Learning about Estuarine Ecosystems in American Sign Language

Three New England research reserves, the Center for Research and Training at The Learning Center for the Deaf, and Boston University create an immersive instructional experience for educators of the Deaf, aided by a NOAA grant.

Only 0.2 percent of deaf or hard-of-hearing people enter science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) careers, compared with 15 percent of the general population. A frustrating communication barrier could help explain why. Until recently, American Sign Language (ASL) had no signs for “estuary,” “watershed,” or other coastal terms. This obstacle forced deaf and hard-of-hearing people to think in their second language—fingerspelling English words—rather than ASL. Now coastal-science language obstacles are being cleared away, with the help of Deaf subject matter experts, education specialists, and three National Estuarine Research Reserves.

“Watershed Stewardship in Action: Deaf Students on the Estuary” is the partner effort that developed ASL signs and instructional videos for the ecological sciences, testing them with the help of deaf and hearing graduate students from Boston University’s Deaf Education Program. These materials were then fine-tuned, based on student feedback. The development team included Deaf subject matter experts and education specialists, plus staff members from the Wells, Waquoit Bay, and Narragansett Bay research reserves.

At a Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE) workshop, the project team shared estuary signs and instructional videos with teachers and interpreters working in schools for the deaf from Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. These educators are spending the school year immersing their students in watershed-focused lessons, which will culminate in field trips to the nearest research reserve.

ASL modules on estuaries and watersheds soon will be featured on ASL Clear, a STEM educational resource used by teachers and interpreters for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.

This project was funded by a $44,853 Science Collaborative grant from the National Estuarine Research Reserves.

Additional partners include the Boston University Graduate Program in Deaf Education, Governor Baxter School for the Deaf, Horace Mann School for the Deaf, READS Collaborative, Rhode Island School for the Deaf, and The Learning Center for the Deaf’s Center for Research and Training and Marie Philip School. ASL Clear receives support from Boston University and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education via the Center for Research and Training at the Learning Center for the Deaf. (2018)

More Information: ASL Education

Partners: Boston University Graduate Program in Deaf Education, Governor Baxter School for the Deaf, Horace Mann School for the Deaf, Narragansett Bay Research Reserve, READS Collaborative, Rhode Island School for the Deaf, The Learning Center for the Deaf’s Center for Research and Training and Marie Philip School, Waquoit Bay Research Reserve, Wells Research Reserve

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