Making Science Activities Accessible to all Students

Example: Making Gak!

To practice applying universal design and developing accommodation strategies, CBI participants participated in a hands-on science activity, Making Gak! The goals of the activity were to increase student understanding of chemical reactions, observe the polymerization of chemical elements, and gain experience following step-by-step directions. Directions included measuring the ingredients (glue, Borax, and water); mixing, measuring and pouring the Borax solution; and combining the Borax solution with glue to create the putty-like substance called Gak. Each group developed ideas for making the activity more accessible to students with a type of specific disability (e.g., learning disability, mobility impairment, sensory impairment). Participants made the following suggestions for accommodating specific students:

Visual Impairments

  • Use black measuring device with white glue to create contrast
  • Provide Braille and/or large print instructions
  • Use tactile measuring spoons and cylinders
  • Use measuring devices with large print

Hearing Impairments

  • Speak facing students so they are able to read lips
  • Include all steps in clear written instructions
  • Periodically check the pace of speaking with students to determine if you need to slow down

Learning Disabilities/Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder

  • Model the activity for the students
  • Minimize distractions
  • Have someone in each group read aloud directions to students
  • Use a consistent system (metric/English measurements), unless teaching conversions
  • Use clear, step-by-step instructions, including telling students what to do with products when done
  • Use figures within directions
  • Use name tags with individual roles indicated
  • Delegate jobs and find accessible roles for each person
  • Have students write down what they are going to do
  • Provide a vocabulary list

Mobility Impairments

  • Hold equipment for a student (if necessary)
  • Use zip-lock bags
  • Measure ingredients ahead of time
  • Have a person with a mobility impairment contribute by reading the directions
  • Use an automatic stirrer

Participants were asked to suggest ideas that teachers could employ that would make the activity more accessible to all students, regardless of abilities and disabilities. This approach is called universal design. Following are suggestions made by participants:

  • Provide clear, step-by-step directions
  • Model the activity for the students
  • Encourage cooperation between group members and delegate tasks to everyone
  • Allow students extra time, assuring that students who are finished have something to do (e.g., answer open-ended questions). This way (1) some students can have more time to finish the required activity and (2) students who complete the activity quickly will have something productive to do
  • Minimize distractions
  • Provide a vocabulary list
  • Use figures as well as printed directions (multi-modal)
  • Periodically, check with students to assure that you are presenting material at the right pace