Incorporating activities into your instruction can be a great way to get children with special needs involved in science. The activities in this lesson offer a diverse range of possibilities.
Science Activities Help Students Shine
As someone who works with children with special needs, you know that these children deserve the same access to knowledge, rich experiences, and good information as the next child.
You also know that every child with special needs is different, and it can be very difficult to create an instructional approach that will make a difference for everyone. However, nearly all students, particularly those with special needs, can benefit from the opportunity to engage in hands-on, active learning. This lesson gives you some ideas for activities that will get students excited about science. You can modify the specific activities to meet the ages, needs and abilities of children you are working with.
Activities for Earth Science
These activities will get students engaged in thinking about the natural world.
Collect Three Specimens
Take a small group of students on a walk outside. Explain that their job is to collect three different ‘specimens’ from the environment. These might be leaves, rocks, acorns, etc. The specimens should be natural, so help students understand the difference between natural and man-made objects.
Once you are back in the classroom, give students a chance to lay their specimens out on a table and sketch them with a pencil. Circulate to help your students look closely at their objects and think about what they are seeing. Then, give them a chance to share their sketches and discuss commonalities.
For this activity you will need large clean jars, masking tape, cone-shaped coffee filters, and a magnifying glass. In the jars, collect water samples from different sources such as rain, tap water, bottled water, or water from nearby bodies of water. Students can help with the collection or you can do it for them. Label the jars using masking tape.
Talk with your class about where the water comes from. Then, one sample at a time, help your students pour the water from the jars through a coffee filter into a different container. Point out any sediment and help them talk about what they notice. Some students with special needs will benefit from physically touching or drawing the sediment. Discuss what it means about the water in each of the sources you gathered from.
Activities for Biology and Chemistry
These activities help students think about biology and chemistry.
Plant a Seed
Many students with special needs will learn so much from watching a plant grow.
Give each of your students a cup filled with potting soil and help them plant seeds like lima beans, string beans, or other quickly growing plants. Discuss the conditions that help seeds grow. To add a chemistry-oriented element to the activity, put samples of different chemicals in some of the soil, such as common pollutants like acids or plastics. Help your students take care of the plants each day and make notes or sketches of their observations. It can be especially helpful for students to take photographs so that they can look back at what the plant looks like at each stage of development.
Inside Your Brain
For many students with special needs, learning about their own brains can be fascinating and meaningful, leading to metacognitive awareness, which is an understanding of your own mind and thought process.
Help your students brainstorm a list of questions about brains and how they work. Then, team them up and let them work online or at your school library to research answers to these questions. They can make posters to share some of their findings. Finally, have a ‘brain fair’ to let them share their findings with one another.
Activities for Physics
Finally, these activities can be great ways to get students excited about physics.
For this activity you will need a slope or ramp, either in your school building or made out of a piece of wood. You will also need toy or model cars of a variety of sizes and shapes.
Show your students all of the cars you have and ask them to make predictions about which car will travel down the slope the fastest and why. Help them learn to make a chart of their predictions. Then, have a racing day where students time the cars traveling down the slope and track their data. Facilitate a discussion where the students talk about why some cars travel faster than others and why their predictions were right or wrong.
Sinking and Floating
Bring a tank of water into your classroom along with about ten different small objects. Objects might include coins, paper clips, pieces of sponge, pieces of paper, small toys, etc. Ask your students to make predictions about which objects will sink or float and why. Then, have students take turns putting the objects into water and documenting what happens.
Lead a discussion about what they learned about why certain things sink and float.