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  • How Blind Students Are Learning at the Speed of Math

    by LearnEd

    Braille answer sheet

    A graphic that shows "math the old way" and "math the new way," highlighting how students who are blind and visually impaired are now closer than ever before to receiving just-in-time feedback from teachers during math class.

     

    A quote from Dr. Abraham Nemeth, Developer of The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation: "I wanted to take math courses. My counselors said it was not a viable option for a blind person. There is not way to write mathematics, there is no way to read mathematics, and you'd better pick a different field."

    The Dawn of Teaching Math to Blind Students

    In 1952, Abraham Nemeth was instrumental in publishing The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation. It eventually caught on across the country as a standard—and straightforward—method of teaching mathematics to blind and visually impaired students using braille.

    For the first time, every mathematical notation—numbers, symbols, operators, functions, modifiers, fractions, and other signs—had a corresponding code, using braille's six fundamental dots.

    "The process of translating instructional materials into braille, then translating a student's classwork from braille back to print is an inefficient process that often takes a few days."

    "The Nemeth code was a huge breakthrough," says Jan McSorley, who is the Head of Accessibility for the Pearson Assessment Center. "But there was still a challenge: students who are blind or visually impaired were never able to get just-in-time feedback during classroom math lessons."

    Sam Dooley, Senior Development Manager for Pearson, explains it this way:

    "In a normal math class setting, your teacher writes on the chalkboard or the white board and explains concepts with visual cues and instructions. Students who are blind can't see the content on the board unless it's translated into Nemeth code. Not all teachers are fully fluent in braille. So the process of translating instructional materials into braille, then translating a student's classwork from braille back to print is an inefficient process that often takes a few days."

    'Not the Norm'

    "To be successful in math as a totally blind student," says Dan Brown, a Senior Quality Assurance Engineer for Blindness Technologies at Pearson, "you must have a phenomenal working memory."

    "You'd have to be able to hold large parts of equations in your mind without writing it down," Dan says. "But that's not the norm, not everybody can do complex math without reading and writing it. This reality means that whole groups of students are often excluded from science, technology, engineering, and math courses."

    "It's technology that allows students using braille to interact with math on a computer the same way that sighted students interact with math on a computer."For the First Time: Learning at the Speed of Math

    Sam Dooley, Dan Brown, and a group of Pearson colleagues are now developing software and hardware that jumps over all these challenges.

    It's called the Accessible Equation Editor, and, for now, it's helping make assessment tests more accessible to students who are blind and visually impaired.

    Math problems that are presented to students on a computer screen through a web browser are quickly translated into corresponding braille codes on the keys of a "refreshable braille device." This device is a specialized keyboard built with braille pins that are raised and lowered as directed by the system's software. This allows teachers and the other learners in class to work on math problems with students who are blind without the barrier of translating Nemeth code to print math and vice versa—virtually in real time.

    Sam Dooley says: "It's technology that allows students using braille to interact with math on a computer the same way that sighted students interact with math on a computer."

     

    Solutions for the Blind, from the Blind

    User testing of the Accessible Equation Editor was conducted at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Kentucky School for the Blind.

    Pearson hired two students who are blind to help with the product's development. High school student Su Park ran the system through hundreds and hundreds of math problems to check the accuracy of the Nemeth code translations. Edgar Lozano, who is studying computer science at Texas State University, served as a JavaScript programmer and was instrumental in working out how computers communicated with the refreshable braille device.

    A quote: "We hope to open up STEM fields to whole groups of learners who never had access to these kinds of classes before."

    "The devil is in the details for any project like this," says Dan Brown. "We needed a group of people to get this done, all with a variety of expertise and personalities."

    "Our hope," Dan says, "is our collective effort can now open up STEM fields to whole groups of learners who never had access to these kinds of classes before."

     

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  • An Imaginative Journey for Read Across America Day

    by LearnEd

    Kids reading in line

    The Royal Mint's Peter Rabbit coin. Photograph: Royal Mint/PA

    A New Honor for an Old Friend

    We're celebrating Read Across America Day.

    A beloved American author—born this month in 1904—helps us mark this special day in a moment.

    First—a one-of-a-kind symbol of the work of another author loved by readers and learners across the globe: Beatrix Potter.

    The United Kingdom's Royal Mint has decided to put the unforgettable face of Peter Rabbit on the front of a special 50 pence coin.

    Beatrix Potter first published "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" in the early 1900s. She'd written it originally as a story for the five-year-old boy of a close friend and former governess.

    The Royal Mint is offering a whole variety of collectibles in tandem with the printed Peter Rabbit coin.

    Read Across America Day

    50 pence in the U.K. is about 70 cents here in the U.S.

    And on behalf of Read Across America Day, we offer these priceless bits of imagination to read for pleasure from Dr. Seuss!

     

    Dr. Seuss 1 Editorial-Insta
    Dr. Seuss 2 Editorial-Insta
    Dr. Seuss 3 Editorial-Insta
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  • Future-Focused Learning and the Workforce Pipeline

    by LearnEd

    Mother and daughter

    A tease graphic for a diagram later in the document titled "Middle school indicators that can help measure college readiness."
    SEE BELOW for full diagram.

    Learning and Career

    "If Pearson puts learning at the center of everything we do," says Leah Jewell, Managing Director of Workforce Readiness at Pearson. "Then we can't ignore why people go to college."

    For many, college is a means to getting a job.

    So Leah and her colleagues are asking two questions in an effort to align learning with a constructive path to a student's career:

    'A Lot More Than Just An Assessment'

    Leah and her Pearson colleagues have developed a Career Success Program with coaching to help start answering the first question.

    Early on, the program introduces students to learning pathways that match their interests and aptitudes.

    "The project helps students gain self knowledge," Leah says. "Students explore careers, learn how to network, and build various skills with the help of career coaches."

    "It could be done in class, over one or two years," Leah says. "It's a lot more than just an assessment."

    The Career Success Program launched this year. In most cases, students are going through the program in their first year of college.

    Measuring College Readiness

    A recent paper was published "to clarify the readiness landscape," because "popular conceptions of college and career readiness are broadening beyond strictly academic competencies like literacy and numeracy.

    "On Track: Redefining Readiness in Education and the Workplace" was authored by Matthew Gaertner, David Conley, and Paul Stoltz. (You can download a PDF copy here.)

    "Educators and employers," writes lead author Matthew Gaertner, "may find it difficult to separate signal from noise and focus on the readiness paradigms that suit their needs."

    Filling in Gaps and the Workforce Pipeline

    The "On Track" paper is an effort to help teachers and parents speak the same language about students and their readiness for college and beyond.

    "The college-readiness index was created to address gaps in research," according to the report. This broad index, used as a tool by Pearson, is intended to "provide students, parents, and teachers earlier, more actionable readiness diagnoses across a diversity of academic and non-academic domains."

    Pearson has identified a list of "middle school indicators," six factors that ladder up to an overall score for college readiness.

    Translating the Scores

    Aggregating scores in these areas, then combining that data with high school standardized test scores, offers a fairly accurate picture of how a student may or may not be ready for college—and beyond.

    Katie McClarty, who heads Pearson's Center for College & Career Success, says "conventional ways of assessing academic achievement don't do much more than that: measure academic achievement. It likely misses out on key insights about the whole student."

    The "On Track" report goes on to claim: "School systems and the labor market are beginning to care a bit less about what students know at a fixed point in time, and a bit more about how they are able to continue to learn and to apply knowledge in novel and non-routine ways in real-world settings."

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John Fallon

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