Feeling DNA: Reimagining science education for visually impaired students

Feelin’ DNA aims to inspire the visually impaired community by providing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers with 3-D models so they can incorporate them into their classrooms.

The founder of the student-run organization at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, junior Rachael Hamm, came up with the idea through an assignment for a genetics class taught by Kelly Hogan, an associate STEM teaching professor of biology, QEP director and assistant dean of instructional innovation in the College of Arts & Sciences. Students were supposed to create something that could be used in a hands-on science museum using the BeAM makerspaces on campus.

Video Transcript

Rachael Hamm: “Feeling DNA is a group of students here at UNC and our whole goal is to inspire the visually impaired community through the access of quality STEM education material, and we're doing that by using the makerspace and creating 3D models and files to then get to the teachers so that they're able to incorporate them into their classrooms, and allow them to have tactile models.”

Kevin Currin: “It was a big struggle for me when I was taking those classes to be able to write the structures of things on the exams and how reactions happen in a 3D way. I think it's really going to help that aspect of education a lot.”

Joanna Cao: “So, far we have a 2D projection of a heart with Braille on the side so when you touch the heart on one hand you can feel the Braille on the other hand. We’ve also started making 3D models, so we have one of a bacteriophage and right now we're trying to print an interactive DNA model.”

Rachael: “We all got started from Dr. Hogan’s genetics class. She kind of prompted us to come up with an idea to use the makerspace, create something that would either teach someone something or that could be in a museum.”

Kelly: “The idea was to reinforce the concepts that they were learning in genetics and molecular biology. What's different about it is we're not telling students about how science works, we're having students do it. It's really experiential.”

Rachael: “So as we realized you know this could actually have you know a lasting impact not just on us as individuals, but you know nationwide, we realized we had to grow and so we reached out you know to the biomedical engineering department and editors, business people and just different people in the community and UNC itself. Like I feel like we've used all the resources almost UNC has which is awesome.”

Kelly: “What I love about this project is we started by reimagining science education. Well now these students have taken this to a new level by helping visually impaired students around the state. So I think it aligns so nicely with the idea that we at UNC are reimagining arts and sciences for the public good.”

Rachael: “It kind of went from this assignment to then becoming this big project that we're all so passionate about. And now we’re in the process of applying to become a 501 c (3) and become a non-profit hopefully creating a sustainable thing here at UNC.”

Featuring:

Rachael Hamm, Junior, Biology and Chemistry major

Kevin Currin, Graduate student, Computational Biology

Joanna Cao, Sophomore, Biomedial Engineering major

Kelly Hogan, QEP Director
Assistant Dean of Instructional Innovation
Associate STEM Teaching Professor, Biology

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