story by Claire Miller
Teaching scientific concepts can be tricky for science educators, especially if they want their students to understand the complexities inherent in the laws, theories and phenomena they cover in their lessons.
Teachers can face an additional challenge when trying to convey these same concepts to students who are deaf or hard of hearing – a population of students who have to juggle written English, spoken American Sign Language (ASL) and academic science vocabulary every day in class.
Dean’s Doctoral Fellow Scott Cohen and CEHD Assistant Professors Jessica Scott and Patrick Enderle conducted a study published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching to gauge ASL resources available for educators and how well they communicated nuanced scientific concepts.
The research team reviewed national science education standards and science texts to generate a list of 74 science and engineering terms. Then, they analyzed seven websites and one book with science ASL signs to see if and how the 74 terms were represented.
They found a significant lack of consensus across the resources available to science educators who teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing, with variations in which vocabulary words were included and how they were translated into ASL.
Cohen, Scott and Enderle recommend educators think beyond word-for-word translations from English into ASL so that students get a more comprehensive understanding of specific science concepts.
“More often than not, deaf and hard of hearing students and their interpreters do not know the signed word for a scientific term and they resort to fingerspelling the term out or using the lay term, such as using the signed word for ‘legal’ to describe a scientific law. But ‘legal’ does not carry the same connotation as a scientific law,” Cohen explained. “Educators would need to consider how to incorporate an opportunity for scientific communication for deaf and hard of hearing students, such as pooling together a group of students and encouraging them to engage in argumentation with sign language, or sitting down with their students and interpreters to talk about scientific communication.”
The research team recommends more conversations among students, teachers and school-based ASL specialists about activities and methods of communication for scientific concepts, and incorporating this research into teacher preparation programs so that future educators can be better prepared to explore science communication with their students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Educators would need to be intentional about creating and implementing communication policy in the science classroom,” Cohen said. “They should think about ways science conception can be broken down into pieces to figure out how to express it through role play, gesturing and translating the conception into language.”
Article Citation: Enderle, P., Cohen, S., Scott, J. “Communicating about science and engineering practices and the nature of science: An exploration of American Sign Language resources.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching.