Pupils get their hands on glass sculptures of cells

Posted: 24/11/2016 | Education,

Cell biology is an extremely complex subject to understand – so imagine what it might be like to try and learn the topic without the aid of visual diagrams.

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Pupil examines a tactile diagram of a cell in a science labDuring their science studies, students at the Royal Blind School are encouraged to handle real objects. But how do you go about describing something that the human eye can only detect with the help of a microscope?

That was the question that Sarah Keer-Keer, Public Engagement Manager for the Welcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, asked herself after visiting the school in 2014.

After much thought and planning, as well as speaking with students and teachers, Sarah and glass artist, Laura Reed, have created a set of glass sculptures of cells.

Now the duo have donated the 3D sculptures to the Royal Blind School, after dropping in on a science lesson this week.

“The first time I visited I brought items like bird skulls and baby chicks for the students to handle, as well as some glass sculptures,” Sarah said.

“We got some feedback from that class and went away and thought about how we could best demonstrate what a cell looks like to a visually impaired student.

“We had a grant to carry out the work and were pleased to be able to come into the school and see them in use.”

The glass sculptures include models of plant cells, human cheek cells and chromosomes.

Royal Blind School science teacher, Anna Christal, said when teaching the topic it is important to go through the process you would with a visually impaired student.

She said: “If we were looking at an onion skin cell, for example, I would still peel the onion, let the student feel the skin, place it under the microscope, demonstrate how that flattens it out, look through the microscope and describe what I can see.

“It’s challenging to get across the scale of cells, so we start by handling the real object. We might then construct a tactile demonstration of a scaled-up cell by using jelly in a bag with a ball, then we move onto tactile diagrams and so on.

“I am very grateful to Sarah and Laura for their hard work on this project. The glass diagrams went down really well with the pupils and I think they will be extremely useful in classes on this topic.” 

Read more adapted teaching at the Royal Blind School.