STEM, the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and its usage in common educational vernacular has been steadily increasing. Through legislation, Congress has put a priority on science and math curriculum that is based on research-validated, evidenced-based practices within the STEM subject areas. Unfortunately though, the current system is not set up to support all students in these areas. In particular, students with disabilities are frequently left out of consideration. Much of the research on students with disabilities and mathematics (and science) education has focused on students with more high incidence disabilities or students with intellectual challenges rather than with students who have average intellectual abilities but have a sensory disability, such as those with visual impairments. It is well known students with visual impairments and blindness rarely pursue STEM subjects at an upper academic level. When involved in science and math coursework involving quantitative data, students with visual impairments must utilize other senses (such as auditory and haptic, or tactile senses) and cognitive abilities in order to be able to understand and apply concepts that typical students merely observe. Difficulty conceptualizing spatial concepts and quantitative data can negatively impact a students’ ability to advance academic understanding and immediately places them at disadvantage within these types of academic pursuits.
As a whole, literacy is an act of communication and students need to be able to communicate within STEM fields in order to achieve academic and professional success. Due to the large amount of inaccessible graphic and quantitative mathematical features of these disciplines, coupled with a lack of tools that allow blind and visually impaired students the ability to overcome these barriers, too many blind and visually impaired students lack the ability to mathematically communicate and are functionally illiterate within these fields of study
To overcome these barriers and address the lack of “graphical literacy” required of today’s students, Touch Grids, was developed within the science and math classrooms of the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. As a new haptic educational tool that utilizes the principles of universal design, Touch Grids facilitate the conceptualization of many graphical processes by using a series of connectable and interchangeable grid panels, axes, and pegs that can be affixed to a magnetic white board. Touch Grids allows the user to spatially arrange the set-up in any way needed to construct, deconstruct, and develop a number of graphical representations of quantitative data. The amount of data that can be modeled and analyzed with Touch Grids is limited only by the number of components the user chooses to connect to one another and that user’s imagination. It is designed so that students can have an easily manipulated tactile “view” of this data. Touch Grids provides students who are blind access to classroom instruction that was once inaccessible, simultaneously with their sighted peers and without interruption. Touch Grids actively engage students in their own learning by becoming active participants in the process of constructing knowledge and has the potential to impact all students and encourage them to pursue advanced STEM related coursework and careers.
An Honorable Mention for the 2010 Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation was awarded to Jeffrey Killebrew for his submission, "Touch Grids.”
For additional information, please contact the inventor, Jeff Killebrew, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Last Updated: 4/18/2012