Academic journal article Science and Children

Let's Get Physical

Academic journal article Science and Children

Let's Get Physical

Article excerpt

How do students with visual impairments measure liquids?

Can a student with cerebral palsy participate in hands-on science activities?

What challenges might a hearing-impaired student have in my science class?

These are just some of the important questions increasingly being asked by science teachers, thanks in part to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which together mandate standards-based science opportunities for students with disabilities. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) echo the goal of quality science experiences for all students in a section entitled, "All Standards, All Students" (NGSS Lead States 2013; Appendix D), which describes the manner in which the Standards support students from traditionally underrepresented groups, including students with disabilities. Over 6.5 million students with disabilities receive special education services under the IDEA, so ensuring that teachers have effective strategies for implementing the NGSS with students with disabilities is critical for reaching the "Science for All" goal.

While the term "disability" covers a large and diverse array of impairments, disabilities are frequently categorized into two groups: (1) Cognitive, which includes learning disabilities, intellectual impairments, communication impairments, emotional disabilities, and autism, and (2) Physical, which includes visual impairments, hearing impairments, and motor orthopedic impairments. Visual and hearing impairments are often referred to as sensory disabilities as they deal with impairment of the senses. Motor-orthopedic impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations) are those which limit an individual's mobility.

A common misconception is that students with physical or sensory impairments are also cognitively impaired. However, only a small percentage of students with physical disabilities also have cognitive impairments. This means that making science accessible for most students with physical disabilities is primarily about developing accommodations, that is, providing services or supports that "level the playing field" by addressing how students access curriculum and instruction, or demonstrate learning, without changing the content or performance expectations. Some frequently used accommodations include providing instructional materials in alternative formats (e.g., braille), adapting laboratory equipment to make it accessible, providing flexibility in scheduling or time demands, or providing options for students to demonstrate their learning (e.g., written, spoken, drawn). In some cases, modifications, which are adjustments to content or performance expectations (e.g., learning fewer vocabulary words or having assessments with fewer questions) might be needed, but all efforts should be made to focus on accommodations that maintain performance standards as much as possible since persons with physical/sensory disabilities can succeed and excel in science (see "Scientists With Physical Disabilities").

We have selected two typical elementary science investigations to illustrate the importance of accommodations for students with physical disabilities. These particular investigations were chosen because they represent different disciplines (i.e., physical and life sciences) and involve a range of science content and process skills. We intentionally present the lesson plans without accommodations or regard for accessibility to highlight the challenges they present and necessitate the accommodations we

subsequently recommended. We feel this is an important illustration for teachers, as many lesson plans presented in curriculum guides fail to consider the needs of students with disabilities, so it is up to the teacher to recognize the challenges within each lesson and develop accommodations accordingly. Lesson summaries are discussed here, while complete lesson plans in 5E Learning Cycle format, including assessment rubrics, are available online (see NSTA Connection). …

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