Zero Barriers in STEM Education
In 2015, there were nearly 40 million Americans with a disability, representing 12.6% of the civilian non-institutionalized population (Pew Research, 2017). Yet, individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in STEM fields (NSF, 2017). In addition, little research exists regarding how students with disabilities learn science concepts (Andersen & Nash, 2016), even though science content linked to grade-level general education science standards has been mandated for these students since 2004.
In a desire to respond to this challenge, the Smithsonian Science Education Center has established The Zero Barriers in STEM Education initiative. This initiative, funded by General Motors and Smithsonian Accessibility Innovation Funds, offers teachers in DC Public Schools professional learning opportunities, high-quality science content and materials to strengthen their ability to use inclusive strategies in their classrooms – ensuring that all learners along the continuum of human ability have robust STEM experiences.
Integral to the implementation of the Zero Barriers in STEM Education initiative is the 17-member advisory committee. Committee members provided in-field expertise that contributed to the creation of the Zero Barriers in STEM Education Accessibility and Inclusion Workbook, a list of nine discipline agnostic Universal Design for Learning (UDL) based strategies. The strategies are straightforward and serve as a cornerstone of this initiative as teachers seek to adopt strategies within the workbook into their pedagogical coffers.
The initiative also prepares teachers to become leaders of change in their schools by supporting teachers to form a school-based team that identifies and addresses an area of improvement in utilizing inclusive and accessible practices in STEM programming so that all students have robust STEM experiences.
Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) has partnered with District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) to pilot the Zero Barriers in STEM Education initiative. This initiative is providing teacher leaders with Smithsonian Science curriculum and professional development opportunities to embed inclusive/universal design practices into their STEM teaching.
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has one of the fastest growing special needs populations in the United States, serving 6,740 students with disabilities. It is also one of the most diverse school districts in the country. In 2016, DCPS developed a strategic plan to prepare students with disabilities for success in college and careers. Their plan is to give ALL students the tools they need to be fluent in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Zero Barriers in STEM Education Advisory Committee
The SSEC is working with an Advisory Committee which includes experts on inclusive and accessible teaching practices and classroom culture and is composed of education thought leaders, including experts from PK-12 and postsecondary education, corporations, and nonprofits. With the support of an Advisory Committee, we developed relevant and practical resources like the Zero Barriers in STEM Education Accessibility and Inclusion Workbook, and professional development. To ensure teacher leaders have opportunities for continuous learning and improvement, we provide support during their implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) based approaches throughout the school year and prepare them to lead school-based teams at the Zero Barriers in STEM Education Summit.
Ashley Grady, Access Smithsonian
Brenda Strassfield, Touro College
Christlyn Frederick-Stanley, Keefe Avenue School
Christopher Atchison, University of Cincinnati
Christopher Kenny, District of Columbia Public Schools
Deborah Taub, OTL Education Solutions, LLC
Gabriel Arellano, STEMS LLC
Judy Elliott, EduLead
Kristen Eccleston, Towson University, Col. Zadok Magruder High School
Kristy Rasbach, General Motors
Lauren Golubski, Association of American Educators
Margaret Beale Spencer, University of Chicago
Pino Monaco, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access
Ruth Starr, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Saundra Johnson Austin, Charis Consulting Group
Sheryl Burgstahler, DO-IT, University of Washington
VeRonica Mitchell, General Motors
Zero Barriers in STEM Education Accessibility and Inclusion Workbook
Created in collaboration with the Zero Barriers in STEM Education Advisory Committee, the Zero Barriers in STEM Education Accessibility and Inclusion Workbook provides strategies on ways to integrate inclusive/Universal Design for Learning practices into the K-12 STEM classroom. Our goal is to empower teachers to structure lessons to address the needs of all students, including those with disabilities. The workbook provides strategies which can be implemented into new or existing lessons to make them more accessible and creates a culture of inclusivity in the classroom.
This document is intended to be accessible to all users, including screen reader users. Features included are:
- Logical reading order
- Proper tagging, including headings, paragraph text, lists, and tables
- Figures with alt-text
- Primary language set to English
Zero Barriers in STEM Education Teacher Leaders
Teachers who show a particular interest in and commitment to increasing the accessibility and inclusiveness of their classroom are encouraged to apply to be Zero Barriers in STEM Education Teacher Leaders.
Through the one-year pilot with DCPS, Teachers Leaders have the opportunity to participate in the following components of the initiative:
- Professional Development: Teacher Leaders participate in a 4-day Professional development on a Smithsonian Science curriculum module complemented with UDL-based resources to create an inclusive and accessible STEM culture in classrooms.
- Curriculum Implementation: Teacher Leaders receive one Smithsonian Science Education Center Curriculum Module with supporting hands-on and literacy series materials in print and digital formats.
- 4th grade- Smithsonian Science for the Classroom: How Does Motion Energy Change in a Collision?
- 8th grade- Science and Technology Concepts- Middle School (STCMS): Energy, Forces, and Motion
- Ongoing Support: Based on feedback received from Teacher Leaders, additional support related to the curriculum and implementation of Universal Design for Learning Strategies is provided throughout the year.
- Zero Barriers in STEM Education Summit: Teacher Leaders assemble school-based teams of like-minded educators committed to increasing accessibility in STEM education. Teams are guided in conversations and interactive activities by experts and thought leaders in the field, to drive their successful completion of a logic-model. Each team’s logic model addresses a schoolwide area of need related to accessible and inclusive STEM education. Teams are also supported by a mentor to develop their logic-model, which is implemented in the following school year.
- Evaluation: The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) is conducting a study of the Zero Barriers in STEM Education program. To better understand teacher leader’s learning experiences and to evaluate the program, participants are invited to participate in surveys, periodic implementation logs and provide consistent feedback.
View our Wednesday Webinars page.
Zero Barriers in STEM Education Wednesday Webinars
Implicit Bias: How it impacts DEAI efforts in K-12 STEM Education
Developing User Confidence & Engagement with New Technologies
Promising Practices for Online Learning
Panel: Transforming STEM Education and Industry through an Accessibility Lens
DCPS Resources and Strategic Plan to Address More Accessible and Inclusive Learning
Zero Barriers in STEM Education Summit: Keynote Address & Closing Remarks
IDEAS in STEM: Building Positive STEM Identities in Students with Disabilities
IDEAS in STEM: Building Relationships
- Anderson, M., & Perrin, A. (2017). Disabled Americans are less likely to use technology. Pew Research Center. Retrieved August 12, 2020 from, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/07/disabled-americans-are-less-likely-to-use-technology/.
- National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2017. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2017. Special Report NSF 17-310. Arlington, VA. Available at https://nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/.
- Andersen, L.., Nash, B. (2016) Making Science Accessible to Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities. Journal of Science Education for Students with Disabilities, 19 (1). Retrieved August 5, 2020 from, https://scholarworks.rit.edu/jsesd/vol19/iss1/3.