The U.S. Department of Education reports that 72% of blind eighth graders receive a high school diploma. No more than 70% of those high school graduates enroll in post-secondary education, where mathematics is a key component to their success. However, mathematics is a visual language that causes major obstacles for blind students considering careers in science, engineering, technology or mathematics. Also, there is an increasing gap between the number of blind students needing training and the supply of teachers properly trained to serve blind students seeking such careers.
Dr. Stan Cronk and Dr. Ronald Ferguson, both faculty members at Louisiana Tech University, have developed an innovative way to address this significant problem. Their project is entitled Project VROOM: Visualizing the Real Operations Of Math. According to Cronk and Ferguson, the ultimate goal of the project is to develop, implement, and evaluate a Math 101 course for blind students. The aptly named VROOM brings together a crack team with an exciting plan. The entire project team combined together has at least 125 years of collective experience. These persons represent a variety of interdisciplinary interests including biomedical engineering, mathematics, education of the blind, adaptive technology, instructional technology, and mathematics education. The project costs approximately $99,968 and consists of three phases. In Phase One, an effective Math 101 curriculum is developed. In Phase Two, the Math 101 curriculum is field-tested during a six-week summer workshop. Blind high school students from all over the nation have been selected to participate in the summer workshop. During the workshop, the students receive instruction in an introductory algebra course. By the end of Phase Three, a technology appropriate Math 101 curriculum will be available for blind students.
Currently, no other program provides an interdisciplinary evidence-based approach to teaching Math 101 to the blind, which makes Project VROOM unique and inventive. The directors of Project VROOM chose Math 101 because on most college campuses Math 101 is considered the gateway mathematics course to most science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. Math 101 is also an important prerequisite to more advanced mathematics courses in college curricula, such as calculus or differential equations.
Project VROOM allows blind students to receive algebra instruction; establish relationships with mentors for support and encouragement; and learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based career options. This project benefits blind students by providing them with new options to choose from in their educations and when selecting their careers. Project VROOM also benefits school systems and university training programs by improving teaching techniques for teaching blind students thereby providing an innovative way to enhance courses available to blind students. While blind students are learning to visualize the real operations of math, society as a whole will be able to visualize a transformation in education and the lives of blind students thanks to this innovative project.