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Salt Lake City — Most instruments used to measure data for science experiments have a visual component, making it hard for blind students to participate. On Saturday, an activity for blind students helped them participate in a chemistry experiment using a Talking LabQuest to measure weight and temperature.
The science experiment was done through Project STRIVE, which is a program fostered by the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. The students measured out powders and added chemicals together to make a exothermic reaction. They measured the heat of concrete, steel, and sand that was placed under the reaction. The Talking LabQuest tracked the temperature and was used to measure ingredient amounts, which were read aloud through a speaker.
The experience was also adapted through a detailed verbal explanation as the reaction happened and opportunities to touch and feel the experiment area.
Ned Lindholm, a blind adjunct chemistry professor at Salt Lake Community College designed the thermite chemical reaction experiment and and taught the students about the science behind the experiment, safety procedures and the importance of keeping records when doing science.
"A lot of blind students, I've discovered, for science education, they're learning theory — classroom only, and the real power of science is to have an actual experiment reinforce what you learn in the classroom," Lindholm said.
He hopes to bring technology like the Talking LabQuest to SLCC, and to develop a curriculum that will include blind students. He said that he recently learned about a blind student who wants to take chemistry classes.
Cheralyn Johnson, the coordinator for Project STRIVE, said this is the first chemistry experiment that the group has done. She said when she was a student, she was frequently sent to do something else when a science project was visual. She and others involved in STRIVE are hoping to give a different experience to students, although, she said schools are getting better at providing accommodations as well.
"What we do through STRIVE is try to give opportunities that build confidence in the kids, so I'm so excited for them to go back to their high schools and college and say, 'hey, I just did an experiment with thermite,'" Johnson said.
She told the kids to talk to their teachers and schools about providing more adaptive technology, like the Talking LabQuest, to help them participate in the hands-on side of science.
Austin Terry, one of the participating students, was interested in seeing the experiment with hot chemicals. He likes to learn about how the world works. He said while he was in high school, it was hard to understand science because the explanations in class frequently relied on watching a video or experimentation.
"They just didn't know how to adapt it, because I was the only visually impaired student in my high school, so it was kind of new to everyone," Terry said.
Ashley Neybert, who works with Independence Science, came from Missouri to help with the experiment and show the students how to use the Talking LabQuest. She helps adapt curriculum to help teachers accommodate for blind students. Neybert said that blind people are typically underrepresented in science because they are given jobs like taking notes rather than being given accommodations and allowed to participate.
She taught the students the value of analyzing data, making comparisons, and collecting statistics. They students used sonification technology and tactile graphs made with an embosser to help them look at the data.