As a contribution to the inclusivity award, our team reached out to a school in The Hague for learning-disabled children with the intent of organizing a workshop with one of their classes. We as a team see it as particularly important to build a scientific community that is welcoming and accessible to all members of society. An increase in diversity and new perspectives benefits everyone, and we grow to be a more equitable and inclusive system. Our aim was to eliminate barriers that prevent underrepresented groups from contributing to, participating in, or being represented by scientific research. Therefore we chose to involve a group frequently forgotten and deemed unable to take part in science: Children with severe learning disabilities.

The Inspecteur S. de Vries School encompasses students with various disabilities ranging from ADD, ADHD, Autism, Schizophrenia and Pdd-Nos. The kids are deemed to have severe learning disabilities based on their IQ which lies between 60-80. Since the students had never been exposed to science, the goal of the workshops was to familiarize the kids with some basic principles and let them experiment in order to make their own discoveries. We selected 2 topics from the field of Molecular Biology, namely Bacteria and DNA and designed half-day workshops for the class which were conducted on two separate days.

The students gained theoretical and practical experiences in relation to science. Each of the workshop days had a similar procedure, since the kids need this recurring structure to learn productively. The days were started by an introductory lesson, where the kids had to unravel the topic of the day. This was initiated through a video discussing the topic in a simple way. Consequently, the kids had to collect all the information they previously knew, as well as the newly collected information from the video in a mind map to unravel the topic of the day in an interactive manner. Based on the mindmap the kids had to come up with the class' goal of the day.

Goal set by the kids: ‘What are Bacteria, how do they look and what do they do?’

Goal set by the kids: ‘What is DNA, what does it look like and why do we need it?’

Motivating the students with severe learning disabilities to learn and stay focused can be challenging. Therefore, letting the students choose what learning goals they set, makes it easier to keep them engaged and benefits their critical thinking.

Obviously, the scientific topics are extremely abstract for them to engage in (regardless of their disability). Consequently, it was essential to link the previously collected theory to something practical which allowed the kids to grasp what they were learning. We chose to do this through experiments, this way the students felt like they were scientists themselves, making the workshops truly inclusive.

The Curriculum

Procedure 1 and 2 (Making Agar & Pouring/Plating Agar Plates) took place on Day 1. Procedure 3 (Extraction of DNA from Banana) took place on Day 2. The procedures can be found below. First the original in Dutch as handed out to the children. In addition a translated version (in English) has been attached for non dutch speaking individuals.