Girl in HOPSA dress standing in tray of dirt

Teaching Science Using an Active Learning Approach

Using an active learning approach to teach science to students with severe special needs or multiple disabilities

Learners with significant multiple disabilities are not always included in science activities, as teachers are not always sure how to make these lessons meaningful or accessible.  Some teachers may believe that it is difficult for students with severe special needs to be active participants in a science curriculum, but using an Active Learning approach can change all of that!

What is Active Learning?

To learn more about Active Learning, visit Active Learning Space, which is a collaboration between Perkins School for the Blind, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Penrickton Center for Blind Children.

NGSS logo
Next Generation Science Standards logo

How can goals be aligned with the curriculum?

Science activities are generally aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).   Teachers usually begin by looking at what the general education students are working on at a particular grade level and then, using differentiated learning, adapt the activities and modify the goals for individual students.  For example, typical Kindergarten classes study plants.  The NGSS for this may include:

For students who are functioning at a developmental level well below Kindergarten, it may be helpful to use a tool such as Texas’ Early Learning Pathways or another tool that presents access skills for students functioning at the 0-3 year level. These tools typically provide lists of essential knowledge and skills at the earliest stages of development.

Texas’ Early Learning Pathways includes a page about science:  Supporting the Pathway of Exploration, Discovery, and Memory to Science.

Screenshot of Supporting the Pathway of Exploration, Discovery, and Memory to Science
Supporting the Pathway of Exploration, Discovery, and Memory to Science

For a student with significant learning needs, the goals may be related to basic cognitive skills, such as:

How can an Active Learning approach be implemented?

To learn more about how to implement an Active Learning approach, see Implementation Strategies and Science on the Active Learning Space website.

In the videos below you will see an Active Learning approach to teaching a science lesson about plants and their growth cycle.  What both of the students are doing is the basis for all scientific learning – observation, exploration, experimentation, and the development of hypotheses about how the world works.

The Science Lesson 

Here is a simple science lesson taught in an environment using a HOPSA dress.

Here is a similar lesson taught using a Support Bench.

Science Lesson Using a Support Bench

Description: A science lesson facilitated by using an Active Learning support bench.


Collage of teaching science using an Active Learning approach
Collage of using a support bench to teach science


By Charlotte Cushman

Return to Accessible Science main page.

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