University of Virginia
Physics Department

Laboratories with Special Needs Students


by: Kris Campesi, Stafford Middle School

  1. More than one or two pieces of lab equipment at a time distract and confuse many special needs students. It is very time consuming but pays off in the long run to only hand out one or two pieces of lab equipment and then collect it and hand out the next several pieces.
  2. Break the lab into very small pieces or stages for the special needs students. Between stages or pieces collect student's attention and review what has been done and go over what is going to be done next. If the room is set up such that lab stations are in a different location than seats, have the students sit back down after one piece is finished and refocus their attention before going on to the next step.
  3. Procedure steps need to be read orally with students as they follow along. Only read the part that the students are going to do. Visually show the students what equipment they will be using and how to use it.
  4. Have the students X off the procedure steps after they complete them to help them stay on track. If is very difficult for many special needs students to keep track of where they are on a paper and this helps them visualize where they are.
  5. Fine motor skills are difficult for many special needs students, this means that you allow many safe opportunities for students to practice their fine motor skills. Try using plastic pipettes instead of glass eye droppers that can be difficult to control. There are many types of plastic beakers or plastic cups that can be used instead of glass. Please be careful of cups that are wider at the top than the base as they are easy to tip over. Give students many opportunities to do measuring of items on the triple beam. Salt is great to measure and does not cause a problem if spilled but can help improve fine motor skills.
  6. Allow many small opportunities for success for the students as they are worried about being able to do the labs also. Many times the labs are so overwhelming that they don't even try and just cause problems for the class. Allow them opportunities to be successful.
  7. When the special needs student is successful or finds something exciting in a lab, they want to share it and will tend to wander to antoher part of the room to share with a friend. Try to be around and allow the student to share with you so they don't feel the need to wander to share with their friend. Allow a few moments when you sit the students down and regroup between parts fo sharing time with friends.
  8. As the year progresses slowly add more equipment and larger pieces of the lab as you improve students' skills. If you have a heterogeneous group, these procedures can be implemented for the whole class without impacting the other students' learning.

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