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IEP’s – Read them for an effective school year

Many general education teachers and new science teachers are being asked to teach special education students without support.  This is why I am here, to help, give tips tricks and support those who are given the difficult (but not impossible) task of teaching this diverse population of students the subject we all love.

As a science teacher, it is difficult to be on familiar terms with and understand which parts of the IEP are most important.  An IEP can be a very overwhelming document to read and dissect.  An IEP is the Individualized Education Plan that each special education student has.  No two documents are the same as no two students are the same.  The IEP became uniform in New York State 4 years ago.  This has made it much easier for students to go from school to school and the document is readily available.  Each part of the IEP is important, nevertheless some I have found to be more important in the teaching of science.

The first part of the IEP to give special attention to is the Academic Achievement, Functional Performance and Learning Characteristics often known as the (PLEPS).  This part of the IEP informs the teacher of the student’s academic strengths and weaknesses.  This part of the document will inform the teacher if the student has reading, vocabulary, mathematical or any other academic difficulties.  This is often where I find if the student can read independently or needs to be read to.

The next section to take a glance at is the Social Development section.  Due to the lab environment in many of our science classrooms it is important to discern how these students behave in social settings.  Many times, this section will let you know if the student is able or unable to work in cooperative learning groups. Below this section is the Physical Development section, which needs to be read to determine if the student requires any modifications in the lab setting.  Below Physical Development is the Management Needs section.  The section that important for the general education teacher are the Program Modifications that are located further in the IEP.

For the science teacher, the most important section to read and understand is the Supplementary Aids/Services and Program Modifications section of the IEP.  This section informs the educator what modifications the student needs on a daily, weekly or as needed basis.  Often this section explains if the student needs preferential seating, books on tape, copies of notes, refocusing and redirection, information broken into smaller parts, breaks, etc.  These modifications are imperative to the success of the student in the science classroom and the success of the student is dependent on receiving these modifications.   When on IEP direct, click the “Show details” and then the exact reason for the modification or how the modification needs to be given is shown.  This is a huge help in meeting the needs of students with disabilities because each one has their own set of needs and modifications.  What “special seating arrangements” means for one student may be different for another.  

Lastly, the section most general education teachers are familiar with is the Testing Accommodations section of the IEP.  This section explains what accommodations the student is entitled to for quizzes, tests and state assessments.  The IEP will explain how the accommodations should be given; for the example of “Extended time”, in the column “implementation recommendations” it will say 1.5X or 2.0X or Double time.  As the school year gets underway and you learn about your students if you feel that they are in need of another accommodation, do not hesitate to discuss it with the special education teacher, guidance counselor or school psychologist.  The input of the general education teacher is necessary for the success of the child and the coherent writing of an IEP.

All parts of the IEP are important to the success of each student and should be read and followed through.  For the science teacher and meeting the needs of the diverse population these I have highlighted are in my opinion the most important to help make the job a little easier and assist the students who already struggle.   If there is a part of the IEP that you do not understand, ask questions and inquire about the student.  As a special education science teacher it is always refreshing to have the general education teachers ask questions about their students, it shows you care and want to help them in any way that is possible.  Good Luck with the new school year! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Upcoming Summer Professional Development

Summer is almost here! While summer is most definitely a time for relaxation and recharging, it is also a time for reflection. It is the ideal time, away from papers to grade, meetings to attend and the many distractions that can interrupt the creative process, to think about how to improve our lessons and expand our knowledge of pedagogy. While the first week or two of summer, we may just be exhausted and need to unwind from the hectic pace of the school year, mid-summer is the perfect time to start thinking about how we would like to elevate our instructional practices for the upcoming school year.

Paul Anderson working with teachers at the American School in Dubai

Suffolk STANYS and the New York State Master Teacher Program are co-sponsoring a visit by Paul Anderson to “Take a Deeper Dive into NYSSLS” this summer. The conference will be offered at three locations. The first will take place July 31-Aug 1 at Stony Brook University, followed by August 2-3 at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury and August 4-5 at Monroe Community College in Rochester. The cost of registration is $125, which includes continental breakfast and lunch both days. Twelve hours of CTLE credit is available. Space is limited, so register ASAP!  You can register here.

If you are not familiar with Paul, you may want to check out his vast array of videos on all fields of science and science education at his website,  or on his YouTube channel. Paul was a classroom science teacher in Bozeman, Montana for twenty years and has created countless videos for his students. Paul has shared his informative and engaging videos on all four basic science classes, including videos for science topics at the AP level. Both teachers and students have found his videos to be helpful additions to the classroom experience. Paul also collaborated with SCSTA’s own David Knuffke on a podcast “Horizontal Transfer” available on iTunes, and other podcast places. For more information on the podcast visit their website. Paul now consults on science education at schools around the world and has offered professional development in New York State at the STANYS Conference and at the Commack High School STEM conference in November 2016.

Paul’s website offers several videos that explore the NGSS including the Science and Engineering Practices and Cross-Cutting concepts as well as a close look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas for physical, life and earth and space sciences. The videos are an easy way to gain an understanding of the NGSS, which are the basis for the NYSSLS and are recommended viewing whether or not you are able to attend this summer’s professional development. The videos are relatively short in length and focus on one central theme…a perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee and an easy way to become familiar with the NYSSLS!

Paul is an engaging speaker and you will most definitely leave this program with a deeper understanding of how the new standards will influence the future of science education in New York State. You will have a better idea of how to transform lessons to align with the NYSSLS approach to science education. You will have an opportunity to meet fellow content area teachers and share ideas to bring back to the classroom. I was present when Paul spoke at the annual STANYS conference in Rochester in November of 2016 and held the entire audience of science educators captive with his keynote presentation on “Unlocking the Power of the NGSS”. As his presentation started to wind down and the hour for dinner was approaching, the entire room remained attentive and came away excited to make the changes to our lessons that would not “kill the wonder” of science. I can honestly say that his keynote address was among the best professional development that I have ever attended! I can guarantee that you will both enjoy this conference and return home excited about the transition to the NYSSLS!