Return to Headlines

Visual Language, Visual Math

By William Jennison, High School Math Teacher, Alabama School for the Deaf

 Mr. Jennison teaching a Geometry Class.Visualize this: You are a high school math student who is deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with others. You rely on your eyes to get information about everything around you, even your language. At Alabama School for the Deaf (ASD), we combine math with visual learning to ensure all students receive the best education in the most accessible way possible. In my math classroom, everything revolves around visual learning. Desks are set up to allow the students to see the board while communicating with each other and me. I have a large touchscreen TV that allows me to create visual aids, and I use markers to visually show the students the process for solving complex problems. There are concrete resources such as fraction bars, integer cubes and pattern blocks to promote a deeper understanding of concepts.

I take advantage of ASL, a visual language, to teach math. For example, a recent geometry problem asked us to find the height of a tree if we know its shadow is 25-feet-long. A 4-foot-tall boy is standing next to the tree, and his shadow is 5-feet-long. How tall is the tree?

I used ASL to create a visual representation of this problem using the space in front of the signer. I signed “tree” on the left side. The imaginary tree is now locked in that space. I pointed to the tree and signed that its shadow is 25-feet-long. Next, I shifted to the right side and signed “boy standing.” Now the imaginary boy is set in the area next to the tree. I then signed that the boy is 4-feet-tall and his shadow is 5-feetlong. Lastly, I pointed to the imaginary tree and asked, “How tall is the tree?” The ensuing discussion with the students uncovered the process of using proportions to solve the problem.

It is my goal to empower ASD students to become independent problem solvers using a variety of visual tools. By the way, my students love bonus points. So, before I close… Can you find the height of the tree in the problem above? Bonus points if you can!