Future Reflections        Summer 2013

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Hands-On Science
Experiences in the STEM Subjects for Children in Kindergarten and Elementary School

by Dr. Lillian Rankel and Marilyn Winograd

From the Editor: Marilyn Winograd, a teacher of the visually impaired, and Dr. Lillian Rankel, a science teacher, work together to share techniques and strategies for including students who are blind or have low vision in all aspects of science education. They have given presentations to teachers of the visually impaired and parents of blind children across the country, and led hands-on workshops with children of all ages and abilities. Lillian and Marilyn co-authored the book Out Of Sight Science Experiments, published in Braille and large print by National Braille Press. The book contains thirty-two step-by-step experiments for blind youngsters to conduct at home with family and friends or as part of a science fair project. They have also co-authored various articles on adapting chemistry lessons and labs for a blind student. Resources and more information about their work can be found at <www.sciencefortheblind.com>.

With planning, children from kindergarten to fourth grade can participate actively in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities. Only through participation will children learn that the STEM subjects are fun. When given themed materials for hands-on exploration at their own pace, blind and visually impaired children can be exposed to STEM at an early age.

The experiments we present encourage a multisensory approach to learning, allowing kinesthetic opportunities. Children who are blind or have low vision can learn cause and effect through active participation rather than passive listening. Exposure to STEM at a young age will lead to integration into the classroom and encourage success in future studies.

Rolling Down a Ramp

Boy holds ruler as a marble rolls down its inclined plane.What objects will roll down a ramp? A ramp can be made from wooden boards or cardboard, and it can be used to encourage discovery. Give your child or student a tray or box of random objects (water bottle caps, vitamin bottles, erasers, toy cars, balls, stones, sticks, crayons, shells, etc.) Have him/her guess which ones will roll or slide down the ramp. A block placed at the bottom of the ramp will prevent objects from rolling away. Once the child has made his guesses, have him try out his theories and discover how many he got right.

Two children test an inclined plane using objects that include a bottle cap and a measuring spoon.Gravity moves the objects down the ramp. As the ramp is made steeper, more objects may roll or slide down.

One more bit of information about ramps. A ramp is a simple machine. The Egyptians built slopes (ramps) thousands of years ago in order to drag huge stones up to the tops of the pyramids. Try lifting a heavy toolbox or suitcase. Then try to slide the heavy object up the ramp instead of lifting it. Simple machines make work easier.


Snowflake enhanced with glitter-tipped Q-tips.Did you know that no two snowflakes are the same? A snowflake is an ice crystal that has six symmetrical arms, forming a hexagonal shape. To make a tactile representation of a snowflake, fold a circular piece of paper in half and then fold it into thirds. Next, cut triangle shapes into the folded sides of the paper to make a snowflake with six arms. Once the snowflake is made, dip the ends of six Q-tips into glitter glue. Place one on each arm of the paper snowflake to make a decorative, hexagonal snow crystal.

Wind Direction

Two small children, wearing hats with paper streamers, stand in front of an electric fan.How can you tell which way the wind is blowing? That's simple! Make a headband with wind strips attached to it. This homemade weather vane is easy to make. Cut a strip of construction paper to be used as the headband. Next, cut four strips of newspaper, one inch wide and twenty-two inches long. Attach the strips to the construction paper headband, using glue or staples. Put the windstrip band on your child's head and go outside to find out how strong the wind is blowing and from which direction it comes. A compass with tactile or large print markings showing north, east, south, and west may be used to introduce the concept of cardinal directions. If there is no wind blowing outside, standing in front of a fan in the house will work just as well.


A child listens to a friend's heartbeat, using a cardboard tube.How can you listen to a heartbeat if you don't have a stethoscope? Empty paper towel tubes are great tools for amplifying sound. Have your child place one end of a paper towel tube to his/her ear and the other end to a friend's chest. Once she hears the heartbeat, have the friend jump up and down fifteen times. Listen to the heartbeat again to see if there is any change.

Encourage your child to experiment with the tube. Listen to a wind-up kitchen timer or clock. Try the tube on the refrigerator and other noisy things around the house.

Edible House

An igloo made of marshmallows and icing.Have you ever built a house made of food? People build homes throughout the world using local materials. In the far north, where the only building material is snow, igloos are made from blocks of snow to keep a family warm and safe. A child can build an igloo using a small plastic container or an empty plastic bowl (such as the kind applesauce comes in) as a frame. Little marshmallows can be used instead of ice, and marshmallow fluff can serve as cement.

Kids build a house with breadsticks covered with icing.Turn the container upside down and cover the outside with marshmallow fluff or white cake icing. Press the small marshmallows into the sticky covering. A pretzel stick can be added for a chimney on the igloo roof.

When people live in the forest, they can chop down trees and use the logs to build a house. To build a log cabin, you will need a square plastic food container as a frame, cake icing for cement, and pretzel rods for logs. First, turn the container upside down and cover the outside with icing. Then stick the logs (pretzels) horizontally to the sides of the house. Small square cookies can be used for windows and a door. Graham crackers can make a good roof. Again, a small pretzel stick can represent a chimney.


A child drops large paper clips into a glass of water.Do magnets attract through water? Place random items (paper clip, ice cream stick, lid from a jar, bottle cap, plastic spoon, aluminum foil, etc.) on a tray or in a shallow bowl of water. Will any of these objects be attracted through the water? Have your child guess which things they think will stick to the magnet from under the water. Then have him move the magnet back and forth just below the water's surface to prove or disprove his theories.

All children can actively participate in some level of STEM activities. With constantly changing technology, career options in the STEM fields are increasing all the time. Spend some family time together now. Involving your child in fun and educational activities at an early age encourages a "can do" attitude that will carry over into other areas of life as well.

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