Astronomy for the Sight Impaired

Currently astronomy education is heavily geared towards visual aids; however, roughly 10 million people in North America are sight impaired. Every student should have access to meaningful astronomy curriculum, as an understanding of astronomy is an expectation of national and state standards, e.g. Washington State Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs). Over the last ten years, Noreen Grice has developed Braille and large print astronomy text books aimed at sight impaired learners. Here we build upon Grice’s written work and present a five day lesson plan that integrates hands on activities with readings. Through this curriculum, students develop an intuitive understanding of astronomical scales, stellar life cycles, as well as composition of planets, stars and galaxies. These modules have been tested on blind and sight-impaired students and are presented below. The modules lend themselves equally well to a week long science camp, geared towards middle school sight impaired students, or as supplemental material integrated into a classroom setting.

The lessons plans are geared primarily towards sight-impaired middle school students and are designed to meet the (EALRs) in astronomy for grades 6 through 8, with an introduction to some of the topics covered in 9 through 12. However, we believe they also contain information that will be engaging to older students and adults with a fondness for astronomy. It was our experience that many of the hands-on activities transferred well into traditional classrooms for sighted students, including introductory astronomy classes.

The primary text we used for the readings was “Touch the Stars” written by Noreen Grice, with excellent tactile illustrations by Shirley Keller and Irma Goldberg. The text is in Braille with print and facsimiles of the tactile illustrations for sighted readers. We also used “Touch the Sun”, also by Noreen Grice, for ‘The Sun’ module. Our student testers, Nicole Torcolini and Abigail Traverse, thought “Touch the Stars” had the clearest illustrations. Additional text is available in the modules.

avi_touchthesun        avi_touch

Modules with Lessons (pdf)

  1. The Solar System
    • The Planets
    • Moon Phases and Eclipses
  2. The Sun
    • Solar Prominences and Sunspots
    • Interior Layers of the Sun, Coronal Mass Ejections, and the Solar Wind
  3. Constellations, Stars, and Stellar Evolution
    • Constellations
    • The Light Year and Look-back Time
    • Stellar Types and Stellar Life Cycles
  4. The Milky Way and Dark Matter
    • The Milky Way
    • Dark Matter
  5. Galaxies and Beyond!
    • The Hubble Tuning Fork
    • Universal Scale and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Email Contacts:

Dr. Sarah Loebmann:
Dr. Ana Larson: anamunn -at- uw -dot- edu

Previous Curriculum Developers

Virginia Player
Natalie Ramien


We presented a poster at the 217th American Astronomical Society Meeting in Seattle, January, 2011. To view our poster click here.

This work was made possible by a 2007 and a 2009 Simple Effective Education and Dissemination (SEED) Grant For Astronomy Researchers, Astronomical Society of the Pacific through funds provided by the Planck Mission, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.