1997 Conference Proceedings

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Lily Chu
Regional Alliance for Science, Engineering and Mathematics
P.O.Box 30001/Dept 3CE
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, NM 88003
Voice/Message: (505)646-2020
TDD: (505)646-8020
FAX: (505)646-6049
Internet: echu@nmsu.edu

Technologies are wings enabling the persons with disabilities to fly in the technical world. On one hand, we need to develop more appropriate technologies to increase the accessibility to science and technology for persons with disabilities; on the other hand, we need to recruit, support, and empower persons with disabilities so that they will develop technical skills to enter into the technical and scientific arena. In the process of recruiting and assisting persons with disabilities into the field of technology, it has become apparent that by the time they graduate from high school, many persons with disabilities have already been discouraged by earlier years of deprivation, and are seriously lacking basic math, science and technical preparations that are keys for the entry into science and technology studies. Obviously, there is a urgent need to reach children with disabilities at a much earlier stage, especially for those who live in rural and isolated regions, in order to develop their interest and skills in math, science and technology.

In the Fall of 1996, the Regional Alliance for Science, Engineering and Mathematics (RASEM) at New Mexico State University funded by the National Science Foundation, launched a Teacher Mini-Grants program. The intention was to fund teacher- initiated projects in classrooms to develop the mathematics, scientific and computer skills in school children with disabilities. This Teacher Mini-Grants program emphasizes a grass-roots orientation, and innovative approaches with hands-on activities. Collaboration between teachers and available resources is highly encouraged. Technical assistance and support to the teachers are provided through local coordinators and RASEM staff. The major thrusts of this Teacher Mini-grants program are described briefly as follows:

1. Grass-roots orientation

The regions where Teacher Mini-grants were implemented are generally rural in nature such as the Panhandle of Texas, Central Oklahoma, and/or with high percentage of minorities such as Northern and Southern New Mexico and southwest Texas. These regions tend to have least amount of resources available to students in general and those with disabilities in particular. We encourage teachers to initiate projects based on the needs, interests and available resources of local schools and communities. Teachers coordinate with other teachers and schools, seek community support in conducting their mini- projects. These projects will be widely publicized in the communities through local newspapers and T.V. in order to create a greater awareness in the community of what children with disabilities can do in math, science and technology (MST).

2. Innovative approaches with hands-on activities

Children in these mini-grants came from elementary, mid- to senior high schools. Depending on the grade level of the students, various innovative hands-on activities are designed in order to create interest and foster success in MST in these students. It is believed that children with disabilities will be motivated, building confidence and learning a variety of MST relevant skills, by actively participating in the projects where they can see the principles of MSE in action. Learning by doing and exploring by active involvement are the emphases. Among the activities proposed there are science fairs and students' scientific projects; construction of booths, boats, telescopes and hot air balloons; trips and professional guest speakers; museum exhibitions; studies of plants, animals, aerodynamics, archaeology and astronomy; using voice mail and CD ROM in the math laboratory; and learning of internet technology.

3. Collaboration between teachers and available resources

Special education teachers are encouraged to collaborate with other teachers in math, science and computer to form teams in conducting mini-grant projects. Some of the schools form partnership with other schools in order to share resources and coordinate students' learning. Community resources are utilized in the implementation of the projects in the forms of cost sharing, donation of time and expertise as mentors or guest speakers to the students. RASEM also furnishes additional resources such as connecting teachers with references, expertise and relevant projects conducted in other parts of the country. For example, the Science Fair conducted at Carlsbad, NM has served as a resource for the proposed science fairs in El Paso, TX and Panhandle. TX.

4. Sustainability and Public Impact

One of the criteria for funding a mini-proposal is its likelihood of sustainability beyond the funding period. We hope those mini- grants projects funded will be able to carry on into the future after the ending of the funding. Many of the mini-grants have build-in cost sharing through the support of local schools and/or communities and are more likely to continue to be a regular part of the school activities/curricula. We also request formal reports and evaluations from these funded mini-projects, and that the teachers will required to present their reports to the local schools and communities, and/or to make presentations at regional and professional conferences, in order to broaden their impact.

5. Technical assistance and support

As a whole, most teachers are not experienced proposal writers. In fact, they may be in need of funding for a much needed project but are intimidated by the prospect of writing a proposal. For this reason, we provided hand-on proposal writing workshops in each one of the regions during which we helped them brain-storm possible ideas, develop workable activities and write the draft proposal step-by-step. In each of the regions, a local Regional coordinator is identified who knows the local teachers and schools, who recruited teachers for the workshop, assisted in the workshop, and would provide assistance to the teachers throughout the implementation of the projects. In addition, RASEM provides toll-free telephone service to these teachers so that they can access technical support through RASEM whenever they have need.

As of this writing, five regional mini-grants proposal writing workshops have been given in Central Oklahoma, Northern and Southern New Mexico, Panhandle and Southwest regions of Texas. Nineteen mini-grants were received as a result of the workshops, of which 17 were funded at the total amount of $37,360, while the local communities provided $7,368.77 toward cost sharing. The average amount for the mini-grants is $2,500. The total number of children involved is estimated to be 1,362 with approximately 409 identified as having a variety of disabilities ranging from learning to physical disabilities. All of these 17 mini-projects are currently in different stages of progress. The results will be available in the coming Summer. Besides data and reports, the processes and products are also going to be recorded on video- tapes.

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