Science teacher Lisa Ross taps a walnut on the desk of one of her high school students. She taps a pecan on the desk of the next student, and an almond on the next. One by one, she guides them to wrap their nuts in a napkin and bash them open with a mallet to see what’s inside. “What part of the plant is this?” she asks. “The seed!” they answer in unison.
Ross is an instructor at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind (GMS), the 176-year-old residential school in Raleigh, North Carolina, that serves students from kindergarten up to age 21 whose sight ranges from moderate visual impairment to total blindness. Ross, who has a masters degree in zoology from Texas A&M University and a teaching certificate from North Carolina State University, has taught preschool through university-level science. But when she arrived at Morehead in 2019, she faced a new kind of challenge: How to teach concepts like chemical reactions and the anatomy of a tree without the help of textbooks full of images and diagrams?
“The ways I taught before were visual and auditory, but now they need to be auditory and tactile, or auditory and kinesthetic,” she explains. “The more ways they can absorb the information, the better.”
Leaning into varied learning styles
Inside her classroom, a skeleton stands sentinel in the Wakanda Forever salute and shelves of 3D models and braille readers line the walls. Ross’ teaching style is fluid, upbeat, and engaging — and requires a lot of on-the-fly creativity. She’s found her students learn best when she incorporates an array of learning styles and engages their other senses, from touch and sound to smell and taste.