How can I help a student record and analyze data in a science lab?
Accurate and organized recording and analysis of the data collected during a science experiment is just as critical to the success of the experiment as using the proper tools and procedures. Scientists and students in science classes often need to collect numerical data in an organized form or otherwise keep track of results. Generally, many of the difficulties around the recording and analysis of data are similar for students with and without disabilities. However, some issues are more commonly encountered by students with certain types of disabilities.
Although each situation is different and the student may be the best source of information regarding useful adjustments, the following are examples of accommodations that may help students with disabilities record and analyze scientific data.
For students with impairments that affect walking and standing, a teacher needs to be certain that there is a table available at the correct height so that the student can actually perform the lab and/or see results they need to record. For students with upper-body mobility impairments or fine motor coordination issues, it may help them to record the data on a laptop or nearby desktop computer rather than recording data by hand. Portable data-recording devices could also be used. The student may need adaptive technology to do this, depending on the type of disability.
Students with visual impairments may have difficulty recording data if the data they need to record are produced only visually. In this case, some laboratory equipment can be made tactile, or students can be paired with another student. The student who is sighted can describe what is seen or read on dials and other instruments while the student who is blind or has low vision records the data on a computer, perhaps using a laptop with text-to-speech capabilities or a Braille note taker or Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).
Another issue that might arise for students with visual impairments is difficulty creating or reading graphs of data during data analysis. Equipment is available that can make it possible to turn a line drawing into a tactile graphic, and a student who will be making a lot of graphs or a teacher who will be using them frequently may want to try to gain access to this kind of equipment. Diagrams can be described for a student who is blind; this strategy is particularly effective when the number of diagrams and graphs involved is relatively small. If complex equations are used for data analysis, it may be helpful for a student who is blind to learn to use Nemeth Code, a tactile mathematical system, if they aren't familiar with it already.
Although learning disabilities span a spectrum of issues, it is common for students with many types of learning disabilities to struggle with organizing information. For some students, it may be helpful to provide them with a form or template with larger blocks to record their data so writing will fit. If the emphasis of the experiment is on students figuring out what data they need to record and how to organize it, the teacher may want to make recording the data and designing an appropriate table or other organizing system an explicit part of the assignment procedure.
Laptop computers or PDAs may be helpful for students who struggle with their handwriting. Also, teaming students who have learning disabilities that cause them difficulty in reading and writing with students who have strengths in these areas can be helpful. In this case, the student with the disability should do more of another part of the lab, building on strengths.
For more information on making measuring equipment tactile and working with students with visual impairments in a lab, consult How can I help a student who is blind or has low vision make measurements in a science lab?.
For further information on teaching science with students with disabilities, consult Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities or view the video by the same title. You may also wish to consult the presentation materials Making Math, Science, and Technology Instruction Accessible to Students with Disabilities.