Integrating STEM Curricula for Students with Learning Disabilities

By Viscomi, Joseph J.; Collins, Richard | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Integrating STEM Curricula for Students with Learning Disabilities


Viscomi, Joseph J., Collins, Richard, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Secondary schools dedicated to the education of students with learning disabilities face the responsibility of providing not only remediation, but also state of the art instruction in all content areas. To ensure that students have the information and formal training necessary to be competitive in college or in the areas of expertise they pursue, our schools need to be reflective of the national agenda, which stresses Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Brehm has responded to the national agenda with increased instructional opportunities in forensics, physics, chemistry, anatomy, precalculus, calculus, assistive technologies, and computer programming. The focus of this article is how the introduction of our programming class and the robotics program have benefitted our campus.

Programming classes were implemented to give the students the ability to think abstractly and solve complex problems with a computer. A derivative of the programming language LISP called SCHEME, selected for its simplified set of rules, allows students to learn all of the syntax in less than 30 minutes. Much like the game of chess, its rules can be learned in a matter of minutes, but mastery requires practice and an ongoing implementation of strategy. This is in contrast to the complex constructs of many other programming languages that require learning many special cases to gain basic functionality.

Using SCHEME, students successfully used the computer to apply complex concepts to obtain results and solve problems that otherwise would not have been possible. SCHEME is also interactive. Unlike other languages, it gives immediate feedback - a distinct advantage when dealing with software bugs or short attention spans common to our students with executive function issues.

Because the programming class was such a success, the school sought resources for demonstrating hands-on STEM applications in real world settings. We found that the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - www. usfirst.org) and its FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) merged engineers and students in a very innovative, beneficial, and exciting setting by building robots to solve problems. The competition was a great opportunity for all involved and, with the help of some mentors, served as the foundation of a successful program that is very exciting and motivating for students. It gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their skills head to head with teams from around the world in a very competitive environment ruled by gracious professionalism.

It was obvious from the start that just as students with learning challenges in the classroom excel in creative thinking and hands-on projects in the arts, they also excel in fun hands-on STEM projects that combine science and technology. …

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