Teaching the Scientific Method in a special education setting

We all know there are certain steps, 6 to be exact, to the scientific method. We also know it is something taught to almost every student at some point in their science curriculum. But what about if you teach in a special education setting? What if the students you teach are severely impacted? Can you still teach and practice the steps of the scientific method? Should you teach and practice the steps to the scientific method? Yes and yes. Let’s look at how you can take this abstract concept and provide enough support (and a lot of repetition of course) to allow your students to make real connections to this process. Oh, and there is a FREE download at the end of this post. 😉

Step 1: Ask a good question ❓

This is probably the most difficult step for me because asking questions in general, can be really difficult for our kiddos. The key here is to get your kids to :

  1. Just ask general questions about the material you are studying
  2. Start deciding if their questions contain something that can be measured
  3. Come up with questions that can be measured AND are relevant

So, as you can imagine, this takes a lot of guidance and a lot of practice. I try to validate as many questions as I can. Remember, this is NOT the formation of a hypothesis. That comes in step 3, and we will provide a lot more support for that step. For now, I then help guide them as much as I can, while letting them explore possible questions. In the end, it is okay if you, as the teacher, come up with the best question to base your research and experiment around.

Step 2: Research and gather information 📓

This is the step that is the easiest, in my opinion. If you have a well-structured lesson then you are naturally helping students research and gather information everyday through the stories you use, videos you show, and activities you have students complete. The other part of this step is deciding on what you will need for your experiment and gathering those materials. Here is how I set that up to make it as structured and independent as possible.

Step 3: Make a hypothesis 🤔

This step needs some structure to be sure students truly comprehend what a good hypothesis looks and sounds like. For that reason, I use the format shown below to allow students to formulate their OWN hypothesis. That means I try to provide answer choices that make sense, but I also know might be proven wrong. It is OKAY to have a hypothesis proven wrong. It is important to let students know that, so they do not feel like they have done something “wrong” if things do not turn out as expected.

Step 4: Conduct experiments 🔬

Yep, this is the best part. All kids love to do experiments. Although you may not wade into the territory of independent, dependent, and controlled variables with your students, you, as the teacher, needs to be aware of them to protect the integrity of the results. For that reason, I make the experiment very structured and the directions very visual. Honestly, some experiments go better than others, but my ultimate goal is to allow students to do as many of the steps themselves with only some guidance from me. I try to stay away from the “now watch me” model. I think the kids need to get their hands in there and actually DO the experiment themselves.

Step 5: Analyze the results 🔍

You may think this is the hardest step, but really it is not. With the right amount of support and visual structure, students are able to collect the data on their own AND compare it to their hypothesis.

Step 6: Present your conclusion ✋

The moment of truth. Students get to share what happened in their experiment and how that compared to their hypothesis. Circling back and connecting their results to their predictions is critically important in the process of the scientific method. I also think it is the step that is often glossed over in many regular education settings. But, I have found a great way to help students “see” this connection. This is one of those times, that I try to include only the correct answers. I make this last page as errorless as possible. I want my students paying attention to how their results compared to their hypothesis, NOT trying to figure out what the right answer is. It has worked really well for me.

My hope is you will feel like you have the tools to help your students not only conduct experiments in your classroom, but to do it with validity and respect for the scientific method. I use this exact same set up for every experiment I have included in my science units. If you want to try one out, click the button below to download this experiment from my unit on the Scientific Method: Turning a Penny Green. I think your students will really love it!

Wonder: A novel unit for teaching acceptance with free activities

I had so many teachers last year begging me to do a novel unit on Wonder by R,J. Palacio. I was deep into a series of science units for high school, so I put it on my to-do list. I knew I wanted to do this novel, but was not sure when. Well, this December while in the car for over 12 hours, I finally found the time. Boy am I glad I did!!

A great read

This is an amazing story of one boy’s struggle to be just another kid despite his very visual differences. The book chronicles his first time in a public school setting at the age of 11, going into 5th grade. As you can imaging, there are some pretty awful experiences, as well as some heartwarming ones. In the end, he comes away the hero, causing us to shed more than a few tears at his triumphs.

A bonus chapter

So, I happened to pick up the book with a bonus chapter that was not included in every version of the novel. It was a chapter, solely from the protagonist’s view point, Julian. Julian is that boy in the book that we all want to dislike. He is a privileged, upper class boy with parents who use their money and power to get what they want. Julian is not kind. He is the stereotypical bully who we wish could just feel a little bit of the hatred he puts out. But, then we learn more.

This chapter looks more deeply into why Julian is the way he is. You get a glimpse at his own hidden disability. It is a good lesson, that you never know what struggles an individual may be dealing with. In the end, you still feel anger and dislike for Julian. His actions were pretty horrible, regardless of his home situation. But, you do understand him more. You may even look differently at those students who do not seem to have enough compassion and kindness for others.

Free activities
Free activities to download

I have created some FREE activities to go along with this bonus chapter. As with all my novel units, I created them for students with autism and significant learning challenges. Even if your students struggle with comprehension, they will still be able to do and benefit from these activities. Click the button below this short video to download them.

Julian’s Chapter

The complete unit

I do have the complete unit for Wonder in my store. You can check it out by clicking HERE. I am really glad I finally took the time to read this story. Always choose kind, and you cannot go wrong.

Vocabulary board

Awesome activities to do with vocabulary boards and cards

Have you ever purchased a teaching unit or curriculum and wondered, “What the heck am I supposed to use this for?” I have gotten that question occasionally from some of my friends concerning the vocabulary boards that are included in 99% of my units. I do have this great short video, giving you some ideas, but I wanted to share 10 more awesome ways you can use these vocabulary boards (oh, and it works with those vocabulary cards in some of my units as well!!). At the end of this post, you can download a complete list with a summary of all these activities you can keep for a quick reference. Trust me, your kids will not only LOVE these activities, but learn from them as well.

If you would like to download some FREE schedule cards to go with these awesome activities, check out this blog post on adding structure to small group lessons by clicking HERE.

First, here is the video I made a few years ago about using these boards in case you missed it.

Now let’s add some new and exciting ways you can use these in your classroom. Remember, if you purchased a unit that has vocabulary cards, you can do these same activities with those as well.

NOTE: For many of these activities you will want to enlarge a second copy of your vocabulary board since you will be holding the images up in front of the students. If you are unable to do this, NO PROBLEM!! Just send me an email at specialneedsforspecialkids@gmail.com and tell me which vocabulary board you need enlarged. I will email you an enlarged copy!!

I can make large cards for you 😉

I Spy Game

Here is what you will need:

  • one copy of the board for each student
  • one teacher copy you have cut apart (enlarging it also helps but is not necessary)
  • Counters/markers or way for students to mark their board

How to play:

  • Hold one of the pictures from the board so only you can see it.
  • Describe it with as much detail as you can
  • Ask students to put their marker/counter on the picture they think you are holding
  • Turn it around and ask students to raise their hand if they got it correct

Scavenger Hunt

Here is what you will need:

  • one copy of the board for each student
  • one teacher copy you have cut apart (enlarging it also helps but is not necessary)
  • Sticky notes

How to play:

  • Paste the symbols around the room
  • Students walk around with their vocabulary board looking for matching symbols
  • Place a sticky note on their board covering the symbols as they find them

Speed Matching

Here is what you will need:

  • two copies of the vocabulary board cut apart

How to play:

  • place all the cards in the middle of the table
  • hold up a card, and the students race to find it in the pile in the middle of the table
  • NOTE:  for students with physical challenges, allow them to simply find the symbol on their board or communication device


Here is what you will need:

  • One copy of the vocabulary board with each symbol cut in half

How to play:

  • Give each student a pile of pieces
  • Have them reassemble the pieces into the correct symbols
  • They may have to ask each other if someone else has the second half to a piece they have.  Great for increasing communication and sharing.

vocabulary puzzle pieces

Go Fish

Here is what you will need:

  • 3-4 copies of the vocabulary board (depending on if you want them to find sets of 3 or 4 matching symbols)

How to play:

  • Give each student a 4-5 symbols that they hold so no one else can see them
  • Play traditional Go Fish game

Sorting Games

Here is what you will need:

  • One copy of the vocabulary board for each student
  • Different colored counters or sticky notes

How to play:

  • Find a common characteristic of many of the symbols on the board, for example:
    • people
    • animals
    • places
    • actions
    • food
  • Have students place one color counter on all those that share that characteristic
  • Place the other color on all those that do NOT share that characteristic (or leave them uncovered)
  • You can give students some clues, like you should be able to cover 6 symbols

Ordinal Practice

Here is what you will need:

  • A copy of the vocabulary board for each student
  • Counters/markers or sticky notes

How to play:

  • This is a great way to practice some math while doing a totally unrelated lesson
  • Have students place the counter on the first, second, third, etc symbol in row 1
  • You may need to differentiate or modify the board to help students understand which row they are looking at
    • Label the rows to the left 1-5
    • Cover the rows you are not using so there is only one row visible

Coding Practice

Here is what you will need:

  • A copy of the vocabulary board for each student marked with labels up, down, right and left
    • You can just add these temporarily with sticky notes so you do not have to print all new boards
    • For non-readers, use U, D, R, L or arrows
  • Some kind of counter/marker or pawn they can move from a board game
  • Optional:  7 large cards with number 1-3 and up, down, right, left

How to play:

  • Have every student put their marker or pawn on the same starting square
  • Have students show you, by pointing, which was is up, down, left and right
    • Or hold up your large card and have them finding the matching direction on their board
  • Give simple directions like:
    • Move 2 right
    • Move 1 down
    • Move 1 right
    • Move 1 down
  • Where do you end up?
  • For more advanced students, write out the directions on an index card and see if they all end up in the same place

coding cards

Bean Bag Toss

Here is what you will need:

  • A copy of the vocabulary board for each student
  • A copy of the vocabulary board cut apart
  • Small paper plates (you can also use pieces of construction paper)
  • Bean bags

How to play:

  • Glue the cut apart symbols to the paper plates (one on each plate)
  • Arrange them around the room
  • Students toss the bean bag trying to get it to land on a paper plate
  • Students retrieve the paper plate
  • Find the matching symbol on their board, or name the symbol

BINGO Bean Bag Toss

Here is what you will need:

  • A copy of the vocabulary board for each student
  • 1-2 copies of the vocabulary board cut apart
  • Small paper plates (you can also use pieces of construction paper)
  • Bean bags
  • Bean bags
  • Counters or markers

How to play:

  • This is set up just like the bean bag toss above
  • Explain to the students they will be trying to collect enough symbols to get either a complete row down or across
  • Students then need to be able to visually find the symbol they are looking for in their row and toss the bean bag so it hopefully lands on it

How and why to teach current events in a self-contained high school classroom

More and more special education teachers are being asked to address the same curriculum and issues being presented to typical peers. This is not too terribly challenging when you are in an elementary setting, but it can get REALLY tricky once you reach middle or high school. There is an almost complete absence of materials, and the subject matter seems really complex, abstract, and often riddled with controversy. So, what are teachers who teach the most significantly impacted students supposed to do? Well, I decided to jump in head first and try to figure it out. It took a few attempts before it felt “good” to me, but now I am confident that I have ironed out (most) of the wrinkles.

So, first let’s look at the question of WHY we should teach this, and then I will share with you the HOW to teach it. There are some great free resources to help you, I promise!!

My principal told me I have to.

This may seem like a ridiculous reason, but it is the reality many teachers face. Either administrators do not truly understand the challenges our students face, or there is someone above them demanding “results.” Either way, if your boss says do it, then you do it to the best of your ability.

It is in the standard curriculum

But I don’t teach the regular curriculum! I know, I didn’t either. My degree is in adapted curriculum. But guess what? That makes me more than qualified to take the standard curriculum and modify and adapt it so my students can benefit from it. Now, finding the time to do so is an entirely different matter.

It impacts the families of the kids we teach.

Many of our families today are impacted greatly by the happenings in the world around us. And, at least right now, a lot of what is happening brings uncertainty and often fear. The materials we use to teach our students about the most up to date current events may also ease some tension by increasing the understanding of these issues at home. That is an added benefit that is totally worth my time.

It is age appropriate.

Too often I have walked into middle and high school classrooms and seen materials that were either made for much younger students, or were never meant to be used in a classroom setting at all. My son, who is almost 22, loves Sesame Street and Barney more than most 2 year olds. I have NO issues with that at all. What does bother me, is when he is able to access that (almost unrestricted) in a school setting. I know some may disagree with me on this one, but I really believe it is our job to expose our students to as much age appropriate materials as possible while we have them. Leave the Wiggles and Thomas the Train for home.

You may open Pandora’s Box.

Individuals with special learning needs, especially autism, often have the quirkiest interests. We have all had that student who knew everything there was to know about a topic that most of us forgot about long ago. Some of students just have not had the right exposure yet to ignite this fire. I know I am not going to do any damage teaching about current events, and I may, indeed, open the door to a whole new, and exciting world, for one of my students.

So, now let’s talk about HOW to teach this content.

I spent much of 2018 asking the same question to any teacher I could, “How can I help?” There were two overwhelming answers:

  1. Provide me with easy to use, age appropriate materials my students will learn from.
  2. Provide me with some detailed lesson plans so I know HOW to teach this new content.

Done, and done!!

First, let’s talk about the lesson plans. And, here is the first of the great free resources you can grab. I realize that this new content that can be fairly challenging for even us to understand. I knew I needed to add some lesson plans. But, be patient with me. I am going back and creating these after the fact, so it may take me a while. They are really detailed and specific to the unit, so I think you will find them truly helpful. Click on the button below to get a FREE lesson plan to go with my Immigration Unit.

As you can imagine, I have worked really hard creating some units that cover some of the “hot topics” in the news today that promote global awareness and global citizenship. You can find them all in my store on TPT:

And, here is the second great FREE resource (in case you missed it a few weeks ago). In my free resource library, I have the complete book that goes with my Immigration Unit you can download for FREE. You can click here to get access (there are a ton of free resources in there you will LOVE) or click here to download the book right now!

So, I hope this will ease the anxiety many of us feel as the bar is rising on what our students are expected to learn. They will rise to the challenge if we just give them the tools to do so.

As always, “How can I help?” Feel free to let me know in the comments or email me at: specialneedsforspecialkids@gmail.com