- Created by Joshua Johnson (Student Employee), last modified by Harry Lang on Feb 07, 2023
Welcome to the NTID Science Signs Lexicon!
Four Decades of Research and Evaluation
This lexicon represents many years of evolution of a science sign resource, beginning with the NTID Technical Signs Project in the early 1970s to the current resource, which includes more than 2200 science terms/signs. The evolution is briefly described on this page.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the NTID Technical Signs Project developed videotapes and books with science and math signs. The project used a process of COLLECTING, EVALUATING and SYSTEMATIC RECORDING (CESR)
First Technical Signs Project book for science and mathematics signs.
Second Technical Signs Book developed with the Technical Signs Project (TSP) at NTID.
Over the first decade, we realized that finding the most popular signs for science terms was not the best solution. Rather, the best CONCEPTUALLY ACCURATE signs became the goal. Discussions of the concept represented by the sign led to ongoing revisions of the lexicon.
We also realized that permanent (unchangeable) resources such as books or videotapes did not allow for the continuous evolution of signs that comes from research and discussion. An online lexicon allows for replacement of videos on a regular basis as feedback is received.
Important Note to Those Developing Resources for Science Signs:We should caution those who have ambitious plans to develop online sign language dictionaries. While it is true that books and videotapes made it difficult to replace individual signs with newer and better signs, online dictionaries are also vulnerable. As you will read later, our "NTID Science Signs Lexicon" is being discarded. We had 2200 signs in that dictionary, but the entire "Ensemble" system was replaced at RIT by the "Panopto" system, necessitating to much work to replace the links for the signs, photographs, notes, etc.
The development of the current online lexicon (NTID SCIENCE SIGNS LEXICON) has been based on three National Science Foundation grants:
1) AESOP (Access to English and Science Outreach Project) - 8 regional workshops with science teachers.
2) COMETS (Clearinghouse On Mathematics, Engineering, Technology and Science) - Asynchronous (any time - any place access) Online Resource
3) CLASSROOM OF THE SEA (NTID, UCONN, American School for the Deaf) - Marine Science signs developed over four years.
CONCEPTUAL ACCURACY has become the most critical focus of this lexicon project.
Some signs may communicate misconceptions to young deaf children. For example, the traditional sign for SHARK with the hand near the forehead may miscommunicate, especially to younger learners, that a fin is located on the head of the animal. We avoid this sign.
Similarly, the sign for ELECTRON is often made in a manner that shows it orbiting the nucleus of the atom. Electrons do not orbit the nucleus. We avoid this sign for that reason.
With such a focus on conceptual accuracy, we welcomed suggestions for improving the signs.
RESEARCH AND PUBLICATIONS ON TECHNICAL SCIENCE SIGNS
Some research studies we have conducted on science signs are listed below:
We published a number of research articles based on our studies:
Lang, H.G., Laporta Hupper, M., Monte, D., Scheifele, P., Brown, S., Babb, I. (2007). A
study of technical signs in science: Implications for lexical database development. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 65-79.
Lang, H.G., & Pagliaro, C. (2007). Factors Predicting Recall of Mathematics Terms by Deaf Students: Implications for Teaching. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12, 449-460.
Tedeschi, M., Lang, H.G. (Capstone Project). Recall and
Comprehension of Signs by High School Students: A Study of Two Movie Formats for an Online Lexical Database.
Dowaliby, F.J., & Lang, H.G. (1999). Adjunct aids to instructional prose: A multimedia study with deaf college students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4, 270-282.
Lang, H.G., and Steely, D. (2003). Web-based science instruction for deaf students: What research says to the teacher. Instructional Science, 31, 277-298
THROUGH THE YEARS, UP TO 2011 WHEN HARRY LANG RETIRED, WE HAD CONTINUOUS EFFORTS TO EVALUATE THE SCIENCE SIGNS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF SCIENTISTS, SCIENCE TEACHERS,
AND SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS EXPERIENCED IN FIELDS OF SCIENCE.
ONE YEAR, WE INCLUDED TEN DEAF NATIVE SIGNERS WITH DEGREES IN SCIENCE/MATHEMATICS (plus two ASL linguists) who spent a summer discussing and evaluating many of the signs in this lexicon.
AT ANOTHER TIME, EDUCATORS FROM FIVE SCHOOLS FOR THE DEAF EVALUATED COLLECTIONS OF THESE SIGNS AND PROVIDED FEEDBACK RELATED TO THE NEED FOR STANDARDIZATION WITHIN A SCHOOL.
THEN, FOR MANY YEARS AN ONLINE LEXICON EVALUATION PERMITTED ALL USERS TO RATE EACH SIGN ON A 1-5 SCALE AND SUBMIT THEIR OWN SIGNS WHEN THEY COULD.
Previous evaluations have shown many different opinions about science signs.
Example: WHALE (Three signs. One sign showed a "W handshape swimming across the screen. For teachers of young deaf children, this sign was distinguished from a "D" handshape for DOLPHIN and a "P handshape for PORPOISE). A second sign used a classifier (Y handshape) showing the animal's tail. The third sign showed a spouting motion from the top of the head. All three signs are generally acceptable in terms of conceptual representation.
Below are some examples of feedback showing different perspectives on the three signs for WHALE.
I like number 2. I just did not like number 3, even though I think it is a whale spouting water. Number 2 and 1 are similar, but number two gives a bigger hand sign for whale, and since whales are big, it gets the point across better.
I liked sign 3 the best, the other 2 seemed more confusing and I would feel more comfortable using sign 3.
I like sign 3 the best
sign 2 is the best....i liked sign 1 as well, but again it reminds me more of a current or wave than an animal, in sign 2 he emphasizes the animal
Sign 3. This sign looks just like water coming out of the blow hole of a whale which is a key feature in describing whales. (note: This is incorrect. AIR is expelled)
The third sign because it was a definitely water (this teacher meant air) spouting and the other two looked like fish or dolphins.
I like sign 2 because it looks similar to the movements of whales in the water.
In some schools we found two or three different signs being used. There was no effort to standardize a sign throughout the school.
There are also regional variations of many signs. For example, the sign for CRAB in one part of the U.S. may be the sign for LOBSTER in another part, and Vice Versa.
We have worked with professionals involved with science signs in other projectsL
ASL STEM FORUM
- THE FORUM (IN WASHINGTON STATE) UPLOADED MANY OF OUR SIGNS TO THEIR WEBSITE ON YOUTUBE
VCOM3D - WE CONTINUED WORK WITH VCOM3D WHICH LED TO MORE AND MORE CONCEPTUAL ACCURACY THROUGH DISCUSSIONS (SOCIAL NETWORKING)
Several chemistry teachers at NTID and several biology teachers at Gallaudet worked with us to identify the "best" signs from their perspective.
Space Camp participants and interpreters might be interested in the signs developed in our category ASTRONOMY AND SPACE SCIENCE.
Sign Video Tutorials
We developed a series of videos helping teachers and interpreters see the various challenges we faced in developing the NTID Science Signs Lexicon.
Example: In this video, Dr. Chris Kurz explains some general signs for the terms SOLID, LIQUID, and GAS. Then he shows how some teachers prefer to explain the concept through a different emphasis – the molecular structure of solids, liquids and gases.
Note: The sign videos on this web site are best viewed with Internet Explorer for PC users and Firefox for Mac users
Categories of Signs in the Lexicon
Astronomy and Space Science
Heat and Temperature
Mathematics Commonly Used in Science
Electricity and Magnetism
Alphabetical List of All Terms
What do we know from research about signing in the classroom?
Teachers who strive for excellence in the education of deaf students recognize the variations that are often found in the classroom and are prepared to adjust their instruction accordingly. This is especially true with regard to the use of sign language. Currently, there is little research (but many opinions) on the best way to sign in science or math classes. What works with one group of students may not work with another. We also know little about how deaf students construct knowledge as they learn through signs. We do not know whether using a combination of conceptual signing and fingerspelling may be more effective than extensive use of "technical" or "field-specific" signs. Nor do we know how well deaf students can use long-term memory to make associations between signs teachers and interpreters use and the concepts the signs represent. These questions and answers will hopefully be modified as we learn more from research studies.
1) A Synergistic Effect
Good signing, along with the use of graphics, text, and adjunct questions to promote active involvement of students, appears to have a combined and powerful effect on learning.
Studies of interaction of deaf learners with computerized instructional materials have shown promising results. In a multimedia research study with 144 deaf students, Dowaliby and Lang (1999) examined the influence of four types of adjunct instructional aids on immediate factual recall of science content in a series of 11 lessons about the human eye. Students were grouped by standardized test scores as low, middle, and high-ability readers and were assigned to condition which included:
text plus viewing "content movies" (animation),
text plus sign language translations of the text,
text plus answering adjunct questions about the text, and
all conditions together (text, sign language translations, animations, and adjunct questions).
Low reading-ability students learning through text with adjunct questions performed on a test of immediate factual recall as well as high-reading-ability students learning through text only. Dowaliby and Lang (1999) attributed the improved recall to the engaging nature of the adjunct questions. Moreover, the combined use of signs, graphics, text, and adjunct questions also resulted in statistically significant gains as compared to the control group (text only).
While the sign language movies resulted in increases in factual recall, among low-reading-ability students, the increases were not statistically significant in comparison with the control group, which received only text. The conclusion may be that adjunct sign language movies contributed to enhanced recall of science facts, but it was the combined effect of adjunct questions, sign movies, pictorial aids and English text that had a powerful synergistic effect.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WAS THE USE OF QUESTIONS THROUGHOUT THE LESSON. THIS MINDS-ON APPROACH FORCED THE STUDENTS TO THINK ABOUT WHAT WAS BEING PRESENTED TO THEM RATHER THAN PASSIVELY VIEWING MEDIA.
Similarly, Donald Steely at the Oregon Center for Applied Science(ORCAS) made extensive use of carefully-sequenced lessons, "considerate text", graphic organizers, animations, and a rigorous quiz and testing schedule to facilitate student mastery of facts and knowledge needed to understand the big ideas in science. To effectively present the material to deaf and hard-of-hearing students, he developed the content of each lesson using a series of "triads". Each triad contained a short text screen, a corresponding animation explicating that passage of text, and an American Sign Language (ASL) version of that text. Students typically first read the text screen, then viewed the ASL movie, and then watched the animations. The results of his three different studies with Earth Science, Physical Science, and Chemistry, each 8 months long, indicated that the interactive multimedia and web-based curriculum materials yielded significantly greater knowledge gains for deaf students as compared to traditional classroom experiences (Lang and Steely, 2003). The results also supported the idea of a synergistic effect and provided strong support for a multimedia instructional approach. Lang and Steely (2003) write that well-designed, proven-efficacious science instructional programs for hearing students can be successfully adapted for use with deaf students by interspersing text and ASL explanations with content animation and by providing additional practice on vocabulary and content graphic organizers.
Further research may help us understand the relative contributions of graphic organizers, adjunct questions, ASL explanations, and other forms of visual support to text comprehension.
How should we sign in the classroom? While the growing body of multimedia research supports the use of sign movies in combination with other instructional components, there is little research on the "best"way to sign. Until more research is conducted, teachers will need to experiment with various combinations of conceptual signing, fingerspelling, and technical signs, along with the use of text, graphics, and adjunct questions to see what may be most effective with a particular group of students.
OTHER TUTORIAL VIDEOS
We developed a series of tutorial videos for this project:
1) Conceptual Signing" vs. Use of Technical Signs
2) A Sign May Vary According to Context
Signing about the density of fish in a school is different than signing about the density of molecules in lead vs aluminum and both are different than signing the symbol for Density (D) in the formula D=mass/volume
3) Two-Dimensional vs. Three-Dimensional Handshapes
4) The Issue of Using Initialized Technical Signs
5) Introducing and Reviewing Technical Signs New to the Student
Example: Expressions in Mathematics
6) General Signs Do Not Always Apply to Specific Cases
Example: VOCALIZATION in Whales vs. VOCALIZATION in humans
Example: EVALUATING an Algebraic Equation
Example: PHYSICAL/PHYSICALLY; Example: ALGEBRA/ALGEBRAIC
8) Different Meanings/Different Ways to Sign a Word
9)Numbers and Fractions
10)Using Sign Language Research to Improve Our Teaching
Example: Word-Sign Recall
11) Widely-Accepted Technical Signs
12) What to Do When a Sign Cannot Be Found
13) Using Abbreviations as Signs
14) Different Terms May Use the Same Sign
15)Using Symbols as Signs
16) A Sign May Vary According to Whether One is Using ASL or Simultaneous Communication
Special notes: In the NTID Science SIgns Lexicon, we added special notes for teachers and interpreters. These notes show up with the individual sign videos. As an example, the sign for ELECTRON as a particle orbiting the nucleus teaches the wrong concept.
[Some of the newer STEM sign resources still use this faulty sign]
How can I find signs for math and science terms?
Many people have contacted us in search of signs for specific terms in science or mathematics. We identified terms from science and math curricula and textbooks and we compared this list with nine published sign language dictionaries and other resources.
Science/Math Signs Lexcion
In the web-based signs lexicon found in the menu for this website, you will find signs for various math and science terms. We recommend that you bookmark this web page and refer to it as we update the lexicon regularly.
What should I do if I have looked and cannot find a sign for a particular term?
A sign is not needed for every science/mathematics technical term. Concepts can be taught clearly with a combination of conceptual signing (ASL), some technical signs, fingerspelling and/or graphics/images.
How should I use technical signs in my classroom?
Use of "technical" (field-specific) signs in science and mathematics with American Sign Language (ASL) is a complex process. Without a good understanding of the pedagogical principles, a teacher runs the risk of making learning more challenging than necessary for deaf students. The principles described below were derived from discussion with experienced teachers.
In general, the more technical signs are used, the greater will be the demand placed on deaf students to decode the communication into meaningful learning. These principles and suggestions are meant to encourage use of technical signs while optimizing the pedagogical process.
Care should be taken not to introduce too many new signs at once.
The teacher should know and fully understand the subject matter or concept being taught. Knowledge of content will influence sign selection. Knowledge of principles of sign language grammar and rules will influence sign production.
Both sign selection and sign production may influence student learning.
Example: When the same word is used for different concepts, the teacher should choose the most accurate sign to reflect the concept
o Like charges repel.
o I like to study science.
Again, attempt to reach consensus with your students and encourage teachers in your school to use the same sign for a term/concept.
When is fingerspelling appropriate in the classroom?
Finger spelling can be used in a variety of ways to aid comprehension. There is nothing wrong with fingerspelling a term.
· Remotely Operated Vehicle - ROV (marine science)
· Conductivity Temperature Depth Equipment - CTD (marine science)
· Oxygen - O
· Water - H2O
Fingerspelling creatively to teach a concept
Fingerspelling to clarify when multiple terms have similar signs
· Salt and salinity
· Clam and scallop
If possible, reach a consensus on an in-class sign for long fingerspelled words that are frequently used. Check with an experienced signer before you introduce and use this sign.
If there are multiple signs for one term how do I choose the appropriate sign?
There may be several signs for the same word. Choose the sign that best represents the concept. Sometimes multiple signs are acceptable.
Signs do vary (for the same term) depending on what is being discussed.
Discuss the sign with your colleagues and students and choose one that is accurate and favored.
When you do not know the sign for a word, spell it out and be patient. Try to identify the sign before or after the class by talking with experienced teachers. While occasionally discussing a sign with students is ok, the goal of the class experience is to have the students learn the concepts, not to teach you signs. Asking, "what is the sign for ____________ ?" too often can distract the students' thinking about the topic being discussed.
What helpful hints can you give me for teaching technical signs?
Introducing technical vocabulary
When introducing a technical term:
Fingerspell the term
Spell the term out on a blackboard, overhead or smart board
Introduce the sign for this term
Explain the term conceptually
BENTHIC: living on the bottom of the ocean
MAMMAL: warm blooded animal with a backbone females produce milk to feed their young
When possible, it is also helpful to give examples of the term. When this is done, it is again important that students be familiar with the signs used in the examples. Fingerspelling, text and graphics should be used often with the new signs so that students develop associations.
SEASON: winter spring summer fall
CETACEAN: whale, dolphin
ELEMENTS: H, O, He
TIDE: periodic rising and falling of sea surface.
Discuss sign: water hand coming up over land hand for high and low tide.
AQUARIUM: a building open to the public which contains many fish and marine mammals
Sign: Letter "A" in shape of a building
In (ASL) a noun is distinguished from a verb by the number of movements. In general, a verb is represented by a single movement. A noun is represented by a double movement.
AIRPLANE: double motion
FLY: single motion
CHAIR: double motion
SIT: single motion
Use technical signs with common sense
A common problem with beginning signers is that they cannot distinguish common ASL signs and field-specific signs. This comes with experience. Until a teacher is comfortable in knowing which signs are not in the students' regular vocabulary, it is better to assume that primary technical terms (e.g., FORCE, PHOTOSYNTHESIS, EQUILIBRIUM, etc) are new to the students. Even common terms such as ENERGY and TEMPERATURE that are used in everyday conversations may not have signs the student knows. Check with the students throughout the teaching-learning process to make sure that everyone understands signs being used.
Always Go Back to the Familiar
Use examples that are part of the students’ knowledge base to explain new signs when there are appropriate conceptual representations.
Make analogies with a familiar topic
Example: DIFFUSION. When someone makes brownies, you can smell them throughout the house.
Continued use of Technical Signs
List words from previous day’s lesson on the board and quickly review signs for those terms before you begin to teach the lesson for the day
Before the lesson, list all new vocabulary for that lesson on the board. Give students a handout of the vocabulary words.
Give a daily or (weekly) "review" of frequently used and/or new terms and their signs. For example, the teacher may make the signs and the students write the terms. Or, the teacher writes the terms and students show the signs. Gaming strategies can be used, by dividing the class into teams.
At the end of a lesson, review new signs introduced.
What are the benefits of using standardized signs within a school?
American Sign Language, like any spoken language, evolves over time. Signs for such terms as COMPUTER change with the technology.
Variations of signs exist in different locales.
New signs are invented and sometimes come into widespread use.
Many teachers wish there were more standardization of signs. Others wish there were more careful thought going into the invention of signs to assure that the signs accurately represent the concepts and follow ASL principles (proper use of sign space, classifiers, etc.).
In some circumstances, science signs have been invented through careful discussion between content experts and linguists, including native deaf signers (add reference).
Technical Signs Project at NTID
In 1975, a project was initiated at NTID to help facilitate effective and precise communication in academic and career environments through the establishment of a nationally based system for collecting, evaluating, selecting, systematically recording, and sharing signs used by skilled signers in these environments. This project, the Technical Signs Project (TSP), which was conducted from 1975 through 1992, resulted in the production of 59 videotapes in 26 areas, including Anthropology, Computer Terminology, Engineering, Human Sexuality, Mathematics, and Science.
The current lexicon found in this website provides the most recent conceptually-accurate signs for 2200 science terms, and users are able to evaluate the signs and make suggestions for improving the resource.
Standardization Within a School
If science/mathematics teachers use different signs for the same term within a school, valuable learning time is wasted on the part of deaf students in adjusting to each teacher's preferred signs. As much as possible, teachers within a school should discuss and agree upon a common sign for a term/concept.
WHAT IS NEXT? NEW LEXICONS ARE COMING.
Even with more than 40 years of research and development, the signs in the NTID Signs Lexicon are slowly becoming dated. Since I retired more than a decade ago (2011), new project have originated for STEM-RELATED SIGNS.
I reviewed a number of signs in some newer online dictionaries with the hope that whatever Gallaudet University and NTID at RIT develop as , they will learn from some of these experiences, both with the NTID Science SIgns Lexicon (which may soon be phased out and not available on the web) and some of the newer dictionaries.
The websites i looked briefly at include:
ASL Sign Language Dictionary
I have taken a look at some of these projects and, unfortunately, although the graphics are much better than the original NTID lexicon, many of the lessons we learned.
We learned, for example, not to depend on ONE person for a sign, but to check with a group of experienced signers who know science well. One source I reviewed still shows the electron orbiting. Another shows the electron in one of the shells.
THE NICE THING ABOUT USING AN ONLINE DICTIONARY OR LEXICON IS THAT WHEN WE LEARN A BETTER SIGN, IT IS EASIER TO REPLACE THE SIGN AS COMPARED TO A SIGNS BOOK OF VIDEOTAPE, ETC
THE NEWER PROJECTS NOW ONLINE (SEVERAL AT NTID) ARE VERY NICELY PRESENTED, BUT QUITE A FEW TIMES I FELT A SIGN WAS NOT ACCEPTABLE. IT WILL BE UP TO NTID AND GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY TO VALIDATE SIGNS THEY 'PREFER' BY HAVING A GOOD ADVISORY GROUP.
Such a group or groups should be very familiar not only with the principles of good signing and lexicon development, but also with pedagogical principles. As an example, I recall seeing several attempts to develop signs for the planets. One had a lengthy explanation for each planet's sign. First, it places unnecessary demand on the deaf students to know the history of the planets names. Second, there were times when the person or person suggesting the sign was not careful. For VENUS, for example, the sign was based on it being known as the "evening star". But Venus is also a morning star, depending on what side of the Sun it is on.
In conclusion, I assembled these note for friends planning to approach the best kind of resource for STEM terms. I am unable to attend the first conference to discuss my experiences over 42 years. I sincerely hope, over time, to talk to the coordinators of any new efforts, and wish all of you the best of luck.
History of the Science Signs Lexicon (research and evaluation)
CategoriesAstronomy and Space Science Biology Chemistry Earth Science Environmental Science Heat and Temperature Marine Science Mathematics Commonly Used in Science Mechanics Medical Meteorology Optics Physical Science Electricity and Magnetism Alphabetical List of All Terms
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There are about 2200 terms on this list.