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Suzie Ford, McKinley School, Susanville, California
September 01, 1995 | Case Studies

In the school year 1992-93 several things happened in my second-grade classroom. First, I knew I was going to have a blind student in my room. I had received a half-day training on working with visually handicapped students the previous spring, and had a selection of materials to read over the summer. What I read made perfectly good sense: treat the blind student as I would any other student in the areas of discipline, expectations, and emotional support, but modify the instructional program as necessary to meet the academic needs of the blind student. Fortunately I had help with the curriculum modification in the form of a wonderful, experienced teacher's aide, Claudia, who worked with me.

In the fall: surprise! I found out that I would have a first/second combination class. With lots of help from the first grade teachers everything would go just fine. Emma-Lee's introduction into the class was simple. She couldn't see, and that made her different. We then talked about what made all of us different: blond hair, black hair, blue eyes, short, tall, good at volleyball, etc. Children are so loving and accepting when things are explained to them in a friendly way, and the students followed my example and treated Emma-Lee as normally as possible.

Not long into the school year I received a memo from my principal asking if I was interested in taking some training for the new primary FOSS modules. I think the paper flew back to his desk with a resounding "Yes" in less than five minutes. I had heard the third and fourth grade teachers talking about FOSS, and I liked what I heard them saying, so I jumped when the opportunity to use the primary modules came along.

That first year only two modules were being released, Balance and Motion and Solids and Liquids. One of my colleagues took on the Solids and Liquids Module and I took the Balance and Motion Module. By this time Emma-Lee was every bit a part of our classroom. The hands-on approach works beautifully with a visually impaired student. The students communicate so much during these lessons that Emma-Lee really felt a part of the process. She was a part of the process! She balanced the cardboard crayfish, the arch, and the triangle right along with everybody else. She learned how to use the clothespins too. Sure, it took her longer and she needed some help, but the results were the same.

Some of the Motion activities were challenging. She couldn't see the tops spin, but she could handle the tops ahead of time and listen to the motion on her desktop, and then stop the top with her hands. Making rollers was fun. I think she really enjoyed the surprise when the cup or the wheel apparatus she and her partner made rolled into her hands. She could certainly enjoy rolling the marble in the plastic cup.

While I feel that her experiences were different, I do feel that they were similar. I believe she got as much out of these experiences as a sighted child, but in a way that suited her modalities. Probably the most wonderful memory I have of Emma-Lee is her enthusiastic, bubbly laughter. Whenever she succeeded with a project, or completed a difficult activity, she would put her head back and laugh! But it was a special laugh, full of joy, happiness, excitement, and pleasure with herself. I always knew things were going well when Emma-Lee laughed. She laughed a lot with FOSS.

Suzie Ford is a primary teacher at McKinley School in Susanville in northern California. She was introduced to the FOSS primary modules as a participant in the Science in Rural California (SIRC) project, a National Science Foundation Teacher Enhancement project.