Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

A #STEM-ulating Annual Meeting this Year!

Every year in October, members of the blindness community meet in Louisville, Kentucky to learn about innovations in our field, connect with colleagues, and celebrate the past year's achievements. This year, APH will host the 145th Annual Meeting of Ex Officio Trustees and Special Guests on October 17-19. It will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in beautiful downtown Louisville.

The theme for this year's meeting is "The Universe at Our Fingertips: STEM-ulating Products for Life." This reflects APH’s commitment to provide cutting edge tools for students and adults engaged in all areas of life, but especially the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM is increasingly a pivotal aspect of education for students with and without visual impairments.

Nancy Tsupros, project director of the Intermediate Unit 1 Center for STEM Education, defines STEM education as "an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy." However, Jonathan Gerlach, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator, argues that this definition leaves something to be desired. Different groups of people define STEM education differently. For Gerlach, STEM education "is about moving forward, solving problems, learning, and pushing innovation to the next level."

However you define STEM education, it's clearly important in today's world. And no less so for students who are blind and visually impaired. In the past, educators have—wrongfully—assumed that students who are blind could not be taught STEM subject matter, and that these students would never have careers in science fields. Yet, this attitude is quickly changing and evolving.  Within the last five years, educators in both inclusive and specialized classrooms have begun advocating for better resources for their blind and visually impaired students.

Unlike language arts and social studies subject materials, which can readily be made accessible through braille textbooks, STEM subject materials require more innovation and adaptation to be made accessible. Nevertheless, it is not impossible to accomplish this and the rewards are great. Students who are blind should be taught the same material on the same level as sighted students.

Some necessary adaptations are easily done, while others take a bit more ingenuity and technology. For instance, braille or tactile labels can be used to denote liquid levels on beakers.

Scientific graphing calculators, on the other hand, present numerous challenges for a student who is blind or visually impaired.  To address this need, APH, in conjunction with Orbit Research and Texas Instruments, will soon be offering the Orion TI-84 Plus Talking Graphing Calculator.  The Orion TI-84 Plus will use auditory output to make the graphing calculator, a staple in high school and college classrooms, accessible to students who are blind and visually impaired.

Keeping all of this in mind, it is obvious why we chose "The Universe at Our Fingertips: STEM-ulating Products for Life" as the theme for this year's Annual Meeting. There is a great deal of work to be done in this area. We're hoping that the discussions and sessions will STEM-ulate innovation in this field!

For more information on the Annual Meeting of Ex Officio Trustees, check our website.

We will also be posting more information here and on our Facebook page.

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