Using Real and Relative Distance to Teach Science Concepts

When describing distance we often make comparisons to known distances such as a football field.  However, many students with visual impairment do not have a clear understanding of these commonly referred to distances. 

It is for this reason that it is beneficial to use space to describe distances in teaching science concepts to students with visual impairment.  This blog will describe several approaches to this general concept and will refer the reader to activities on the site which are examples of the use of space to teach science concepts. 

The basic concept applied is to move through space with the student so that the student will better understand relative distance (as in the atom or solar system) or real distance (as in the kilometer).  The distance traveled will depend on the concept being taught.

Teaching Relative Distance

The following activities on this site are examples of the use of space to teach relative distance.  Models used to explain these concepts are generally inaccurate in regard to the relative distances involved (because these distances are so large).  These activities will help to alleviate misconceptions commonly held by students who have learned these concepts using models. 

Modeling the Size of the Solar System



This creative activity describes the relative distances between planets in our solar system by moving from one planet to the next with students:



Atom Walk

Atom walk

This activity describes the relative size of the nucleus of an atom and the relative distance between the nucleus and the outer edge of the atom:





Teaching Real Distance

The other category of activites is those that describe real distance rather than relative distance. 

Kilometer Walk

Student using trundle wheel

The following activity teaches students the length of a kilometer and solidifies there understanding of the  metric prefix kilo (1,000):



In addition to providing clarity on relative or real distance related to science concepts, these activities are kinesthetic (include movement). As has been shown in much educational research, movement is an effective teaching modality.  Therefore, the ideal learning environment for students, whether visually impaired or not, includes movement.  


Using Real and Relative distance to teach science concepts



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