Page prepared for SERC by Cassandra Runyon of the College of Charleston.

Making Earth and Space Science Accessible

Cassandra Runyon
College of Charleston

Course Type:
Earth & Space Science Workshop

Course Size:

Course Summary

Students with disabilities are held to the same National and State science, math and technology education standards as their peers. However, current earth and space science classroom materials are often not designed with the deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, orthopedic, multi-disabled, or learning disabled user in mind. During the workshops we work with educators and experts from exceptional classroom settings and organizations to identify what kinds of educational materials they need and which educational products will work best for their students. Based on discussions and field experiences, it is clear that there is a need to modify and/or adapt existing educational materials and to encourage product developers to include educational methods for involving the exceptional student population. To address this need, we work closely with educators of students with disabilities, science content experts and education product developers to implement more effective ways for ALL students to share in the excitement of earth and space science lessons.

For Dr. Runyon's reflections on the course and its design, see Making Earth and Space Science Accessible: Role in the Program.

Course Context:

These professional development experiences vary from interactive week-long professional development workshops to shorter 2 hour to half-day interactive sessions. Presenters and participants share their knowledge and professional experiences through short presentations, interactive activities, and group discussions. Participants are encouraged to simulate a variety of disabilities using visual impairment goggles, hearing impairment simulators, and other materials and devices to simulate physical disabilities. Content and experiences gained in these workshops are relevant to a broad variety of STEM classes and informal educational settings.

Course Goals:

General Goals:
  • To familiarize developers of education materials with the diversity of classroom and audience needs for persons with disabilities,
  • To familiarize educators of students with disabilities with the wide variety of standards-based earth and space science educational support materials available from NASA and elsewhere;
  • To evaluate several popular classroom materials from the different Science Mission Directorate themes for use in exceptional educational settings, and
  • To build a communication and support network of educators of persons with disabilities, content experts in earth and space sciences, and education product developers
  • To provide educators of exceptional students with exciting new resources to use in formal and informal settings, as well as some experience using them
  • To provide recommendations for modifications and future design issues to developers of earth and space science and NASA mission-related educational products so that they are readily usable by audiences with disabilities.
Attitudinal Goals:
Participating in the Making Earth & Space Accessible workshops helps to:
  • Build participants' confidence in working with students and persons with disabilities in the sciences and STEM-related topics
  • Increase participants' personal awareness about the importance of earth and space sciences
  • Increase participants' personal awareness about the importance of using effective (appropriate) materials and resources to teach earth and space sciences to students / persons with disabilities
  • Change participants' attitudes toward the abilities of persons with disabilities in STEM
  • Change participants' attitudes toward science

Course Content:

Workshop content focuses on Earth and Space Science. Data and activities presented, tested and modified for use by persons with disabilities during the sessions are generated from NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD). Participants learn the latest science from SMD's four themes: Solar System Exploration, Sun-Earth Connection (Heliophysics), Origin & Evolution of the Universe (Astrophysics), and Earth Science, and help to test and modify educational activities and materials for use by students and persons with a variety of disabilities.

Teaching Materials:

For and example activity from this course, see Accessible Solar System on a String.


Pre- workshop survey (written)
Daily assessments: post- presentation and activity and at the end of the day (written)
Post-workshop survey (written and oral)
6 months afterward (written and oral)
1 year afterward (written and oral)
2, 3, 4, 5—years afterward (written and oral)
(we stay in touch!)

References and Notes: