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Ethnographic Study of

Playtime is Science

for Children Who Are Blind

Or Visually Impaired:

"You Don’t Have to Be Sighted

to Be a Scientist, Do You?"

Tiffany S. Perkins, Jennifer Ayala, Michelle Fine

The Graduate School and University Center
of the City University of New York

Elizabeth J. Erwin
Queens College of the City University of New York
Interviewer: If you were teaching a class about this activity, what would
you tell the kids?

Adaline (11-year-old student who is blind): I would tell them that this is
Oobleck, and this is how you make it with two cups of cornstarch, a cup of
water, and two drops of food coloring; mix it up with a popsicle stick and see
what happens. I would like to be a scientist. That would be fun. You don’t
need to be sighted to be a scientist do you?

Interviewer: No. Absolutely not. Everything you’ve done today and last
time is science and you’ve done it, right?

Adaline: And Ellen1 (an observer who is blind) isn’t sighted. If I become a
scientist, maybe we (student and Ellen) can work together. You can
be the assistant scientist.

This conversation between a Playtime is Science for Students with Disabilities (PSSD) (formerly
known as Playtime is Science for Children with Disabilities) sighted interviewer and a student who is a
blind participant in the PSSD activities, reflects a central issue addressed in the PSSD activities. The
field of science as it has traditionally been introduced to students requires the use of the five senses.
What happens to students’ exposure to and understanding of science when they do not have full use of
one or more of the senses? Clearly, adaptations have to be made to accommodate the learning needs
of these students. However, because those who have no impairments have more opportunities in
terms of the engagement in, study of, practice of, as well as access to, science, this field (and various
other disciplines) has been slow in its progression to becoming equally accessible.

Educational Equity Concepts (EEC), the developer of the PSSD curriculum, is a national
nonprofit organization founded in 1982 to foster equal educational opportunities. A major focus of
EEC’s work has been equity in early childhood education. PSSD was created to help give all children
regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, disability, or level of family income equal access to the study of
science. The program, as focused on here, incorporates science, and scientific thinking, into the daily
routines of children who are blind/visually impaired. It reinforces the connection between children’s
play and science learning. This report will elucidate the beneficial aspects of a PSSD curriculum and
give voice to the experiences of nine children in two different classroom settings.

Science and Disability

Science is an exciting process involving observation, discovery, critical thinking, and

reflection about the environment. Science represents an interactive relationship between children
and the world around them. If the primary focus of science is to help children make sense of their
world, then teachers hold an enormous responsibility for designing learning opportunities and
experiences that foster children's natural inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge.

One of the most important responsibilities educators face is to create a climate of

inquiry that is both accessible to and meaningful for young learners. This suggests that
children learn by doing. Children need multiple and consistent opportunities to engage in

1The authors owe a special thanks to Ellen Rubin, an EEC development consultant to the PSSD curriculum,
for helping us to understand the experience of students who are blind or visually impaired.
hands-on, cooperative, and fun activities driven by their own interests and questions.
Creating an accessible and meaningful learning environment, which balances learner-driven
and teacher-guided opportunities, enables children to follow their own natural curiosity and
assume responsibility for their own learning. When children are active participants in their
own learning, important science-related outcomes involving observation, classification,
conservation, measurement, prediction, and critical thinking can be achieved. These and
other skills are vital because they serve as the child's knowledge base that will be used over
his or her entire lifetime. But perhaps most importantly, children can develop a deep
respect not only for the environment in which they live, but for all living things. If the primary
focus in science education is to help children make sense about the world, one of the most
important questions teachers can ask is "how can I support students' inquiry about the

This question can be particularly important for teachers who work with children who
are blind or visually impaired. Whereas, sighted learners rely primarily on their vision for
acquiring knowledge and information during science activities, particularly in the form of
direct observation, learners who are blind or visually impaired, often have a limited or lack
of access to important contextual visual information. Lowenfeld2 (1981) discussed three
restrictions blindness placed on an individual including (a) the range and variety of
experiences, (b) the ability to get about, and (c) control of the environment, and the self in
relation to it (p. 68).

These limitations do not prevent individuals from acquiring knowledge and skills, but
they are important considerations to be aware of when creating science and other learning
experiences for children. Teachers who work with children who are blind and visually
impaired play a major role in how their students acquire knowledge and skills by ensuring
that learning opportunities are individually tailored and responsive to unique student
priorities. Since youngsters who are blind and visually impaired learn about their
environment using tools other than vision, they can and should have positive, frequent, and
successful experiences in science that will allow them to explore, discover, and ask about
the world in which they live.

Playtime is Science for Students with Disabilities Curriculum


Funded by the National Science Foundation Program for Persons with Disabilities
(April 1997 - March 1999), Playtime is Science for Students with Disabilities is a model
project that will build on and expand on Playtime is Science: An Equity-Based Parent/Child
Science Program developed by Educational Equity Concepts. The Playtime is Science for
Students with Disabilities project provides a major focus on the needs and capabilities of
children with disabilities. The goals of Playtime is Science for Students with Disabilities are:

• To increase the ability of teachers, staff, and parents to motivate and empower
children with disabilities in grades kindergarten through four to develop their science
skills in a supportive environment;

2Lowenfeld, B. (1981). Berthold Lowenfeld on blindness and blind people. New

York: American Foundation for the Blind, Inc.
• To help children with disabilities build on their strengths and develop confidence and
skills in science that will persist beyond school, and will inform later career options;

• To provide opportunities for parents of children with disabilities to become involved

in their children’s early science learning and to convey positive messages and
expectations to their children about science.

By fostering positive science experiences, and by increasing parent and staff

expertise in, enthusiasm for, and encouragement of science activities, this project will
enable children with disabilities to gain confidence and skills that will help them succeed in
science. By acknowledging and building upon the individual strengths of children with
disabilities, it will create an inclusive environment that says “science is for everyone.”

How PSSD is Implemented

During the initial phase of the project, staff development was provided on five PSSD
activities, and then the activities were implemented in various inclusive classrooms. In
addition to specific modifications of materials, the following are some general concepts and
techniques that are useful to parents, teachers, related service providers, and
paraprofessionals as they implemented PSSD. It is important to note that any strategies
selected should be based on knowledge of the abilities of the child(ren) in the class.

• Familiarize students with pertinent vocabulary and basic concepts before conducting
an activity. For example, before mixing Oobleck (a mixture of two compounds, water
and starch), be sure that students understand concepts such as wet and dry, by
providing a small amount of cornstarch (dry) and water (wet) for touching. Before
making bean bags, demonstrate the meaning of the word, “estimation,” by letting
students grasp a small handful of beans, guess (estimate) how many they have, and
then count the beans.

• Allow as much time as is needed for each activity, and break it into discrete steps to
ensure success. Teachers will need to decide just how many steps are needed to
complete the activity. For example, Building with Wonderful Junk can be done over
several days: 1) Bring in a few items yourself to demonstrate the kind of trashables
needed; 2) have students bring in a few trashables from home; 3) look at the
trashables together and sort them into categories (cereal boxes, plastics, small
boxes, large boxes);
4) examine the masking tape--practice tearing it and “sticking” two items together; 5)
make a structure of a size that will ensure success for the children.

• Prepare students for activities by creating “recipe-like” charts. Using words and
pictures (and, if necessary, good contrast, large letters, and/or Braille), create simple
charts with recipe-like instructions. The charts help keep students on task, provide
information about the sequence of the activity, and furnish a structure for processing
the activity. In addition to acting as a guide before and a review after the activity, the
charts can be used as a vehicle to encourage students’ questioning and further

• Think about the questions that are asked. Asking questions can help students to
think in new ways. For example: How do you think the Oobleck will feel? What do
you think will happen if the sieve is held up high? Such questions, however, may
pose a challenge if you are teaching children who are nonverbal. You may need to
rephrase the questions so children can indicate “yes” or “no” while still engaging in
the process of inquiry. For example: Do you think the Oobleck will be cool? Warm?
Do you think the water will flow fast? Slow?

• Provide opportunities for students to make choices, no matter how time consuming
or difficult a process it may be. Being able to make choices is an essential science
skill. Often, children with disabilities are not permitted to make choices because it is
too tedious a process for the adults involved. Never assume that a student is
incapable of making choices. Taking the time to determine what choice he or she
has made is critical. To develop students’ abilities to make choices, you want to
begin with only two options, and identify a method for the child to indicate his or her
preference. Be sure that the choice is clear by showing, naming, or allowing
students to feel (when possible) the options. Creating opportunities for risk-taking,
even in a limited way, has an impact on a child’s self-esteem, confidence, sense of
empowerment, and control of the environment. Being able to decide for yourself is

Research Questions

This evaluation sought to understand the academic outcomes of the PSSD package
on students with visual impairments and/or blindness. Relying primarily upon qualitative
material drawn from observations and interviews, we sought to determine what, if any,
academic skills were learned by students with disabilities from the curricular package. Two
research questions drove the design:

1. What learning outcomes, if any, derive from PSSD for students with visual
impairments and/or blindness?

2. How do educators assess the PSSD curriculum?


Data Collection

Two teachers volunteered their classroom for participation in this study. Observers
visited these two classrooms three times each, over a four month period, for a total of
approximately ten hours per class. Researchers also observed other daily activities (e.g.,
other academic subjects, gym, lunch). Activities during the observations were recorded
based on the Observational Protocol (Appendix A). Each visit included ten-minute,
individual interviews with the students (Appendix B); two visits included thirty-minute
interviews with each teacher (Appendix C); and one teacher’s aide was interviewed. After
the last observation, a focus group was held among the observers, teachers, school
assistant principal, Playtime is Science for Students with Disabilities program developers,
and project consultants (Appendix D). Notes were taken during the observations, teacher
interviews, and focus group. Student interviews were audio-tape recorded and transcribed.
Parental consent was obtained for each student before beginning the observations.

The following Playtime is Science (PS) activities were observed: 1) Oobleck: Solid or
Liquid3? 2) Sink and Float 3) Bubble Science 4) Building with Wonderful Junk 5) Looking at
How Liquids Move.


The students attend a private residential school funded by the state, for children who
are visually impaired and/or blind. Often, they have multiple diagnoses, including various
emotional and learning disabilities. Although the children leave the classroom for gym and
special individual counseling and activities, they spend most of their day with each other, a
teacher’s aide, and one teacher.


Students. In one classroom setting, the five students being observed were as
follows: a 12-year-old African American boy who is both vision and hearing impaired
(Teddy), a 12-year-old African American girl who is blind (Candice), a 13-year-old European
American girl who is blind (Adeline), a 12-year-old African American boy who is visually
impaired (Dale), and an 11- year old Latino who is visually impaired (Josh). In the other
classroom setting, the four students were as follows: a six-year-old African-American boy
with no vision in one eye and 20/200 in the other (Roy), an eight-year-old Latina who is blind
(Pilar), a seven-year-old European American girl who is visually impaired (Julie), and an
eight-year-old Latino who is visually impaired (Carlos).

Teachers. The teachers have received training in the PSSD activities and were
selected for their interest and expertise. The teacher for the 11 to 13-year-old students (Mr.
Pearson) has been an educator for eleven years with children who have mental retardation
and severe cognitive impairments. He has a degree in special education. The teacher for
the six to eight-year-old students (Ms. Caruso) has been an educator for five years and has
a degree in special education.


The observations and interviews were conducted by two experienced interviewers

who have previously been trained in the PSCD activities and who have conducted related
interviews in other settings. Each observer was assigned to observe in one classroom,
observing the same students during each visit. The observations were conducted in early
March, late April, and late May. The focus group was conducted in early June. A
preliminary observation protocol was created (see Appendix A) and was modified as
additional themes emerged during the observations. Inter-rater reliability was assessed, but
given the limited duration of the study, was not scored.

Data Analysis

Focus on Learning Outcomes. A content analysis was conducted for a set of a

priori theoretical variables and grounded theory. Under the umbrella of learning outcomes,

3Both classes did this activity.

the following interactions were analyzed: 1) student interactions with teachers, 2) student
interactions with peers, and 3) student interactions around the activity, under the umbrella of
learning outcomes. The learning outcomes that emerged from the data included: a)
enthusiasm, b) persistence, c) desire to show others/sharing observations, e) turn-taking, f)
risk-taking, g) public speaking, h) making connections with new vocabulary, and i)
awareness of the scientific process. Although the observational protocol included
numerous themes, this report will discuss the prevalent themes that emerged during the
interviews and observations.

Focus on Educators’ Perspectives. We were interested in teachers’ views of

learning outcomes and recommendations for curricular revisions.


Learning Outcomes

Enthusiasm. One of the more striking pieces of evidence of student engagement

with the PSSD activities was their enthusiasm, in anticipation of doing the activities, during
the activities and in discussions afterwards. Our field notes and interviews are teeming with

• Students became excited with mere anticipation of doing the PSSD activities. For
example, Adaline was immediately excited upon hearing the observers enter the
room, saying, “Yay! This is gonna be fun.”

• Throughout the Oobleck activity in Ms Caruso’s class, students would literally

scream with joy. At the end of the Oobleck activity, the teacher asked if they wanted
to continue to play with the Oobleck on the following day and everyone yelled “Yes!!”
Carlos continued, saying “I wanna play with it, I wanna play with it.”

• During one activity, the discussion involved writing up what they had done and then
sharing it with the class. The students were very excited to do this task, often
continuing to write after the teacher had asked them to stop.

• There were times when Pilar expressed excitement about the bubbles (during the
Bubble Science activity); for example, when Ms. Caruso would blow a bubble onto
her cheek, Pilar would giggle with joy, or when a stray bubble touched her, she
exclaimed, “Oh, oh! A bubble landed on my stocking!” During this same activity, the
students would get very excited at discovering something, or making something
work. For example, Roy, upon seeing he made a bubble, excitedly said, “Oh look,
you should've seen it, I made a bubble! Told you it would work.”

• Even in subsequent visits, students vividly remembered the activities in which they
had participated and would refer to these activities in other contexts. Enthusiasm is
an important learning outcome as children come to associate science with
something fun, interesting, worth doing and most compellingly, something they are
or can be fully capable of doing. It also helps to retain what they have learned. As
one teacher explained, “I think they get very excited right from the beginning,
extremely excited...sometimes... I worry about them getting overstimulated such that
it diminishes comprehension, but usually the opposite happens, they retain what
they discover.”
Persistence. One behavior involved in engaging in the scientific process is
persistence, i.e., continuing to try experiments in spite of unexpected outcomes or
“wrong turns.” Persistence is also evidence of engagement.

• Ms. Caruso noted that with the PSSD activities, her students demonstrated
persistence, as they tended to be “focused for a longer period of time” compared
with other activities, and that they tended to Astay with it.”

• During the Looking At How Liquids Move activity, initially Julie had trouble with
measuring the depth of the water. However, Julie did not seem to become frustrated
after positioning the ruler several different ways and not arriving at “the answer,”
instead she persisted, and tried it again and again until she was successful.

• During the Building with Wonderful Junk activity, using the tape properly was difficult
for Candice because she was absent the day it was taught. However, she persisted
through the task, often exclaiming, “I’m all taped up!” This did not discourage her.
She simply asked for assistance and continued building.

Desire to show others/ Sharing observations. During the observations and when
talking about what they did, students seemed to have a strong desire to show/share with
others what they had learned, be it their mothers, peers, teachers or visitors.

In describing what the Bubble Science solution felt like, Roy explained:
Roy: It felt squishy like oil... Wait til my mom sees this, she’ll be real
Interviewer: About what?
Roy: About what I learned today.
Interviewer: You’re gonna tell her?
Roy: Yeah!!

• During the Oobleck activity, while mixing the solution, Dale said, “Look Josh. Look
at mine, I put yellow and green. I’m a scientist.”

• While engaged in the Oobleck activity, Dale had allowed the solution to dry on his
hands, forming a silky smooth film. He asked Teddy to touch it, saying, “Touch this
Teddy, it feels weird.” Initially, Teddy was reluctant: however, after a little prodding
from Dale, he touched Dale’s hands and said, “Ooh, that feels funny.” Dale replied,
“I’m gonna do this at home with my brothers. We can make aliens and stuff.”

• The students often invited the involvement of others and shared their learnings with
one another. For instance, during the Looking at How Liquids Move activity, Julie,
who had just learned how to measure the depth of water in a pan with a ruler, shared
her newly acquired skill with her classmate Carlos as she observed that he too was
struggling with how to properly position the ruler. Specifically, she offered him tips
on how to approach measuring it, by demonstrating for him how she had done it:
“Like this Carlos, make (the ruler) go straight up.”

Turn-taking. Often turn-taking naturally occurred. At other times, turn-taking

involved delegated responsibilities to the students by the teacher.
• During the Sink and Float activity, within a group, one student would feel the object
to see whether it had sunk or had floated. Then, the other student would feel the
object and record the observations on a chart. However, turn-taking also occurred
between the two groups. For example, while Josh, who was in group one, was
recording the previous observation on his group’s chart, Candice (who was in group
two) said, “Come here, Josh, and see the bottle. I’m surprised that it floated. Aren’t

• At one point during the Bubble Science activity, the students, in agreeing to do
something together, synchronized their actions through song: I think it was Pilar who
began saying “Lets do it all together... a-one...a-two...a-one, two, three, four."

• During the Building with Wonderful Junk activity, initially responsibilities were
delegated to the students by the teacher. For example, it was Teddy’s responsibility
to supply everyone with strips of tape; Adaline chose the objects to add to the
structure; Candice picked the place to put the object on the structure. By the end of
the activity, the students had rearranged the responsibilities so that everyone
contributed to each aspect of the activity.

• At times, students would practice their turn-taking skills by asking others to

participate. For example, Roy would often try to involve the observers in the
activities. During the Bubble Science activity, he encouraged us to take turns by
calling out each of our names and asking us to pop the bubble he made.
Sometimes, Carlos would pop it out of turn and Roy would reprimand him, saying, “I
didn’t say you Carlos--(to the observer) do you want to pop it now.” Afterwards, he
would say to Carlos, “Now you can pop it.”

Risk-taking. Often, children with disabilities are discouraged or “protected” from

taking risks, whether it is in the context of home or school. However, part of the scientific
(and more generally, the learning) process involves taking risks. Every experiment
conducted involves a certain amount of risk, as there is a chance that it may not go as
expected or that it will not “work out right”. Regardless of whether or not one gets the
expected outcome, learning, nonetheless, takes place. The following examples illustrate
how students, encouraged by the nature of the activity, their own motivations, or their
classmates, took risks and learned.

• One of the more striking examples was with Carlos. According to Ms. Caruso, he is
very tactually defensive. He is reluctant to touch things or put his hands in any
strange substance. He surprised his teacher by dipping his hands in whatever the
substance was being used during the various PSSD activities (e.g., the Oobleck, the
Bubble solution, the “Liquid” mixture) and thoroughly enjoyed it. During the Oobleck
activity, he even encouraged his partner, who was at first reluctant to touch the
Oobleck, by saying, "Hey Pilar, touch this, come on, its not sticky so don’t worry.”

• Building with Wonderful Junk requires substantial risk-taking, particularly for children
with no vision to construct a stable and secure structure. Candice, in particular, took
many risks in building the junk edifice. Often, Teddy, who has partial vision, would
say to the students who are blind, “No. Let’s not put it there. It won’t stay (or it won’t
look right).” On one occasion, Candice responded in defense of a choice made by
Adaline by saying, “Teddy, let her put it there. If it doesn’t stay or if it make it fall
over, we’ll move it.” On another occasion, she responded to Teddy’s reluctance to
implement one of her own suggestions by saying, “I know it might look funny there,
but lets put it on anyhow and see.”

Public speaking. During the PSSD activities, students were given the opportunity
to discuss their observations, predictions and findings with the class. Sometimes this was
orchestrated by the teacher; at other times, it seemed to occur spontaneously.

• The discussion of the Oobleck activity included the students writing about the activity
and standing and presenting the information to the class. In sharing her description
of the Oobleck activity with the class, Adaline read from her Braille copy, “I put
cornstarch and food coloring and water. The Oobleck felt gooey and soft. It was
fun. The Oobleck was very liquidy and it felt wet and when you put it on the paper, it
felt dry, and when you rub your hands together, it felt dry and smooth. When you
squeeze it, you can make different designs. When you stir it a lot, it can be solid. It
can be soft when you don’t stir it. When you wash it off, its gooey. It was fun to
make. It changes colors when you add food coloring to it.”

Making connections with new vocabulary. Students really seemed to grasp the
vocabulary words associated with the activities, often listing many words when asked what
new vocabulary words they learned during a particular activity. Students would often apply
previously learned words to other class lessons and PSSD activities. Ms. Caruso
commented that one way she can determine whether students have grasped the materials
is when they use the newly- learned words or concepts in other contexts.

• The ingredients for the Looking at Liquids Move activity are similar to the ingredients
for the Oobleck activity. During the Looking at Liquids Move activity, after putting the
cornstarch in the water, Roy felt the bottom of the pan and exclaimed “I feel Oobleck
down there!”

• The vocabulary words were not only introduced in the beginning of the activity and
discussed after the activity, but were incorporated into the hands-on part of the
activity. For example:
Teacher’s Aide: Is this a liquid or a solid?
Students: Both.
Teacher’s Aide: How do you know?
Dale: Because it gets dry when it spills.
Observer: Why do you think it got dry?
Dale: The paper is dry and the Oobleck is wet so it absorbed it.
Observer: Good science word...absorb. Why did it dry up on your
hands? Our hands don’t absorb the water, do they?
Dale: The air dried it.
Observer: What is that called?
Dale: Evaporation.
Teacher’s Aide: You all just learned two new science words...absorb and

• During the Sink and Float activity, Josh read words and concepts from the board to
represent materials (plastic, wooden, rubber, styrofoam), size (small and large),
activities (absorb, sink, float), objects (sponge, clips, coins). Mr. Pearson used these
words and concepts as vocabulary for the students to discuss later.
Awareness of the scientific process. The teachers described how these activities
facilitated an awareness of what goes into the scientific process.

• During an interview with Ms. Caruso, she explained that her students, “are starting to
see that there is a scientific process, (that there is) an order to things to make it
successful...(They are) improving measuring, listening, reasoning skills, (and)
learning to figure out why... (They are) putting out hypotheses, (to) deduce why
certain things happen the way they (do).”

• During an activity, Mr. Pearson explained that writing is also important. It is another
part of the scientific process. You cannot just do the activity. You also have to
describe it and write about it.

Educators’ Perspectives

The two teachers, and the administrator, were extremely enthusiastic about the
curriculum. During the focus group, in response to questions about the adequacy of the
PSSD curriculum, Ms. Caruso responded as follows: “When I say science, they are all very
excited. It’s great to have the Playtime is Science package and to create science from
everyday materials. We loved it. Kids brought ideas and questions. The curriculum is well
put together and well constructed. It’s easy to prepare. I (prepared for the activity anywhere
from) one half hour to one hour before the activity...I selected activities that were multi-
sensory. In the morning I do individual work but in the afternoon I use lots of tactual
materials. I avoid activities that are not hands on or that are individual.”

Mr. Pearson, also very enthusiastic, was however more explicit about the
instructional difficulties of educating a full class in which students brought very different
strengths, academic histories and disabilities. He pressed the curriculum developers, in
particular, around questions of how to accommodate fully blind students working with colors
and bubbles, “We as teachers need to prepare more. I wanted to match activities with
abilities. I had fun, but it’s difficult to match the students’ ability levels. Something as easy
as using tape requires a lot of instruction for blind kids. The (PSSD instructional) cards
were excellent; the materials were there and the kids actually enjoyed it. I like the integrated
and interdisciplinary curriculum.”


Drawing on our analyses of student reactions, learning outcomes and educators’

perspectives, we conclude that the PSSD curriculum is a very effective pedagogical
approach for students with visual impairments and/or blindness. A broad range of student
interests and needs were met with the curriculum, and educators with very different teaching
styles seemed able and eager to mold the curriculum to fit the distinct conditions in their

The educators were, however, articulate in their desire for more teacher guidance,
more training materials and more time for teachers to speak with other educators, with
disability specialists and with curriculum developers to develop strategies to accommodate
students with a range of disabilities. In particular, the educators asked for more specific
advice on accommodating students at "different levels" and with "differing severity of
disabilities." They were also interested in strategies to engage parental involvement in
PSSD activities can provide an opportunity for students to apply their recently
acquired knowledge to contexts outside the school setting. The teachers play a significant
role in helping the students to make these connections from the specific activity to other
situational contexts. During the observation of the PSSD activities, teachers attempted to
make these connections. For example, Mr. Pearson likened the preparation of Oobleck to
baking activities in the home, such as making cookies or cakes. Similarly, Ms. Caruso
explained that one ingredient in the Bubble Science activity (glycerin) is also an ingredient in
moisturizing lotions that are commonly used.

In helping students make the transition from understanding science inside the
classroom to generalizing outside the classroom, the instructional strategies used are
important considerations for PSSD activities, and science activities in general, to achieve
the most benefit. Teacher training and professional development are prerequisites for
helping students make connections.

The following section highlights several recommendations for the implementation of PSSD
and other science-based activities. These recommendations were elicited from the focus
group, which included the teachers, the assistant principal, PSSD developers, research
consultants and the interviewers/observers. These recommendations reflect changes at the
level of the program curriculum but also at the level of the institution.


Professional development

• Teachers need pre-service training for teaching science to children with disabilities.

• Teachers require training and support to help students understand the ubiquity of
what science is and what science could be. For example, Ms. Caruso says that she
seeks out more experienced teachers to help her.

• Teachers need specialized supplies for students who are blind or visually impaired
(for example, Braille machines and books with large print). Also, technological
resources should be available to meet the needs of students with multiple

• Teachers and teachers’ aides need a structured meeting time for sharing ideas and

• Teachers need technical assistance to discuss how to accommodate students who

are blind.

PSSD curriculum

• Teachers need in depth training in curriculum implementation. For example,

teachers felt that some activities were better suited for students with partial vision
(e.g., Mystery Bottle, Looking at How Liquids Move).

• The PSSD instructional cards should include logical extensions into other curriculum
• The PSSD instructional cards should include age-based modifications to the
activities and extensions of the activities.

Playtime is Science for Students with Disabilities activities allow students to exercise
their voice, foster teamwork, enhance turn-taking skills, broaden the science knowledge
base of both students and teachers, and most importantly, help students who are visually
impaired or blind understand that they too can be scientists. These learning outcomes are
facilitated by PSSD-enhanced strategies, such as encouraging predicting and
hypothesizing, exploration and experimentation in answering questions, and drawing upon
multiple senses to explore observations. The learning strategies, in turn, promote a more
equitable and democratic process in the classroom.

Essentially, teachers and teachers’ aides should be supported by means of

professional development and technical assistance in their efforts to implement PSSD
activities in order to foster a learning environment that is characterized by equity .
Technological and intellectual resources should be available to teachers and teachers’
aides. Intellectual resources should include a structured time and space where teachers’
experiences, challenges, and insights could be shared and used to expand their knowledge
base, strengthen their area of expertise, and enhance and support the teaching and
learning process.

Moreover, an open dialogue between PSSD program developers and those who
implement the activities, is mutually beneficial, each learning from the other’s experiences
and expertise in implementing the PSSD activities and creating opportunities for children
with disabilities.

Observational Protocol

Interaction with Teachers

Number of Times Description
1. Asking for Help _____ _____ _____ _____

2. Showing Work _____ _____ _____ _____

3. Ignoring/Offering
Assistance _____ _____ _____ _____

Interaction with Peers

Yes No
1. Turn-taking _____ _____

2. Sharing Observations _____ _____

3. Learning from Peers _____ _____

4. Conflict resolution _____ _____ (If yes, describe)

Interaction with Activity

None Some A great deal
1. Enthusiasm 1 2 3 4 5

2. Problem Solving 1 2 3 4 5

3. Persistence 1 2 3 4 5

4. Exploration 1 2 3 4 5

5. Discovery 1 2 3 4 5

6. Adaptation 1 2 3 4 5

7. Analysis 1 2 3 4 5

8. Creative Thinking 1 2 3 4 5

9. Risk Taking 1 2 3 4 5

10. Predictions 1 2 3 4 5

11. Generalization 1 2 3 4 5
Appendix B

Student Interview Protocol 1

1. What did you learn today?

2. What observations did you make?

3. What did you enjoy most about the science lesson?

4. Do you know what a (something relevant to the activity) is?

5. What questions would you like to ask the other students about the science lesson?

6. What would you want to tell the people who are running the project about what works and what

Appendix B continued

Student Interview Protocol 2

1. Tell me about your science activity today?

2. What would you like to learn more about?

3. Why is it important to know (activity)?

4. What did you learn today that you didn’t know already?

5. What observations did you make?

6. What did you enjoy most about the science lesson?

7. Did you learn any new science words today?

8. If you were teaching a class about this activity, what would you tell the kids?

9. What would you like to tell the people who are running the science program about what did not

work, what was hard for you or what you didn’t like (about the activity)?
Appendix C

Teacher Interview Protocol 1

1. What would you say is the level of (name of student)’s engagement in his/her work?

Can you give an example?

2. How do you accommodate (student)’s individual learning needs?

What kind of support do you typically provide?

3. What kind of questions does (student) ask you about his/her work?

Is he/she comfortable asking for help?

How frequent are his/her questions?

When does he/she ask questions?

4. Can you describe how (student) learns?

Can you give an anecdote that illustrates how?

Does (student) share his/her work with other students?

5. Does (student) observe and learn from what others are doing?

Can you give an example?

6. Can you give examples of how (student) displays knowledge?

How does (student) let you know that he/she has understood the lesson?

What other ways do you know (student) has learned the material?

7. What are (student)’s experiences in science?

8. What specific PSSD activities have you done?

Appendix C continued

Teacher Interview Protocol 2

1. What challenges do children who are visually impaired face in doing science?

What about children who are blind?

2. What impact has Playtime is Science had on [student]?

3. What skills has [student] learned from Playtime is Science?

4. How does [student] apply skills and knowledge learned in science to other parts of the day? Do

they generalize to other situations?

5. What are/have social experiences for [student] been like during science activities?

6. What kinds of opportunities for science learning occur during the school day for your students?

7. What have you learned from this experience?

What did you learn from this curriculum?

How did it impact your teaching?

What did you learn about yourself?

About the children?

8. What difficulties/challenges do you face as a teacher (in teaching science/meeting your students


9. What was your [the teacher] experience with learning science when you went to school?

What was your experience in school in general?

10. What advice would you give other teachers about implementing this program to visually

impaired/blind students, or the developers of the curriculum?


Focus Group Questions

1. Do you have any comments you would like to make about the activities? What worked well?

What didn’t work well?

2. How did you help the children with no vision experience the activity?

3. Did you feel that some activities were better suited for children with at least some vision? If

so, which activities?

4. How were you able to address the differential learning needs of the students using the PSSD


5. How do you and your teacher’s aide work together to implement the activities?

6. What are some strategies that you use in making connections where they don't seem likely?

7. What difficulties/challenges do you face as a teacher in teaching science/ in meeting your

students needs?

8. What advice would you give other teachers about implementing this program to visually

impaired/blind students, or the developers of the curriculum?

9. Are there advantages/disadvantages to implementing the PSSD activities in a setting of this

type (residential/multiple disabilities)? If so, what?

10. What is your training and experience in working with children with disabilities?