Truly hands-on

ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum lived up to its name Tuesday for a dozen visually impaired students from across Southern Oregon who came to experience science through all of their senses.

Nevaeh Humsicker, 5, of Medford, who has partial vision, said the balloon and gas experiment was one her favorite parts of the field trip, sponsored by the Southern Oregon Education Service District.

She and four other students, in kindergarten through second grade, had gathered to conduct chemistry experiences in one of the museum's classrooms. Education director Skoshi Wise guided them through the steps of mixing baking soda and vinegar inside a small beaker, then allowed them to feel or watch as the reaction of the two ingredients expanded a balloon capping the mixture.

"So, what do you think is inside of the balloon?" Wise asked her pupils.

"Air!," Nevaeh said, throwing her hands above her head.

"That's right," said Wise, who then explained the difference between various gases.

The three-hour field trip drew 11 students, two of them blind, in kindergarten through 10th grade from as far away as Roseburg. They're among about 102 visually impaired or blind students attending K-12 public schools in Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, Klamath and Lake counties, which are encompassed by the SOESD. Those who didn't make it had other school obligations.

"We worked closely with ScienceWorks to design the day," said Mark Moskowitz, a program coordinator with SOESD. "They were great with designing activities that are accessible and meaningful for our students."

The students were treated to other chemistry experiments, a science show about nanoparticles and a scavenger hunt through the museum's exhibits.

Moskowitz said the students attend regular classes at their schools, and the SOESD provides additional teachers and resources to help them be successful in class.

"This was a wonderful opportunity for kids in our program to get meaningful exposure to science," he said. "They're just as competitive as anyone else "… but something like this can make it easier for them to learn and enjoy themselves."

Wise said museum instructors like to use a multi-sensory approach with all students, but this time they focused on the students' senses of touch, smell and hearing.

That's why Wise chose the baking soda, vinegar and balloon experiment.

"So that they could actually feel the gas blow up the balloon," she said.

ScienceWorks education coordinator Shannon Troy, who doused a bucket of waterproof nanoparticle sand with water during her show, asked students to listen when she pulled out a handful of the dry grains and let them fall audibly to the table.

"It's just little things," she said. "They were a great group of kids."

For students who have partial vision, instructors also incorporated high-contrast visual exhibits into the scavenger hunt, as they are easier to see, Moskowitz said. ScienceWorks also printed larger versions of its instruction pamphlets and worked with SOESD to translate them into braille.

"It was probably one of the things I've actually seen," said 16-year-old Devan Appling about the shadow room at ScienceWorks, a dark room where students stood between a flash bulb and a white wall, awaiting their shadows to be cast in front of them.

Devan, a sophomore at Grants Pass High School, has partial vision.

"It was just a great experience all around," he said. "Really fun."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

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