14 Apr Senior Creates Sculpture To Aid Young Blind Students In Math

For many children who are visually impaired, learning multiplication tables and mathematical equations is simply not something they like to spend time doing. Math is hard for them. They would rather be playing games. Senior Sheila Schneider has developed something that she believes will bridge that gap.

Schneider, the first legally blind student to major in sculpture at the University, has created a series of sculptures she believes will be appealing to kids and help them learn math more effectively.

“The sculptures would create a gestural language for students,” Schneider said. “The project allowed me to still be a sculptor and create something to help someone else.”

The six sculptures are hand-held and feature mathematical equations on the surfaces.

Schneider said she put a lot of thought into the design of the product.

“I wanted them to be appealing to kids so I incorporated curved surfaces,” she said. “There are very few flat surfaces. I also put holes in them because after observing kids, I found that their little fingers always like to find holes.”

Schneider said one of the reasons she wanted the design to be so appealing is that she understands firsthand how hard it can be for visually impaired students to learn math.

“Math was very difficult for me in school,” Schneider said. “I was very artistically inclined, but math and science? I hated them!”

Deana McDonagh, an industrial design professor, thinks appeal is an important part of the success of the project.

“We just want them to be beautiful little sculptures that you’ll want to pick up,” she said. “Students will not only be feeling them but reading equations in a very non-threatening, non-competitive way.”

Schneider said being able to apply the Braille to curved surfaces was the most challenging part of the project because usually Braille is used on flat surfaces only.

Another challenge is that Schneider had no experience reading Braille until this project.

Schneider said she would like to have her foam prototypes converted into bronze sculptures by the summer.

Long-term goals include commercializing the product for school systems and home use and even using the idea to create interactive playground equipment.

“People don’t realize when they see a child what their potential could be,” Schneider said.

“So many people look at those who are blind in a specific way. Allowing them opportunities to be productive and independent is really important.”

McDonagh also stressed how important the project is even for those without visual impairment.

“We all experience some form of disability, especially with age,” she said. “This is a very exciting new way of approaching design.”

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