Tactile approaches to help learners visualize key processes in environmental health sciences

This chapter describes how hands-on models, or manipulatives, can be employed to improve the environmental health literacy of a variety of people, from science teachers and students in classrooms, to global audiences in large festival gatherings. Environmental health concepts can be quite abstract. For example, the effect of wood smoke on human lungs. People are concerned about the exposure to toxic molecules from the smoke, but find an explanation of the chemical process by which wood smoke harms human health too difficult to fully understand. Hands-on activities and models are a visual and tactile way of communicating essential molecular environmental health concepts in an inviting way without requiring a technical background.

The MIT Edgerton Center Molecule Set (hereafter referred to as the Molecule Set) is one example of an engaging model set that employs a simple design of differently colored LEGO® bricks to represent atoms. The set was designed to teach chemical principles to middle school students, and has evolved to include new topics with a more environmental health emphasis such as climate change and air pollution. The success of the Molecule Set and corresponding lessons stems from a unique collaboration between MIT scientists and the MIT Edgerton Center. This chapter highlights the Molecule Set and other relevant examples where hands-on models have been used to communicate abstract science concepts and improve environmental health literacy.

Vandiver K. M., 2019. Tactile approaches to help learners visualize key processes in environmental health sciences. In: Finn S. & O’Fallon L. (Eds.), Environmental Health Literacy, pp 315-332. Springer, Cham. Chapter (restricted access).

 

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