High School Deafblind Teacher Uses Manipulatives to Teach Life Skills

100x Low Vision Money Braille Size comparison

As a special education teacher from Rome Georgia, I have had the opportunity to work with students who have had one or many disabilities that impede their learning. At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, my assistant special education director asked to bring a coordinator from a local college to observe my 4th grade math inclusion classroom. I welcomed the upcoming visit but wondered if any new strategies or interventions had been successfully implemented by other teachers with the concept of rounding whole numbers. I asked other math teachers in my school and searched for ideas on the Internet. Honestly, there were not a whole lot of options. Over the years, I have attended numerous math workshops. I only saw methods that involve number lines, dry erase boards, and blocks. Other than those options, paper and pencil were the last resort. The last thing I wanted my visitors, especially my supervisor, to observe were towers being built of blocks or off-task drawings on dry- erase boards by my students. I could not use the number line in my classroom because it only went to 100; we were working with numbers greater than 100. Although all four options have been used for years and have had some success, I wanted math manipulatives for ALL students that could make an immediate impact on educational performance and not be considered a “toy” by my students. Then, I had an idea…

Incorporating movable and interchangeable slides, I created a number line system that  can round numbers up to 10,000,000. It can round numbers to the nearest 10,100, 1,000, 10,000, 100,000 and 1,000,000. When I began to show this concept to my colleagues, the response was overwhelmingly positive! Teachers began to ask me to create manipulatives that address other math standards. Therefore, I created manipulatives that involve weight, decimals, fractions, elapsed time, and money. During the developmental process, I consulted with math teachers and specialists, administrators, parents and students from different schools and school systems. I also consulted with an occupational therapist, a hearing specialist, and a vision specialist. Of all the stakeholders with whom I worked during the process, I most valued the student input. after all, they are the ones who will use the manipulatives as a vital part of their classroom instruction.

In June 2013, I was demonstrating my low vision and braille manipulatives at the 2012 Georgia Sensory Assistance Project Conference in Cave Spring, Georgia. At the beginning of the conference, two woman approached my exhibit booth; one woman led the other by the elbow. I greeted them and began to ask where they lived. I immediately recognized that one of the individuals was deaf blind because of her communication techniques.

During our conversation, I received some intriguing information. The verbal deafblind women, Dana Tarter, was a high school resource teacher who taught life skills in Floyd County Schools in Rome, Georgia, which is the school system next to  mine. Dana informed me that she was at the conference to find assistive technology to help her address and teach academic standards, such as elapsed time and money. With the help of Dana’s translator, I demonstrated my braille manipulatives to her hoping that I could help at least one of her students. At first I was unsure about HOW to explain my manipulative functions because I have never worked with a teacher or student who is deafblind.

The first manipulative Dana was interested in acquiring information about was my Elapsed Time manipulative. I began to explain the general shape and size of my elapsed time manipulative, stressing how the slides move up and down for each hour and the tactile dots represented minutes.  I also mentioned that all of the numeric intervals of 5 were brailled as well as the hours on the slides. Students are encouraged to set the hourly increments first and then count the dots to find the minutes. I noted that more advanced blind students can read the brailled hour and minute increments of five first and then count the dots, such as for the time 4:38 (4:00 in the left window and 5:00 in the right window and then read the braille to :35 + 3 tactile dots to equal 4:38.)  We agreed that the ability to tell time is one skill and that demonstrating the ability to calculate elapsed time is a more complex skill because it involves addition and subtraction, especially in the math problems and real-life situations that require regrouping.  During the instructional process to achieve mastery, teachers often use the manipulative during the initial part of instruction and then gradually fade the manipulative as the student becomes more proficient. Eventually, the students use the manipulative to access their own understanding. Dana stated, “In other words, students can be held accountable for their own work because they have to check their own answers themselves. That will allow more me more time to help my struggling students.”

The other manipulative Dana requested for me to demonstrate was my braille Money manipulative. I restated that the Money manipulative is the same size and shape as my Elapsed Time. Whole dollars are on the slides and increments of $0.05 and $0.10 on the main part are brailled. Tactile dots are placed on each cent for counting. When rounding money, several skills are needed to add and subtract money as well as round to the nearest dollar. Dana instinctively established the dollar increments by reading the braille. Then she read the brailled increments of $0.05 and $0.10 and $0.01 tactile dots. While she was reading the braille, she noticed a raised line in the middle. She kept running her fingers across the line and mentioned, “This raised line in the middle…. is here for students when they need to round to the nearest dollar. If the amount is on the right side of the line, students round up to the closest dollar. If the amount is on the left side of the line, students round down to the closest dollar.” I told her that idea was from one of my inclusion students, Haley, during the design process when I gave her my Money prototype to use in class. She quietly asked, “Can I draw a line in the middle (on the label) so that I know which way to go?” Dana, like Haley and other students and teachers who used my manipulatives quickly notice that the proximity of their fingers to the windows on the left or right of the line in the middle determines which way to round numbers.

After I demonstrated my math manipulatives to her, Dana expressed interest in using my manipulatives in her classroom because they would provide new strategies to teach difficult academic standards to her students. I collected her contact information and made arrangements to visit her classroom. Dana and I exchanged emails and coordinated our schedules for me to observe a lesson. I arrived during her planning, and we discussed the Money and Elapsed Time manipulatives in greater detail than at the conference. The classroom arrangement included several tables for small group instruction for some lessons, but they were mainly used for individual instruction because many of her students are at different academic levels, especially in math.

During the money lesson, even though Dana is blind, she could visualize how the manipulative would be used by her student. She knew that there was an important line in the middle and semi circles with $0.10 increments. With the braille manipulative and assistance from her translator, Dana provided individualized instruction for one of her students who used a regular student version. Even though her student had cognitive deficits, he quickly understood the three simple steps in finding the correct answer for rounding to the nearest dollar: establish the dollar increments in the windows, count the lines, and determine if his finger is on the right or left side of the line in the middle after he was finished counting. 

My observation lasted about 20 minutes due to the need for instruction of other important academic standards. I sincerely enjoyed visiting Dana’s well-structured classroom. Not only did Dana purchase my manipulatives with her own money and take her own personal time during the summer to improve individualized instruction by attending a conference, she clearly demonstrated that she is in the classroom for all of the right reasons. I could hear the positive tone in her voice during her lesson and the quality questions she asked regarding how to use her math manipulatives most effectively. This observation was not about a teacher using math manipulatives in a lesson; it involved a dedicated teacher overcoming adversity to help cognitively challenged students learn essential life skills.

For additional information regarding Silde-A-Round Math Manipulatives' low vision and braille math manipulatives, please visit this website.