or more carefully described practical demonstrations and processes.
Help support staff who are not science specialists.
Encourage and plan independent work so the learner builds the skills they’ll need later for practical assessments and coursework.
Making it visible for print users
The legibility of numbers varies considerably between fonts. Talk to the child's specialist teacher for vision impairment about the best size of text to use and a clear font for numbers.
Learning by touch
If a pupil is learning braille, it is essential to have input from a qualified teacher of children with visual impairment (QTVI) from the start. You will need support to teach science to a child learning primarily by touch, and later to ensure that the child learns the correct conventions for laying out chemical formulae and equations in braille, as they need to be familiar with these before they meet them in examinations.
Essential science equipment
Most of the items listed below are widely available (some specialist equipment is available from the RNIB Online Shop or the specialist suppliers mentioned):
plastic syringes with notched plungers – use a Stanley knife to knotch different plungers at 5ml, 10ml, 20ml etc
elastic bands to show changes of level in a test tube or measuring cylinder.
blue and red food colouring to make liquid easier to see
gas or battery powered lighters – they're safer than matches.
Working safely with science experiments
Risk assessment is vital. However, gaining hands-on practical experience in science is essential for pupils with VI to understand the teaching. With the right support, learners can take an active part safely. Have you considered:
Classroom safety – is it free of obstacles, such as school bags, with chairs tucked in when not used?
Collecting apparatus – decide if the pupil needs to always do this or sometimes provide a pre-prepared tray to give longer learning time and less risk.
The pupil’s working area – two trays, one for apparatus and one to set up the experiment, and space for a laptop or brailler. Is the area appropriately lit?