Fife School District: A Promising Practice to Maximize Outcomes of Professional Development for Teachers

Date Updated

Too often conference attendance benefits only one teacher and his/her students. A team of special education teachers from the Fife School District, however, took concrete steps to maximize the benefit of attendance at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Convention and Expo. They sought to learn and apply strategies for including students with disabilities in general education science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes in their schools.

The CEC Convention promotes professional excellence to meet the educational needs of individuals with disabilities worldwide. Attending this annual event gave the team of teachers opportunities to network with educators from many countries. A common thread among the attendees was a vision to fully include all students in general education classes. The team attended a full day of training, participated in breakout sessions, and visited several special education programs in Utah. Training sessions included information on educational strategies as well as research on evidence-based practices.

The team made plans to partner with general education teachers to:

  • Develop a schema or pattern for solving word problems using graphic organizers which can be either paper of computer based.
  • Introduce scaffolded support for solving word problems that provides a high level of support during the learning process and gradually decreases the support as problem solving and problem organization skills are internalized.
  • Create a Story Checklist that allows students to solve word problems independently within the classroom setting.
  • Provide functional academic activities, such as running a student store to provide both general and special education students authentic, real-world learning experiences.
  • Provide students with frequent coaching that emphasizes success and focuses on the student's individual strengths.
  • Teach students low tech solutions to help with organization in math. For example, turning a sheet of notebook paper sideways to keep numerals aligned during addition and subtraction or folding notebook paper into fourths to keep problems organized.
  • Help other teachers understand that when students struggle with basic math facts and number sense, they will not have the skills to solve word problems: basic, foundational skills must be mastered first.
  • Create an environment where students from the general education population are motivated to participate in activities in the special education classroom such as playing board games, engaging in math practices, telling stories, and riding bikes.
  • Engage all students in STEM activities by implementing a team approach to both curriculum planning and classroom activities.
  • Establish a protocol to identify accommodations and modifications general education teachers are most comfortable with and will therefore most likely use.

This strategic team approach to gain knowledge and implement lessons learned through professional development is a cost-effective promising practice. The participating teachers developed concrete strategies based on their learning and developed an implementation plan to apply promising practices themselves as well as involve other teachers for the purpose of increasing the success of students with disabilities in STEM. Their approach assures that the impact of funding for this activity extends far beyond what would be accomplished through practices in the classrooms of teachers who attended the convention.

This project was funded through an AccessSTEM Minigrant, which was available to teachers in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

AccessSTEM minigrants were funded under The Alliance for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (AccessSTEM, Research in Disabilities Education award # HRD-0227995).