Spatial concepts are challenging - and critical - for students who are blind. They are challenging, as most sighted students glean spatial information by simply glancing at a room, a map, a math diagram, or other item. Spatial concepts are critical for blind students - a blind student needs to know where things are located and how these things are located in relationship to each other in order to efficiently navigate around his classroom, his school, his local community and beyond. Consider a kindergarten student's classroom and the spatial relationships between various areas in his classroom. Example: The kindergarten student should be able to identify the location of various areas and travel the routes to/from these areas, such as the route from his desk to the Circle Area, the route from the Circle Area to Centers, and the route from the Circle Area to the hallway door. Using spatial concepts, blind students should create mental maps of the classroom.
Are there fun ways to encourage students to develop spatial concepts and mental maps? Absolutely! Let's take a look at how bowling can help a student develop spatial awareness.
The pins are set up in a triangle, with one pin in the front row, two pins in the next row back, three pins in the third row back and four pins in the back row. Each pin is numbered from left to right, starting with the front row. The front row has pin 1, the next row has pins 2 and 3, the third row has pins 4, 5 and 6, and the back row has pins 7, 8, 9 and 10.
Teacher Hint: Best practice is to give the "big picture first" and then the details. First discuss the triangle shape before learning the numbers of the 10 pens. This is also an O&M skill, as students should first learn the big picture such as the shape of the room or direction of the goal (as the-crow-flies). When teaching a graph, best practice is to know what the Y and X axis represent and then quickly explore the trend of the graph before learning individual data points.
When initially teaching this game to students who are visually impaired, create a tactile representation of how the bowling pins are arranged. One simple way is to laminate an index card and create a place-holder by brailling a dot where each pin should be. (Leave extra space around the braille dots. I used a slate and stylus to create my braille dots.) Then, place sticky-backed foam circles on top of each braille dot to represent the bowling pins. Use thin masking tape (or Rainbow tape) to create the "gutters" and bowling alley. Be sure to teach the bowling terms! When you bowl and knock over pins, remove the foam circles from the index card. The student can feel the braille dots to better understand which pins were removed. The remaining foam circles will indicate which pins are still standing. Students can remove and replace the tactile "pins" to show mastery of the concept. Another option is to use a pegboard and pegs. I would recommend tactually covering the additional peg holes so that the student is not distracted by extra holes. (Take cardboard and cut out the diamond shape that corresponds with the 10 holes needed. Be sure to tape down the cardboard so that it does not move.) Do not forget to tactually mark the "gutter" and "bowling alley"!
Remember, the goal is to teach spatial concepts using a bowling game. All students will enjoy the physical game of bowling; for younger students who are visually impaired, building the concepts is an important part of this activity. In school, create your own physical bowling game. Check with your gym teacher and physical therapists to see if they have bowling pins and ball that you can borrow. If not, make your own with 2 Liter soda bottles and a ball. Depending on the type of ball you use (and the strength of your students!) you will probably need to put sand, gravel or even water in the bottom of the soda bottles in order to keep them upright unless they are directly hit. (Make sure the lids are on tight!) I'd suggest having a student or adult behind the pins to catch the ball.
If possible, after playing physical bowling at school, try to set up an opportunity for the class to go bowling either as a school field trip or possibly a PTA -sponsored family. If not, encourage parents to take their childon a family bowling trip.
Blindfold Bowling: iOS game
Blindfold Bowling is a free iOS app that is designed for players who are visually impaired. This game further reinforces the spatial concepts associated with bowling, as students must have a mental map of the pins to strategically play the game. This is an auditory only game - no tactile feedback. (You can choose to turn the Screen Curtain on to make the iOS screen go black, eliminating the visual picture of the pins.) The student should now have a good concept of the pin layouts and how he/she needs to move in order to knock down the remaining pins. To check your student's mastery of the spatial concepts, have him listen to the Blindfold Bowling to learn which pins were knocked over; the student can use your tactile version of the game to re-create which pins are left. He can then strategize where he should "stand" (left side or right side, 1 - 5) and why, in order to knock over the remaining pins.
Blindfold Bowling is completely accessible with VoiceOver. Blindfold Bowling has many options and variables. To start, play the Simple Throw game:
Position yourself on the bowling alley by touching your index finger to the screen, moving the finger left and right. When you flick or lift your finger, the ball travels straight down the alley without curving left or right. To help you figure out where you are standing, you will hear the numbers from 1 - 5, with 5 as the edge and 1 is close to the center. The left side is a man's voice and the right side is a woman's voice.
To make the game more challenging, play the One Finger Aim and Throw game and the Two Finger Aim and Throw game, choose to change the ball size, play against another player or computer, and other options. For instructions, go to Blindfold Bowling User Guide.
Teacher Hint: Good orientation skills (O&M) and higher math skills go hand-in-hand, as they both require good spatial concepts and mental mapping!
Watch the video below demonstrating the Blindfold Bowling game being playing on an iPhone.