Project 20/20: STEAM learning in action

Issue: Volume 99, Number 13

Posted: 14 August 2020
Reference #: 1HA9pP

Developers of a vision screening programme that is already providing a rich learning opportunity for a group of Dunedin students hope that it will ultimately benefit children and their learning throughout Aotearoa.

Imogen shows the direction of the tumbling E as she is being eye tested.

Imogen shows the direction of the tumbling E as she is being eye tested.

Vision 20/20 Project is a multi-disciplinary research collaboration between Otago Polytechnic, Otago University’s School of Medicine and staff and pupils at Tahuna Normal Intermediate School in Dunedin.

Since August last year, students from the school have been collaborating with the team to co-design a child-to-child eye screening toolkit. By the time the project finishes at the end of 2020, up to 600 students from the school will have been involved.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for the Year 7 students to be part of a real-life STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, maths) activity that sees their feedback being adapted in the subsequent iterations of the design process,” says Karen Parker, Year 7 dean and a facilitator for Vision 20/20.

Student feedback 

Mary Butler, Professor of Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic, and some of her students introduced the first prototype of the Child to Child Vision Screening Toolkit. It was clear from the start that the students had a great understanding of the design process, says Karen.

“When they first began, they got into pairs and one person had to hold both the flipchart and the marking sheet, which was difficult to do. They also observed a potential problem of people memorising the flip chart, then reading it out to other children before their tests,” she says. 

Students’ suggestions to improve the toolkit included:

  • Make the pages thicker, make it easier to navigate and know which way to turn the pages.
  • Make the instruction simpler and clearer.
  • Use colour coding for the results booklet and flipchart.
  • Have the recording sheet match the test i.e. if it says test right eye, start the recording sheet with right eye, not left
  • Work in groups of three instead of pairs.
Tawhiri and Brook run an eye test using a high contrast eye test vision chart.

Tawhiri and Brook run an eye test using a high contrast eye test vision chart.

Rich language and learning            

Throughout the iterations of the testing kit, the students gained first-hand experience with fair testing and the science behind vision and the eye. 

They first used a letter chart to test their eyesight, but this was replaced with tumbling E charts, which prevented children from memorising letters. The tumbling E also shows how the eye is behaving when it is reading key information

“From a teaching point of view, one of the biggest benefits is the kids can see the suggestions they make actually happen in the real world. It was great that they could see changes next time it came back: it added value to what we do in the classroom.

“I think the rich language the kids are developing really shows that they know the language of technology,” says Karen.  

An eye test marking sheet.

An eye test marking sheet.

Learning about vision

This year’s Year 7 students are now providing feedback on the design of a three-part teaching module to increase awareness of vision health and science. 

“The modules include learning about myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism and colour blindness, how they affect vision, and the health perspective of ‘what if I had that, how would it affect my life?’,” says Karen.

Value of co-design

Mary hopes the vision testing toolkit and module that she and her students developed and co-designed with Tahuna Normal Intermediate will be informative and engaging for New Zealand teachers to use in the curriculum. 

“We know that we are going to have to come up with something that is not done anywhere else in the world because New Zealand is not a wealthy country. 

“We have reviewed all of the literature and nobody else in the world has done this child-to-child vision screening concept,” says Mary.

Learning curve

The 20/20 project has been a learning curve for everybody involved and Mary says they are currently reflecting on how they can make the co-design process equal and genuine between health and education providers.

“We are really trying to break new ground. We have been so lucky with the buy-in from Tahuna’s principal Tony Hunter and the whole staff. More than any scientific discovery, the value of co-designing the prototype with the students has been that it engages them in a conversation we might not have had.

“I would like to take the toolkit to the next level and figure out if this is what teachers really want. We are still integrating feedback from the teachers at Tahuna and it may be that the final toolkit is quite different. We want to create something that is so interesting to teachers and children that it will become embedded in their curriculum,” explains Mary.

Ongoing testing

This year’s cohort of Year 7 students at the school will continue testing the toolkit – and their eyesight, says Karen.

Archie and Imogen measure the  four-metre distance strip required for the child-to-child vision testing.

Archie and Imogen measure the four-metre distance strip required for the child-to-child vision testing.

“What normally happens is they have the vision testing at Year 7 and there’s no real follow-up. Classroom teachers don’t know who gets the referral letter and what happens if they go to an optometrist. 

“It’s a whole research project that goes from the child not being able to see through to the child getting glasses, the teacher being aware that they need glasses and leading to an improvement in their learning.

“Originally we were looking at ‘if children can’t see, how can they learn?’ But on the other side, we’ve got these children that can’t afford them. Some parents had no experience going to an optician; they didn’t know they could use their Community Services card to support that,” she explains.

Zaakira records the results as a student does an eye test.

Zaakira records the results as a student does an eye test.

Vision screening gap

In 2018, Mary and a team of occupational therapy students at Otago Polytechnic discovered that about 18 per cent of Year 9 students from Dunedin’s Kaikorai Valley College needed to be referred to an optometrist. She was surprised as these students would have been tested when they were aged 11.  

“It seems that parents aren’t taking their children to the optometrist. We have done more research with parents that indicates that many of them are confused and don’t know how to work with and trust optometrists,” comments Mary.

This year a team from Otago Polytechnic is following up the 25 children from Tahuna Normal Intermediate who were identified as possibly needing glasses in 2019.

“We will try to ensure that all of these children will be looked after by the end of this whole process.”

Impact of vision on learning

Globally, there is little research done to understand the ways low vision impacts learning. Professor Kelechi Ogbuehi, Optometry and Vision Sciences at Otago University’s School of Medicine is beginning a research project to establish a turning point in eyesight level when learning starts to deteriorate. 

“I want to create awareness of the need for vision screening in children. As we have unpacked this, we have realised the issue is huge. It gets harder and harder for children with untreated low vision as they go through the education system as more and more reading is required,” says Mary.

She wants teachers to be aware of the signs of children who may be struggling with low vision.

“I hear anecdotal evidence of children, particularly boys, who are off the chart in terms of behaviour, then they get their glasses and just settle down. My angle is that if children don’t have glasses when they need them, it seems very obvious their learning is going to be compromised,” says Mary.

Mary and her team would love to hear from teachers who are interested in knowing more about the Vision 20/20 Project and trialling the toolkits:

  • You can see tamariki from Tahuna Normal Intermediate working with developers from Otago Polytechnic demonstrating the Child to Child Vision Screening Toolkit


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:35 AM, 14 August 2020

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