Science Progresses in American Sign Language Lexicon

In viewing the charts presented in this post, one can see the difficulty in learning sign language. There are many gestures and  symbols involved. These can also vary depending on the language. In the area of science, researchers are  making progress for students with visual and auditory impairments by developing signs for the science lexicon used in college classrooms and lecture halls.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key.

The Shodor Education Foundation, Inc.

Excerpt: Pushing Science’s Limits in Sign Language Lexicon, By Douglas Quenqua, The New York Times

“Imagine trying to learn biology without ever using the word “organism.” Or studying to become a botanist when the only way of referring to photosynthesis is to spell the word out, letter by painstaking letter.

Sign language for the American alphabet. Photo- How stuff works.

For deaf students, this game of scientific Password has long been the daily classroom and laboratory experience. Words like “organism” and “photosynthesis” — to say nothing of more obscure and harder-to-spell terms — have no single widely accepted equivalent in sign language. This means that deaf students and their teachers and interpreters must improvise, making it that much harder for the students to excel in science and pursue careers in it.

Japanese Sign language. Photo- Deafjapan.

Often times, it would involve a lot of finger-spelling and a lot of improvisation, said Matthew Schwerin, a physicist with the Food and Drug Administration who is deaf, of his years in school. For the majority of scientific terms, Mr. Schwerin and his interpreter for the day would “try to find a correct sign for the term, and if nothing was pre-existing, we would come up with a sign that was agreeable with both parties.”

Sign language for the Spanish Alphabet. Photo courtsey Xenophilia.

Now thanks to the Internet — particularly the boom in online video — resources for deaf students seeking science-related signs are easier to find and share. Crowd sourcing projects in both American Sign Language and British Sign Language are under way at several universities, enabling people who are deaf to coalesce around signs for commonly used terms.

This year, one of those resources, the Scottish Sensory Centre’s British Sign Language Glossary Project, added 116 new signs for physics and engineering terms, including signs for light-year…The signs were developed by a team of researchers at the center, a division of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland that develops learning tools for students with visual and auditory impairments. The researchers spent more than a year soliciting ideas from deaf science workers, circulating lists of potential signs and ultimately gathering for an intense weekend of final voting… Ideally, the standardization of signs will make it easier for deaf students to keep pace with their hearing classmates during lectures… The problem doesn’t end at graduation.

Sign language for the Russian alphbet. Photo- Deafblind.

In fact, it only intensifies as new discoveries add unfamiliar terms to the scientific lexicon… One general complaint about efforts to standardize signs for technical terms is the idea that, much like spoken language, sign language should be allowed to develop organically rather than be dictated from above…Since at least the 1970s, deaf scientists have tried to address the lack of uniformity by gathering common signs for scientific terms in printed manuals and on videotapes. The problem has always been getting deaf students and their interpreters to adopt them..Making sciences more accessible to the deaf is a priority not just to those with hearing problems, but also to science educators in general.” read more...

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate -Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.

Objective:Students will read the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students gain understanding about the challenges that  students with visual and auditory impairments face.  Students will demonstrate their comprehension  through discussions, video responses, and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Tasks

  •  Predictions

Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Ask students to read the title of the post, and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Based on these sources,  ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article.  Have students use this excellent  pre-reading organizer by Scholastic to assist them in finding the main ideas from the reading.

II. While Reading Tasks

  • Vocabulary

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance. Have the students write sentences using each word.

  1. For deaf students,… Words like organism and photosynthesis… have no single widely accepted equivalent in sign language.
  2. This means that deaf students and their teachers and interpreters must improvise…
  3. …projects in both American Sign Language and British Sign Language are under way…enabling people who are deaf to coalesce around signs for commonly used terms.
  4. The researchers spent more than a year soliciting ideas from deaf science workers…
  5. … the standardization of signs will make it easier for deaf students to keep pace with their hearing classmates…
  6. The problem doesn’t end at graduation. In fact, it only intensifies
  7. …the interpreters were not able to understand the jargon and they did not know any scientific signs…
  8. “We not only want to provide support, we want to raise aspirations, to say to people, ‘you can do this…
  9. Such elegant personifications of tricky scientific concepts leave some deaf students feeling sorry for those who rely on their ears.
  • Reading Comprehension

True / False

Directions:  The following statements were taken from the article.  If  a statement is true, students write (T) if  a statement is false they  write (F)  and  provide the correct answer from the article.

  1. Now thanks to the iphone— resources for deaf students seeking science-related signs are easier to find and share.
  2. Crowd sourcing projects in American Sign Language is under way at several universities.
  3. The Scottish Sensory Centre’s British Sign Language Glossary Project, added 116 new signs for physics and engineering terms.
  4. The researchers spent  less than a year soliciting ideas from deaf science workers.
  5. The standardization of signs will make it easier for deaf students to keep pace with their hearing classmates during lectures.
  6. According to Mr. Schwerin of the F.D.A.,  looking at one thing at a time often meant choosing between the interpreter, the blackboard/screen/material, or taking notes. It was like, pick one, and lose out on the others.”
  7. The problem ends at graduation.
  8. Since at least the 1980s, deaf scientists have tried to address the lack of uniformity by gathering common signs for scientific terms in printed manuals and on videotapes.
  9.  Making sciences more accessible to the deaf is a priority not just to those with hearing problems, but also to science educators in general.
  10. Surprisingly, some deaf students say that relying on sign language gives them an advantage over hearing students.
  • Grammar Focus

Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

 

I.

  1. Imagine trying to learn biology without everusethe word organism.
  2. For deaf students, this game of scientific Password isn’t new.
  3. This means that deaf students and their teachers must improvise.

II.

  1. Often times, it would involve a lot of finger-spelling.
  2. Matthew Schwerin is a physicist with the FDA whose is deaf.
  3. Mr. Schwerin and his interpreter for the day would try to find a correct sign.

III.

  1. Now thanks to the Internet…resources for deaf students…are easier to find and share.
  2. Crowd sourcing projects are  in both American and British Sign Language.
  3. The signs were develop by a team of researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

IV.

  1. Whether the Scottish Sensory Centre’s signs will take hold remainto be seen.
  2. The problem doesn’t end at graduation.
  3. In fact, it only intensifies as new discoveries add unfamiliar terms to the scientific lexicon.

 

III. Post Reading Tasks

• Reading Comprehension Check

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

  • Discussion /Writing Tasks

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. After, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics.

  1. The article states, “Making sciences more accessible to the deaf is a priority not just to those with hearing problems, but also to science educators in general.”  Explain what the importance would be to science educators.
  2. According to deaf students, “… relying on sign language gives them an advantage over hearing students.”  Explain how being deaf helps them. Provide an example from the reading.
  3. What problems do you think deaf students have in learning English as a second language?
  4. Make a list of challenges that  a deaf person might encounter in daily living? For example, hearing the doorbell, or phone ring.
  5. With your group, make a list of  other academic areas where it might be difficult for deaf students to understand and participate.  What about such areas as sports? What might be some of the challenges deaf students would have to over come? Some are mentioned in this article.
  6. Compare the different Sign Language charts above . Describe the differences and similarities that you can see between the symbols.

IV. Listening Activity   

Video Clip: American Sign Language Goes Mobile By Inside Science

Introduction: “Electrical engineers have enabled quality sign-language video chats over ordinary-speed cellphone networks.”

Pre-listening Task

Listening for New Vocabulary or New Terms

Directions: Here are some new words from the video. Have students find the meanings before they listen to the video.  As students listen, they are to check off the words as they hear them.

Words: bit, bit rate, asynchronous, bandwidth, encoder.

While Listening Tasks

True  /False statements

Directions: Review the statements with students before the watching the video.  As students listen to the video if  a statement is true they mark it if the statement is  false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer.

According to the video:

  1. Researchers at the University of  Colorado College of Engineering have developed breakthrough software.
  2. Cell phones can  now send and receive low-bit-rate video with high-quality images.
  3. The software allows individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to use American Sign Language for the first time over cellphone networks.
  4. According to Dr.  Riskin, “ It can be really difficult to have a three-way conversation with texting because it’s asynchronous.”
  5. In 2012, Apple introduced Facetime, which enables mobile video chats, but the bit rate is extremely high, and most cellphone networks can’t support it.
  6. Dr.  Riskin notes that their mobile unit quickly detects where the hands and face are and we have our encoder give more information to the hands and face so that they look better.
  7. Dr. Riskin also nots that they really care about the background images.
  8. The result is that Engineering and science is  making mobile communication accessible to all  deaf or hard of hearing students.

Post-Listening Tasks

Questions for Discussion

Directions:Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.

  1. After listening to this video what new information have you learned?
  2. Did you agree with everything the speaker said?  Discuss which comments  you agreed with and which ones you tended not to agree with.   Explain why.
  3. Create several questions that you and your group members would like to ask the speakers (or signers).

ANSWER KEY: Science and Sign Language

Group Projects

With your group members visit the following sites, explore the material, then write a paragraph describing each one. Share your findings with the class.

The Scottish Sensory Centre’s British Sign Language Glossary Project   “…With this project, the SSC aims to develop lists of subject-specific terms (called a glossary) in British Sign Language.”

 John Hopkins University Student Disability Services  “Assists the University in compliance with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for full-time undergraduate and graduate students in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering.”

The Clerc Center at Gallaudet University  “The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University provides information, training, and technical assistance for parents and professionals to meet the needs of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Becoming Deaf:10 Things You Should Never Say to a Deaf Person “We all occasionally say things we really wish we hadn’t, especially when meeting new people.  For some reason, meeting a deaf person seems to really bring out those moments in people.  In the hopes of  helping you avoid these embarrassing moments, I’m sharing 10 things you should never say when meeting a deaf person.”

HearingLike Me  “HearingLikeMe.com is an online community for people whose lives are affected by hearing loss. We bring together people from all around the world to share stories that inspire hope in almost any hearing loss situation.”

 

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