Large-group discussions

Large-Group Activities

[Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4]

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Week 1: April 3-9
You can't imagine how surprised I was last night when the parents of two of my second grade students called me at home. These weren't just any parents; they were the parents of my two students with disabilities, Jamie and Sal. Jamie is mentally retarded and Sal has a permanent leg brace due to a recurrent osteomyelitis condition; she walks with a profound limp and has trouble maneuvering around the room. Both sets of parents voiced the same concern: I was excluding their children from inquiry-based science. I was taken aback by these remarks since I thought I had been really attentive to the needs of the whole class, especially to their children.

Let me explain how I had structured the activity. We were in the middle of a unit on classifying and grouping. The goal was for students to compare, contrast, and group different life forms. I divided the class into four small groups. Three of the groups did the same activity. They rotated at pre-planned times to a number of learning stations spread around the room, observed features of many once-living artifacts, and recorded similarities and differences of these artifacts in a journal (like historians do in the field).

I put Jamie and Sal together in a fourth group by themselves to do an alternative activity. They watched a video, cut out pictures of once-living artifacts from cards, and then sorted the pictures. I purposely developed this activity so that they would have access to technology (the video), be engaged in a hands-on activity, work at their own pace, and be stationary. But their parents argued that I had inadvertently made their children feel excluded. I wonder if I am really as off-base as the parents say I am?


Week 1
Please read the intentionally provocative statement for this week,  and use the following jumping-off points for discussion.  (All alternative  points of view are welcome.)

The parents have a right to be so upset because . . .

The teacher was doing his or her best, given . . .

Post your message to the Large-Group Discussions.

Week 2: April 10-16
Children with disabilities, like all children, need to learn about the science process and develop key science concepts. I'll not quarrel with that. But the view I've held on to tightly for many years is that they need a "no-frills," "get-down-to-business," "learn-basic-facts" kind of science program.

I recently visited a full-inclusion school that was implementing a standards-based science program. I do admit that what I saw was intriguing and raised some questions in my mind.

In one second grade classroom, the teacher was preparing students for a unit on habitats. I saw a student with Down Syndrome building a "lake" in a container, using pebbles, soil, sand and water. She did this activity several times, each time with another small group of students.

Video iconVideoclip and transcript.

I visited another classroom that was further along in their habitat unit. Earlier, at the beginning of the unit, they had gone on a field trip where they used rope hoops to mark off terrain for studying animals and plants.Ant sculptures Later, back in their classroom, they built a scaled-up version of the animal and plant life they had found in the field. They built huge ants made of papier mâché, people-sized blades of grass from construction paper, giant rocks from cartons, and even trash. I watched one student, who has severe developmental delays, climbing in and out of a cardboard box. Each time he did so, he uttered phrases, such as "Ants in, "Ants out," and "Ants water." Using these and additional vocabulary words, his teacher created an IntelliKeys overlay Intellikeys board for Ants activityso that the student could write sentences on the computer, such as "Ants go in," "Ants go out," "Ants need water," and Ants need food." After creating these sentences, the child could have the computer read them back, again and again, to develop core concepts about the ant habitat.

"OK," I said afterward. The kids seemed happy and involved in the tasks. But were they learning anything? Developing concepts? I think I need to see more to convince me.


Week 2
Please read the  provocative passage and respond. Use one of the following statements as a jumping-off point for discussion:

These students were involved in inquiry, because...

It is great to see the student with disabilities involved, because...

I think the student's time would be better spent if he were...

Post your message to the Large-Group Discussions.

Week 3: April 17-23
I’m a low-tech science teacher, always have been, and proud of it. Give me my magnifying glasses, my videos, my projection microscope, some hand held-microscopes, and even those big stationary microscopes. I’m happy, my students are happy, and my assessments indicate a real enjoyment of science. We can do endless exploring, observing, and recording. I don’t want to get involved with all the trials and tribulations that come with high tech.

I wish people would just let me be. But my colleague down the hall was raving about the computer simulation he found called Sammy’s Science House which helps kids explore how animals that live near a pond adapt to different seasons. At a recent science workshop, the science coordinator showed us a CD-ROM of a rain forest by Tom Synder Productions and suggested ways it could help students explore the rain forest from different perspectives (e.g., a coffee producer, ecologist, or medical researcher). A friend who teaches in another town was mentioning just last week how a quick-take digital camera Student with camera let him take pictures when the class was out in the field on a habitat unit, and then download them into the computer for further analysis. He raved about how this had helped students with learning disabilites more deeply observe details from the environment. Even my wife, a fourth grade teacher, has been telling me every night at dinner about how her students use Inspiration to brainstorm ideas, create semantic webs, and even turn the webs into outlines to help them write.

All right, so more and more people are jumping on the technology bandwagon. Let them invest all those dollars. Discovering the secrets of nature is free—and makes us closer to the earth. I will stick with my view and what works for me.


Discussion prompts
The following statements can serve as a jumping-off points for discussion, or post your own comments.

I find that technology is a burden and a hassle, because . . .

Without technology as part of my teaching, I would never be able to ...

What benefits my students the most in using technology is ...

Please read others’ responses and debate their points.

Technical Tip: Use the jumping-off statement as the title of your message.

Post your message to the Large-Group Discussion

Week 4: April 24-30
Watch the second half of Successful Science, the video we sent you when you registered for the workshop. The second half focuses on Project ASSIST and in particular, the collaborative process that brings together classroom teachers, science specialists, technology teachers, media specialists, and special education teachers.

Review those sections in the 16-page print profile (pages 8 to 13) that focus on Project Assist. In particular, review the completed Action Reflection Tool on pages 12 and 13.

Download a blank Action Reflection Tool. pdf icon If you do not have Adobe Reader, go to Adobe to download the reader.


Discussion prompts
Respond to the questions below, or pose your own question(s).

What is your reaction to the Action Reflection Tool? What do you think might be its strengths and weaknesses?

How might a tool such as this be used in your setting?

What kind of organizational support would be needed in your setting for teachers and specialists to collaborate and use a tool such as this?

Please read others’ responses and debate their points.

Post your message to the Large-Group Discussion


Week 5: May 1-6
Imagine yourself in one or more of the following situations:
  • You are having lunch with colleagues
  • You are asked by your administrator to make a presentation to others
  • You are in a heated debate on education with friends or relatives
Discussion Prompts
What would you be saying, based on what you read, learned, saw in the videos, heard others say in this workshop?

What do you now know about special education, science, technology that you want others to know?

How did this workshop push you further in your thinking?

What buttons would you like to push in others?

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998.

©Education Development Center, Inc.