Q&A Highlights: Inclusion in the Classroom

By AACT on April 3, 2023

If you missed our Office Hours Webinar about inclusion in the science classroom, this article highlights our Q&A session with Hillsborough High School teachers Anjana Iyer and Cathy Zavacki. Anjana and Cathy use their experience teaching special education and chemistry to explain how teachers can make learning chemistry at any level easier for students with disabilities.

Q: With neurodivergent types, how do you make sure they get valuable practice without making it too overwhelming for them?

Cathy: Part of it in the beginning is working with your students emotionally. Really analyzing – what did you put into this and what did you get out of it? We have a quote from our superintendent “If you do the work, the grade will come.” We repeat to our students constantly. It’s about the learning.

We give them the example: “Do you want to take your driver’s test the first day you get in the car? No, you don’t.” In our class – today is the first day you receive this [new material], so this is your first day “behind the wheel.” I don’t want to assess you right now and you don’t want to be assessed on it yet, so what work can we put in until you are ready to take the “driver’s test”?

We also teach our students to self-reflect using phrases such as: I didn’t spend a lot of time on this one, I didn’t put the work in, etc. One student reflected that it helped him have a little bit more positive pressure that the learning was something they valued.

Anjana: In second and third marking period, they know the statement – it’s about the learning!

Cathy: We have patience with our students as they learn our techniques and routines. Recognizing that code switching and working in a group [are difficult] - how can we make it easier for students with disabilities? It may mean something different to work in a group in one classroom with one teacher versus another. Take the time to teach them patiently how to work in a group in your classroom.

Q: You said you do a lot of kinesthetic activities with your students and I am in the middle of teaching writing chemical names and formulas, which is a lot of processing for students to do especially if they have processing issues. How do you scaffold that and what sorts of kinesthetic activities do you use?

Cathy: When beginning naming, we have them write the symbol and the charge above the name all the time. We start with a card sort activity (from NSTA). Students are given a whole bunch of compounds and names and asked to look for patterns. They are looking for the trends and asking questions. We start giving them information and hints – why don’t you look where they are on the periodic table?

We also make a totally obnoxious symbol [to help with transition metals] – if it is in the middle, you have to put up football goal posts. Any time they find something that is in the middle of the periodic table, they have to put their hands up like football goal posts – indicating that it is in the middle and needs Roman numerals. The ends of the periodic table act like goal posts and the ones in between them need Roman numerals.

Another fun thing you can do is play memory for review. We haven’t played it yet even though it is on my list. You can have the chemical formulas on one end and the names on the other end.

It [this game] creates novelty. We need to create novelty for our brains, or everything before and after is getting erased.