I've just finished putting together my presentation for the Massachusettes Down Syndrome Congress conference this coming November. I've always believed that the math we teach to children with special needs is the same as the math we teach to all students. The difference lies in the way we teach it and how we adjust our expectations. In order to make these adaptations special education professionals need to have a deep understanding of the math they are expecting their students to learn.
So my presentation will have 4 parts; some theory, some math, some Andrew, and some applications. The theory part will address the way we can think of math as composed of both procedural and conceptual knowledge. This distinction can be illustrated by the idea that math is composed of symbols, rules and methods (procedural knowledge) and ideas, concepts and schema (conceptual knowledge). 3 + 4 = 7 is a piece of procedural knowledge comprising 5 symbols and a syntactic rule. It could be used for solving a joining, separating, combining or part-part-whole problem, the conceptual knowledge. This example also included some of the math I will be presenting.
The Andrew part will include pictures of my son Andrew in a variety of activities in which he has the opportinuty to develop his math skills while the final part of the presentation will include a selection of instructional strategies and applications of math I have used with Andrew; things like the iPAD2, the Wii system, his Hotwheel car collection, the daily calendar he uses, clocks and board games to name just a few.
The interesting thing I have found working with Andrew, who has Down Syndrome, in math is that he finds it difficult to make the cognitive connections between procedural and conceptual knowledge. For this reason we have focused almost exclusively on the development of his conceptual knowledge. It is almost certain that he will not pursue a career involving higher mathematics so the most important thing for him is that he develops his quantitative literacy skills so that he can use the math in his life that he needs to use and can appreciate the numerical and quantitative relationships he encounters.
That's Andrew at 4,800 feet on top of Mt Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, earlier this summer.