TKY Teacher Innovates and Accommodates at Kentucky School for the Blind
When Adam Stockhausen was a student at Emory majoring in chemistry and philosophy, he had no idea he would someday be helping visually impaired students experience science independently. Today he teaches high school biology at Kentucky School for the Blind and feels he has truly found his niche.
Adam reminisces about his college days: “I found organic chemistry fascinating, but didn’t enjoy the research because it lacked collaboration. What I really enjoyed was mentoring as an RA. So when Teach Kentucky was recruiting on campus, it seemed I’d found the perfect opportunity to blend my two passions.”
He goes on to say that his second major in philosophy has greatly influenced his approach to education. “Philosophy has helped to broaden the scope of what I understand about how people think and why we should care about what we learn…. I use methods like socratic dialogue, discussion groups, asking questions, connecting to larger ideas, pushing students to ask why, so they can see that science can connect to deeper ideas; it’s not just about learning facts.”
For Adam, part of being able to push students to those deeper levels has meant providing his visually impaired students with authentic opportunities to experiment and to experience labs through their own senses. “My current students have more significant needs [than did my students in mainstream public schools], so I’ve had to adapt my instruction to meet them where they are.”
Adam explains the learning curve for these accommodations was steep. Anything he presents to students in writing must also be in voice over. He must provide screen-reading software. Any picture he uses must also have alternative text, which must then be formatted properly and put into Braille—which he can now read.
An early example of how Adam has adapted to meet his students’ needs came early in his tenure at the Kentucky School for the Blind in the fall of 2017. Even though Adam had just begun to work with visually-impaired students, he wanted to be sure they had a chance to experience the solar eclipse for themselves.
Adam learned of a device designed by a professor in South Africa that could detect light intensity. He modified the code for this device to convert the variance in light intensity to a variance in tone: higher pitch indicated higher intensity of light, while the pitch lowered in dimmer light. He was inspired by the students’ excitement in the classroom and then in the field on the day of the solar eclipse. Students with no vision were thrilled to be able to experience this breathtaking phenomenon through sound alongside parents and members of the community, and no longer had to rely on second-hand accounts of the eclipse.
Though his students have limited vision, Adam believes they should be able to conduct measurement independent of their sighted peers. In addition to the light intensity detector his students used to measure the diminishing light intensity by sound, Adam has also utilized a foam tool that can help his students measure the volume of liquid by touch. He believes his students can and should perform experiments just like any other student, unencumbered by their disabilities.
During frog dissections, he allows students to do the cutting themselves and experience the animal’s anatomy through touch. Simply describing the dissection to them would not have the same effect. “It wouldn’t be as mysterious or morbid,” Adam explains. “They just wouldn’t learn as much without that literal hands-on experience.”
Adam came to teaching as a member of the 2011 Teach Kentucky Cohort. Presently Adam and his wife, Sarah, whom he met through a Teach Kentucky connection, are planning to stay in Louisville. “Rowan and Teach Kentucky have been integral to my transition from college to career,” says Adam. “TKY helped me to grow and push myself to become better at teaching. I was immediately connected with a network of support that is unparalleled.”
Now in his seventh year teaching, Adam is thinking about leadership. He’s wrapping up a certificate to be a “Teacher of the Visually Impaired” and may pursue a second masters in this area. For now, though, he’s challenged and inspired by his work in the classroom, and grateful to Teach Kentucky for helping him carve out the beginnings of his unique and meaningful career.