ÇWhen the COVID-19 pandemic ended field travel opportunities for special education students at Defiance Elementary School (DES), DES educators did not let that stop them from finding opportunities to offer their students.
One of those field trips that DES students participated in the pre-pandemic was at Science Central in Fort Wayne, which hosts AWS Foundation Special Skills Days for youth and adults four times a year. With the help of Science Central, which develops practical scientific programs for use in schools, camps and public environments, K-5 to DES special education students have participated in free practical science experiments three to four times a month.
“Science Central hosts Special Ability Days, so we’ve been taking our students there for four to five years,” said DES educator Jessie Wolfrum. “In those days, Science Central closes its facilities to the public and opens to students and adults with disabilities. They are very important to accommodate all people with disabilities ”.
Stacy Elchinger, a special education teacher at DES, explained that Science Central went beyond DES students.
“What I do is ask all teachers how many science experiments they want each month, we inform Science Central and Jessie will get them,” said Elchinger. “Jessie and her family have a family pass, so she happily takes the experiments. Each student has their own experiment and all materials are provided free of charge.
“When we knew we couldn’t take field trips, we thought, ‘What are we going to do? ’” Asked Elchinger. “I took their website (Science Central) and read that they were putting these packages together. I thought there would be a charge, but it is free and we have received no less than 45-55 packages per month. “
Amy Alexander, director of education at Science Central, shared that her organization is able to provide schools, parents of organizations, etc … free experiments, thanks to a partnership with the AWS Fort Wayne Foundation. The AWS Foundation’s mission is to help children and adults with intellectual, developmental and enduring physical disabilities to live as independently as possible, to be included in the community and to function to their full potential.
“The AWS Foundation supports programming and resources for people with all special abilities,” said Alexander. “We normally do our programming on site, with the Special Skill Days we have for the community with special needs, but due to COVID, we were unable to host these days. So we assemble the kits with all the materials and instructions and deliver them to the people who want them.
“Megan (Price, a school and public program manager at Science Central) did a great job recording short video clips, taking lots of pictures and creating an online resource for parents, teachers and caregivers to access while working on the activities,” added Alexander.
Alexander shared that 100-150 entities took advantage of Science Central’s free scientific kits offered in partnership with the AWS Foundation. Science Central is currently considering hosting a Special Skill Day in the summer, if possible.
Wolfrum explained that the free experiments provided by Science Central were beneficial not only to DES students, but also to the district.
“We were doing science experiments before getting them from Science Central, our curriculum provides science experiments for our unique needs, but it didn’t provide the materials for the experiments,” said Wolfrum. “Because Science Central is providing this free of charge, we don’t need to use money from the district budget, or from our own pockets, to provide these learning opportunities for our children.”
On April 1, students in Elchinger’s classroom watched a video about the brain and spinal cord, before building their own spinal cord with candy. In the Wolfrum room, students watched a video on how seeds turn into plants, before starting an experiment in which a seed is planted, watered and receives sunlight, a seed is planted and receives only water, while a third seed is planted and receives only sunlight.
In Melanie Schaffer’s classroom, students learned about the water table, including a song about it. Science Central supplied bracelets of different colors, with each color representing a different part of the water table.
In Angie Buchanan’s room, her students watched a video about how blood works in the body. Students place red beads that absorb water, representing red blood cells, in a bottle with other beads, representing platelets. Water was then added to the bottle so that students could see the beads absorbing the water.
“It’s fun for kids to do something different each week,” said Elchinger. “Everything is planned for us and it gives teachers something fun to share with children. It’s something that we don’t have to go out and find out on our own. “
Said Wolfrum: “The great advantage of experiments is that we can use them whenever we want. The experiment that we did today (April 1st) was something that we returned in the fall, but this week we were talking about spring and plants, and that experiment worked. “