"Classroom of the Sea (COS)" is a comprehensive three-year project that addresses many of the special needs of deaf learners in science. About one in every thousand school age children in the U.S. is deaf or hard of hearing and these learners often lag behind their hearing peers in cognitive and language development. COS will address these issues, as well as the special communication needs of deaf learners, through a partnership of scientists, educators, and students that aims to enhance both teaching and learning in middle and high school science education. The project staff will integrate research and education and draw upon the excitement of scientific discovery to motivate students, provide situated learning opportunities, and identify the scientific and technical concepts that need to be integrated with American Sign Language to enhance science instruction to deaf students.
For the past four years the National Undersea Research Center (NURC) located at the University of Connecticut has been collaborating with the American School for the Deaf (ASD) to successfully advance science education for deaf students. This interaction was initiated by ASD's participation in the Aquanaut Program, an educational outreach program of NURC that provided deaf learners an opportunity to conduct hands-on research using visual technologies, including sonars, robots, computers and other marine sampling devices. This project will provide the expertise and infrastructure to develop a standards-based science curriculum and problem-based lab and field experiments, evaluate the effectiveness of these approaches, while simultaneously improving the ability to teach science to deaf learners through language enhancement.
The objectives of the Classroom of the Sea program are to: 1) develop an integrated science curriculum for deaf students using highly interdisciplinary marine science; 2) provide real-world oceanographic research opportunities to enrich the curriculum; 3) develop processes for optimizing the use of technical signs and American Sign Language in science and technology instruction; 4) adapt and develop technologies to disseminate the curriculum, language enhancement strategies, and research results to the Deaf community, educators of deaf students, and others; and 5) better prepare deaf students to pursue careers in science and technology.
COS is comprised of two integrated elements - Science Through Marine Science" and Communications Access". The program is based upon the premise that students, and particularly students with disabilities such as deafness, can achieve a high degree of scientific literacy by learning science in a practical manner, i.e. within authentic learning environments. This will be achieved by studying the many facets (i.e. disciplines) of the marine environment. The second major element of the Classroom of the Sea involves "Communications Access," which will emphasize functional communication in teaching science through sign language and will involve the identification of concepts and terms that lack clear signs within American Sign Language (ASL) and the effective use of ASL grammatical features. Appropriate technologies will be developed and tested to implement and disseminate all elements of the program.
The critical program components studied and demonstrated in the Classroom of the Sea project will not only benefit deaf learners, but can be applied in school programs to enhance the education of all students, especially those with other disabilities or those for whom English is a second language.