Doctor teaches patient’s third-grade class about science of sound, hearing

Leah Tygum, MD (back row, left), visited the third-grade classroom of patient Sophia Nelson (middle row, second from left) at Redtail Ridge Elementary School in Savage to talk about the science of sound and hearing.

Working together was the spark that started a fire of learning and understanding for a class of third-grade students this winter. A collaborative project between staff at the St. Paul campus of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and Redtail Ridge Elementary School in Savage helped students learn about the science of sound and hearing while creating a lifelong lesson that went well beyond the typical third-grade science curriculum.

“What’s that thing in your ear?” is a question Redtail Ridge third-grade student Sophia Nelson often has heard from classmates. Diagnosed at age 6 with moderate to severe hearing loss in her left ear, Sophia has worn a hearing aid for the past two years, and it has raised questions from several curious friends during that time.

Third-grade teacher Stacy Kodada (left) takes a turn using a small stethoscope placed to Sophia Nelson’s hearing aid.

This winter, when Sophia’s classroom teacher, Stacy Kodada, introduced a science curriculum that included studying the physics of sound, Kodada and Sophia connected about inviting Sophia’s audiologist, Leah Tygum, MD, to visit with Sophia’s classmates. Dr. Tygum, affectionately referred to as “Dr. Leah” by Sophia, has helped transform Sophia’s hearing-loss journey from one that began at diagnosis with fear and concern to one that now is characterized by empowerment and confidence. Since first meeting Sophia, Dr. Tygum has helped provide Sophia with resources to help her – and fellow students – better understand what some might consider Sophia’s “disability.” When invited by Kodada to visit with the third-graders, Dr. Tygum seized the opportunity to help Sophia better educate her classmates on hearing loss and hearing aids.

Prior to the on-site visit, students shared their questions about hearing loss and hearing aids with Sophia and her teacher. Their questions were honest, at times simple, and revealing in terms of a young child’s understanding of those who suffer hearing loss. Students posed several questions, including:

  • What happens inside the ear when you can’t hear?
  • How do you get the sound from the hearing aid into the eardrum into the brain?
  • How do you make a hearing aid?
  • How do you know if you need a hearing aid?

Sophia Nelson (left) had Leah Tygum, MD, visit her third-grade classroom at Redtail Ridge Elementary School in Savage.

On the day of her visit, Dr. Tygum was greeted by a room of students buzzing with excitement and questions. She facilitated more than 90 minutes of hands-on, interactive learning about hearing. Attempting to address all questions, she talked about the science of hearing, what goes wrong with hearing loss and how hearing aids work for those who need them. Using Sophia as a teaching partner, Dr. Tygum took the lesson well beyond Q&A, leading students through a variety of engaging learning activities. Dr. Tygum made a mold of Sophia’s inner ear while the students watched, just as she would do in her office to properly fit a hearing aid. To increase involvement, she then gave students their own individual balls of molding material so they could feel how it hardens into a shape in minutes.

To help make the hearing aid even more “real world” and understandable, the children were each given the chance to use a small hearing aid stethoscope which allowed them to hear sounds in the classroom the way Sophia does when she wears her aid. The exercise proved popular. After listening, children raced back into line in hopes of getting a second chance.

The classroom learning experience helped students understand the science of sound and hearing, but for Kodada it went beyond that.

“Having Dr. Leah come to the classroom allowed the students a different insight into others with hearing disabilities,” Kodada said. “The hands-on experience and real-life demonstration is a wonderful way for students to learn and then be able to apply it to their own life situations.”

While Sophia will probably continue to get questions throughout her life about her hearing loss, she’s certain that none of this year’s classmates will ever ask again “what’s that thing in your ear?”

Photo gallery: Leah Tygum, MD, visits third-grade class at Redtail Ridge Elementary School in Savage (Photos by Michael Nelson)

 

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