ChemBAM is an award-winning outreach project that aims to showcase the exciting world of chemistry. All of their resources are free to use, including experiments, videos and articles. Their activities link the UK national curriculum to research that is going on in industry and universities.
ChemBAM’s work with learners who have visual impairment.
The project has grown over time from an initial contact with a visually impaired chemistry researcher to the point they are at now with a large number of people visiting their website to find out more.
Vision impairment affects 2 million people in the UK and the RNIB give a figure of 15770 children with sight loss in schools. As science relies heavily on visual observations it can affect the ability of visually impaired learners to access the content, with practical activities being especially challenging. There are links between educational attainment and work, with 42.8% of people aged 16-25 with visual Impairments being NEET. We also know that science education also help to develop life skills, for example critical thinking, working with others, analysing date and measurement skills.
There are general adaptations like screen readers, using colour combinations with optimised contrast and using alt-text for screen readers, however these don’t help much with practical science. Within chemistry there are numerous issues like observing colour changes, measuring volumes, taking other measurements, seeing precipitates and crystallization.
Labelling can be done using Braille labellers (although lots of learners don’t read Braille) but bumpons or liquid plastic paint can provide marks that learners can feel. These allow you to make out positions on a scale for example, on the photo below they mark out points on a dial.
Notched syringes can be used for learners who need to measure volumes (link below). A notch is cut out of the plunger, then you completely fill the syringe and put your finger in the notch so you can feel when the notch reaches the body of the syringe. This allows you to measure a known quantity of liquid. The 5ml syringe has 5 bumpons so learners know it is a 5ml syringe. This technique was taken and used to make up baby formula by a couple with visual impairments so has uses beyond chemistry.
One learner found using dye in their solutions helped them to see where the equipment was and access the practical.
Measuring mass is another area of challenge. Speaking balances can be expensive and draw attention to the needs of the individual, singling them out. The ChemBAM team found you could get pretty good reproducibility using kitchen measuring spoons as long as you level them off – the photo shows how activated carbon was measured.
A dedicated colour reader could not read through glassware but could have other uses in practical. The team experienced success with an app that could help measure colours. You can test this by using coloured blocks on screen to mimic the endpoints in your titration. Information about the titration app here
Other considerations involve using low concentrations, non-slip mats/holders (often made for kitchen use), wider breakers and carrying out practical work in a tray. Wearing a blindfold is a good way to test the experiment and get an idea of what your learners will experience.
The team have developed a tactile model of chromatography with fuzzy balls and smooth balls. This helped all learners get a grasp of chromatography, not just those with visual impairments. The team have also built 3D tactile models to model various concepts in chemistry (details on the ChemBAM site)
The team have perfected a titration using onions which smell under acidic/neutral conditions but not under basic conditions. This allows students to smell the end point. Students start off using larger capacity syringes and then when they get close to the end point, they switch to smaller capacity syringes. This onion titration was carried out with the whole class, not just those with visual impairments.
Another experiment they tweaked involved using activated carbon to remove coloured dyes from water. This required being able to see the end point so one of the team developed a different model using fragrance oils in water. This involved cheap food/sauce pots with a lid so learners could add oil and water, shake the pot and smell. The activated carbon was measured using the spoons above. This allowed all students to see how the activated carbon worked as the scent was removed from the samples with carbon but not from the control. Full details can be found on the ChemBAM website.
The department builds development of accessible chemistry and promoting awareness into their chemistry curriculum, which has allowed their students to learn a range of new skills. The department would also like to future educators and policy makers to reflect on the chemistry curriculum going forward as it doesn’t represent what happens in research and industry.
These experiments show some of the ways that we can make science practical work more accessible to learners with special needs. ChemBAM is open to submissions from anyone with something to share that makes chemistry more accessible.
Top tips from the chat
One teacher has a tactile model of electrophoresis with a clear tray and water bath beads.
Chopping boards rather than white tiles are good for cutting and are more durable too.
Non-slip plastic equipment can benefit many learners, not just those with VI.
You can use loom bands to provide reference points on measuring cylinders.
You can use Wikki stix for marking measuring cylinders and for creating tactile graphs
You can make cheap Braille labels with a Dymo machine.
You can make 3D models using everyday objects – one attendee said “We made a 3D model of a cell using nuts, lentils and pasta and linked the organelles to a piece of string with a Braille label”.
You can do chromatography on a piece of filter paper and smell the individual smells as they separate. (The scent also changes as oils evaporate)
Links from the chat
Resources on ChemBAM for teaching learners with visual impairment
Supporting pupils with visual impairment in practical science
How to prepare notched syringes
Notes on colour schemes
Perkins school for the blind accessible science notes
3D printable models (if you have a 3D printer)
Brain based visual impairments
Direct link to colour titration app
The Sound and Feel of Titrations: A Smartphone Aid for Color-Blind and Visually Impaired Students
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jchemed.7b00027 Microscale chemistry evaluation document
The microscale evaluation has now been concluded and the report, attached, has been submitted to the RSC. Although the results were small scale, the pilot showed promising evidence that microscale makes experiments more accessible without any loss of learning to anybody in the class, which is surely the aim of all our endeavours in inclusive science teaching.