Educators from the blind and visually impaired and deaf and hard of hearing communities met with Yerkes Observatory staff to discuss the further implementation of Skynet Junior Scholars. The two-part meeting took place at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, on November 13-14, 2014. Lions Camp facilitators, website developers, grant researchers and evaluators were also present at the meeting.
The 2-day meeting began with an overview of Skynet Junior Scholars, a web portal giving students in middle and high school online access to robotic telescopes located worldwide. Special focus was on getting blind and visually impaired and deaf and hard of hearing students involved and ensuring equal access to the Skynet Junior Scholars website for such groups.
Skynet Junior Scholars will be presented at Lions Camp in Rosholt, Wisconsin, during the weeks for the blind and visually impaired children on August 2-7, 2015, and deaf and hard of hearing children on July 5-10, 2015. Twenty students from each session will be studied to determine the success and impact of Skynet Junior Scholars. The Public Education Specialist from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, will interview the 20 students in the study to determine how accessible Skynet Junior Scholars was to them, and how they plan to use the software after camp is over, as well as how the knowledge gained from Skynet Junior Scholars will affect their potential career choices in the future.
Day two of the meeting consisted of Skynet Junior Scholars website testing to provide screen-reading software accessibility feedback to one of the web developers working on the project from the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education at the University of Chicago. A gallery of images prepared for tactilization will also be created and put up on the site, so blind students can benefit from those who have worked with the software before them, as long as they have access to a SwellForm Tactile Graphics Machine and a laser printer in order to convert the image from a PDF file to a tactile image they can touch.
Teachers in the deaf and hard of hearing community met to discuss creating closed captioning for the video tutorials of the Skynet Junior Scholars website. Another challenge the deaf and hard of hearing team will tackle is the language in American Sign Language, which currently does not facilitate the scientific terms necessary to discuss telescopes, celestial objects and other components of astronomy. Part of the deaf and hard of hearing team’s approach will be working to develop such language, along with the students who will participate.
Previous testing experience shows this kind of programming has a very positive impact on the outlooks of the students as far as career and educational goals are concerned. Many students say they would never have considered careers in math or science if the subjects had not been presented to them in an accessible format. After participating in Skynet Junior Scholars, however, they say they feel the fields of math and science are more open to them. The staff at Yerkes Observatory say they are excited to bring these opportunities to the students, and to encourage them to reach for the stars.
Learn more about Skynet Junior Scholars, as well as how you can be trained to bring these empowering and exciting opportunities to students by becoming a Skynet Junior Scholars Workshop Leader. Training is offered online in January and at Yerkes Observatory in March 2015. Go to skynetjuniorscholars.org for more information.