Expanding Children’s Access to Science

Bradley Scott, Ph.D.

It is science time in Mrs. Miller’s pre-school classroom. Everywhere there is an excitement in the air as children build with wonderful junk, examine distances in a bean-toss activity, explore the scientific properties of “Oobleck,” and ponder the interaction, or lack thereof, between oil and water in a mystery bottle.

Lydia moves toward an activity that has caught her interest and, in the process, bumps Brooks who is just about to examine the force of gravity in an activity using ramps. Lydia, in a wheelchair, is a bright-eyed bundle of dynamite who also happens to be learning disabled. Lydia watches Brooks with the intensity of a surgeon as she waits for her turn to try the experiment. When Brooks is finished, Lydia picks up a ball and a block.

“Which do you think will roll down the ramp?” Mrs. Miller asks.

Lydia holds up the ball. Mrs. Miller challenges: “Maybe you are wrong Lydia. Maybe you should try to roll each one before you answer.”

“The ball,” Lydia insists. “It’s round.”

“Well, scientist Lydia, you’ll just have to prove it to me,” Mrs. Miller says with a half smile.

Lydia places the block on the ramp. It does not roll. She places the ball on the ramp. It rolls to the bottom. With great satisfaction, Lydia looks at Mrs. Miller, smiles and says, “I told you.”

Proof once again that science is for everyone.

IDRA’s South Central Collaborative for Equity has been committed to helping public schools fight discrimination and increase educational equity for 30 years. It is an essential part of the center’s mission to ensure that no child is left behind in schools because of race, national origin or gender.

The center has provided assistance and training to education personnel, parents, and others to ensure that they work to include all learners and expose every student to quality learning experiences. The work the equity assistance center has conducted regarding equity in mathematics and science in schools has been reported in several IDRA Newsletter articles (Dieckmann, 2002; Dieckmann, 2003; Scott, 1995).

In addition, IDRA has developed the Six Goals of Educational Equity as a framework for its technical assistance. In a continuing effort to assist educators to embrace these goals by reflecting them in practices and programs in schools and to provide greater access to all learners, the equity assistance center is now available to assist school personnel to make the Playtime Is Science parent-child early childhood science curriculum available to disabled children.

Why is this important? Griershaber and Diezmann give two very good reasons. They observe, “Science is an important way… to help people understand issues facing them and the world.”

Secondly, they note, “Opportunities to tinker with materials and equipment… in situations with other learners give young children scope to observe and reflect on the consequences of actions taken,” (2000).

A third reason is found in a set of values reflected in the goals for school science put forth by the National Research Council (1996). School science is valuable because it allows learners to:

  • Experience the richness and excitement of knowing about and understanding the natural world;
  • Use appropriate scientific processes and principles in making personal decisions; and
  • Engage intelligently in public discourse and debate about matters of scientific concern.

These values are important for all learners regardless of their race, national origin, gender, economic status or disability. The equity assistance center is excited to announce the expansion of the Playtime Is Science materials to accommodate the special needs of disabled pre-school and early learners.

The center has worked collaboratively with the creators of Playtime Is Science, Educational Equity Concepts, since 1994. It has provided training throughout its service area in the hands-on, science-based, pre-school curriculum that provides a strong family involvement component as a tool for helping families engage their pre-school children in the love of science. The curriculum is structured to provide children and families with a practical way of embracing the notion that science is for everyone regardless of their different characteristics.

Playtime Is Science is a scientifically research-based curriculum that has demonstrated its capacity to help racially, culturally, and gender different learners to embrace science and to empower teachers of diverse young children to approach classroom science experiences in a way that accomplishes the goals of the National Research Council.

Educational Equity Concepts, Inc., based in New York City, has expanded the original curriculum by adapting all of the activities to make them accessible to children who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, physically disabled, learning disabled, speech and language impaired, and emotionally disabled.

The curriculum also:

  • familiarizes students with vocabulary and basic concepts of science;
  • breaks activities into discrete steps to ensure success;
  • provides items for experimentation to challenge and test hypotheses;
  • prepares students for activities by creating “recipe-like” charts;
  • allows for the creation of questions for inquiry and investigation;
  • provides opportunities for students to make choices; and
  • instructs adults in ways to make science more accessible for disabilities.

The increased visibility given to science for pre-school and early elementary school learners as a result of current educational reform activities and the No Child Left Behind Act makes revisiting this dynamic curriculum a worthwhile and important activity for educators and parents. Now that the curriculum has been adapted to provide for greater access and inclusion for children who are disabled, clearly parents and educators have an opportunity to move closer to ensuring that no child is left behind.

Lydia’s satisfaction as she demonstrated her scientific knowledge to Mrs. Miller, shows how it makes sense to ensure that disabled and challenged learners have an equitable, high-quality opportunity to learn science.

For more information on either Playtime Is Science or Playtime Is Science for Students with Disabilities contact IDRA or visit the SCCE web site at http://www.idra.org/eac-south/ or the Educational Equity Concepts web site at www.edequity.org.


Resources

Dieckmann, J. “Learning Angles with English Language Learners,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2003).

Dieckmann, J. “Mathematics Achievement for All? Yes!” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 2002).

Griershaber, S. and C. Diezmann. “The Challenge of Teaching and Learning Science with Young Children,” Promoting Meaning Learning, N.J. Yelland (Ed.) (Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2000).

National Research Council. National Science Education Standards (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1996).

Rubin, E., M. Froschl, B. Sprung and M. Stimmer. Playtime Is Science for Students with Disabilities (New York, N.Y.: Educational Equity Concepts, Inc., 2000).

Scott, B. “Playtime Is Science Expands in Region VI,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 1995).

Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development.Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]

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