Our two-part “Math by Touch” blog series is designed to be used by teachers with their students in Grades 3–6 to incorporate learning Braille with math. You’ll find creative scenarios to get students engaged, historical details, and fun puzzles. Read Part 2 here.
Imagine Why Braille Was Needed
How do you get your class to understand why Braille is important? Try this exercise in imagination by asking your students to close their eyes and picture this:
It’s 1805, and you’re a foot-soldier in military general Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army. Your campaign is to wage unprecedented warfare against those armies competing against you for possession of European colonies. You learn of secret operations and the movements of your enemies through messages you receive in the middle of the night.
One message, detailing the crusade you are about to lead into the treacherous Russian territory ahead, is delivered in the black of night. You hand it off to another soldier and bring him a lantern by which to read. Mere seconds later, a gunshot echoes in the distance. Then, a grenade. The enemy was watching you. The light gave you away.
You continue to lose soldiers—friends!—due to these reading conditions. You know how important it is to receive updates on enemy whereabouts, but you also know you can’t afford to lose anyone else on your side. You start to think. How can you send messages without having the light to read them?
You begin by shortening the alphabet into key sounds and pieces of words: an, de, oi. You code the letters and pieces into raised dots that can be felt, instead of seen, on a page. In combination, the feel of the dots can translate into meaningful sentences: there will be a siege at midnight. No light needed. Suddenly, your soldiers are safer. They can read without a light! But more importantly, your position is safe. No one can find your hiding place in the night.
How Braille Was Created
You just imagined yourself as Charles Barbier, a soldier during the French War of the Third Coalition. Barbier realized how problematic reading correspondences could be on the battlefield. After witnessing the deaths of several soldiers, Barbier created a read-by-touch alternative to more traditional communications. This system—which used raised dots within a cell to indicate a letter, sound, or combination of letters—was later developed into a more sophisticated alphabet still used today: Braille.
At the age of 15, Louis Braille adapted Charles Barbier’s night-writing system so it could be used with the blind and visually impaired. Today, Braille is widely used in schools, restaurants, businesses, and hospitals to ensure accessibility for the visually impaired all over the globe. You may be familiar with the notation: small, raised dots in print or on signs that represent numbers and letters a reader can touch and interpret without sight.
Braille coding enables reading cell by cell with individual letters and numbers raised as specific configurations of dots in a 2 x 3 rectangle.
The configuration of raised dots tells the reader or writer the meaning of each cell. When Braille was first developed and taught by its namesake, Louis Braille, the letters and numbers were presented in cells like this:
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