Itinerant teaching for maths

 

Integration and inclusion are hot topics in the European educational field. In most countries pupils with impairments are integrated in mainstream schools. In some countries, like Norway, all special schools are closed and replaced by resource centers. In other countries, special schools are still open, but most of the pupils there are multiply impaired. Consequently, many visually impaired pupils all over Europe are integrated in the mainstream school system.
 

student working with brailledisplay

 

We, a team of special teachers and counselors, believe integration is a good thing. But, we do want to emphasize the importance of good maths education for these mainstreamed pupils. Maths is an important subject because it stimulates analythical thinking. A good background in maths offers pupils the possibility to choose from a wide range of studies in higher education. Sometimes braille pupils are discouraged to study maths and sciences because these subjects are not accessible for the visually impaired. This is untrue. If the right adaptations and alternative methods and materials are provided, maths and sciences are accessible for visually impaired pupils.

 

One of the first problems braille pupils encounter when studying maths, is the notation. The mathematical notation is characterised by the use of symbols and by the layered structure. Since a braille display offers a linear sequence of 20 to 80 braille cells, braille pupils need a linear maths code to read and write maths. This code has to comprise information on the content as well as the structure of the mathematical expression. Furthermore, not all mathematical symbols are represented on a computer keyboard. These symbols are replaced by abbrevations or a combination of characters which take more than one braille cell. This longer linear representation makes it more difficult to obtain an overview of the formulas. Hence braille pupils need to fully concentrate and use their short-term memory more than their peers.

maths code vwc

 

A further problem lies in their spatial visualization ability. Braille pupils often lack experience in this field. Hence it is more difficult for them to estimate distances, areas and volumes, and thus interpret a geometric figure correctly. Braille pupils lack the overview at a glance when working with geometric figures. Instead, they have to explore the figure by touch and build up a mental image. Some braille pupils are more gifted in doing this than others. It is important for all braille pupils to train their spatial visualization ability, and maths offer them a reason to do so.

 

We believe a braille pupil in the maths classroom can be an enrichment for his/her sighted peers, since the maths teacher will be challenged to explain the maths in a different, less abstract way. But, the maths teacher and the braille pupil do need guidance from an itinerant teacher who is experienced in this subject. The itinerant teacher counsels the maths teacher and provides advice on how to teach, which materials and methods to use,... He can also supply tactile drawings and educational objects.

 

On the other hand, the itinerant teacher works individually with the braille pupil and teaches him/her the linear notation, how to draw and read drawings, and helps the pupil with the aspects of maths which are difficult for him/her personally. Preferably, the itinerant teacher invests in pre-teaching. This way, the braille pupil can easily follow in the maths classroom. The itinerant teacher knows which goals are reachable in maths education for blinds, what the braille pupil is capable of and how to get the most out of him/her.