An interpreter describes the solar system shown at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s planetarium in sign language to about 40 students with hearing and visual impairments Feb. 2. The students from northern Arizona schools also toured the campus. (Sue Tone/Tribune)
Originally published Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 06:00a.m.
A student who rarely speaks asked how pets can be transported to the moon. An aide who knew the moon only as a blurry dot got to see what moon craters really look like.
About 40 students from northern Arizona, all with hearing or vision impairments — some from as far away as Mohave County, a four-hour drive — arrived at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Prescott campus this past week for a “Tour of the Solar System” in the Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium, and a campus tour.
The students, ranging from first-graders to 12th, followed the interpreter standing under a spotlight as photographs of planets showed on the planetarium’s ceiling. They asked questions afterward, and passed around objects from the school’s 3-D printer.
Andy Fraher, ERAU director of STEM Outreach, said this group of students had more thoughtful and relevant questions than any other.
“Compared to other school groups, these seemed more detailed and in-depth,” he said.
Students without vision have to ask questions to put it all together to create a visual picture, explained Danielle Cummings, supervising teacher with the North Central Regional Cooperative, from Coyote Springs Elementary School.
Once students established a concept, their follow-up questions took on an investigative approach. Second and third questions built on the answers of the first.
Fraher said it must be difficult for someone visually impaired to imagine space and distance. “I feel good about the experience they had here. You can see the lights go on,” he said. These students’ creative thought process could bring ideas to the field of engineering that others won’t have, he added.
One student who is hard of hearing rarely talks in the classroom because she feels embarrassed by her voice. After the presentation, she answered Fraher’s question that, no, she would not want to travel in space. “I want to survive!” She had more questions, including the one about pets in space.
Cummings said maybe this student has an interest in science that no one knew about.
Another student commented that he, too, would not want to go into space. “It takes too much math.”
Fraher said not to get discouraged, there are other things he could do to help those who do want to explore space.
An aide with visual impairments reported that she knew of the moon only as a shiny, blurry object in the sky. Inside the planetarium, she was able to see the moon for the first time “so big and up close.”
The group visited the building where 3-D models are made, had lunch in the Hangar Courtyard, and toured the campus before returning to their buses to head back to their schools in Prescott Valley, Camp Verde, Flagstaff, Lake Havasu and Bullhead City.