University of Edinburgh

Supporting Deaf Pupils in Secondary Schools

Presented on Wednesday 28 September, 2011

Using the Science Signs Glossary: An Online Bilingual Resource for Deaf Learners

Rachel O'Neill
Collaborators Dr Audrey Cameron Science advisor
Gary Quinn - Heriot-Watt University, Linguistics advisor

Overview of talk

  1. How we developed the glossary
  2. Using the glossary in your work with signing deaf pupils
  3. Future subject areas

Initial project: web development

  • Maths pilot by Dr Brennan and G Hughes in 2004
  • Aim to produce 250 science signs
  • Intermediate level (ages 11–14)
  • Chemistry, Biology and Physics
  • Definitions in BSL - very important

Project development

  • 2007: £25,000 from Scottish Government
  • Team developed over 250 signs for SSC website

  • 2008: Evaluation with pupils and teachers
  • Science shows start

  • 2009: Science shows and presentations

  • 2010: Feasibility study for SQA centrally produced science exams

  • 2011: Added to Biology and Chemistry terms and definitions as a result of SQA project - to SG Credit level
  • Successful bid for Physics/CDT with funding from Royal Association Engineering

  • 2012: Further fundraising
  • We hope to run pilot science exams for SQA

Other science vocabulary sources

  • Dundee school website - science signs
  • Wolverhampton university website - science and technology signs
  • Cath Smith books – line drawings
  • American site: Lang et al (2006)
  • No BSL definitions
  • Method not published
  • Deaf people's involvement

BSL vocabulary for specialist areas

  • BSL and technical signs
  • In the past, deaf people were excluded from professional jobs
  • Vocabulary develops when deaf people work together
  • Eg; Deaf printers vs deaf dental technicians
  • Parallels with other languages – eg; Gaelic
  • The productive lexicon (Brennan, 1992)
  • Sandwich of several signs
  • Simplification may follow
  • Eg; non-terminating decimal:

Our principles

  • We didn't want to use initialised signs
  • Deaf children's bad experiences with initialised signs across the curriculum

Assembling the team

  • John Brownlie (BSc in Physics): a multimedia specialist working with a Deaf organisation
  • Dr Audrey Cameron (PhD in Chemistry): a school teacher of hearing children
  • John Denerley (Dip SW): owner of a wildlife park, deaf from a deaf family
  • Dr Colin Dunlop (PhD in Physics): an astronomy researcher
  • Gerry Hughes (BSc in Mathematics): involved in the mathematics project and a school teacher of deaf children
  • Dr Mark Fox (PhD in Chemistry): a chemistry researcher
  • Mary Frances Dolan (BSc in Chemistry): a school teacher of deaf children
  • Claire Leiper (BA in Biology and English): a freelance trainer
  • Gary Quinn (MA in Linguistics): sign advisor for the project
  • Derek Rodger (BSc in Chemistry, MEd deaf education): a school teacher of deaf children
  • Eileen Burns (Teacher of Deaf Children and Physics teacher)
  • Rachel O’Neill's previous experience with CD-ROM Project Maths and IT (Microbooks)

Method of work

  • First stage: Collecting English science terms
  • Second stage: Checked existing science signs (Dundee and Wolverhampton)
  • Third stage: Subject group discussed which to keep
  • Fourth stage: Subject group discussed if they had another sign. Creation of new sign if needed.
  • Fifth stage: Creation of draft signs on internet
  • Sixth stage: Making definitions in BSL
  • Seventh stage: Signs and definitions on internet to check
  • Eighth stage: Translation of definition to English
  • The Chemistry group: lab videos

Issues that arose about definitions

  • Using technical terms in definitions of other signs
  • Creating a web of ideas
  • Deaf children can build concepts independently
  • We need to be more systematic about using our own signs

Evaluation of the project

  • Evaluation funded by Learning Teaching Scotland in 2008
  • Questionnaire for teachers
  • Interviews with deaf children
  • Interviews with project team members

Deaf children's comments

  • Good and useful website - all in BSL
  • Would like subtitles for the scientific terms
  • Need more science terms
  • More images
  • More examples and lab movies
  • Too many signs to learn
  • Some definitions missing
  • Some definitions need more explanation
  • Teachers hadn't told them how to get on the site

Using the Glossary site

  • Teachers of deaf children preparing to teach a new topic
  • CSWs/interpreters preparing before class
  • Referring to the site in tutorial
  • Encouraging deaf pupils to use it at home for independent study
  • Introducing parents to the site

Temporary signs

  • ToDs, CSWs and deaf pupils often make temporary arrangements
  • Problem is no standardisation
  • Beginner users of BSL don't understand sign morphology well enough to create signs

Collecting existing signs

  • Schools and colleges could run similar projects rather than waiting for the SSC to cover all subject areas
  • Please try to follow the same principles of Deaf leadership
  • Examples: printers, fishing, car maintenance, history


  • Glossary project is a long-term one
  • Only used by small number of deaf pupils, but these pupils need much better access to the curriculum
  • Signing levels of ToDs, CSWs and support staff need to be NVQ 3 minimum
  • Across Scotland we can do a lot more sign collection in a range of subjects, but we need to work using the same principles


Brennan, M (1992) The visual world of BSL in Dictionary of BSL/English (ed Brien, D). London: Faber& Faber

Lang, H, Huppa, M, Monte, D, Brown, S, Babb, I & Scheifele, P (2006) A Study of Technical Signs in Science: Implications for Lexical Database Development. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 2007 12(1):65-79.

Smith, C & Ingle, C (2008) Let's Sign Science. Cambridge: Widgit.

Our contacts Dr Audrey Cameron

Gary Quinn

Rachel O'Neill