Technology Supported Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Instruction for Students with Disabilities
By: National Center for Technology Innovation and Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd) (2009)
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education serves as the foundation of innovation in our society. Innovative products often derive from a problem or challenge that requires a unique solution, making it imperative that all students, including those with disabilities, have access to a rigorous STEM curriculum.
However, students with disabilities comprise one of the largest untapped pools of potential scientists, engineers, technologists, mathematicians, and technicians according to the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering1. The number of college students with disabilities enrolled in STEM disciplines is unknown because students are not required to disclose this information.
However, while NCES data show a 28% increase in the number of students with disabilities enrolled in undergraduate STEM fields between 2000 and 20042, the NSF Division of Science Resources Statistics reports that the number of students with disabilities receiving doctorates in STEM fields decreased by 13% between 2000 and 20043.
This Info Brief provides an overview of technology-based academic supports to help students with LD succeed in STEM-related K-12 courses to help prepare them for STEM studies in higher education and beyond. It also provides resources that can help students with disabilities succeed in STEM disciplines in higher education. LD OnLine has many resources on helping students with STEM-related academic tasks; be sure to see the Resource section below to get started.
Supporting Academic Tasks
Although many students with LD have average to above average intelligence, many face challenges acquiring information and demonstrating their knowledgebase. In addition to the general academic supports which should be implemented for education across disciplines (ex., recorded class sessions, additional exam time), an array of supports exist to help students learn information and express what they have learned in STEM subjects.
- STEM Literacy
Literacy serves as the foundation for any discipline, and STEM is no exception. Students with learning disabilities likely require extra support decoding and comprehending complex STEM-related terms and phrases. Utilizing text-to-speech software with adjustable reading rates, highlighting supports, and dictionary and thesaurus features can help students grasp unfamiliar STEM-related terms and concepts. See reviewed products in the TechMatrix that offer these features.
Calculating data is a common component found throughout STEM disciplines. Several alternatives to conventional calculators exist. For example, talking calculators can be used to help students who transpose numbers. Cells within Microsoft Excel can be set to quickly compute data in columns and rows. The Windows operating system offers a standard calculator that displays on the screen when needed. Data can be inputted with both the keyboard and mouse. See more information about the use of calculators for students with LD in this Info Brief, Beyond Getting the Answers.
- Audible Lab Equipment
Various science supports also exist to support students with disabilities that transpose numbers and experience difficulties comprehending information displayed visually. Audible lab equipment such as thermometers and scales can offer support for students who transpose numbers or have difficultly reading units accurately (ex., kilograms, Celsius, etc).
- Displaying Data in Multiple Formats
Many students, especially those with LD, find it difficult to understand STEM-related information in standard narrative form. Displaying information in multiple formats helps students grasp concepts and draw connections between information. Graphing software designed especially for students can help them create, explore, interpret, and print visual representations. Teach and expect students to build habits of using the chart and table wizard in spreadsheet programs (like Microsoft Excel) to represent data in various formats to check and boost their understanding of data. See reviewed products that allow students to enter and manipulate their data in the TechMatrix.
- Making Connections
Graphic organizers can be used as both a teaching and studying tool to demonstrate links between concepts within STEM disciplines to help students make connections to related knowledge. Use these as teaching tools to elicit students' prior knowledge on topics and establish appropriate understandings. Teach students to use organizers as study tools to boost comprehension and flag questions for later research or discussion. Consider technology-based graphic organizers (see reviewed products in the TechMatrix) that can support students with text to speech and electronic references such as a dictionary, thesaurus and spell checker.
- Staying on Track
Some students with disabilities have difficulty keeping information categorized in their minds. One way to help with this is to use the highlighting or shading feature in standard word processors to color code columns in tables and charts. Another approach is to classify the content of text by color. For example, colors could be used for text to distinguish each phase of the water cycle. Key words in text can be bolded, colored, or enlarged to emphasize importance.
- Serious Games
Once thought of as only entertainment, games for learning are becoming increasingly popular in education settings among teachers. These applications tap into students' visual, audio, and kinesthetic senses, providing multiple opportunities for learning. Furthermore, many students find STEM instruction more engaging when supplemented by serious games. An Example of a serious games is Immune Attack, which aims to familiarize students with molecular biology and cell biology concepts as they relate to white blood cells and infectious agents. See the Resource section below for more.
- Virtual Labs
Although live labs enable students up-close and first-hand engagement in learning, virtual labs can be just as beneficial for students with disabilities. For example, virtual labs can be a productive way to prepare students before they engage in hands-on lab work so that they can become more familiar with concepts and procedures, and have an idea of what is expected. Virtual labs also provide students who require repetition with the opportunity to view procedures multiple times before engaging in the activities themselves. See the Resource section below for more.
- Virtual Field Trips
Fieldtrips enable students to explore learning content in new and interesting environments. They also provide students with the opportunity to see how subject matter applies to the real world, lending added benefits for students with disabilities when analyzing and drawing connections between difficult concepts. Virtual field trips to museums, science centers, factories, and other venues can overcome barriers of distance and budget restrictions. See the Resource section below for more.
Though relevant to any discipline, WebQuests serve as a motivational approach to engaging students online in STEM related subjects. WebQuests are an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. Students are often assigned to work in teams or groups. WebQuests can either be short or longer term. Short term WebQuests are generally completed in one to three class periods and target knowledge acquisition and integration. Longer term WebQuests can take between one week to one month to complete. They aim to help students extend and refine knowledge, resulting in the ability to analyze, transform, and demonstrate knowledge of information. See the Resource section below for more.
The websites listed below provide useful information that can support STEM instruction for students with disabilities.
LD OnLine Articles on Science, Math, and Technology
You will find many articles and resources to help you help your students with STEM-related academics on LD OnLine. Here are some links to get you started:
Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.
- Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering. "Biannual Annual Report to Congress" 2005-2006. Available at from the National Science Foundation, http://www.nsf.gov.
- U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, 2000-2004. Available at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/npsas/.
- NSF Division of Science Resources Statistics, Survey of Earned Doctorates, 1997-2004. Available from the National Science Foundation, http://www.nsf.gov.
An "Info Brief" created by the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) and the Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd).