Learning about Estuarine Ecosystems in American Sign Language
The Takeaway: Three New England research reserves, the Center for Research and Training at The Learning Center for the Deaf, and Boston University created an immersive instructional experience for educators of the Deaf. The benefits keep adding up.
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. A NOAA Science Collaborative grant supported this effort, and the benefits keep growing each year.
“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 spent the school year immersing their students in watershed-focused lessons, which culminated in field trips to the nearest research reserve.
ASL modules on estuaries and watersheds are featured on ASL Clear, a STEM educational resource used by teachers and interpreters for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
Several new events and projects have sprouted since this initiative began.
- With the onset of the pandemic, a Boston University grad student produced four videos featuring interviews with Deaf scientists, which are available for viewing on Deaf STEM Journey.
- Last year, the Waquoit Bay Research Reserve ensured that teachers from these schools for the deaf could request a live, virtual discussion with a scientist who had been featured on Deaf Stem Journey.
- Last year’s virtual “Teachers on the Estuary” workshop provided sign language interpreters and was attended by a Deaf teacher.
- A Deaf scientist and Waquoit Bay Research Reserve education coordinator were co-presenters at a Massachusetts Marine Educators conference that, for the first time, featured ASL interpreters. Videos of an ASL storyteller at that event can be viewed by teachers and students.
This project team received a grant of $44,853 from NOAA’s Science Collaborative, a program that’s managed in partnership with the University of Michigan.
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/Updated 2021)
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 ReservePRINT