Astronomy for the 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 K-12 Learning Standards. You Can Do Astronomy’Noreen Grice has developed Braille and large print astronomy text books aimed at sight impaired learners. Through the efforts of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Washington, we have built upon Grice’s work and developed a five-day lesson plan that integrates hands-on activities with the Braille and large-print readings. We fully tested the lessons on blind students and incorporated their suggestions into the material. Through this curriculum, students develop an intuitive understanding of astronomical scales, stellar life cycles, as well as composition of planets, stars and galaxies.  The lesson modules lend themselves equally well to a week long science camp for middle-school students, or as supplemental material integrated into a classroom setting.

The lessons plans are geared primarily toward sight-impaired middle school students and are designed to meet the Washington State Learning Standards 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.

We use Noreen Grice’s Touch the Stars as our primary text. This book has 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 use Grice’s Touch the Sun for the module on the Sun. Our student testers, Nicole Torcolini and Abigail Traverse, thought “Touch the Stars” had the clearest illustrations.

avi_touchthesun        avi_touch

Modules with Lessons (pdf)

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

Email Contact:

Dr. Ana Larson:

Curriculum Developers

  • Virginia Player
  • Dr. Sarah Loebmann
  • Natalie Ramien

Our deepest thanks go to our two blind student testers who contributed their time and  expertise to improving these lessons:

  • Nicole Torcolini
  • Abigail Traverse


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.