Future Reflections         Winter 2010

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Not So Mad Scientists

by Lillian Rankel, Marilyn Winograd, and Cary Supalo

Involved in a chemistry experiment, Ashleya Chamberlain sits with her hands in a bowl.From the Editor: "Not So Mad Scientists" was the title of one of the workshops offered to kids and teens on Friday afternoon at convention. The workshop gave blind students the opportunity to get some hands-on experience with scientific experiments using a variety of adaptive equipment.

On Friday, July 3, Dr. Lillian Rankel, science teacher; Marilyn Winograd, teacher of the blind; Cary Supalo, Penn State graduate student; and Dr. Andrew Greenberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, conducted a hands-on science workshop at the NFB convention in Detroit. The workshop was sponsored by NOPBC and ILAB (Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind). The goal of this workshop was to show that science experiments can be fun and easy to do without vision, using adapted gear and audible tools.

The first segment of the workshop, which ran for an hour and a half, was devoted to hands-on exploration and fun science activities for thirty children in kindergarten through grade five. Helpers at the workshop included twelve of Marilyn's and Lillian's family members and relatives, ranging in age from ten to ninety-two.

The workshop opened with activities that involved moving water using a variety of tools. The children were excited to learn that by dipping an ordinary straw into a cup of water and covering one end with a finger they could hold liquid in the straw. They were also introduced to the use of notched syringes and pipets for moving water from one container to another. They were thrilled with the simple task of moving water from one container to the next. It was obvious that few of them had had previous hands-on experiences in science.

Exploring the properties of magnets was another big hit. The children used a variety of magnets to discover the laws of attraction and repulsion. They used circle magnets on sticks, powerful cow magnets, buzz magnets, and a wand magnet. They looked for answers to an assortment of questions: "How many paper clips can hang from a cow magnet?" "Can magnets attract through body parts?" "Can a magnet pick up a piece of wood?"

Chemist Cary Supalo and an assistant help a group of teens, including Mohamad Hashash of New Jersey and Rebecca Budny, as they perform a chemistry experiment using a talking meter. The kids and instructors all wear safety goggles.The kids also experimented with the reaction of Alka Seltzer when it is mixed with water. They put an Alka Seltzer tablet into a Ziploc plastic bag and added some water to find out what would happen. They could feel the tablet through the bag and experience the chemical reaction when it occurred. As the tablet dissolved they felt it getting smaller. The bag puffed up and a sizzling sound could be heard as carbon dioxide gas was produced. Talk about a multisensory experience! Afterward they did the same experiment using a baby bottle and a nipple without the hole.

During the workshop the children tried a number of other experiments as well. They floated soda cans and fruit in water, formed a circuit using a UFO ball, made music with a straw and a glass of water, made balloon rockets, and created instant snow.

Students in grades six through twelve attended the second segment of the workshop. These participants explored ways to do chemistry experiments using a submersible audible light sensor (SALS) to follow chemical changes in solutions. The seventeen participants took turns using the SALS to follow color changes, changes in light intensity in test tubes, and precipitation reactions. When the young scientists formed a precipitate by mixing two solutions, the SALS emitted a lower pitch. The SALS was developed at Penn State by Rod Kreuter, Tom Mallouk, and blind Ph.D. candidate Cary Supalo.

For the second year in a row, this workshop was filled to capacity. Children learn by doing. Their interest, curiosity, and smiling faces certainly indicated their excitement about hands-on science. These workshops offered only a taste of the unlimited science activities that are possible for blind and visually impaired children. With imagination and some tactile and audible adaptations, almost anything can be accomplished.

Dr. Lillian Rankel and Cary Supalo have worked together for the past few years to make sure that blind and visually impaired students have the chance to take part in all aspects of science classes, including laboratory work. Marilyn and Lillian have put together the Tactile Adaptation Kit, which contains materials that easily can transform visual aids into tactile representations and manipulatives. They also have compiled a kit of multisensory lab gear for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. For more information, please visit <www.MDWEducationalServices.com>.

Marilyn, Lillian, and Cary are also members of the Independent Laboratory Access for the Blind (ILAB) team, funded by the National Science Foundation. This team is working to develop high-tech tools for use by blind and visually impaired students in the laboratory. Information on this project is available at <http://ilab.psu.edu> and <http://www.independencescience.com>.

Technology is now available that can provide blind students with a hands-on learning experience in the lab. This technology empowers blind students to obtain audible data collected by Vernier probes interfaced to a computer with the JAWS screen-reading program. To find out more about text to speech access for blind students using Vernier laboratory probes, contact Independence Science, LLC, at <http://www.independencescience.com>.

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