• Lisa Love

Why Special STEAM?

Updated: Jan 10, 2019

In the brilliant documentary entitled, "Including Samuel", Dan Habib chronicles 4 years of his family's life trying to maneuver the often challenging world of parenting their child Samuel, who has Cerebral Palsy. The Habib family beautifully illustrates that inclusion of a child with physical limitations, while not a simple task, can be done at home, at school, and in the community.

At one point in the film, Betsy Habib, Samuel's mother, tells of a conversation between her and Samuel when Samuel, approximately 6-7 years old, shared with his mother that he would like to be an astronaut when he grows up. Of course, Betsy's first internal reaction was one of surprise, mostly because Samuel uses a wheelchair on a daily basis.

Trying to be positive, Betsy replied to Samuel that he could be the first astronaut in a wheelchair.

Samuel surprised her when he replied that because of zero gravity, he would not need a wheelchair in space.

Of course! Samuel felt free to dream of being exactly what he wanted to be because the science of it all gave him hope, rather than limiting him.

That's something to think about - how science gave Samuel a dream and something to hope for.

Yup, that's something to think about, and then it's something to do something about.

Why start a website dedicated to the inclusion of Special Education students into STEAM classes, and projects? Here's a little bit about why:

S - Science

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has made this statement about science subjects being taught to Special Education students:

"Science for All” is a key goal of science education. Thanks to legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the No Child Left Behind Act, students with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum more than ever before. Science teachers now have the opportunity to unlock the scientist in every student by identifying and fostering each child’s strengths while also attending to their challenges.

Read more: NSTA Position Statement on Students with Exceptionalities

I believe that science can open our minds in ways that nothing else can. The truth is science will never be completely understood by anyone because there is always more to discover and learn. If we are choosing not the let Special Education students participate in science classes because we think they will not understand, we might as well not let any students study science. It's the process of discovery that we all need ... all of us!

Neil Armstrong once said:

"Mystery however is a very necessary ingredient in our lives. Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis for man's desire to understand. Who knows what mysteries will be solved in our lifetime, and what new riddles will become the challenge of the new generations?" "Congressional Record", Tuesday, September 16, 1969.

Need I say more?

Here is a great resource: STEM³ Academy

T - Technology

Including students with special needs in general ed classroom activities can be a challenge, however, activities using technology can often put everyone on equal playing fields. If a student feels overwhelmed with spoken directions, language, math, or written assignments, technology can ease those fears and make an assignment feel doable. Some programs allow teachers to adjust the skill level of assignments or allow all students to adjust assignments to fit their particular interests and needs. Technology also allows each student to display their grasp of a topic in different and individual ways.

Learn more here: How Do Special Education Students Benefit From Technology?

E - Engineering

Engineering is simply the creative way scientists, technicians, artists, mathematicians, etc. find to bring their imaginative ideas to life. Engineering is about problem solving. Engineering is about figuring things out. Engineering is about seeing something that needs to be improved or invented, and figuring out how to bring about those improvements and inventions. It most often requires thinking out of the box, coming up with new ideas, and seeing what others have not seen before.

I can't think of any other group of people who are better suited to engineering than those who find themselves in the "Special Education" category. Every day may be an engineering adventure for most of these students and their families. What if some of our greatest engineering inventions yet to come, will come from those with "disabilities"? It could happen! In fact, I'd like to go on record as predicting it will happen!

Learn more here: Teach Engineering

A - Art

Sara Strother is an Art teacher at Mound Westonka High School in Minnesota.

In a blog post for the College of Education and Human Development at University of Minnesota, she wrote:

"As a creative and flexible subject taught in school, art is ideal for mainstreaming special education students. Everyone can create art, and everyone’s approach to art is a valid expression of who they are. Art classes challenge students to stretch their creativity and think innovatively. Because of this, every student in an art class needs to become comfortable with exposing their art to their peers and teachers. This vulnerability creates a more level playing field between special and general education students. There are no right answers in art, which means that no one is at a disadvantage.

"There’s also a physical closeness in an art class that encourages connection. Students share the studio space, which means working closely with one another and sharing materials and equipment. There’s no way for students to separate themselves from the rest of the class."

Please remember that Art is not just drawing and painting. The Arts consist of other activities such as theater and music.

M - Math

So many of us claim we are no good at math. That may be true for tests and classroom assignments, but the truth is we use math every single day. Math is about problem solving (sounds like Engineering up above!) in our every day lives, at work, in social situations, and math truly has played a major role in the history of our society and the world we live in.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has a vision statement that, in part, states: “We envision a world where everyone is enthused about mathematics, sees the value and beauty of mathematics, and is empowered by the opportunities mathematics affords.”

Learn more at: NCTM

In the world we live in, a great math skill that can be learned is simply how to manage money! Wow! If more of us understood that principle, the world would be a better place.

My point is, don't limit any student.

Everyone is capable of learning. We all have learning differences that manifest themselves in different ways, but we are all capable of learning. I'm not an expert, I'm a student, a school employee, a mother, and a person with my own limitations, yet I love to learn. I often have to study certain topics several times before I understand them, but once the understanding comes, it is a great feeling! We all deserve that feeling!


I would love to hear more about how you have found ways to incorporate the principles of STEAM into your classroom. Please feel free to leave a comment or private message me.