Sometimes it seems that some students are excluded from an expectation of success in the sciences – those with cognitive or physical disabilities, those who do not speak English, or those who do not appear to have the intellectual or reading levels that were thought to be important. I often wonder at the thinking and creativity that are overlooked with this attitude. Fortunately for our students, we now have many alternative strategies to help all students learn concepts and skills in science. And not just high school students – this issue is relevant for all grade levels.
Closing the Gap could be retitled “Lab Experiences for All.” The author makes a case for providing opportunities for all students to have first-hand experiences (not just the advanced students or those who do not have learning difficulties). Some students may not have much experience in cooking, for example. When the teacher refers to recipes and measuring ingredients, those students don’t have much prior knowledge about them. Doing a simple activity in class in which all students construct something and write down their procedure and the amount of materials used provides some prior experiences to build on.
The author of Powerful Learning Tools for ELLs did some research on science vocabulary: the survey showed that as part of the curriculum in the local schools, students are expected to learn 500 words in general science, 1200 in biology, 1000 in earth science, and more in chemistry and physics. What if they’re also trying to learn English? The author describes several strategies: uncovering prior knowledge in life experiences and in the native language, using culturally familiar examples, and concept mapping. The article has an example of a multilingual visual glossary that would be interesting for students to construct. [SciLinks for concepts in the examples: Pollination, Biomes]
It may seem overwhelming to deal with students who are learning science and English at the same time. Blending Language Learning with Science has a list of strategies common to science inquiry and ELL instruction. There are also examples of related content and language objective and a rubric for science projects that promote both content and language development.
Reaching the Next Stephen Hawking describes five ways to help students with disabilities in AP science classes. Setting high standards for all students is the first, and the others note the importance of communicating with special education staff and parents, pacing the courses, providing accommodations for learning (as well as a safe lab environment).
Food is a way to get students’ attention. The authors of The Stratigraphic Sandwich provide a 5E lesson that focuses on helping students learn specialized vocabulary (the language of science). Using a sandwich as a model, students consider geological processes and then apply the vocabulary. [SciLinks: Geology, Stratigraphy]
Many students are involved in organized school or club sports. They may also be involved in fitness and recreation activities such as cycling, running, skateboarding, dancing—with many opportunities for serious head injuries. Concussion ABCs has resources and lesson ideas for learning about concussions. [SciLinks: Brain Injury, Sports Injury]