Special Education Students Succeed In Fossil Preparation Class

In our rapidly moving culture, students in special education and diagnosed with ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are an ever-increasing challenge. I have taught in some capacity for nearly 40 years. I am also the parent of a son with attention challenges. So these issues are of immediate personal interest.

As I worked with these special education children I noticed something. If the learning activity were engaging enough, many of these students could hold attention for long periods of time. Students diagnosed with ADD or ADHD often have the ability to attend when working with computers or video games. I wondered, could the problem be partly in the pace of the learning activity?

I began to provide activities in my classroom that had some of the same qualities of the immediate response achieved in those computerized attention-holders. One of the most successful of these was the excavation of fossils.

Fossil Excavation was a 6-week class. The students were to excavate a real fossil fish from a soft rock matrix. This time the class was made up of many special education students, especially those with ADHD. The outcome of the class was remarkable.

We started with a sort of guessing game involving fossils hidden in velvet bags. This inspired a lot of discussion and speculation. Most importantly, it got their interest and attention. We moved quickly into individual work: the excavation of the fossils. Within minutes, my work was done. The students worked independently for the remainder of the two-hour class. My hardest work that day was to enforce clean-up. The students simply didn’t want to stop working.

At subsequent classes, students came in ready to resume their previous work. They weren’t interested in any of the additional activities I had available. They rarely took breaks.

The only tools needed for the excavation were small screw drivers. These are available from any hardware store in a set of increasing sizes. I also provided magnifiers of varying types. But much of the work could be easily accomplished using the naked eye.

I was presented with a new challenge about half-way into the second class. I was given a behaviorally disruptive student who had been removed from another class. I did what I could to introduce him to our work and bring him up to speed. His initial work was little more than digging a hole through his rock. He paid little attention to the fossil it contained.

An Opportunity To Shine
But then a wonderful thing happened. Another boy stepped in and began to teach. This boy generally had little academic success. His reputation was that of a challenging student with little interest in learning,. But with this project, this boy was enthralled with digging out the fossil and he was having incredible success. He single-handedly took over the guidance of this student.

All of The Kids Loved This Activity
The final endorsement came at the end of our 6-week class. Throughout the period, I had rarely interrupted their work. I did show a couple of videos about fossil preservation and excavation, geologic history and so on. At the last meeting, I asked the students to verbally evaluate the class. They all agreed: Only show the videos if we can continue excavating our fossils while we watch!

Fossil Excavation Holds The Interest of Special Education Students
Digging out a fossil was captivating for these ADHD kids. With every chip off the matrix, a new “problem” presented itself, much like the ever-changing problem-response situations in a video game. The immediate gratification as the fossil revealed itself seemed tailor-made to engage these students. Even the television, did not pull the students away from the fossils.

The Best of Special Education Inclusion
Also important to me was how this activity leveled the playing field. Anyone dropping in to observe the class, wouldn’t have been able to tell the special education kids from the others. This sort of equality with the high-performing students is not usually felt by ADHD kids. In this class, some of these students were the MOST successful!

As a teacher, I felt I had been given a great gift of learning about how to support these special education students. I encourage you to try it!

To learn more about ADHD visit Help with ADHD This web site is written by someone with personal experience in overcomming ADHD.

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Lesson plans used in this article with special education students

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