STEM Challenge: Visualization, Representation and Modeling

Instructional Strategies: 
Supporting Science
Visual Representations

STEM for All: Personalize STEM Instruction with Accessible Technology

A lot of science learning involves being able to create representations and models of processes that we are unable to observe with the naked eye. For example, chemistry texts with images to represent atoms and molecules. Because these reactions occur at a very small scale and are difficult to observe, we must use visualizations and representations to help us understand what is occurring. Likewise, we use models and graphics to represent natural processes such as the carbon cycle, which occur over long periods of time and are similarly difficult to observe. Being able to mentally transform 2D representations into more dynamic 3D objects can be difficult for students with learning or cognitive disabilities. Additionally, charts, tables, and graphics may be inaccessible to students with visual impairments. 

Consider the use of:

  • Resources and tools that align with UDL guidelines ensure that students with perceptual disabilities are not limited to one modality when accessing critical information
  • Selected technologies that meet accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0, NIMAS standards)
  • Tactile graphics, modeling tools, and 3D printing which help all students, including those with visual impairments, better understand and access STEM concepts

It’s important to be mindful of accessibility for all students. Remember that all visual graphics and charts should have descriptive alternative text for those who need visual supports! Luckily, as technology advances, it’s becoming easier and easier to help all students use and interact with visual representations, models, and 3D printed materials to truly comprehend scientific and mathematical concepts. Here a just a few tools to get you started:

  1. 3D Printed Science Projects - This book shows parents and teachers how to create 3D printable models that can help students from kindergarten through grad school learn math, physics, botany, chemistry, engineering and more. The models included act as starting points for 3D printable explorations and have the science built-in to allow for more insight into the fundamental concepts of the subject they’re exploring. This tool will help students add another dimension to their textbook understanding of science.
  2. Academo 3D Surface Plotter - A free, interactive online tool that allows users to enter a mathematical expression in terms of x and y. When you hit the calculate button, the demo will calculate the value of the expression over the x and y ranges provided and then plot the result as a 3D surface. The graph can be zoomed in by scrolling with your mouse, and rotated by dragging around. Clicking on the graph will reveal the x, y and z values at that particular point.
  3. Augmented Reality Sandbox - A hands-on sandbox exhibit combined with 3D visualization applications created by researchers at UC Davis. Simply mold the sand by hand and the landscape comes to life! The sand is augmented in real-time with an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water.
  4. Diagram Center: 3D Printing, Tactiles and Haptics - The Diagram Center provides resources for new technologies for creating tactiles and tactile experiences which offer revolutionary ways of conveying spatial information. The work represents the DIAGRAM Center’s ongoing exploration of these technologies, including 3D printing and haptics.
  5. Google Cardboard - Google cardboard is an affordable approach to the virtual reality (VR) experience that works with a variety of apps and several viewer types at various price points. Google cardboard can be used to explore many scientific concepts in an immersive way and can even be used by students to take their own 3D images and create accompanying audio content.

Visualizations and models can help all students to better engage with difficult STEM concepts and meet the needs of different learners to tailor their experience in the classroom.

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