September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Why Students with Special Needs Need Science in Your Classroom

Posted: Friday, August 19th, 2016

by Scott Campbell

I am a resource-level special education teacher. Like you, I teach students. As in most classrooms, my students’ skill levels run the gamut from very low to approaching grade level. Unlike you, I do not specifically teach science. Students in my resource program do not qualify for services in science. They qualify for services in the specific areas of reading, writing, math, listening, and speaking. They are pulled out of the regular education classroom for those services. I do my best to schedule these services so there is minimal disruption to you, but the number of students to be seen and the number of minutes available to me limits me. I want us to be partners in the education of our students and I need you to know that my students need to have science in your classroom.

For years Special Education Resource services focused upon filling gaps in skills: decoding, computation, speaking, and writing in complete sentences. For the 12 years I have been teaching the main curriculum has been direct instruction programs which are highly scripted and effective in certain areas, like decoding and grammar, but very boring and not related to the general education classroom. I have had a large number of students that I call word callers. They can read the words but do not really comprehend what they read.

Research shows that the learning gap is not being closed but in reality it is being shifted. The state of California has now set a target goal that students receiving special education resource support should be in their general education classrooms 80% or more of the time. This means our shared students will be in your rooms more. How can you help these students?

Student work. Photo by Scott Campbell

Student work. Photo by Scott Campbell

The answer, in my opinion, is through the use of science. Research shows that science has one of the richest academic vocabularies and when taught from a constructivist approach is highly engaging. Unfortunately, my students often miss science when they are pulled out for support service. Additionally, the new science framework (now in the second draft) calls for science to available to all students.

Although I don’t specifically teach science to my students, I have used science concepts as my vehicle to deliver academic instruction in reading comprehension, and writing. Physical science is very engaging for my students. In order to give my students a common experience they could write about I used an engineering challenge based upon what I had learned from the Engineering is Elementary program developed by the Museum of Science, Boston ( I started out with my 5th graders as their science standards involved understanding forces such as the pulling force of gravity.

Specifically my students had to build a structure that would support the mass of a toy car. Their building materials were limited to index cards and painters’ tape. This challenge was my hook and it worked. All my students were eventually successful.

Next, using a strategy from Project GLAD “the cooperative paragraph” we wrote about the challenge. We edited, revised and revised again making the paragraph better. The students worked in groups, pairs, and eventually alone. The students illustrated the final version and they had to read it aloud to others.

I have also been able to support reading and writing skills on what has happened in the regular classroom. Although I used an engineering design challenge directly with my students for a specific writing lesson, I generally do not have time to have the students do science. However, I can work with students to read content text and write about what they have learned in their regular classroom.

Student work sample Photo by Scott Campbell

Student work sample Photo by Scott Campbell
Click to view a larger image.

Here is a sketch done by a 5th grade special education student at my school. This student’s regular education teacher worked to ensure that their special education students were present for science, especially for the hands-on inquiry lessons. In this activity, students were trying to determine if air took up space. Based on the conversation with the student and his sketch, the student demonstrated an understanding of the concept. With that understanding based on his experience, he was better able to access the content text. He also was less reluctant to read. That was a major step for him.

I have found that science is a very effective hook to motivate students. It can help them feel a part of their classroom. When they are included in the hands-on activities, they acquire experiences that assist them in accessing content in text and writing. It can help demonstrate to themselves and others that they are learning. And isn’t that what we want for all of our students?

Scott Campbell is a resource level special education teacher in the Central Valley.


Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.