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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Teaching Science Concepts through Problem-Based Learning in the Special Education Classroom

As teachers, it is important to stay up-to-date on the newest research and trends in effective instruction.  One current trend is problem-based learning, also known as PBL.  Problem-based learning is a teaching method in which students identify problems in their local community or the world and create a solution to address that problem (Scogin, Kruger, Jekkals, & Steinfeldt, 2017).  The learning experience is enhanced when the problem specifically impacts the students (Glynn & Winter, 2004) and PBL can be used to in a variety of subject areas or to integrate learning between subjects.  In addition to increasing academic knowledge, the use of PBL may enhance collaboration skills among students with disabilities (Bargerhuff, 2013), as well as their social confidence and motivation for learning (Belland, Glazewski, & Ertmer, 2009).  This article provides specific examples of problem-based learning activities reported in the research; each of these activities would lend itself well to use with Special Education students.
One idea for using problem-based learning is the use of a school garden to grow vegetables that are later sold at a local farmer’s market; this (Selmer, Rye, Malone, Fernandez, & Trebino, 2014).  For younger students or for students with significant disabilities, this activity is a functional and practical way to teach both Science and Math skills with a practical, real-world application.  The money earned from the sale of the vegetables can then be used to purchase more gardening supplies and other classroom materials.
A second idea is for students to identify a need for improving a park or other public space.  Students research how to address that need, including costs and the length of time needed to make the changes.  Then, students present their findings to the City Council through either written letters or presentations at a meeting (Duke, Halvorson, & Strachan, 2016).  This community improvement project integrates concepts from Social Studies, Writing, Oral Communication, and Math.  This particular PBL could be used with any group of students, but would be especially beneficial in a middles school or high school inclusion or pull-out setting.
Problem-based learning has proven to be an effective way to meet the diverse learning needs of students and is a valuable teaching practice for both General Education and Special Education students, particularly for Science concepts.  While the ideas presented in this article are only a small snapshot of the ways in which PBL can be effectively used in the classroom, they do provide a solid overview of its use in the Science curriculum for students with disabilities.
Bargerhuff, M.E. (2013). Meeting the needs of students with disabilities in a STEM school. American Secondary Education, 41(3), 3-20.

Belland, B.R., Glazewski, K.D., & Ertmer, P.A. (2009). Inclusion and problem-based learning: Roles of students in a mixed-ability group. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 32(9), 1-19.

Duke, N.K., Halvorson, A., & Strachan, S.L. (2016). Project-based learning not just for STEM anymore: The research is clear that social studies and literacy are fertile ground for robust project-based learning units. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(1), 14-19.

Glynn, S.M., & Winter, L.K. (2004). Contextual teaching and learning of Science in elementary schools. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 16(2), 51-63.

Scogin, S.C., Kruger, C.J., Jekkals, R.E., & Steinfeldt, C. (2017). Learning by experience in a standardized testing culture: Investigation of a middle school experiential learning program. Journal of Experiential Education, 40(1), 39-57.

Selmer, S.J., Rye, J.A., Malone, E., Fernandez, D., & Trebino, K. (2014). What should we grow in our school garden to sell at the Farmer’s Market?: Initiating statistical literacy through Science and Mathematics integration. Science Activities, 51(1), 17-32.

Dr. Marla J. Lohmann is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Colorado Christian University, where she prepares future Special Education teachers and conducts research in the areas of early childhood behavior management and the use of UDL in online teacher preparation.  She can be contacted at

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How Will They Know?

I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath. “Lord… How and I going to do this?”  I thought. 
I was about to begin my first full day of shadowing at the school where I would eventually be teaching within a few weeks.  The previous afternoon I had narrowly missed being spat on, witnessed one student strike another, and seen staff physically restrain students.  There was no doubt I felt called to work with youth who struggled with emotional and behavioral issues – but that didn’t mean I wasn’t a little uneasy about what was to come. 
            Instinctively, I reached for my favorite cross necklace to put on.  Just as quickly I withdrew my hand as I recalled being warned not to wear any jewelry.  “Necklaces can be used to strangle you and earrings can be ripped out” a staff person had cautioned at training.  I felt a small pang of anxiety knowing I couldn’t wear something which would be of comfort.  Then it dawned on me that I was also losing the opportunity to discreetly convey my faith by wearing a cross.  Since I wasn’t allowed to speak about my faith, I wondered how people might come to learn what was most dear to me.  Before I could form another thought, the chorus of an old Christian folk song came to me “… and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  I walked away from the mirror with a bare neck but a heart that felt full and recharged.
            Later, on-site at the school, the first bus with students arrived.  As the day-treatment students filed in, one large young man stopped the line and broke into a broad smile when he saw me.  “Miss Lizzie!  Do you work here now?” 
            “Yes, I do.  It’s good to see you!” I replied, smiling back. 
I knew the student from a previous residential program – moving to day-treatment was a positive step for him.  As he continued to walk down the hall I heard him say to a classmate, “I know her!  You’re gonna love Miss Lizzie.  She’s cool.  She cares.”
The words of the song echoed in my mind again, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love…”  They will know.  Just like the smiling student knew – I cared.  I showed God’s love in how I cared.
As the last of the students paraded past me, I followed down the hallway.  It was a new school, a new day, a new group of students and I had a heart full of love to share.

Elizabeth Reimers is a Master’s of Special Student at Colorado Christian University.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

December 2017 CEC-FBSO Newsletter

Free Christmas Wreath Clipart

Happy December, CEC-FBSO members.  I hope that your semester is ending well and that you have plans for rest over the upcoming break.  Remember that it is critical for teachers to take time for themselves during school holidays; rested and rejuvenated teachers are better able to support their students.

I enjoyed catching up with a few of you at the CEC-TED conference last month; we had some great conversations about supporting faith-based professionals in higher education. 

The annual CEC Convention, as well as the CEC-FBSO meeting, will be happening in February.  As discussed at our meeting last spring, we will have a handful of presentations this year.  If you are interested in providing a 5-8 minute presentation, please sign up on the Google Doc.  In addition, please let me know if you are able to work for a few hours in the CEC-FBSO booth in the exhibit hall.

Enjoy the rest of 2017!

-Marla Lohmann, CEC-FBSO Caucus Chair
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Resources for Learning More about “Brain Breaks”


Refocus and Recharge! 50 Brain Breaks for Middle School by Responsive Classroom

Movers & Shakers: Brain Breaks Physical Activity Game by Andrew Frinkle

Brain Breaks for the Classroom: Help Students Reduce Stress, Reenergize, & Focus by Michelle Gay

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Impact of Movement for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Impact of Movement for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder
By: Jennifer Rossman & Dr. Marla J. Lohmann

            Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a growing diagnosis that refers to a group of neurological conditions (Srinisavan & Baht, 2013).  These conditions can impact language, social skills, motor skills, and can lead to behavioral issues, such as inability to focus and enhanced aggression (Srinisavan & Baht, 2013). These symptoms often prevent students from fully participating in academic learning (Case-Smith & Arbesman, 2008).  In an attempt to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with autism, researchers and educators strive to understand the unique and diverse needs of these students.  A growing sum of research is being conducted on the impact of movement breaks within the classroom and the positive effect they have on both general education students, as well as students with autism and other disabilities.  Movement has proven to be effective for addressing behaviors that are incompatible with learning, including aggression, hyper activity, and deficits in attention.
            Literature surrounding the positive impacts of physical activity on student performance holds the common theme that physical activity is related to improvement in academic performance and behavior for students.  Such literature deals primarily with general education classrooms in upper elementary grades, but the implications are that physical activity improves learning and behaviors for all students.
Research suggests that the classroom is an optimal environment to provide students with structured movement breaks (Dinkel, Lee & Schaffer, 2016).  Structured movement breaks have been proven to increase student’s time on task and lead to improved scores in math, reading, and spelling (Dinkel, Lee & Schaffer, 2016).  A study conducted on students measured the impact that physical activity had on standardized test scores and found that students who had initially scored the lowest on standardized tests saw favorable effects from the intervention (Resaland et al., 2016).  Other studies have found a strong correlation between increased physical activity and improved academic performance (Trost, 2007) and report findings of reduced stress in students who had access to regular classroom movement, as well as reduced disruptive behaviors within physically active classrooms (Braniff, 2011).
For students with ASD, many of the interventions outlined in literature suggest various forms of structured movement and play for addressing symptoms (Srinivasan & Baht, 2013; Case-Smith & Arbesman, 2008).  Additional literature concludes that regular physical activity breaks improve on-task behavior during times of instruction (Mahar, Murphy, Rowe, Golden, Shields & Raedeke; 2006).  This overlap in evidence suggests that students benefit from movement and activity, regardless of developmental ability or classroom type.  Of the literature available on interventions for ASD specifically, activity having structure seems the most central theme.
             While literature shows that movement and activity can offer a variety of behavioral improvements and increase academic achievement in both neuro-typical and ASD students, the types of movements that are appropriate for learning vs counterproductive to learning must be defined. An article reporting on evidence-based physical activity programs finds that the central theme of structure and an emphasis on motor skills come together to provide the most effective and comprehensive physical activity program for students with autism (Schultheis, Boswell & Decker, 2000).  This finding aligns thematically with the idea that structured activity improves overall behavior, learning and motor skills for students with ASD.
            Literature reports that regular physical movement within the classroom improves both student academic and behavioral outcomes. When paired with a structured environment, physical activity within the classroom can positively impact behavior and gross motor skills for students with ASD. The combined literature leads to the inference that improved behavior and motor skills will lead to increased academic performance to students with ASD, and that the benefits of activity on academic performance are universal to each classroom when used with structure and fidelity.  With this in mind, it is imperative that teachers incorporate more movement into both the General and Special Education classroom environments.  It is the authors’ recommendation that teachers plan to incorporate “brain breaks” into classroom instruction during every lesson and when they notice that students are having a hard time focusing.  The “brain breaks” can be related to the lesson, such as jumping while reciting math facts or marching while singing a History song, or they can be fun games that provide both a break from sitting still and a break from the academic instruction.  In addition, we recommend that teachers use movement as a part of their transition routine between activities and lessons throughout the day.
References and Additional Resources
Braniff, C. (2011). The effects of movement in the classroom: exploration of movement and collaboration with fourth grade students. Networks: An Online Journal for Teacher Research, 13, 1-6.
Brusseau, T.A., & Hannon, J.C. (2015). Impacting children’s health and academic  performance through comprehensive school physical activity programming.  International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(3), 441- 450.
Case-Smith, J., & Arbesman, M. (2008). Evidence-based review of interventions for autism used in or of relevance to occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62, 416–429.
Dinkel, D.M., Lee, J.M., & Schaffer, C. (2016). Examining the knowledge and capacity of         elementary teachers to implement classroom physical activity breaks. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, (9)1, 182-196.
Lang, R., Koegel, L.K., Ashbaugh, K., Regester, A., Ence, W., & Smith, W. (2010). Physical exercise and individuals with autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 565-576. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2010.01.006
Mahar, M.T., Murphy, S.K., Rowe, D.A., Golden, J., Shields, A.T.,& Raedeke, T.D. (2006).       Effects of a classroom-based program on physical-activity and on-task behavior.  Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2086-2096. DOI: 10.1249/01.mss.0000235359.16685.a3
Resaland G.K., Aadland, E., Moe, V.F., Aadland, K.N., Skrede, T., Stavnsbo, M., Suominen, L…Andressen, S. (2016). Effects of physical activity on schoolchildren's academic performance: The Active Smarter Kids (ASK) cluster-randomized controlled trial.  Preventive Medicine, 91, 322-328.
Schultheis, S.F., Boswell, B.B., & Decker, J. (2000). Successful physical activity programming for students with autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15, 159-162. doi=
Srinivasan, S. & Bhat, A. (2013). A review of “music and movement” therapies for children with autism: embodied interventions for multisystem development. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7, 22. doi:10.3389/fnint.2013.00022
Trost, S.G. (2007). Active education: Physical education, physical activity and academic performance Active Living Research. Retrieved from
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Learning God’s Lessons in Leadership through Reflective Journaling

Learning God’s Lessons in Leadership through Reflective Journaling                   By: Dr. Stephen Byrd

“Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and wrote them in a book and laid it before the Lord…” I Samuel 10:25

In our Christian walk we are encouraged to take time to journal. Here we write down verses of Scripture that help us in our walk with God. We also write prayer requests, notes about Bible studies or sermons that we have heard. Some of us may actually do some reflection on those things just mentioned but also the spiritual challenges or trials we are facing. We may write out prayers or even write goals for the future. This approach is very important for our Christian walk. In fact Donald Whitney in his classic book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, gives a whole chapter to this topic.

However, I would like to suggest the great value of using reflective journaling as leaders. Our purpose is to write, remember, think on what God is saying and doing in the work that he has given to us.

Psalm 77:11-15 ESV
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate and your might deeds. Your way, O God, is holy…

For me, I try to write several times throughout the week on issues in leadership that I am facing or opportunities that are ahead. Doing this helps me to see the decisions ahead through a Christian lens. It also promotes a greater understanding of myself.

I feel busy with family, and church, and work. However, when I find time to think, consider, and even write about His hand in my life; the value is great. It is here that I worship and know His will.

Dr. Stephen Byrd teaches at Elon University. He serves as the director of graduate studies and program coordinator for special education in the School of Education. He also serves as a lay pastor at Grace Reformed Baptist Church. 
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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

November 2017 CEC-FBSO Newsletter

Turkey cartoon clip art

Happy November, CEC-FBSO members.  The school year is in full swing.  This week is the CEC Teacher Education Division conference in Savannah, GA.  If you happen to be there and would like to chat about collaborating with other faith-based teacher educators on research projects, please let me know.

The annual CEC Convention, as well as the CEC-FBSO meeting, will be happening in February.  As discussed at our meeting last spring, we will have a handful of presentations this year.  If you are interested in providing a 5-8 minute presentation, please sign up on the Google Doc.  In addition, please consider supporting our group by taking a turn working at the CEC-FBSO table in the exhibit hall (we will have more information on that in the coming months).

I am still looking for a few volunteers to share their faith stories or their expertise by writing an article for an upcoming newsletter and the blog.   The blog is a great way to let other professionals know about our organization and grow as a group, so I am looking for submissions from a variety of perspectives.

Have a great month.  I am so thankful for all of you!

-Marla Lohmann, CEC-FBSO Caucus Chair
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