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Accessible Science Workshop

  



 

The Vision Resource Centre – North (VRC-N) hosted an Accessible Science Workshop on Friday, March 6, 2009.  The workshop featured a scientist from CalPoly University, Dr. Dennis Fantin, who has been developing Accessible Science Camps for students with visual impairment in California.  Dr. Fantin was able to offer quite a unique perspective on the topic, given the fact that he is also blind.  The workshop was hosted at Bev Facey High School in Sherwood Park and was very well attended.  Participants came from all over Alberta, and included classroom teachers, braillists, teaching assistants, teachers for the visually impaired, vision consultants, and representatives from both Alberta Education and post-secondary institutions. 

The day began with a presentation by Dr. Fantin.  During the presentation, he described the Accessible Science Camps that he has been running at CalPoly for the past two years.  The camps are designed for groups of 10-12 students in Grades 9-12 who have ‘an exceptional interest in Science’.  Dr. Fantin explained that the groups are comprised of individuals who are both sighted and visually impaired in an attempt to create an atmosphere that is more ‘normal’.  The camps are one week in length, and throughout each day, the students engage in sensory science experiments that Dr. Fantin himself has designed.  Recreation activities are also planned for the evenings and weekends.  Dr. Fantin supervises the camps, however several of his own university students are on hand to help out as well.  Niels Nicolajsen of Edmonton, Alberta and chair of the VRC-N was in attendance at the camp in June 2008. 

Mr. Nicolajsen was quite inspired by what he saw at the camp last summer and returned to Alberta with a ‘wish list’ of items that would help students in Alberta to become more involved in laboratory experiments.  Under the Students with Vision Loss Initiative, the Learning Resources Centre was able to purchase and put together Science Kits for each of the Vision Resource Centres (VRC).  Each of the three VRC’s now has equipment that is specific to each of the Science streams: Biology, Chemistry and Physics.  The main component of each kit is a ‘LabPro Interface’ that allows the user to hook up sensors to software that functions on a laptop.  Pennsylvania State University has written the scripts for JAWS that will function with this software and it is also compatible with ZoomText, making it completely accessible to users who are either blind or who have low vision.  Mr. Nicolajsen gave a brief overview of this equipment before the workshop participants were asked to move into the laboratory for a demonstration.

Dr. Fantin PresentingDuring the next segment, Dr. Fantin and his assistant Ashley Daw conducted some of the experiments that are used in his camp.  Their first experiment involved building a salt bridge between two beakers that contained two different metals.  A buzzer was used (as opposed to a light) to determine whether the bridge effectively conducted a current between the two beakers.  With the help of the LabPro interface, his laptop, and JAWS, Dr. Fantin was able to conduct the experiment independently.  Dr. Fantin’s next experiment was an acid-base neutralization, during which he used the pH sensor in the LabPro Interface.  For an added sensory component, Dr. Fantin chose non-toxic substances for this experiment (orange juice and baking soda), with the intention that the students actually taste the substances to further their comprehension of the different properties of acids and bases.

Following lunch, the group was treated with the appearance of another special guest.  Tamara Cable, a student from Bev Facey High School, joined Dr. Fantin and Ashley and was able to repeat the experiments from the morning’s session.  Tamara has had some experience using the LabPro Interface and the accompanying software, but had never conducted these particular experiments before.  With verbal instruction, she was able to complete both experiments independently.  The audience appeared to be excited and encouraged by this and they had a lot of questions for Tamara. 

During the final portion of the day, the participants were given an opportunity to experiment with the LabPro Interface, the accompanying software, and the various sensors and equipment that the VRC’s have purchased.  Many participants appeared to be eager to try out the various technologies. 

Thank you to the VRC-N and to the Bev Facey staff for organizing and hosting this event.  Overall, it was a great workshop and a great day!