2007 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., April 24, 2007
HUB West Ballroom

Session Description


Bringing Astronomy to Sight-Impaired Students at the University of Washington

Virginia Player and Ana Larson - Astronomy


A few years ago, an on-campus meeting for the visually impaired brought a student visitor to the Jacobsen Observatory. Although legally blind, the student was able to look through the telescope's eyepiece and, for the first time in her life, view a bright star. Words cannot describe her emotions that night, nor those of the visitors within the observatory who witnessed this wonderful event. That experience led to discussions about how to bring astronomy to blind students.

We are currently pursuing efforts to formalize a four- or five-part mini-series on the Sun, planets, and stars. We have built a scaled model solar system (where stepping at one-foot a second is equivalent to traveling at the speed of light), created a "hands-on" planet surface activity, and purchased the available "Touch" books by Noreen Grice, the leader in authoring descriptive picture books on astronomy. We then invited two local, blind, high school students who had previously expressed interest in pursuing courses in physics, math, and astronomy to "test" our first teaching unit. Not only were the students able to get a sense of the scale of our solar system, but they were also able to finally "see" the rings of Saturn as they really are. They compared the sizes of the Sun, Earth, and Moon. They felt the distance between the Moon and Earth. After making a "comet" and working with the "stretching of space-time around a black hole," the two students gave us two thumbs up.

Our future efforts include making small relief globes of the terrestrial planets and formally designing the curriculum. Through this Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Symposium, we hope to network with others, share our ideas, and discuss similar programs that are already in place across the Nation.



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