The Braille Monitor                                                                                              February, 2004

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Reaching Out For New Opportunities:
The 2004 NFB Summer Science Experience

by Mark A. Riccobono
NFB Coordinator of Educational Programs

Tactile materials and exploration are essential to effective science learning for blind youth.  This group of students examine a tactile map of the Chesapeake Bay as the Living Classrooms sailing ship takes them out for more hands-on learning.
Tactile materials and exploration are essential to effective science learning for blind youth. This group of students examine a tactile map of the Chesapeake Bay as the Living Classrooms sailing ship takes them out for more hands-on learning.

Will a blind person land on the moon? Will a blind person make the next breakthrough in medicine? Will a blind person produce the next revolution in technology? These and many other questions will be determined by the types of opportunities and quality training we provide our blind youth. We will be limited only by our energy to pursue these goals. The one certainty is that the National Federation of the Blind is demonstrating the training and skills necessary to prepare blind youth to reach for opportunities, no matter how big, and is rocketing the blind to new heights.

On January 30, 2004, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) will celebrate the grand opening of the NFB Research and Training Institute. Many people have been asking what will the Institute do, and when will we see the results? Over the past five years Dr. Maurer has articulated the purposes of the NFBRTI and a vision of the potential it has for the future of the blind. In his banquet speech at the 2000 annual convention of the NFB, President Maurer said, "Much research is conducted involving blindness. . . . Almost no research is conducted in the realms that we find of interest. When the National Research and Training Institute has been built, we must put the facility to use. It will not be enough to expand what we are already doing; we must dream of programs that do not exist." He went on to say, "What is it that we want to build which, in our wildest imaginings, could be constructed for the blind?"

As he continued to speak, Dr. Maurer posed a list of diverse questions that the Institute could address, such as: "How long will it take to devise a personal vehicle that we can operate?" and "What is the best way to give blind people access to the written word whether it is in print or in electronic form?" He concluded the list with this question: "How can education for blind children be stimulated?" He then summarized, "These questions arise from our dreams of a brighter tomorrow. We intend to use our Institute to answer not only these but dozens of others."

Three years later, at the 2003 NFB Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, President Maurer made good on his word. In his presidential report he announced, "We are planning to develop a science camp for the blind as one of the elements of our newly developing Research and Training Institute for the Blind. The projected time for the first activities in the science camp is the summer of 2004." Those who have been asking about the activities of the Institute have an answer: one of the first initiatives of the Institute will address the question of stimulating education for blind children.

And indeed in the summer of 2004 the NFB Research and Training Institute will host its first science experience for blind youth. The 2004 NFB Science Experience, which has been termed Fast Forward--Science for Tomorrow will offer two weeklong camps designed to expose blind youth to a variety of science activities. Blind youth are generally excluded from these crucial learning activities simply because regular public school science teachers are not aware of the way in which a blind student might participate.

Each week has a different focus, but the underlying goals are the same:

To spark the interest of blind youth in science and inspire more of these youth to pursue careers in science;

To allow blind youth to build confidence through opportunities to perform challenging science activities from which they are generally excluded in public schools; and

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the Federation's approach through the development of a centralized collection of resources related to blind youth in science that can be accessed by regular educators, blind youth, their parents, special educators, and others.

Some of the products will include resources for regular education teachers about how to integrate blind youth in science courses; multimedia information regarding the effective nonvisual techniques and adaptations used by the blind in science; model IEPs to demonstrate the appropriate integration and accommodation of blind youth in science courses; a core set of regular education teachers who have been trained in nonvisual science techniques who can act as models and network resources for other teachers across the country.

The knowledge and experience of the National Federation of the Blind will serve as a foundation for this program and will be augmented by important partners within the field of science. Partners include the talented staff from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) facilities in Maryland and the staff of the Maryland Science Center (MSC) in Baltimore. Through the strong leadership of the blind, the innovative programs of our Research and Training Institute, and partnerships with organizations like NASA and the MSC, blind youth will have more opportunities to succeed in the sciences and will be better equipped to reach for bigger and brighter achievements in all areas of life. Science is crucial to every student today, because we live increasingly technology-saturated lives. The 2004 NFB science experience is merely one step on the road to shaping a generation of blind innovators and--who knows?--maybe even inspiring the first blind astronaut. You imagine the opportunities.

NFB 2004 Summer Science Experience

Camp Session 1: The Circle of Life

When: July 18-24, 2004

Where: NFB Research and Training Institute, Baltimore, Maryland

Who: Twelve blind youth, grades six through eight, will be invited to participate in the camp by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Students who would like to be considered for the program should fill out and return the information requested in the interest form accompanying this announcement.

What: A weeklong camp that will expose blind youth to the excitement of science in real-life applications. Students will learn about the circle of life and the connections between life and ecosystems by looking at the past (the dinosaur age), the present (the Chesapeake Bay), and the future (using weather and environmental data to make predictions and projections). Activities will include behind-the-scenes, hands-on trips to the Goddard Space Flight Center and the nationally acclaimed Maryland Science Center.

Under the guidance of accomplished blind educators and mentors, students will interact with internationally known scientists who are working on solving the mysteries of life. Hands-on activities will include doing a dissection; performing measurements independently; making observations using nonvisual techniques; and learning how to collect data about weather conditions, soils, etc., through the international GLOBE project. In addition, when students return to their school districts for the 2004-05 school year, follow-up resources will ensure that the blind youth continue to participate fully in their local science programs.

This experience will, of course, be rooted in the high expectations of Federation philosophy and will expose participants to talented blind scientists eager to share their enthusiasm for science with the next generation of blind youth.

Cost: All aspects of the program, including transportation, room, and board, will be provided by the NFB at no cost to the participants.

Camp Session 2: Rocket On!

When: August 15-21, 2004

Where: NFB Research and Training Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, and Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia (about three hours from Baltimore)

Who: Twelve blind youth, grades ten through twelve (including high school graduates of 2004), will be selected from among those who apply for the camp. Students will be selected based on, but not limited to, the following: academic performance, previous training in the skills of blindness (e.g., Braille, cane travel, daily living skills, etc.), diversity (i.e., having characteristics typically underrepresented in the sciences), and interest and motivation. Applications are available from the National Federation of the Blind national office (see the accompanying interest form). Priority will be given to applications received on or before March 15, 2004.

What: A weeklong camp which will provide a unique experience for blind youth to experience science as a vehicle for adventure, exploration, and innovation, and as a career option in their future. This experience will shatter the myth that challenging and technical sciences are dangerous for blind youth. Participants will develop, build, and launch a twelve-foot rocket off the Eastern Shore of Virginia at the Wallops Flight Facility. Later, under the guidance of Wallop Facility scientists and blind mentors, the participants will analyze the results against their predictions. This experience will build skills in teamwork, leadership, electronics, physics, and advanced calculations.

Encountering the high expectations of Federation philosophy, students will gain confidence through challenging activities. Visits to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will be incorporated into the program as an enhancement to their learning experiences at Wallops. In addition, participants will interact with blind and sighted NASA scientists and engineers to learn about the rewards of pursuing a career in science and what it takes to get there. Each participant will also be matched with a mentor from NASA in order to foster further interest in science and engineering following the program.

Cost: All aspects of the program, including transportation, room, and board, will be provided by the NFB at no cost to the participants.

Just the Beginning

The 2004 NFB Science Experience is not just about a week of fun and excitement; it is about a bright future of opportunities for all blind youth. Regular education science teachers will be brought into both the Circle of Life and the Rocket On! programs to experience firsthand the techniques and strategies that allow blind youth to fully participate in the science curriculum. These teachers will carry their training back to their home districts to provide reinforcement and act as a resource to others working with blind youth. Additionally, long-term goals for this multiyear program include:

1. Development of multimedia resources for those working with blind youth in science;

2. A Web site to provide further connections for blind youth, their parents, and science teachers across the country;

3. Model IEPs dealing with science adaptations, goals, and objectives; and

4. Development of other materials to enhance access to information about how to include blind youth in existing science programs and curricula.

This is only the start. The opportunities for blind youth in science are limitless when the energy and experience of the NFB are combined with partners in the science community who have come to understand the truth about blindness. The continued involvement and input of parents of blind children with the Federation regarding the needs of blind youth in science and in any other educational area are critical to helping guide the innovation of our Research and Training Institute.

All are welcome aboard the NFBRTI rocket as we give blind youth the opportunity to establish a new standard of excellence in science during the summer of 2004.

2004 NFB Summer Science Experience Interest Form

Please complete the following form and submit it to Mrs. Barbara Cheadle, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland, 21230. You may also submit this information by email to <[email protected]>, or by fax, attention Mrs. Cheadle, at: (410) 685-5653. Please note: this is a form to register interest, not an application. A confirmation letter with additional information and/or an application packet will be sent to you upon receipt of the interest form. Please print legibly.

I/we are interested in the    [  ] Session I: Circle of Life        [  ] Session II: Rocket On!

Student's name:_______________________________________________________

Birth date:___________________________Grade:___________________________

Parent/guardian name(s):_________________________________________________

Home address:________________________________________________________

City, State, Zip:________________________________________________________

Please indicate the best way(s) and time(s) to contact you:

Home phone (      )_______________________________________________________

Work phone (      )________________________________________________________

Cell phone (      )__________________________________________________________

Email, home:_____________________________________________________________

Email, work:______________________________________________________________

If you are someone other than the parent or the student listed above (such as a teacher), please print your name, your relationship to the student, and the way we may contact you: ______________

For more information regarding the 2004 NFB Summer Science Experience, contact Mark A. Riccobono, Coordinator of Educational Programs, National Federation of the Blind, Research and Training Institute, (410) 659-9314, extension 368, <[email protected]>.

For questions regarding the application process contact Barbara Cheadle, President, National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, (410) 659-9314, extension 360, <[email protected]>.

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