Access to Challenging and Engaging Mathematical Problems for Students with Mild Disabilities (2010 PI Meeting Reflection)

Casey Hord, Purdue University

As a researcher who studies mathematics interventions for students with mild disabilities, the principles of universal design presented in the SmartGraphs software by the Concord Consortium were encouraging to me. Considering the difficulties that students with learning disabilities in mathematics and students with mild intellectual disabilities have with working memory, the multiple, user-friendly representations of math and science concepts presented in this software could potentially be valuable for these students. The software used concise text as well as tables and graphs that could effectively help these students organize and store information. Students with working memory deficits often lose important information from memory storage as they process text with multiple ideas. With key information stored and organized in tables and graphs in the software, students with deficits in working memory have a much better opportunity to process, understand, and solve complicated, multi-step problems. Unfortunately, curricula sometimes do not follow this format, and we lose sight of the true reasoning and processing abilities of students with mild disabilities. These students sometimes appear to be incapable of solving complicated problems when they are actually struggling due to working memory issues, often related to excessive text and a lack of user-friendly representations of concepts, rather than the ability to use reasoning skills to solve challenging problems. By following the principles of concise text and pictorial, graphical, and schematic representations of concepts, students with mild disabilities can be given the access they deserve to challenging and engaging mathematics.