Project Math Access

Reformed methods and standards in mathematics education, emphasizing meaningful problem solving and multiple, effective strategies for solving problems rather than memorizing facts, makes speed a critical factor in student success. Students need to be able to recall mathematics facts instantly, and to decide which tools would be appropriate to solve a problem. There has to be a balance between rote learning of facts and learning of problem solving strategies through logical reasoning; that is, a balance between mathematics skills and mathematics strategies.

This current standard may pose additional problems for special needs students who are included in the regular classroom, since it proposes teaching concepts more quickly and in greater depth, with less repetition, and using real-life problems from other curricular areas which require multiple-step solutions. It is necessary to devote considerable time to developing and practicing skills of pattern identification, number sense, estimation, and developing multiple solutions for problems, while using an array of manipulatives and calculation tools. Rote skills need to be combined with challenging problems which apply the skills in order to prepare adequately for instruction in higher mathematics.

For blind children, pre-teaching of mathematics concepts is very important, especially when students are learning basic concepts, language, and Nemeth Code. Particular emphasis should be placed on teaching students to be self-advocates, articulating what a classroom teacher needs to do in order for the student to participate in learning. Students should also be taught about spoken mathematics, and how to teach a peer or reader to speak the language. They may develop their own ideas, or have access to a system previously developed.

Following are some generalizations which the teacher of visually impaired students should bring to the attention of the classroom mathematics teacher, to facilitate meaningful class involvement and participation by the blind student:

- During a lecture, words such as “this”, “that”, and “there” will be meaningless to a blind student and should be avoided.
- Description of problems or techniques should be worded carefully to avoid ambiguity; a copy of relevant pages from the Handbook for Spoken Mathematics, may be helpful.
- When writing on the chalkboard, verbalize what is written; be sure to describe labeling of a diagram drawn on the board, and spell new words while they are being written.
- Provide transparencies and notes from the chalkboard for the teacher of visually impaired students to transcribe into braille for the blind student to use at his or her desk. Ideally, these can be sent home in print and braille prior to a given lesson, so they can be previewed, then reviewed, by the student and his or her parent.
- When explaining concepts through the use of everyday objects, be careful to choose objects which a blind student is able to access and understand. Things which can be explored tactually and in entirety, such as hardware, toys, kitchen utensils, etc., will have meaning, whereas large and/or remote things such as airplanes, elephants, clouds, etc., will be difficult to understand.
- It is often helpful for a blind student to have a print copy of textbooks and handouts to be used by a reader at home.
- The blind student sometimes needs extra desk space, and a storage area for braille materials.
- If students are completing problems on the chalkboard, another student can write the work as the blind student explains it aloud.
- Tests can be administered orally. Occasionally, an oral test may be given to the entire class; usually, it will be given to the blind student individually, outside of the regular classroom. Tests can also be recorded; the blind student can use headphones and remain in the classroom to take the test.
- Mathematics assignments should be checked daily by someone who can actually read the braille. Assignments and answer keys need to be forwarded to the teacher of visually impaired students in advance.