See It, Feel It, Hear It

Educator Name: Larry Biederman
School Name: Eton Academy


“See It, Feel It, Hear It – Understanding Electrostatics” is a multi-sensory physics project using a Van de Graaff Generator to help students with learning disabilities conceptualize electrostatics. Eton Academy serves 195 students with reading, attention, dyslexia and other learning challenges. A Van de Graaff Generator lets us vividly demonstrate electrostatics – students see bright electric sparks, hear the crackle and pop of discharging electrons, and feel objects moving and their hair standing on end. We will experiment with flying metal balls and pie tins. Students explain how a neon wand can light up without plugging it into an outlet. Sparks will jump across gaps on a lightning plate, connecting students’ experience with lightning in the sky to static electricity. As a final project, students build mini Generators to demonstrate a principle, explain it in their own words and identify an application in their everyday lives. These projects will be shared with elementary classes and videotaped for the website. Lastly, students research and discuss the life of Benjamin Franklin, who historians believe had learning challenges. We not only want students to master academics, but also to recognize their own unique strengths and potential. 

This project will have significant impact on all science classes (grades 1-12) at Eton Academy. This is the first inquiry-based unit our Science Curriculum Development Team will implement and is the culmination of two years of research into effective science curricula for learning-challenged students. This project could become a national model of adapting inquiry-based learning for special needs students. This project is very different from how we currently teach - trying to make static electricity with various materials and balloons. We can’t provide the sounds, sights and hands-on components these students need to direct their own learning and gain deep scientific understanding.

160 High school and middle school students will complete the “See It, Feel It, Hear It” Electrostatics science unit. The science unit will culminate with teams of students building their own mini generators to demonstrate a principle and real-life application. The top projects will be shared with 35 elementary school students and videotaped for the school website. In addition, elementary school science teachers will use the new hands-on equipment to introduce electricity to their students.