Well…. after working with the idea of dyscalculia on Tuesday, I realized that these lessons, particularly since they are based on the concept of “measurement” will be very difficult for some students. Conferring with my mother, whose many decades of teaching cause her to say “of course” at regular intervals when I have such bursts of insight, I have decided to think very carefully about how I can address dyscalculia as well as reading and writing difficulties.
“Basics” are not necessarily easy.
I think the place to start will be with an introduction and workshop that allows students to review concepts and learn vocabulary as well as to begin formulating their own questions. I began working on that idea in the “Monday Musings” post on January 17.
Let’s get to the details:
This lesson is about science CONCEPTS, not about being able to read, write or calculate. All of those components are logical pieces, but they are not the focus of instruction. So, going with what Sonja said on Tuesday and the discussion my Mother and I have had, I will scaffold in three ways:
- READING: Students do not have to access 4th/5th grade science concepts using grade-level texts. In fact, as we know, the instructional reading level in content areas other than Language Arts can be lower than actual “grade” level, with no loss of learning. So, I will look for texts at a 3rd grade reading level to form the core of instruction. I will also have some more advanced texts that students may consult and some texts at a simpler level (even if I have to write them myself, I would use them more than once!) that contain the key terms and concepts.
- WRITING: Science writing is less concerned with prosody and form than with recording: accuracy and function. At the 4th/5th grade level, I would like to introduce the concept of science journals using a template that a) reminds students what data needs to be included, b) what the steps are for experiential learning and c) models the way “real” science journals are kept. Students will be asked to respond “completely” to prompts, rather than in “full sentences” — at this level especially, diagrams will be accepted and encouraged. Spelling will not “count” as long as meaning is clear. Students who have neurological difficulties will be encouraged to use any and all appropriate tools to assist with these recording tasks (including using a digital camera to take pictures, and inserting them into computer-generated templates). If there were enough computers, I would actually like all students to do this last piece!
- MATHEMATICS: There are so many things that could “trip up” any students with dyscalculia, from writing numbers down inaccurately, to being unable to read rulers, clocks/timers and scales, to being unable to grasp the “relationships between” – which is what measurement is all about. Mother suggested that even in the first grade most students who struggle with analog clocks can use the second hand and a single numeral on the clock face to count off “one minute” increments. I could also provide egg timers (shaped like hourglasses) with the correct increments, or pre-set digital timers. I would ideally like to provide scales that give digital readings as well as a verbal reading. I would like to set up graphs in such a way that at least a general understanding can be obtained. However, I am not sure exactly how to do all these things, and would consult with the special education teacher if I had a student who exhibited need in this area. For example, I don’t know if there are computer-based programs that might help, or if there are already some activities developed to help with understanding. For some students, I think “more than” and “less than” will be a good first step. The ideas of force (push-pull) and motion themselves should be comprehensible by this grade level, the sticking point really is the measurement.
I think that, in this unit working in heterogenous groups will be the key — students can participate in the experiential learning without getting hung up on the areas where they have extreme difficulty. At the same time, I want to be sure all students will be able to explain these simple concepts:
- measurement is a way to compare one thing with another
- measuring force means you have to know how massive an object is and how fast it is moving/speed (extension – velocity)
- measuring movement means you need to know where something started and where it finished (extension – direction/vector)
- measuring speed means you need to know how long it takes an object to get from one place to another
I want students to have exposure to the terminology: that distance is measured in centimeters and meters (length); that time is measured in seconds, minutes and hours (duration); that mass is measured in grams and kilograms (amount of “stuff”). At the beginning, however, we will start with the idea that bits of string or lengths of metal can be used for distance, that time can be marked off by anything with a constant rate of change (drops of water/sand, sun across the sky…), that objects can be weighed by comparison against a standard object.