Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More science.

Following up my last post about STEM in the self-contained classroom, I wanted to post some pictures of a few reptile friends that visit us weekly.  Our friend Clay, an avid cyclist (and Race Across America racer/finisher), runner, and crazy nature guy brings creepy crawlers that he hand picks from the wild.  This guy volunteers his own time to spend with my class.  

When he isn't injured, he's running, jumping, and going gonzo with the students to encourage being active outside.  Clay also has this thing for critters.  He likes to catch them and bring them to the class.  Last week he brought in a coral snake (not pictured).  It was pretty cool to have the most poisonous snake in North America in my classroom.  The fact that Clay caught it himself makes it even more rad.  Yes, he left it in a sealed and locked container while in my class!

About two years ago, Clay brought some Chuckwalla's, a type of desert lizard native to Arizona, for us to have and keep as pets in the classroom.  Some of you may remember them as "Mr. Sir" and "Twitch".  We kept them for exactly one year, then released them back to the wild.

Thanks to our friend Clay for bringing the wild into our room and giving our students a chance to see science in action!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A self-contained, special education, STEM class.

I am now into my third year of this teaching thing.  I still love it!  Last school year was certainly one to remember!  I almost feel like I have to step up my game to top it, and I am not even a competitive person.  One of my goals was to develop a legitimate "STEM" classroom. STEM stands for "science, technology, engineering, and mathematics".  Google it if you are unaware.  A self-contained special education class that runs on a STEM approach to learning is unheard of.  Challenge accepted!

Exploring motion.
I have always incorporated science in some basic form.  If you keep up with this blog, you will already know that technology is a large aspect of my class as well.  Engineering, not so much.  Math is a given.  It is one of the simplest to teach because it so easily blends with other subjects and lends itself to using everyday objects as manipulatives.

So I already pretty much had this STEM thing in place, I just had to figure out ways to introduce engineering.  Engineering? For little kids with mild-moderate (and even a few severe) intellectual disabilities?  Yes!

Vroom! Vroom!
Even at such a basic level, students with intellectual disabilities (and any child, for that matter) can learn about engineering.  Simple-machines, and the very basic concept of "the wheel" are fantastic ways to introduce this.  I have mostly boys this year, and they all love to play with cars and trains.  Problem solved.  The race track was donated to us by another staff member and I bought the giant roller ramps from Lakeshore.  With both of these, we were able to explore motion by constructing tracks to propel objects down.  We added and subtracted multiple variables (such as force, direction, and angles) to decide what would make the objects move faster or slower.  We used different objects on each track such as rubber balls, foam balls, wooden balls, marbles, Hot Wheels, plastic cars, and yes, even trains.

This is really a no brainer! The students are playing, learning, sharing, and obviously having fun all at the same time.  Is that not what every kid should experience at school?  Future lessons will include skateboards, real cars, and motorcycles.  I just happen to know a few guys that know a thing or two about that sort of stuff.

Do not box these kids in!  They may not always be able to explain it, but when they choose the heavier car over the lighter one to race down the track, they have shown that they understand density and weight have an affect on force and propelling a moving object in a certain direction.  Welcome to my STEM class!