Volume III Number 2, June 1996

Accessible Internet Based Mathematics and Aeronautics Materials for 4th-7th Grade Children with Physical Disabilities

Lewis E. Kraus


InfoUse is running a three year project entitled "An Internet-Based Curriculum on Math and Aeronautics for 4th -7th Grade Children with Physical Disabilities" with funding through a cooperative agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA's award, which is administered through the High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Office as part of NASA's Information Infrastructure Technology and Applications (IITA) program and NASA-Ames Research Facility at Moffett Field, was given as one of eight such awards for developing new ways of teaching science, mathematics, engineering, and aeronautics through developing new Internet-based information technologies.

This project will create on-line lessons and activities on math and aeronautics with the aim of improving education and career options for children with physical disabilities. This project proposes to develop a specialized program, drawing from existing curricula, available materials and assistive technology, and using the Internet to support an interactive education experience. The project targets schools nationally with 4th-7th grade students. The on-line lessons and activities will be useful to students in mainstream general education as well as special education settings.

The genesis of this project is based around two issues. The first issue came from an awareness that, around the 4th grade, current mathematics curricula are highly reliant on students' ability to use manipulables such as paper and pencil, calculators, or three-dimensional geometric models. Children with disabilities that affect their ability to manipulate objects (cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, specific hand/arm conditions, etc.) and who therefore find it difficult or impossible to use such manipulables are clearly at an academic disadvantage. The second issue came from the realization that physically disabled children may not consider or be prepared for career possibilities in aeronautics or the importance of mathematics in pursuing these careers. The Internet, with its multimedia and communication capabilities, holds great potential for allowing these issues to be addressed.


The stated mission of this project is "To stimulate and motivate students with physical disabilities in grades 4-7 to pursue aeronautics-related careers via the development and delivery of accessible math education materials on the Internet." From this mission, we developed four goals:

1. Accessibility
Improve access to mathematics and aeronautics curricula materials for 4th-7th graders with physical disabilities.

2. Math Proficiency
Improve mathematics proficiency outcomes among 4th-7th grade students with physical disabilities.

3. Aeronautics Careers
Inspire and motivate students with physical disabilities to pursue aeronautics-related careers.

4. Innovative Use of Technology
Increase access to, and use of, digital communication and multimedia technology among children with physical disabilities.


A World Wide Web site that will contain lessons and provide mathematical exercises using examples from aeronautics and that will be maximally accessible by children with physical disabilities. The activities will be based on national mathematics standards and aeronautic content guidelines. The Web site will also contain help information, information for teachers/parents, opportunities for users to find out more about aeronautics from experts/role models, and links to other Web sites. The target age level for year 1 (Phase 1) is 4th grade.


The Internet offers advantages and disadvantages as a medium for providing aeronautics-based math activities. We have re-examined the advantages to provide a rationale for the structure of the activities within this project to guide the design process.

Internet advantages:

* computer use is motivating, non-threatening and self-paced;

* Internet lessons are available to students anywhere there is a computer on-line;

* on-line use provides immediate access to an infinite and dynamic amount of information and resources from all over the world;

* specificity of information received is unmatched through other resources;

* on-line use extends a student's understanding and experience by providing interactive communication and sharing with students all over the world;

* possible cost benefits to Internet delivery.

In order for this project to appeal to classroom teachers and students, the inherent limitations of the Internet were identified and addressed. These limitations include:

* interactive capability within Hypertext Markup Language (HTML);

* activities that could be better addressed (based on best instructional practices) through CD-ROM or other software formats;

* realistic amount of time each classroom or group of students will spend on-line based on financial and classroom management restraints.

* accessibility issues

Technology is a tool for educating students. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Technology is best used as a tool for providing information to students when it can't be done in a better way. Using the Internet to deliver aeronautics-based math activities will be most effective when the advantages of Internet use are incorporated into the design.


In the first year, the project will establish Internet access at school sites while designing and installing the initial World Wide Web-based instructional lessons. The lessons will be competency-based, with learning goals in math, aeronautics, and in the use of the Internet as a learning resource. The second year will expand the curriculum, delivering additional media and software to the user site by FTP, floppy, or CD-ROM, and then use those materials for interactive, real-time collaborative learning on the Internet. Year 3 will update delivery platforms to accommodate selected technological advances such as fiber-to-the-curb Interactive TV and advances in assistive technology.

We will examine how best to combine the Internet potential for multi-user interaction, the speed of locally-delivered media, and the power of true interactive authoring to maximize the strengths of each of these media and the potential power of these media in combination.


While the project will draw on the proven multimedia, accessibility, and education skills of staff at InfoUse, the project has a variety of resources. The Center for Accessible Technology, an Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) site in Berkeley, California is participating in curriculum research, accessibility issues and activity design. The forty-six Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) sites nationwide, along with the Headquarters in San Rafael, California will provide immediate access to 985 school districts across the nation. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona is providing Internet server access and hosting focus groups. An expert advisory panel of teachers, administrators, and individuals with specific expertise in math, aeronautics, disability, and Internet provides feedback at various stages during the project.


Research into classical and non-classical approaches to teaching math and interviews with teachers, administrators and experts in math curricula revealed the following list of educational approaches and content needs for 4th grade students to be served in this project in the first year.

Approaches to project curricula include:

* Outcome-based education

* An active role for students in their learning

* Use of careers and role models as goals to learning

* Cooperative work/Team or Peer Teaching (e.g., semester-long group investigation and group problem solving)

* Use real-world experiences to teach math (e.g., exploration, discussion and activities that mirror the mathematical problems encountered by pilots)

* Multi-cultural math treatments

* Appropriate presentations of persons with disabilities, females and males, and people of various ethnicities and races.

* The program should augment existing learning materials, not be a comprehensive mathematics curriculum.


To ensure that the program follows the approach outlined above, we selected topics for inclusion into the program that are consistent with current educational practices and standards. These topics are presented in ways that are meaningful to a range of learners in today's classrooms. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards and state mathematics frameworks provided the mathematics content which needed to be covered; national aeronautics curricula were reviewed for age-appropriate content that could be taught with mathematical concepts.

Math content to be covered includes: Estimation; Measurement; Number sense and numeration; Whole number computation; Whole number operations; Geometry; Statistics and probability; Patterns and relationships; and Fractions and decimals.

Aeronautical content to be covered includes: History of Aerospace; Kinds and uses of Aircraft; Parts of An Airplane; Why Airplanes Fly; Weather; Instruments and Navigation; and Airports.


Using the NCTM standards, the following list of ways to teach the content was assembled.

Data collection: students will be involved in developing and implementing plans for collecting and analyzing data to answer questions, including concepts of mean, median, mode, and range. (The graphics capabilities of computers in general and the Internet in particular are ideal for generating teaching materials in this area.)

Shapes: students will identify shapes, manipulate them in spatial relationships, and develop visualization skills, including understanding of perspective.

Patterns: students will begin to discover patterns in their data, and can then make predictions and form hypotheses for other variables.

Multiplication and Division: students will have opportunities for practicing these math facts in the context of solving questions within activities.

Area and Perimeter: students will grow to understand the relationship between area and perimeter, and experiment with links to multiplication and division, and two-dimensional shapes.

Fractions and Decimals: students will be able to practice working with fractions and decimals through pattern and shape.

Grids and Graphs: students will display their data, hypotheses, and results in a variety of ways using grids and graphs. Patterns and relationships will become obvious through these displays.

Careers: teaching aeronautics for 4th grade children included the coordination of career information with the aeronautical concepts.


Web pages can be made accessible in three ways: Web pages can be designed for optimal use, users can set specific preferences within browsers, and browsers themselves can be made more accessible. The project established criteria and is a model for the design of World Wide Web pages with accessibility issues, needs, and equipment in mind. Of particular emphasis are consistent placement of hot links, parallel pages of text-only (no graphics), and non-scrolling pages. Browser preferences allow accessibility through font, color, and page size adjustment. Browser design will not be dealt with directly in this project.


Aviation Careers Series. Pilot and Flight Engineers. US. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, Aviation Education Program.

Aviation Curriculum Guide for Middle School Level, Secondary School Level. Aimee Dye. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration. (APA-5-145-83)

Curriculum and Evaluation Stanrdards for School Mathematics. (June, 1989). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Working Groups of the Commission on Standards for School Mathematics of the NCTM. Reston, VA.

Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools. Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve. (1996). California Department of Education, Sacramento.

Mid-Continental Regional Educational Laboratory. (May, 1993). A Summary of Analyzed State Curriculum Frameworks.

Kraus, L. E. (1996). Accessible internet based mathematics and aeronautics materials for 4th-7th grade children with physical disabilities. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 3(2).