Using PowerPoint with students who have special needs (PowerPoint is not just for presentations!)

We’ve all seen PowerPoint used where students are asked to prepare a presentation on a topic.  More often than not this turns into a cut-and-paste-athon and students can’t always be said to be engaging with the content of the lesson.  There is also the time one spends playing with the fonts and animations (and I’ve seen adults guilty of some pretty bad presentations on this score too!).

I looked for some other ways that PowerPoint (and possibly its Open Office equivalent Impress) could be used as a teaching tool with students who have special needs or perform below national expectations.


Give students a presentation in which the slides are in the wrong order.  Tell them to put the steps in the right order and then give a presentation based on the new order.  It is a good idea to use pictures/slides in which the order is ambiguous or where there could be more than one correct answer.  For extremely weak students this could involve sequencing photographs from a previous lesson e.g. ones taken during an experiment.

Example: Year 7 students (Wikid Science – Forensics) are asked to solve the mystery and explain how the forensic investigator came to be in hospital covered in burns.  Students have to solve the mystery and put the slides in the right order.  They then present their ideas to the group where they receive peer assessment/feedback.

Audio (or video) annotation

Give students a presentation with information to be interpreted on each slide.  Pupils must record an audio or video clip for each slide with an explanation.  Play back to group, possibly with some peer assessment.  Can also be exported as a video clip.

Example: Year 7 students (Wikid Science – Extinction) are asked to interpret the graphs and say what they mean.

Completing presentations

Using a partially completed presentation you would ask students to complete it.  This could include adding suitable graphics to text already created (or vice versa) or adding existing information to a scaffold.

Example: In this writing frame I would ask students to add information to each slide from planning through to conclusions and present it.  Students can add extra information and peer assessment information about the content.  To differentiate the activity, add more detail to the scaffold (e.g. sub-steps).  Students then present to another group or the whole class.

Story telling

Ask students to prepare the narration and present to a pre-created presentation.  This is similar to adding narration but is simpler to organise and doesn’t require microphones.

Example: In this presentation on the water cycle (from the TES resources site) students have to explain what is happening and present to another group of pupils (or the whole group depending on numbers)

Multiple choice questions

Just as it sounds – using a presentation with a quiz, let pupils answer the questions individually at computers, or on the IWB in a group.  If you search Google you can find pre-created templates, or you could make your own.

Example: Multiple choice quiz on plant classification.  Plays a different sound for right and wrong answers.

I hope you found some of these ideas useful.  Please leave a comment below (or via the contact me form at the top of the page) if you did, or if you have any questions.

Science APP (Assessing Pupil Progress) at KS3 with pupils who have special needs.

I’ve been grappling with APP for a while now and thought I’d post, thinking that I might perhaps save someone some time.  Better still perhaps someone will have better ideas than mine – if that’s you please leave a comment below.

I’ve heard many science teachers complaining about APP.  True it is yet another new initiative and true its effectiveness has yet to be determined, but it does have the potential to improve Science assessment across our schools.

Why APP?

  • Provide a clear assessment system linked to the new framework/KS3 curriculum
  • Students should know where they are and where they are going (Assessment for Learning)
  • Teachers can plan for progression and know how a student is doing
  • Schools can confidently track attainment of groups of pupils
  • APP is not about assessing pupils and doing nothing with the data.  APP is not intended to be a summative assessment tool.

Remember APP is not statutory.  You can’t do it wrong – whatever works for you is fine.

I used to use the PIVATS assessment criteria for assessing the How Science Works strand, but had increasingly found it a poor match for the new science framework.  This meant that I had to give APP a good try.

How I implemented APP with my students
I took the APP threads which had been created by Eastwood School and I added some level 1 & 2 statements from the draft copy of the Primary Science APP.  (Eastwood school broke the APP strands into sub-strands or threads which make it easier to see the progression between levels)

I decided to create discrete APP activities to use in class.  This seemed a much easier way to collect data than flicking through pupils’ books with an APP chart next to me.  It also provided a meaningful way for pupils to see the progression between levels.  I follow (loosely) the ASE’s Wikid scheme of work which has a strong how science works theme (since it was written to reflect the release version of the Science framework).  Wikid science is full of opportunities to create APP activities (I’ve uploaded some of my APP activities – follow the teaching resources link at the top of the page).

My students (as special school pupils) tend to have lower than average literacy/numeracy levels and so activities need to provide a way for students to express their science skills without being held back.

Pitfalls of the APP system (compared to what we had before).
APP does not measure sub-levels.  Statements within a level are not intended to be hierarchical but not all the statements within a level are of equal challenge.  I score pupils as a weak, straight or strong level which gives three sub-levels, averaging these scores gives a wider range of sub-levels.

I also created a level ladder (replacing PIVATS statements with APP criteria of comparable difficulty) to use when marking books, and to display on the wall.  I intended this to support our school policy of target setting for pupil IEPs.  I’m not sure how useful this is yet, but I’ve uploaded it to my resources site.

Assessment at KS4. The expectation is that students are assessed using examination criteria at KS4. How well this works depends on the course you are running.   Modular science courses (we’ve run Entry Level, BTEC Introductory and GCSE) provide feedback to students as end of unit marks, but it’s easy to lose track of progression, especially for pupils who make small steps of progress.

Any science APP only records progress against a narrow range of criteria. How do you record a pupil who suddenly answers questions in class, or a student who might independently have started collecting their own equipment.  Special schools tend to focus on life skills and social skills within all curriculum areas.

What about the other three attainment targets for Science?  We currently have no idea of how we will be expected to report in 2011, and what the weightings for the attainment targets will be.  I would expect there to be a significant weighting to the how science works skills giving the investment in APP, but there is still likely to be variation in quality of assessment of the range and content.  Current advice is to continue assessing range and content in the same way you have always done since you will be expected to report back on these at the end of the key stage.

Where next?
I came up with the idea of developing a feel for each level, characterised by the key words and phrases from each level.  To create this idea of ‘levelness’ I used the Wordle Site and entered APP criteria to create a Wordle for each national curriculum level.  If nothing else they look good displayed on the wall!

Summary of current assessment practice @ KS3

  • APP task for each  topic (with a need to improve the quality of tasks for pupils performing below level 3)
  • Level ladder to be used to set targets for students’ IEPs in line with whole school policy.
  • PIVATS document used alongside for target setting and tracking purposes for range and content.  Some end of unit tests (from Testbase) and level assessed tasks used to support teacher assessment.
  • Optional SATs for Y9 pupils to verify teacher assessment

How does this compare to your school?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Click on the APP tag to the right to read my other posts about APP

New Science lab – yes we got there in the end

My new science lab is finally finished.  Thanks to all the people who contributed to my blog post and my TES thread on lab design.  Designing a lab takes some thought, considering the needs of the students and what teaching styles will be used.  Inevitably the design will be a compromise and may not be the best for everything.

Remember my layout was based on teaching science to pupils who have special educational needs, within an 11-19 special school.  My needs (and therefore solutions) may not be the same as for a mainstream science lab.

I eventually went with a more traditional layout of a lab with rows where I could see all the pupils doing practical work.  I’ve listed some of the considerations to think about if you are going through the lab refit process.

This is the photo album showing the new lab all finished.  Click on a picture to see it in more detail.

Points to consider (with the benefit of hindsight)

  • How are you going to use your lab – where will gas, electricity and interactive whiteboard wiring run?  This will influence your final design.
  • Make sure you agree as much as possible in writing – especially where fittings are to be removed and replaced after the refit.  This ensures that they will be looked after properly during the process.  Get contact number and email address of the person who will be project managing, and make sure they have yours.
  • Check with other schools that have used the company and supplier of furniture.  The company who did our refit were very willing but ESA McIntosh was unable to meet the agreed delivery dates.  This meant we had a stripped and empty room which was out of use for two and a half weeks of term time.
  • When the work is finished, check carefully and document in writing any defects or things you need putting right.  Have an experienced eye check over again (e.g. site manager)

What could have gone better?

  • My blinds were creased and soiled during storage.  Fortunately they cleaned up reasonably well and a good steaming made most of the creases drop out.  Steam is also handy for removing labels and stickers stuck to walls and desks!
  • The layout makes access to the sink difficult, students don’t seem to have realised that we have two sinks and all flock to the same sink.  Pupils need directing to sinks to stop traffic jams.
  • Mobile furniture gives some flexibility.  I didn’t go for service islands because of the expense of laying conduits in the floor, and I didn’t want my gas taps round the edge of the room (so pupils work with their backs to you).
  • White walls, ceiling and black floor makes a small room seem bigger.
  • Neutral colours work better than strong colours like red, which some pupils don’t find as comfortable to work in.  They also make the lab feel more spacious.
  • Organised storage – Pupils like to know where everything is, and that equipment is arranged so that the most commonly used pieces of apparatus are the easiest to access.  This may sound like common sense but it took a few reorganisations before we hit on a way of storing equipment that minimised traffic jams and students squeezing past each other.
  • Check the dimensions of store cupboards.  Mine are deep enough for standard folders (not lever arch files) but only the bottom shelf is tall enough for ring binders, with folders having to be stored horizontally on top shelves.
  • Make sure all cupboards are locked with a master key (I had 14 similar individual keys for my small lab, telling them apart is difficult).
  • Check that you have sufficient drawers to store all your glass-wear, check the cabinet descriptions (in my case a drawer unit was a cupboard with a drawer on top, not a unit full of drawers).
  • Stools – try and get stools that don’t make holes in the floor.  There are stools on the market that rest on a bar rather than individual feet.  This removes the problem of stools with lost or worn feet making holes in the floor covering when students swing on them.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about our refit.