The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science

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[Teacher] Hi there. Welcome to Mainstream High School.
[Kid] Thanks. Nice to be here.
[Teacher] Well, we've got a special area set up just for you, right over there.
[Girl] Hi.
[Kid] Hi.
[Teacher] This is Angelica. She's your classroom buddy. She 's going to help you figure things out.
[Kid] Oh, great.
[Girl] Let's go! So...have you always been a cripple?
[Teacher] Oh! Aah! We don't say the word "cripple" or "crippled. " It's "handicapped." He 's "handicapped. "
[Girl] Oops.
[Teacher] Now, what we're trying to represent here, class - and you remember the equation from yesterday - the surface area of a radio wave is ..... By the way, can you see okay? Huh?
[Kid] Yeah.
[Teacher] Okay, you let me know if you need any help, all righty? All right! So anyway....
[Host/Narrartor] Hi, I'm Pat Cashman. Okay, I'll admit, maybe we were exaggerating a bit there. But the point is that if you have a disability, you face a lot more than just physical barriers. The way people look at you, the assumptions they make about your abilities ... that can be a lot tougher thing to deal with sometimes than the disability itself.
[Kurt Johnson, UW] Folks who are blind tell you that people often yell at them, as if somehow because you can 't see you can 't hear. And it isn't unusual for folks to use expanded speech to talk slowly to people... somehow people kind of think that your disability ends up taking over who you are.
[Narrator] It's important to put the person first, even in speech. Referring to a "student with a disability" is preferable to saying "disabled student." And avoid words like "crippled" or "handicapped."
[Steve Nourse, UW] I think what you do is you focus on the student rather than on the disability. I mean, why judge a student 100 percent for something that really only affects 10 percent of how they function?
[Librarian] Hi. Are you logging in okay? Are you getting access?
[Narrator] Most people aren't totally insensitive. They just haven't thought about it. Or maybe they've thought about it too much, worried a lot, and ended up being too protective.
[Cherie Smith, math teacher] It was my second year of teaching... I had a student. And she was lovely, but I was so afraid of her. I was so afraid that something would happen and she would ... she had a seizures... disability, I guess... and I was just terrified that I was going to "set her off." And so looking back, I kind of regret it. Because I treated her like spun glass, you know, like she was so fragile.
[Narrator] Often, expectations are lower for students with disabilities. The chair, the crutches, or the white cane can obscure a student's real talents or personality. If you ask Marissa about herself, her disability is a small part of who she is. Her passion is writing.
[Marissa Griffien, Student] Mostly poetry, I love poetry. I love to write it and I've entered many poetry contests and most... well not most, but a few of my poems have been published.
[Narrator] Marissa's a junior in high school. What she expects from her teachers isn't much different from any other student.
[Marissa] Just accessibility in classrooms other kids get from their teachers.
[Narrator] She gets a lot of respect from her math teacher, Cherie Smith. After 11 years of teaching, Cherie still learns from her students.
[Cherie] Marissa had some difficulty with her hands, but I at the beginning of the year assumed that that meant a whole range of activities was not available to her. And she has really proven me wrong. And I think that, looking back, If there 's one thing that I would change for next year, it's letting them decide and tell me what they can't do, rather than making an assumption based on something that I observed, I mean, that's ideally what we look for in all our students, all the kids, is to let them reach as high as they can reach, and not stand in their way.
[Narrator] "Not standing in their way" means that kids need to be able to get into classrooms and science labs; understand the information offered; and participate in all activities. Physical, sensory, or learning disabilities may require accommodations to make that possible. Those accommodations are often quite simple.
[Teacher] Zero plus three plus three plus zero.
[Narrarator] Getting the student to class may involve accommodations such as an accessible location, a table instead of a desk, or seating near the front of the class for someone with low vision. In a science class, lab equipment might have to be placed at an accessible level.
[Kathi Medcalf, Science Teacher] You have to think about the physical things... I mean the physical plant; you don't realize how tall those lab tables are until you're sitting at a chair and you can't reach the top.
[Narrator] A lot of what makes a class accessible to any student is the teacher.
["Teacher"] Now let me ... let's talk about how we represent a circle here. Now we write "A" here for "area...."
[Narrator] Poor teaching techniques are going to shortchange everyone. Talking to the blackboard instead of the class, speaking too rapidly or too quietly, and failing to engage students in the learning process will be detrimental to everyone in your class-- including students with disabilities.
["Teacher"] Pi r squared. Now is that perfectly clear to anybody? If there are any questions, I'd like to hear them.
[Narrator] Speaking clearly and facing the class makes instruction easier for every student, with or without disabilities. Well, maybe not every student.
[Kathi] I've found that one of the things that I need to do for certain students is to be more organized. And it's not fair to them to not be organized when they need that, they need it typed out, or they need to be able to come to me and say, "Okay, I didn't get everything you said, can you show me something that I can write down, can you make a copy of something for me to have?"
[Teacher] Compare your slime to your gak.
[Narrator] Young people have to learn to advocate for themselves. But as a teacher, it's also your attitude, your lesson modifications, and your teaching strategies that will help students with disabilities succeed. Here area some suggestions for you
[Teacher] What you wind up doing is bending the whole hull and everything is moving around in there and you lose alignment on your chain...
[Narrator] Remember that each student is unique, and so is every disability. Before making these lesson modifications, ask questions. Let your students tell you what they need-and don't need.
[Cherie] In fact now, rather than taking care of their every need before they even see it coming, I'm much more likely to let them reach the moment and try to solve it for themselves. And respecting their strengths is a difference between now and when I first began.
[Narrator] Science classes, in particular, may require additional accommodations-especially when lab work is involved. To help your students participate fully, you might want to start with this classroom accommodation model. Here's the accommodation model in action. In chemistry class, Kathi Medcalf wants her students to perform an acid-base titration.
[Narrarator] Determine the specific tools and tasks required at each step. Here, students have to set up a stand; pour liquid into various containers, including a buret; clamp the buret into place; open and close the valve; swirl liquid in a beaker; read measurements; observe color changes; and record data.
[Narrarator] Some of the physical skills needed for titration include grasping containers and pouring liquids; manipulating the clamp to hold the buret; turning the knob to open and close the valve; and swirling the liquid in the beaker. Sensory skills involve seeing a color change from clear to pink. Cognitive skills involve determining measurements and recording data.
[Narrarator] In this case, some possible accommodations include a funnel for pouring; plastic instead of glassware; a buret with a squeeze valve; and a pre-printed, large type data table for recording observations. A lab assistant or partner could describe color changes. Observations could be tape recorded for transcription later. Discuss accommodations with your student. In some situations, you may want to consider educational computer software.
[Kathy] There are alternatives available, and a lot of them aren't that expensive. Buying some of the computer simulation software, or providing an Internet access for a frog dissection if they can 't physically do it. There are things out there to have access to, so that the student has a similar experience.
[Narrarator] Students, staff, and professional groups may be helpful.
[Steve] Each student can participate to a certain degree, and I think that's again what you do with a student who has a disability. You determine to which degree they can participate in that's going to be most inclusive for them and that's going to give them the most knowledge.
[Teacher] Are you answering the questions okay on number 6?
[Narrator] And remember, making accommodations does not mean lowering expectations.
[Kurt] It's the faculty member's responsibility if he or she really has respect for the student, to have the same expectations for that student's academic performance that he or she would for any student.
[Narrator] And that helps students with their own expectations. Marissa's excited about college, where she plans to study computer science-and creative writing. She can't wait to get out on her own.
[Marissa] My mom would probably want me to stay close to home, but I want to go somewhere big that I've never been before.
[Host] Teaching students with disabilities really gets down to common sense, sensitivity, and your own willingness to listen. Students can really be your best resources for this-- they're the experts on accommodations. For more information or additional resources, contact DO-IT.