1. Jeanne Reis
  2. Executive Director, ASL Clear Principal Investigator
  4. CRT at The Learning Center for the Deaf, Inc., Harvard Center for Integrated Quantum Materials (CIQM), Boston University
  1. Lorne Farovitch
  2. PhD Student
  4. University of Rochester
  1. Mandy Houghton
  2. http://www.asleducation.org
  3. Program Manager
  5. CRT at The Learning Center for the Deaf, Inc.
  1. Barbara Spiecker
  2. ASL STEM Outreach and Training Coordinator
  4. CRT at The Learning Center for the Deaf, Inc.

The ASL Clear Project: Engaging Deaf Students in STEM Learning

NSF Awards: 1231319

2019 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades K-6, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12, Undergraduate, Graduate, Adult learners, Informal / multi-age

American Sign Language (ASL) is the native or heritage language of many deaf and hard of hearing students. Students learning STEM content in their native language are shown to progress more effectively than when learning in a non-native language.

Spatial thinking skills are highly predictive of success in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. ASL uses visual-spatial language features to represent relationships between abstract and concrete concepts, enhancing STEM learning and promoting educational progress of deaf and hard of hearing students.

Mastery of STEM concepts is closely tied to mastery of domain-specific academic vocabulary. However, a variety of systemic pressures have impeded the natural development of ASL. As a result, many key academic concepts in STEM fields, such as ‘isosceles triangle’ and ‘amino acid,’ do not have broadly shared and accepted ASL signs. Deaf students therefore encounter different signs for the same STEM concept during their educational years, or fingerspelling of English terms letter by letter, e.g. P-H-O-T-O-S-Y-N-T-H-E-S-I-S. Fingerspelling English words represents individual letters, not concepts. Fingerspelled words cannot be combined in linguistically productive ways or inflected to add meaning.This barrier impacts vocabulary learning, concept mastery, and retention of content. (Reis, J., et al, 2016, in prep.)

There are very few research efforts related to ASL and bilingual education that are led by Deaf and heritage ASL-signers. Deaf students may not have the experience of  engaging with Deaf STEM professionals during their educational years, and seeing their potential for STEM careers through such interactions.

The ASL Clear project began at the Center for Research and Training (CRT) at The Learning Center of the Deaf (TLC) and Boston University in 2005, with primary funding from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Our team brings together panels of Deaf ASL-signing STEM subject matter experts to develop high quality STEM instructional materials and vocabulary in ASL. Each topical ASL video module created includes a STEM instructional presentation, a set of STEM vocabulary, and the associated definitions. (Reis et al, 2015)

After 12 years of development, the CRT team released an online educational application, ASL Clear [the American Sign Language STEM Concept Learning Resource], https://clear.aslstem.com/app/#/. The design of ASL Clear, also developed by Deaf and heritage ASL-signers, allows for navigation and content searches in ASL. (Reis et al 2015; Reis et al 2017, in prep). Edited and tagged modules are shared on the ASL Clear website.

Deaf students’ learning, retention, and application of STEM content are enhanced by the contextually rich concept and vocabulary instruction in ASL provided in ASL Clear. Teachers and educational interpreters report many benefits when learning from model presentations of academic content in ASL by Deaf STEM experts.

CRT is partnering with Harvard University's Center for Integrated Quantum Materials to create materials related to quantum and nano technology, funded by the National Science Foundation. Our team collaborates with university and organizational partners across the U.S., including Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the National Estuarine Research Reserves of New England, and the Natural Start Alliance. 

ASL Clear users have submitted thousands of requests for new topics and vocabulary to the site. Our team is seeking additional funding to prepare and release content in the pipeline, develop a mobile app, and expand the current array of ASL Clear modules.

For more information, visit http://www.asleducation.org/pages/stem.html or contact us directly. Please notify us and cite the work of the ASL Clear team when sharing this content.



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