Wednesday, July 30, 2008

SpaceClass and Natural Reader for Science Accommodation

I spent some time this morning setting up an account and playing with "SpaceClass". SpaceClass is sponsored by NASA, Lockheed Martin, The Space Foundation, BioServe Space Technologies.

SpaceClass allows a teacher to set up a free account, then set up classes with descriptions and separate passwords. Students can go through the interactive lessons which give writing prompts, show videos with actors and has a narrator throughout the unit.
In their "About" section they say:

"The first space education program featuring virtual science experiments that simulate research actually being conducted in space, SpaceClass teaches students about science and technology for future missions. It makes learning fun! An interactive program using text, streaming video and animation, SpaceClass meets classroom learning standards. Young actors guide students through the entertaining lessons. Teachers can monitor each student’s progress and performance online."

The text above says that it "meets classroom learning standards" but I don't know what specific standards those are and for what grade level. It would be interesting to find out. The site says that the sponsors determine what topics and content will be part of SpaceClass, based on real work and research they are doing.

I viewed the Mission to Mars Unit after setting up an account and a mock class for training purposes. Mission to Mars has the following description:

"Students fly to Mars and use a membrane to separate gases in the Martian atmosphere in order to make methane fuel for the return trip to Earth. They learn about orbits, distances between planets, and how to calculate the amount of fuel needed. They experiment with electrolysis and learn how to use the natural resources of space to survive on Mars."

Accessibility in the Unit:
Mission to Mars had a nice intro and narrator with a voice easy to understand, some animation and then had a writing prompt on the Mars probes and landing on Mars. The student had to read the prompt text, so I opened my miniboard floating toolbar in the free program, Natural Reader. I was able to use the toolbar as my companion to read text to me as I went through the activity. I am glad to see that I can highlight text on the lessons and have the text read.

Above: A screen shot of SpaceClass and the writing prompt and my reading toolbar.

A variety of topics:
Other topics of units include Orion's Path; Journey to a Black Hole; Asteroid Challenge; Bones in Space. The grade level is probably middle to high school. Some upper elementary students who are advanced might find this a great alternative TAG activity.

I am interested in the aspect of using it with students who are cognitively fine, but need either some extra motivation in science and some reading support or have a visual disability and need to have some text support for help (this is where Natural Reader comes in). This site could be a great way to weave in some accessibility support as well as add some positive motivation factors if the units meet some key objectives in your science or reading and writing curriculum.

SpaceClass could be just the ticket for some of your students in a middle or high school class for remediation in reading and writing with students struggling with some of the more hidden learning disabilities. Often times these students need a more exciting medium to develop their skills. With Natural Reader for support, the combination package is a great alternative and the best is all free. You might want to check this one/two power punch out for some of your students this fall.

All the best to you!


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