I keep thinking about how to solve some of the huge challenges for engaging blind kids with STEM. I can see where it is totally overwhelming for parents and teacher to learn about all the options on top of all the other challenges in our everyday lives. Even if I could learn the best tools to create the curriculum for the blind student and match to current skill levels, I can’t image having relearn all the possible subjects to have enough content knowledge.
After a hike this weekend where I watched my wife kick off her shoes and wade into stream to turn over rocks to look for bugs, I wondered how stream biology classes could be adapted. How could the excitement of finding a crawdad be experienced? Is it possible somethings just aren’t worth trying to be experienced or at least the experience would be drastically different? Is there a similar analogy to current schools focusing on bringing weaknesses up to average versus focusing on enhancing strengths to the point of unique exceptionalism? Having some excel in an area can put pressure on the guide or teacher in a unique way that improving weakness may not. At the same time, bringing some skills up to an acceptable level for a specific job may not be a total waste of time. As usual, I think about the current situations with my kids.
My son is done with high school, but the pandemic put a pause on life and now he is starting to consider what is next. My daughter is going to be highs school senior. She is focused this summer on making the varsity soccer team. Her goal seems quite a bit easier. She is likely to never play competitive soccer after high school. What is the point in this goal? It is a character builder. Put your mind to something and put the work in to make it happen. The work effort and the indominable will is what Jim Collins said was the key to great leaders. Even if she fails to make varsity, is there a downside to likely being the best shape of her life and improving her soccer skills to be a better recreational soccer player her entire life. I have confidence she has the will and work effort to make it happen.
My son has a completely different challenge. He is extremely smart, but he just didn’t do things he didn’t like in school. If he could have done nothing but math and science classes, he would have stayed engaged. He finished all high school requirements for math in about 3 months. If there had a been a way to keep going, both to have the extra credits count but also find curriculum for advanced math, he would have. Instead, he was told to move on to other subjects, so he stopped going and ended up with a GED. He liked building complex LEGO kits and was good at an early age in following the instructions. He enjoyed building and playing games in virtual worlds in games like Minecraft. He is social online. People gravitate to him and he seems to like sharing what he knows and helping them overcome tech challenges. This summer, he is starting a mechatronics program at the local community college. This week, he borrowed some old rack servers from the junk room at ViewPlus to play with at home. He installed Linux on one and installed an open-source firewall on it, so he could isolate the rest of our devices from his publicly facing game servers. He has amazing focus on things that he enjoys. I don’t know if he could power through something once it gets really hard or that he doesn’t like. I expect that once he finds his niche, he will be amazing and I keep trying to help him find his way without getting in the way.
Back to focusing on the strengths versus improving weakness in blind students. It goes back to what areas of STEM that may have an inherent advantage when not distracted by sight or least not a serious disadvantage. There may be some research in ways to learn some subjects in different ways. I wouldn’t want to preclude any subjects or areas of study without serious thought just because I don’t see a way. Just like in life, I can build a team to help overcome my weaknesses. Sight is only one sense and can often cause a person to be misled or at least distracted.
From another side, where is content knowledge required to adequate describe what is going on? I think of my mom describing sports to my dad. Or someone with no electrical experience describing a circuit diagram. Or even when I tried to quiz my wife on marine mammals struggling with the Latin words for gene of species.
I’m continually surprised by this journey called life. Sometimes, awesome things just seem to appear from nowhere. I must have missed a recent email from San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired about their new Touching the News program, https://lighthouse-sf.org/ttn/. They are providing print version of tactile graphics with braille for current subjects in the news. I had speaking engagement with the NFB Pennsylvania this week and I couldn’t stop talking about this incredible content and asking how many people had access to a tactile printer or embosser at home, school or local library where they could print these out. Images from Mars helicopters to Antarctica’s icebergs. Check it out.