IBEX: Mission Science for Students with Dyslexia

Written by Morgan Woroner, IGES.

Here at NASA Wavelength, one of our priorities is to provide resources to accommodate learners of all kinds. We understand that many students have unique learning needs, and some students require specialized resources catering to their strengths. One collection that we are particularly proud of comes from the education and public outreach (E/PO) team for the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission. Thanks in part to IBEX scientist Dave McComas, the IBEX education and outreach team set out to create a suite of resources specifically geared towards middle school students with dyslexia, a language processing disorder that can affect reading, writing, and language development. Because of his personal experiences with dyslexia, McComas advocated for resources that would allow students with the disorder to more easily understand the scientific concepts involved in the IBEX mission, specifically the study of the heliosphere and how it relates to the boundary of our Solar System.

What is the heliosphere? It is a region of space, encompassing the Solar System, influenced by the solar wind. The solar wind from our Sun blows outward against the material between the stars, creating a bubble-like region. This bubble, surrounding our Sun and Solar System is what we call the heliosphere. The edge of this bubble forms our Solar System’s boundary. The IBEX website explains in further detail (and provides some great visuals, like the one shown below):

Implemented by the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Ill., the IBEX mission education program includes a full-dome digital planetarium show, IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System, which has been distributed to over 150 planetariums across the United States, and to over 100 international planetarium sites. Accompanying the show are informal education activities, posters and other resources, curriculum materials, materials for students with visual impairments, and resources for middle school students with dyslexia. You can find these resources in NASA Wavelength.

The IBEX E/PO team developed seven strategy guides specifically for educators of middle school students with dyslexia. The first six guides use text from the Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) Space Science Sequence for Grades 6-8 and other GEMS resources. The guides provide teachers with a reading strategy, supplemental resources, background information, implementation techniques, and connections to standards. In a seventh guide, Accommodating Middle School Students with Dyslexia, educators will find descriptions of accommodations for students with dyslexia that map to the lessons in the GEMS Space Science Sequence for Grades 6-8. The Space Science Sequence is specifically designed to address age-appropriate core concepts in space science, as well as common misconceptions. The Sequence, which can be used with all students, is divided into four units: How Does the Sun Affect the Earth?, Why are There Seasons?, The Solar System, and Beyond the Solar System. Each unit allows students to explore space science in a way that builds on their previous knowledge, challenges their misconceptions, and makes connections between space science concepts. Not only does this guide provide information specifically for the GEMS Space Science Sequence, it offers accommodation information that educators can carry over into other science lessons as well. Combined, this is a fantastic set of resources for any teacher wanting to strengthen their collection of resources for students with reading difficulties. All of the guides are available on NASA Wavelength here.

What resources and strategies do you use to differentiate instruction for students with diverse abilities and learning styles?