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Eisenhower National Clearinghouse
for Mathematics and Science Education
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This workshop summarizes some forms of technology used in science and mathematics classrooms with deaf learners. Resources and additional readings are provided. Research with deaf learners is also included.

For the Workshop Coordinator

Table of Contents:

Workshop leaders: Download a skeleton copy of the Technology in Class Workshop power point
to help with handouts or overheads.


  1. Become familiar with various forms of instructional technology that facilitates teaching math and science to deaf students
  2. Become aware of specific assistive technologies that can increase access to information for deaf learners in science and math
  3. Examine what we know from research with deaf learners involving instructional technology.


Technology in the Classroom: The Computer

There is a concerted effort by the government to place computers in all classrooms throughout the nation. Unfortunately, the necessary research proving the worth of computer technology has been slow in coming, especially with deaf learners. While there is recognition that computer literacy is of paramount importance for all students, scant empirical data are available to support the belief that computers actually enhance science literacy among deaf and hard-of-hearing students. We do know that computers can be integrated in meaningful ways in the math and science classroom, such as in conducting statistical analyses of data at the high school level. Studies with on-line science and mathematics education are showing promise with deaf learners (Lang & Steely, submitted). Yet, the dependence on text-based materials and the issues of reading ability of deaf learners remain problematic and more research is needed to identify best practices with computer technologies.

Microcomputer Based Laboratories have been used at third grade level and up (Suppes, Fletcher, & Zanotti, 1976; Castle, 1982) with success and surveys of students indicate that use of computers in particular science instruction, such as physics, is enjoyable and promotes cooperative learning (Bell, 1991).
One of the primary reasons for using computers in science and math classrooms is to prepare students for employment in technical and non-technical fields. Walk into any physics or biotechnology lab, or follow any medical research and you will find that computers are a significant part of doing science. Use of computers in classrooms from K through 12th grade will certainly enhance the preparation of students for future work at a college level as well.

Computers can be very effective during hands-on experiments in promoting the interpretation of data and in understanding the mathematical relationships of variables involved in the experiments, especially by providing graphing of the data. The capability of immediate graphing of data may facilitate concept development, as compared to having to wait a much longer time to manually develop a graph. Research has shown increased understanding and improved test scores in students who have access to a computer to immediately graph acquired variables from a science experiment

Braden and Shaw (1987), however, reviewed 287 references related to computer applications with deaf learners and found that the degree of success with computer-assisted instruction was inversely related to methodological rigor. They report that the well-designed studies indicate that "CAI is no better than alternative forms of instruction" (p. 189). The fact that a majority of authors report positive outcomes with deaf learners indicates that additional research on the efficacy of CAI is warranted.

Computers in the Science Classroom

Using Microcomputer Based Labs

Welcome to Technology Tools for Science and Mathematics Learning



Technology in the Classroom: The Calculator


It is recognized that calculators can and should play a significant role in math and science classrooms, especially at the secondary level. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), calculators are important and necessary for educators and students to use in learning mathematics, and for the analysis and solution of complex word problems which in the past would have taken up significant learning time.

Calculators are generally not intended for use in developing basic skills in math during the elementary school years. Proper application and use of calculators can however increase student interest in mathematics, development and retention of skills, and provide a means of saving time in learning essentials both in math and science classrooms.

Support Classroom with Technology

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics




Technology in the Classroom: Graphing


Graphs are a vital and important tool for mathematical modeling. Since using graphs in mathematics coincides with the teaching of trigonometry and algebra, usually the earliest use of graphs and graphing calculators is in junior high school with advanced mathematics classrooms.

However, the use of graphing has also been demonstrated as a more tangible way for younger students to demonstrate certain concepts in both math and science. The production of a graph, when given sets of numbers or statistics can be taught at the elementary level. At this point, as with calculations, the teacher should rely upon teaching basic skills in graphing including the concept of an axis, mathematical modeling of everyday situations (such as airplane flights and traffic patterns on highways), and in the solving of puzzles, games, and codes. Graphing calculators should not be introduced until basic concepts are thoroughly learned, and students have had the opportunity to draw a graph by hand.

Related Websites:

Graphing Vector Calculator: An Interactive Java Applet

Lines and Slope

Graphing 'round Our School



Technology in the Classroom: Captions


Before the advent of closed-captioning, television and videos were essentially inaccessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some captioning research has been shown to assist deaf students in science in comprehending course materials. However, the reading level of the materials should be on a level commensurate with the students' reading abilities (Hertzog, Stinson, & Keiffer, 1989). Jelinek Lewis (1999) found that when hearing and deaf students are at equivalent reading levels, the hearing students still perform significantly better on a comprehension test. She concludes that "deaf students lag behind hearing students in their ability to generalize this skill or use prior knowledge to answer the questions correctly." Nevertheless, deaf students appear to enhance their literacy through captioning and more research is needed to optimize the learning that takes place.

Not only are television shows and videos captioned, but computer software is also being captioned. For example, when educational software has a streaming video and audio, there may be a means for pulling down captions so that deaf and hard-of-hearing students can have access to what is being said. An example of this is Encarta by Microsoft, which has a video of Martin Luther King giving his "I have a dream" speech in Washington, D.C. Clicking on a button can pull down the entire speech. Hopefully, the future of educational software and web sites will include more such access. If the software or site is funded by Federal monies, those receiving federal funding are required to provide accessibility. Many corporations such as Microsoft and other makers of educational software came into compliance before this law was passed.

Many science and mathematics videos are currently closed captioned. NOVA, Scientific America, and educational shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy have long included captioning. Science and math teachers, who plan on utilizing videos and software in their classrooms, should make a concerted effort to get media that has been captioned.

"Open captions" can be seen by everyone. "Closed captions" require a special decoder to display the captions. A good example of open captioning in video streaming for public use of the Internet is at the Final Report by The National Commission on Mathematics and Science for the 21st Century, given by John Glenn.


Captioning can also be done live by using captionists (who operate much like courtroom stenographers). This is how CNN and other news-sites provide captioning for their programs. As more deaf and hard-of-hearing people participate in science activities at state and national levels, this type of captioning will be seen more often at science conventions.

Educators who are using software such as Microsoft Office and who want to make their software more accessible for their deaf students can go to the Microsoft Accessibility Technology for Everyone site. Microsoft provides guidance and step-by-step tutorials which teachers can follow to upgrade their software and provide captioning to videos or audio files.

Another helpful site, from Public Television, is called Making Educational Software Accessible. This site listed below gives recommended design suggestions and provides information about captioning and the benefits of making software accessible for everyone.

Workshop Activity #1: Real-Time Captioning

Workshop Leader - One computer is required for each pair of participants.

Have participants grouped together in pairs. Set up the pairs into two roles - one is the captionist while the other is the speaker. Provide the reader with a paragraph to read. Explain that they must read at a normal pace and that they are not allowed to slow down or repeat anything they say. The captionist is to record verbatim what the speaker reads.

After each pair is finished, discuss any difficulties that arose while captioning (How many spelling errors? How many misunderstood words: hair/hare? How grammatically correct was the typing? How did the skill of the captionist influence the results? Compare results from the different groups.) Discuss the implications of advantages and disadvantages this has on the issue of access for a deaf learner.

Related Websites:

Closed Captioning Web

Real-time Reporters: The Internet Captioning Company
(Source for captioning software and web sites)

Jelinek Lewis, M. S., (1999, March). Television captioning: A vehicle for accessibility and literacy. Paper presented at the annual conference, Technology and Persons with Disabilities, Los Angeles, CA.

Public Television Guidelines for Accessibility

Understanding Science Through Captioning - This handbook is for teachers who are interested in bringing student-created captioned video projects into their curriculum. Captioning incorporates many different approaches to learning into one task such as observing, writing, reading, and listening.

WGBH/Media Access - information on how all videos should be captioned



Technology in the Classroom: Virtual Dissection

Many biology teachers have turned to virtual dissection software to cut costs or reduce problems associated with student discomfort due to religious beliefs, concern about animal rights, or just general "queasiness." The lack of need for cleanup and disposal of carcasses is another benefit for schools, and the programs can teach basic anatomical skills and understanding of bodily functions almost as well as does hands-on dissection of actual animals. Also, on-line dissections can be accessed again and again, without having to worry about spoilage.

Whether or not the programs are useful depends upon the graphics and organization of the information in the software or Web site. The same basic rules apply for this type of Web site as for other educational sites. How "busy" is the background? Are the pictures clear and concise? Are the pictures too detailed for use in high school programs?

One potential problem with virtual dissection is that it does not give students preparation for postsecondary education courses that may require dissection. For students planning on going into biological sciences or medical programs (including physical therapy and even dentistry), the ability to perform dissections is critical.

Below are a few Web sites to give the reader an idea of possible virtual dissection alternatives. We will be looking for software that has proven particularly successful with deaf learners and will report on them in this section later.

Workshop Activity: Virtual Dissection

Workshop leader: Split group into two or three people each with access to a computer.

Using the site, NetFrog, have the participants first click on "begin dissection". Explain that participants are only going to work through one section of the site. Have participants click on the option for "organs" at the top right corner. Have participants read through the page, listen to the narration, watch the video, and click on the guess what. Have participants create a list of the benefits and disadvantages of using such a site. When reading the "guess what" section, have participants identify those words that are part of the secondary vocabulary (words that may not have been directly taught to students). What steps would teachers have to take to ensure their deaf students gained full understanding from using such a website? Have teachers draft a short (5 question) guided response that students would have to answer after working on this page. What types of questions did the participants ask of their students?

Related Websites:


The Human Brain

The Virtual Pig Dissection

Virtual Dissection (by Mining Company)
(This site has several different dissections of animals including cats, mice, rats, and crayfish)




Technology in the Classroom: Virtual Reality

Previous studies have shown that students who are deaf tend to be more rigid in their way of thinking (Saraev & Koslov, 1993). Other research has demonstrated that the emphasizing of strategies for creative thinking has a positive effect on abstract thinking, imagination, and functioning in problem-solving situations for students who are deaf (Laughton, 1988). Rigidity in learning not only impacts the ability of these students in thinking creatively in such areas as art, but may also have an effect on their ability to find solutions in science and mathematics.

While deaf students do possess the same cognitive abilities as hearing students, there is often a delay with regard to particular cognitive and metacognitive skills. There is a current effort to improve these thinking skills in deaf students using virtual reality technologies. Research will help us determine whether virtual reality, or any other technologies, may be used effectively as tools for developing such skills through instruction.

Recent research by Passig and Eden (2000) has shown that virtual reality has shown some promise in involving the deaf student in their learning. With hearing students, VR has been shown to help bridge abstract concepts to concrete studies. This feature may prove vital in teaching science concepts that are abstract, such as atomic theory and hard-to-see biological processes such as viral infection.

Virtual reality can also utilize nonverbal techniques and is capable of allowing students to view objects from a variety of angles. This capacity can impact the students' thinking, and some research has demonstrated that virtual reality can significantly increase the flexible thinking of deaf students. This is an area of potential multimedia use, which requires intense future research. Vcom3D, Inc., for example, is currently developing a 3-dimensional sign language avatar. For those who are not familiar with an avatar is an icon or a representation of the user in a shared virtual reality environment. Though in its early stages, the sign language avatar may prove useful in allowing deaf learners to manipulate their educational environment. Since interactivity and control over the environment has proven to be very attractive to children and adolescents in both game theory and home educational products, it is surmised and expected that the ability of students with hearing loss to control their learning environments will promote more learning, increased long-term memory, and increased flexibility in thinking across a wide spectrum of subject matters (Talkmitt, 1996). This in turn will lead to higher scores on standardized testing.

Related Websites:

Darrow, M. S. (1995). Increasing research and development of VR in education and special education. VR in the Schools 1 (3), p. 5-8.

Osberg, K. M. (1995). Virtual reality and education: Where imagination and experience meet. VR in the Schools 1 (2), P. 1-3.

Pantelidis, V. (1995). Reasons to use VR in education. VR in the Schools 1 (1), p. 9.

Talkmitt, M. (1996). VESAMOTEX: Virtual education science and math of Texas. VR in the Schools 1 (4), p. 5-7.

Vcom3D Web Site

K8AIT Sign Language Dictionary - This website includes some science signs in a list developed for Business aviation. Avatars are used to produce the signs

Note: Avatar Demonstration is only accessible on PC's.



Technology in the Classroom: Assistive Technology

In 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Assistive Technology Act (ATA), publicly recognizing that assistive technology has the potential to improve the lives of children and adults with disabilities. A device used for assistive technology functions is defined by t he ATA as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities." The ATA is a continuation of legal precedents that encourage the states to invest in technology-related programs and assistance to those in need of such technology in their states.

Many current technologies have the potential to increase educational success and make previously inaccessible information available to all students. However, deaf students, like students with other disabilities, frequently have problems accessing the same information, software, and programs available to others students. There are still too many that are not creating truly accessible multimedia curriculum materials in science, math, and technology. In the past, the vague definition of "accessibility," as used in certain legal documents, has allowed products to be placed in the market and touted as being accessible, when in actuality they are not. "Accessibility" for many of these products has merely meant that they can be used with assistive technologies that are not provided by the company making the product. They do not ensure that the schools that are using the product actually have that assistive technology. This skirting of this particular issue is currently being played out in court.

Technology can be either a boon for people with differences, or it can continue to multiply the inequity that currently exists. In a letter to the President in 1998 the National Council on Disability (NCD) said, "On the other hand, technological developments can present serious and sometimes insurmountable obstacles when principles of universal design are not practiced in their deployment. A distance learning course broadcast over the Internet, for example, is inaccessible to a deaf person if a text transcript is not also available."

Unfortunately, the way the ATA is funded has left a problematic situation. Funding has been given out to the states through a variety of programming which can be seen if a researcher looks up assistive technology in education on the computer. Several of the states have already established programs through universities or rehabilitation services. Without any clear mandated legal guidelines indicating what constitutes accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in the science and math classroom, the technology in each state and even in different school districts (depending upon tax revenues, and often access to universities with technology and the manpower availability) will tend to vary greatly.

Related Websites:

Assistive Technology Training Online

Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of America
(This nonprofit organization has been deeply involved in technical issues since 1978. They have a separate special interest group involved in special education issues.)

Accessible Educational Technology

National Council on Disabilities: Letter of Transmittal (March 13, 1998)



Technology in the Classroom: Use of the World Wide Web

The Web is a powerful resource for learning. However, we must teach our students to be able to identify quality information, learn how to validate information, and use thinking skills while using this resource. For example, in the field of Deaf education, you will find on the Web such erroneous statements as "Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet invented sign language for the deaf" or that the poet Lucretius wrote that it is impossible to instruct the deaf. Neither statement is true. In science, errors can be found on the Web as in many textbooks currently used in the classroom [for example, see "Study finds errors rife in science textbooks"]. Thus, teachers need to be wary of the issue of quality control in terms of information and data found on the Web. Jamie McKenzie's article " Grazing the Net: Raising a Generation of Free Range Students" is of value in terms of helping students to think, explore and make meaning for themselves.

Web-based Science/Math Education for Deaf Students

Many papers have been presented on Web-based math and science education efforts with deaf learners. For example, the NTID Symposium "Instructional Technology and Education of the Deaf" website includes abstracts and papers (in pdf format). We suggest that you surf this website if you are interested in on-line education and the applications of technologies in science/math classrooms.

Stay tuned to this COMETS webpage for more. A summary of research on on-line science education (Lang & Steely, in press) will be published in a special issue of the journal Instructional Science. When it is available, we will include it as a reference in this section.


Technology in the Classroom: Software

Currently, educational software specifically geared towards students with deafness has been mainly in the subject areas of increasing language and learning skills, and in social studies.

There is a database of available software and reviews of that software by the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University.

This site is set up to take evaluations from parents, students, and educators concerning available software. They have set up criteria guideline for those interested in critiquing software. These guidelines are very thorough and complex, and need to be read through carefully. These guidelines provide appropriate questions for the evaluation of any software used for educational purposes, but they are specifically geared towards use for education of students with deafness and hard-of-hearing individuals.

The nice thing about this resource is that it provides information about how well particular software works within a classroom, whether a teacher's manual is provided, which age group this software is appropriate for, and whether the software is worth obtaining as well as the cost. What is disappointing is that only 16 software titles are currently reviewed that involves science, math, technology, and logic. There seem to be no software titles available for math.

This site also provides a list of software with sound that is closed captioned. The parent or educator can click on the titles, and information is provided concerning computer requirements.

PBS states that all of their currently available software (DVD-videos) are closed-captioned. To view the available software go directly to PBS shop.



Technology in the Classroom: The Internet and Telecommunications

The glut of available information that exists on the Internet comes with its own set of problems. Many of these problems are being currently researched and examined in educational situations. While it is recognized that all students need to become technologically savvy, educators should also understand that computers and technology of any kind are a tool. As many tools in a lab or a workshop, these tools need to be handled with care, and with an awareness of the type of damage they can do.

In order to understand what types of problems overuse of computer systems can lead to, educators need to know some basics about computer learning environments. Hypertext is the word coined by Ted Nelson in 1965 (Rezabek & Ragan 1965), for written text that is nonlinear, and in the process of branching out provides the 'reader' with choices of paths to take. This is in comparison to textbooks that are for the most part strictly linear. In using software or on-line educational sites, which provide nonsequential learning sites, the problem arises that encouraging this type of learning development may cause students (both hearing and otherwise) to become 'hyperreaders' (Burbules,1996).

The problem with letting students have unlimited and uncontrolled access to educational sites on-line, is the very real possibility of creating readers who develop a 'browsing mentality'. Not only can this be a fundamental problem in Internet use, but also it can crossover into all types of reading, if the individual student has not developed good reading skills prior to introduction to the Internet.


The Visualizer (Document Camera) or Overhead Projector

The Visualizer

The document camera is able to display by projecting onto the wall any papers, objects, slides, or overhead transparencies placed under it. It is convenient for showing individual student's work, objects like a TTY, pager, or other small item for the whole class to see. The visualizer has a zoom function so that small text can be enlarged allowing for the display of specific text (some cameras allow for a freezing of an image so that the document can be removed while the image remains on the screen). However, the visualizer can provide poor resolution for text and reflects glare, which can become barriers to communication in the classroom.

Overhead Projector

Similar to the visualizer, the overhead projector is able to display work on a transparency. Benefits include:

  • being able to keep a copy of the notes (they do not need to be erased to make room for more)
  • various colors can be used to highlight information
  • any text or picture can be made into an transparency with most of today's copy machines

Things to keep in mind:

  • size of the text can make it difficult to see clearly (try to use font size 14 for clearest view)
  • overhead markers can smear causing distracting items
  • the fan for the overheads tend to be loud
  • limited space for displaying items
  • opaque items will only be shown as an outline

When using either the document camera or overhead projector:

  • be aware of where you are standing when you signing additional information. Make sure you are not standing in the light. Also, be aware of where the projector is located in relation to you - is it blocking any of your student's view of what you are signing?

  • Whenever possible, make copies of your overheads before class to hand out to students as they enter. This will ease a students need for split attention. Students will know that they already have a copy of the material and can therefore focus on what the teacher is presenting. Also, it is much easier for students to add just a few notes during a lecture than to try to record everything.

  • Also make copies of any additional papers or examples of student work that come up during the lesson. Again, this eases the problem of having to split attention between a presenter and presentation.

Workshop Activity: Material Evaluation

Either as a large group or within smaller groups, have the participants analyze various examples of overheads. Have the participants discuss issues of eye strain, text size, placement of information, and interference caused by to much text or not enough. Have the group(s) pick out the worst overhead and the best. Have them explain reasons for the rating.


The Power Point Presentation

Power point presentations are not just for the business world anymore. Teachers will find that creating a power point presentation can be a useful way to create and reduce the number of overhead transparencies necessary for a particular class.

Some benefits of the power point presentations include:

  • quick control of font size and format
  • ability to print in a variety of formats allowing teachers to emphasize specific slides or the overall presentation
  • insertion of hot links that connect directly to the web
  • insertion of pictures or videos
  • provides a high-tech look that is easily photocopied for handouts
  • presentations are easily modified and saved for later use
  • easy to post on the web or send as an e-mail attachment
  • students can create their own presentations

Some of the drawbacks to the power point presentation is that teachers may come to "overuse" the presentation and animations. The tendency to put too much text may cause students to become lost. Creating a power point presentation also requires more preparation time. Also, selection of color scheme is important to make sure that text is visible and communication is not hindered.

A special projection system is needed, such as an LCD projector. When using a power point presentation with students who are deaf remember to allow time for them to be able to focus on the presentation slides and the presenter alternately. Often times, a screen will be displayed while the presenter talks about it and then the presenter quickly changes the screen. The students are left with having either missed the discussion or the slide.


Workshop Activity: Issue of Split Attention

Workshop Leader: Before the workshop, collect a variety of items from around the room (a pen, a pencil, a hat, a notebook, a water bottle, keys, etc.). Keep them out of sight from the participants before the activity. Explain to participants that you want them to take notes both on the overhead/power point presentation you are about to provide and also to record the various items that you will hold up during the presentation. Make sure you keep the items hidden from view both before and after displaying.

Do not speak during the presentation (participants are to rely on their eyes only). Play the power point presentation (or have an assistant flip through the overheads) fairly quickly so that participants do not have time to process both the slides and the items being held up. At times, move so that you are blocking the presentation behind you or the item you display is possibly blocked from some of the participants' view.

At the end of the presentation, ask participants to sit in small groups and discuss their experience. Was it possible for them to take notes both both on the power point presentation and the objects at the same time? Which did they end up focusing on? Why? How is this experience possibly similar to what deaf students might go through? What can we as teachers do to arrange the setup of this type of presentation to facilitate deaf students' learning process?





The SMART Board interactive whiteboard turns your computer and projector into a powerful tool for teaching, collaborating and presenting. With a computer image projected onto the board, you can simply press on its large, touch-sensitive surface to access and control any application from your computer screen. It's like having a touch monitor large enough for the entire class to see.

Benefits of working with a SMART board:

  • Anything on your computer screen is displayed for the whole class (worksheets, websites, applications, etc.)
  • With SMART notebook, notes can be colorized and saved daily. Allowing for easy printing for any student (or teacher) who would like a copy.
  • Guiding students through a computer exercise is simple and effective.
  • SMART board has a pen tray allowing for the use of highlighting or changing text color. If you just remove the pen color of choice, you can even just use your finger tip to write.
  • With Network assistant, student computer screens can be displayed on the SMART board to share information with the whole class.

Some of the things to be aware of when working with the SMART board,

  • Make sure not to stand directly in the projection as this can hinder communication
  • Only one person at a time can touch the board (it is not possible to have two or three students writing at the same time)
  • Space on the board is limited making it difficult at times to display all the information large enough for all to see everything at once.

Related Websites:

SMART Technologies


If you have suggestions for information to be included in this page, or questions about science/mathematics signing, please contact the Project Director, Harry Lang.

Last updated: 10/21/02