School offers STEM options for the blind, low vision

Kansas State School for the Blind visited second graders at Jefferson Elementary to teach STEM skills. It's important to provide opportunities to all students, even who are blind or low vision, they said, and other students will learn to respect the contributions of everyone.

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November 12, 2021 - 3:47 PM

Jefferson Elementary School second graders, from left, Remial Jernigan, Olivia Appling and Alyssa McDaniel practice using Sphero, a computerized ball. Appling guided the ball with her eyes closed, following instructions from McDaniel. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

“Oh! Oh! I have an idea,” Angelito Young, a second- grader at Jefferson Elementary School exclaimed Friday morning.

She quickly rearranged a series of plastic and metal cubes in a specific order, then held her hand an inch or so above them.

As if by magic, the train of cubes rolled across the table.

That’s the point of Cubelets, robotic blocks that teach engineering, design and problem solving. The blocks are a useful tool in lessons on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

“We want all students to have the opportunity to learn STEM skills, and we especially want to provide those opportunities for kids who are blind or low vision,” said John Harding, superintendent for the Kansas State School for the Blind.

Elizabeth Brown draws a path for a robot to follow. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

The  Kansas City-based school for the blind often shares its programs with other school districts.

School officials traveled to Jefferson Friday morning to work with second-graders, in cooperation with Greenbush. Some, but not all, of the students who participated have low vision or special needs. 

The students learned how to use robotic games and equipment to promote creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork and other skills.

From lef, Jefferson student Elijah Mentzer, Kansas State School for the Blind’s Robert Taylor, and students Angelito Young and Ruben Guerrero work with Cubelets.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

For example, one group played with Sphero, a colorful ball that can be controlled using an electronic tablet. Students learned how to guide the ball using controls on the tablet. Then, one student closed her eyes while another gave her instructions — left, right, up, down — to direct the ball into a goal.

Other students used a special robot, Ozobot, that will follow a path — any path you can draw.

Student Jase Emerson drew a complicated path for his Ozobot, and asked Juie Ituarte, one of the staff members with KSSB, if she thought it would work.

Charley Kerr makes Cubelets move using the energy of her hand.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

“We can try it and see what happens,” she said.

The robot made those difficult turns with no problem.

Another station introduced Braille to students, with special devices that allow students to type in Braille and have words appear on a tablet. That technology allows blind students to send homework or other documents to teachers. 

The goal is to empower all students, Harding said. It teaches students with disabilities they can create and achieve great things, and it teaches other students to respect the contributions of everyone, he said.

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