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Watershed Stewardship in Action: Deaf Students on the Estuary (WADE)

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Deaf and hard of hearing people are underrepresented in science and technical fields, including coastal science and management. Teachers working with deaf students face unique challenges: a lack of specialized American Sign Language (ASL) vocabulary to foster student understanding of complex science concepts; few teacher training opportunities that pair hands-on environmental science with meaningful discourse; and minimal support for field-based learning with deaf students. This project addressed these barriers by developing and promoting new signs for key watershed and estuarine concepts, providing professional development for teachers of the deaf, and creating customized field experiences for deaf students at three northeast research reserves.

Education coordinators from the Wells, Waquoit Bay, and Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserves worked with partners from Boston University and the Learning Center for the Deaf to identify key concepts foundational to understand estuarine and watershed science. Deaf scientists and educators at ASL Clear developed a lexicon of approximately 50 new American Sign Language vocabulary to capture and communicate these concepts along with video modules. Using the new sign language vocabulary, reserve educators developed a series of customized workshops and field experiences for pre-service, in-service teachers, interpreters, and their deaf students. The project team also created a series of videos featuring deaf science professionals discussing their academic and career journeys. The new resources and programming are helping teachers of the deaf deepen their teaching of key coastal science concepts and encouraging students to consider wider range of science careers.