Students With Special Needs Thrive in PLTW Engineering

Chad Weaver is a Project Lead The Way teacher at McKinley Senior High School in the Canton City School District, which is located in Canton, Ohio. He has 24 years of experience in the education field. Chad has also taught grades 7-12 technology education, as well as wood shop and vocational drafting. Chad has been a PLTW Digital Electronics Master Teacher for 10 years and is certified to teach Introduction to Engineering Design (IED), Principles of Engineering (POE), Digital Electronics (DE), and Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM). He also participates in extracurricular activities, serving as a youth girls basketball coach for his daughter’s school. He assists his district with First Robotics, Skills USA, and is also the CTE Department Chair for his district’s 17 career programs. Chad earned his Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology Education from Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. He has also earned a Master of Education degree from Marygrove College in Detroit and a Master of Educational Leadership from the University of Cincinnati. Chad lives in Louisville, Ohio, with his wife of 22 years, Stacey. They have two daughters – Brooke, 14, and Halley, 11, – along with two cats and a dog. When Chad is not working, he likes to watch movies, fish, and relax.

Have you ever had a student in your class who is visually impaired? How about a student who is deaf? Have you ever had a student with autism in your class? I have been told by numerous people over the past few years that students with these special needs are usually not able to take our engineering classes. I am writing today to tell you that where there is a will, there is a way.

It was my fifth year teaching Introduction to Engineering Design (IED). A teacher approached me and said that she had a senior student who was very good in math, liked to learn new things, and wanted to work on cars once he graduated from high school. Would I be willing to take him in my IED class? Of course, I said. Absolutely. She then told me he needed everything expanded by 700 percent, as he is legally blind.

So, the first thing I thought of was how will I teach him to use a dial caliper? How will I make 1/1000th of an inch look 700 times greater? I went home that night and stewed on it. The young man came to me the next day. We talked for a bit, and I told him I would figure out how to get him the information in the class. Through grit and determination, I found a way. In talking with him, I attempted to find out what he could see. So, through the use of technology, mainly my smart phone, a CCTV unit, and my large-format plotter, I was able to get him through the process of designing his own puzzle cube.

Next problem: How was I going to teach him Autodesk Inventor? I sat down with a piece of video-capture software and began teaching the class in video format. It worked; he was able to complete the entire puzzle cube, train, and a small portion of the reverse-engineering projects.

Using the video format ended up being the guiding light for future students. I found that all students – including those without special needs who either got behind on an assignment or were chronically truant – were able to get the same instruction that they missed, and I was still able to teach the rest of the students at their pace. Don’t look now; I differentiated my class without even trying to. I use this format in all my classes – IED, POE, CIM, DE, and even my online class I teach. A picture is worth a thousand words. A video is a novel.

From there, I have had a plethora of students with special needs enrolling in my classes. My students with autism are great; just have to learn what makes them tick. My most rewarding challenges are my students who are deaf. I currently have two students who are totally deaf. Through an amazing interpreter and the use of another app on my smart phone, I have been able to teach to these students successfully. And in fact, one of these students just told me that he was accepted to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in the college of Electrical Engineering Technology. (That is where I received my introduction to PLTW!)

I love teaching. I also love solving problems. I am constantly looking at how I can help students. I am pushing my EDD students to take on projects that will assist our students who have multiple special needs. There are so many real-world problems just in that room alone. Isn’t that what engineering is all about? Make the world better. Try it; I know you will like it.

PLTW’s blog is intended to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.