A little thought makes these lessons accessible to all students, including those with motor or visual difficulties

A picture of bath bombs in bright colours

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Acids and their reactions are a recurrent concept in chemistry curriculums, and with some adjustment, these topics are fully accessible to pupils with motor or visual difficulties. The following ideas may be helpful as you look to include such pupils.

Inclusive teaching can be viewed as good teaching of all, with adjustments made to ensure full access despite any specific needs or difficulties. All learners, not just those with special needs, will benefit from multisensory learning (sight, sound and feel), which will help them to engage and remember.

Multisensory neutralisation

If the lesson can be conducted in an environment where eating can be undertaken, a small pinch of baking soda (picked up on the tip of a wooden coffee stirrer) can be tasted to illustrate the bitter taste of alkalis. Next, pupils can taste a small pinch of citric acid. Finally, they can put the alkali and acid on their tongues at the same time and notice the reduction in acidity and alkalinity, as well as feeling and hearing the carbonate ‘fizz’.

Anticipate potential obstacles and build in strategies

It is impossible to know precisely what adjustments will be helpful for individuals, but some general principles can be factored into planning. Discuss possible adjustments with individual students; they are the experts in their situations. Review adjustments regularly to ensure support is appropriate, and involve the pupils in the forward planning of their support as much as possible. Draw on the expertise of others too. Parents, carers and learning support assistants, if they work regularly with the pupil, can be an invaluable source of suggestions. The judicious use of peer support can be very helpful, although you need to ensure that the benefit is reciprocal and that social interactions across the class are not curtailed by always expecting the special needs pupil to work with the same ‘supporter’.

Motor difficulties

Pupils who are not as mobile as their peers may find collecting apparatus challenging. They are also more prone to injury through spills, as they cannot move away as readily. Additional personal protective equipment, such as disposable aprons, may be useful.

Low concentrations, small volumes and low hazard reagents will enhance safety for all pupils and may be especially helpful when a motor impairment increases the risk of accidental contamination. For example, the microscale testing of drops of acids or alkali is more appropriate, than using bottles and test tubes. Plastic apparatus, such as measuring cylinders and beakers, are helpful because they remove any anxiety about possible breakages.

Bath bombs

The Bath bombs practical is suitable for all students, with these few extra considerations.

Weigh the ingredients in advance to prevent this being time-consuming for pupils with a motor impairment. While it is desirable that they use a balance, the learning focus is the behaviour of the acid and alkali.

Ensure that the pupil has a working surface which they can reach comfortably, for instance an adjustable table. If holding a plastic beaker and mixing the two powders and the oil will be difficult, secure the beaker in a clamp. Silicon mats can also be very helpful in keeping apparatus stationary. Or put all three ingredients in a zip-locked plastic bag so students can manipulate the materials inside.

Although all pupils should be required to wash their hands after practical work, for those who will find the move to the sink tiring disposable gloves are an alternative.

Be extra vigilant about eye protection, and provide goggles rather than safety specs. Accidental splashes may happen at face level for a wheelchair user and they cannot be guaranteed to access eye wash facilities rapidly.

Disposable plastic aprons are a good investment in case of spillage, eg from the bowl of water into which the bomb is dropped, pooling in the lap of pupils in wheelchairs.

A picture showing a student with a visual impairment wearing safety glasses and using a magnifier; someone is holding the beaker he is looking at

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A magnifier might help, but students may need gentle encouragement to use one

Visual impairments

Pupils with visual impairments will also present with a range of support needs. A magnifier can help those with very limited vision, although they may need encouragement, in an unobtrusive way, to use it. Consider also encouraging students to photograph experiments, so they can zoom into the image to enhance their view. If they have vision in only one eye, their depth perception will be affected, which will limit their ability to see the relationship between different objects on the bench. This needs to be considered when setting up apparatus.

A rarely considered group is colour-blind pupils. I have never worked with someone who couldn’t detect the change in at least one single-change indicator; so simply note the most visible indicator for that pupil for future reference. Another solution is to use a colour identification app, such as Color ID, on a mobile phone or tablet; this will read the colour of whatever it is pointed at.

Seeing the rainbow

In this popular demonstration of universal indicator from Learn Chemistry, the difficulty of seeing the colours can be assisted by placing white paper behind the burette. Be generous with the universal indicator, and consider using a less dilute indicator solution; it works with a greater concentration. Having a (duplicate) polycarbonate burette available for those students who need to get close to see, or to use a magnifier or a colour identification app means they are not inhibited by blocking the view of their peers. Taking a photo for subsequent analysis may also be helpful.

The endpoint

Acids provide a highly relevant topic, with plenty of hands-on learning opportunities and widespread application to pupils’ daily lives. With small adjustments, thoughtfully applied, a secure grounding is possible for all pupils.