As a Special Education teacher in the Middle School, I am responsible for teaching the three R's
as well as science and social studies. The problem which
exists is that science tends to be neglected in order to teach the essentials, (reading, writing, arithmetic), so that our students will be able to survive and get a job.
Special Education students need to be exposed to the sciences as well to promote an understanding of their development and the processes which occur within the cell to bring on their physical characteristics. They also will gain benefit from using the scientific method and materials such as microscopes, in that they will learn by doing.
Traditional teaching methods fail with a ‘special’ learner because of their specific disabilities, thus the teaching of this unit will require the use of materials which are interesting and motivating to the students. The materials and short lessons in this unit provide the student with the initial stimulus needed to seek out the answers to the questions posed throughout.
This project will be taught during the school year to a class of approximately twelve students who have learning disabilities and some who are diagnosed as emotionally disturbed. Some would question the use of microscopes and slides within this class due to maturity. A study was done which investigated eleven to fourteen year olds and their observations through microscopes. The study observed 250 school age children whose IQ ranged from 76 to 140, making their own mounts, and using specimens. The study found that all but ten of those surveyed were able to see and record information without assistance from the teacher.
It is felt by this writer that this would also be the case within the ‘special’ class. Many of these students have never used a microscope, thus the newness of this instrument plus the amazing things that will be discovered once they look through the objective will promote a respect towards using this tool.
Throughout this unit, the lessons are set up in a way that the student will feel that he is responsible for finding out answers to meet his curiosity. For example, the first lesson which will be about the cell, will start out with the question:
“How big do you think a single cell is?”
The students will then be given time to answer and ponder the question. The answers will vary but through the ideas that are given, the teacher will then begin to clarify through actual learning-by-doing observations. The students will have the opportunity to look at real cells through the microscope and draw what they observe. A model of the cell will be utilized at this point to show the parts of the cell. At the end of these learning periods, the teacher will then go over pertinent information that the student needs to know about the topic. For example: the cell is the building block of life. The lessons will be short enough so that the students do not get laden with too many facts to learn. At the end of the lesson, worksheets will be utilized so that the students can apply what they learned. For example: Label this diagram of the cell that you observed. At times, the students will be given worksheets to be done at home which will involve their household.
The worksheets/questions given at the end of each lesson will also give the teacher an indication of whether the students understood the lesson and whether more time should be spent on that same topic the next day.
Throughout this unit, the student will feel that he is competent to find out answers on his own, and he will learn about the resources needed to find out particular answers. As a Special Education student, these children have been told what to do and what to learn, without really getting the chance to pursue their curiosities. Throughout this unit, the student is able to, in the beginning, give an answer to a question and not immediately be told, “No, that is wrong.” He is told, “That could be,” then he is led to find out the answer on his own. In this manner, the child will instill in himself the ability to say, “I can do it,” or “I did it on my own.”
Learning will be taking place in other areas besides science. Students will be using their reading skills during experiments, reading on topics of special interest from newspapers or other resources. Spelling skills will also be utilized in that the scientific terminology will act as spelling words for the week. Writing skills will be used in writing out mini-reports based on experiments, observations and in answering questions and short essays at the end of each lesson.
Due to the nature of a ‘Special ‘ class, some students may need more motivation than others. To combat this and provide more incentive to be attentive and participate, a point system can be incorporated into the worksheet/questions at the end of the lesson. Each question will be worth certain points if answered correctly. When corrected, the paper will be handed back with a grade and total points earned for that assignment. At the end of the week, the student with the most points will be given a reward such as free time, cookies, or a treat from the lunchroom. This has worked well with students in the past.
Thus this unit will be taught and structured in a manner that the students will be motivated to learn, develop a sense of self-worth, and enjoy the learning part.