Volunteer Assistance with Science Projects

It is of great value for both sighted students and students with visual impairment to complete science projects utilizing the scientific method. However, in my experience, many students with visual impairment have not been expected to complete science projects.  This is unfortunate as there is no better way to bring the scientific method to life than completing a science project of interest to the student.  Please see the following blog post by Kate Fraser: http://www.perkinselearning.org/accessible-science/science-fair-everyone

When a student in his home district is completing a science project, he will likely complete most of the work at home with the assistance of his parents. However, at a residential school for the blind, this is often not feasible as the "home" environment is the dormitory.  It is therefore advantageous to allow students to complete science projects during science class  This, however, is difficult without sufficient assistance.  I have found that this is an ideal role for a volunteer.  The following ideas on how to best facilitate volunteer assistance with science projects has been gleaned over several years of trial and error.

  • Volunteer assistance should be requested ahead of time.  Ideally, a volunteer will work with each student, though, if necessary, the students can work in groups.  If volunteers are not available, consider an available Teaching Assistant.
  • Choose one specific day of the week to work on science projects.  I recommend that time be set aside weekly for at least 8-10 weeks. This time should be scheduled during either the fall or spring semester and should not include winter break.  Most students very much look forward to this day and I have found that even relatively unmotivated students get excited about their projects.  
  • Assign one volunteer to work with each student throughout the project.  This leads to greater continuity and a greater comfort level.  When possible, assign male volunteers to work with the young men and female volunteers to work with the young ladies.  If necessary, the instructor will work with a student as well.  However, if there are sufficient volunteers, the instructor can assist each group and take pictures for project boards.  
  • Allow each student to choose a topic of genuine interest.  This is very important as motiviation and interest levels are understandably greater when the student is the driving force behind the project. Some students may not have much experience choosing a topic of interest.  Have books with science project ideas and websites available for students and volunteers.  
  • Expect to spend several weeks on each step of the scientific method.  As mentioned above, it will likely take many students 8-10 weeks to complete the project. 
  • Give each student a folder to keep track of his/her work.  I like the large APH Braille pocket folders (aph.org) Notes taken by the volunteer can also be stored in this folder.  The student will label this folder in braille or print.  Braille or print students who use a device ( Braillenote, tablet, etc) will create a folder and call it "Science Project" to store all electronic work in.
  • Science project topics must be accepted by the instructor before each student proceeds with research, etc. 
  • Students should be reminded of the steps of the scientific method as they work.  I wait until we begin science projects to formally teach the scientific method to my classes.  After describing the question, completing research, and writing a hypothesis,  the  students will complete a step-by-step procedure and present the instructor with a list of materials for purchase. 
  • Each student will prepare a 5-10 minute presentation of his/her project.  Plan to give each student at least one class period to practice prior to presenting.
  • If possible, schedule the student to present before a group of his/her peers and teachers.  Try to schedule the presentation at a time that many of the volunteers can attend. 


In my experience, students not only enjoy the process of completing a science project, they also gain a better understanding of the scientific method and have a sense of pride in their work.                                                                                                                                              

    Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.   -  William Butler Yates 

Collage of volunteer assistance



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