Math: Not Just One Answer and One Way

Picture your very first Algebra class. You probably imagine silent students, with a few raising their hands to answer specific questions. Perhaps you picture your teacher writing a problem on the board, explaining it, and then giving you a problem set to practice yourself. That is the way math has been done for years, and that is the way most of us were taught. In math, there is only one right answer, and there was only one way to find that answer. This didn’t do much for building relationships among students, and it ultimately didn’t build a strong classroom culture, where students take risks and try out different ideas. It made it more difficult to create a community.

But there is a new way math is being taught now. There is a standard that teachers “orient students toward each other,” which essentially means that teachers teach their students to think about each other’s ideas in addition to their own. Though we picture math as being done only one correct way and there is only one right answer, there really isn’t only one right way. There are several methods to finding the same right answer. It is actually pretty cool how we can go about connecting students’ ideas to those of their classmates.  If we don’t allow our students to make these connections themselves and respect their peers’ different methods of mathematics, we are doing them a great disservice. Students don’t need to do these things in isolation. They can work together, explain how they “see” the problem, and build understandings through group work and conversation. We no longer need to see silent math classes where students practice the same problem a hundred times! Students can actually learn math through discussion.

Teachers are becoming more and more creative in teaching math by encouraging students to value the process over the solution. Talk moves are one of the techniques teachers are using to get students communicating with each other about math. They don’t just ensure that students are paying attention and engaging with the material; they also really get students listening to each other and engaging in conversation. After a student has shared their answer and how they found it, the teacher asks the class, “Who can restate that in their own words?” or “Do you agree or disagree, and why?” (or a variety of other possible questions). This encourages sense-making and builds a classroom community where students of all abilities can work together to make those “aha moments” happen. It is truly inspiring! So let’s get rid of this idea that math is only an “independent work” subject. We CAN build inclusive communities where students help each other to understand!

–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor and STEM Special Education teacher

***Check out our “Inclusion and STEM” Webinar training on the KIT Online Learning Center. Find out how you can use your science and math lessons to build relationships between kids of all abilities, and start making inclusion a reality for all kids! Go to to sign-in and click “Course Catalog” to view this training.***

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at

Supporting Joe

janet_cabezut_photoThis week, we are thrilled to welcome Janet Cabezut, a 4th grade teacher in northern California and graduate student at the University of San Diego, as our guest blogger. We hope you are as inspired by Janet’s perseverance and Joe’s success as we are!

As an educator, my role is to provide a safe and engaging learning environment for all children.  I have a duty to accommodate all of my students in a way that promotes a positive academic experience. Over the years, I have had a few students with autism. I would like to tell you about one of those students, whom I will call Joe.

Joe was a fourth grade boy who came into my class with a variety of instructions. I first met with his mother, our administrator, school psychologist, county autism specialist, and his counselor. I learned that he shared time between his parents because they were divorced. Both parents had remarried and continued expanding their families, with Joe falling in the middle.

I was informed that Joe was disorganized and needed help keeping his desk and backpack neat. I was also told that Joe became upset easily.  He had aides that would randomly visit the classroom to observe him and provide support if needed. While I learned all of Joe’s needs, he sat in his chair and looked very quietly at the ground. I asked if I could talk to Joe alone, but I was told that that would not be such a good idea because I was a stranger. I went back to my room and walked around in a daze for about thirty minutes, wondering what I was in for. I kept saying “He’s just a kid.” That became my mantra.

The first day of school came, and Joe and his aide came into class. Most of the students knew Joe and had been in classes with him before. Over the next couple of weeks, I started noticing things. First, the aides would come at different times of the day, and they were always different people. Joe seemed agitated by them. They had put a happy face chart on his desk and would put happy faces for good behavior and sad faces for bad behavior. I never really understood this part, because I didn’t see his behavior as bad. They also stayed in with him at recess. I was told that this had been his routine since he started school.

The turning point came a few weeks into class. I was teaching a lesson, and the next thing I knew, the aide had walked over to him, said something, and he blew up! He started stomping, yelling, and throwing things. I asked his aide what happened. She said she had told him to pay attention, and then she went to the back of the room and started writing in a book that the aides carried around. I was left to deal with Joe. I asked Joe to come outside with me; he did. I asked the teacher next-door to call a yard duty to come watch my class.

During that walk, he said the most I’d ever heard come out of his mouth. He said no one ever listened to him; he was stuck in the middle and hated his family. He felt like he didn’t matter anymore; his mom had another family and didn’t need him.  He cried and screamed while we walked around our field outside. After he calmed down, we went back to class and I kicked his aide out.  I called a meeting again and told them that he didn’t need any more aides in the classroom; I was more than capable of handling him myself. The administration agreed, pending a monthly evaluation.

Joe and I started working on how best to make the classroom work for him. The first thing I did was give him two desks. He felt more comfortable when he could spread out. This helped him to keep track of his belongings. We also removed the happy face chart; he said it made him sad to look at it. So if I didn’t like something he was doing I would tap his desk once.  That usually brought him back on task. If not, he would need to get up and walk around the building and then come back. This helped him relieve his stress.  It wasn’t easy, and we had some bumps along the way. We were both learning a new way of doing things.

I also found out that he really didn’t like staying inside at recess but also didn’t like to play the physical games many kids played outside. I first suggested taking a book outside and reading it.  Then, I brought some old checker boards from home and let him take them out at recess. He had soon organized a checkers group that played together.

I also started sending home monthly projects that required parental support. I did this with the whole class. They would have to come and give a presentation on the project. One project was for each child to bake cupcakes to work on fractions with his or her mom. Joe loved it and was very animated when showing us his project.

Joe never took notes, read along in the textbook, or did anything that was traditionally expected in class. He would sit and play with the items on his desk. He would snort in the middle of class. I realized that was his way of paying attention. He didn’t need to follow along; he needed to do things to keep his mind focused.  He excelled in class and was very smart. He learned in his own way, and I needed to adjust to his way of doing things. Using force to push Joe only made him withdraw and become more upset. Letting him work in his own way made him successful. I learned a lot from Joe.  I will never forget the first meeting we had after the aides left the class. We sat around in the conference room, and they all turned to me and asked how it was going. Before I could say anything, Joe said, “We’re fine!”  He was right– we were.

–Written by Janet Cabezut. Edited by KIT staff.

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at

Document, Report, Support–Stepping Stones for Independence

Two summers ago, I worked at an inclusive camp as a one-on-one aide for a little boy with autism. At the beginning of the summer, all one-on-one counselors were trained in how to best support kids with special needs and the protocols for administering medications, writing incident reports, and more. As dry as some of this material was, I took away one important rule: “Document everything.” At first, I internalized this as a rule to make sure that the camp doesn’t get in trouble for not reporting incidents to parents. I have since learned to appreciate the value of reporting to families.

The Incident

One day, my camper, James (name has been changed for confidentiality) was scratching a mosquito bite, and it started bleeding uncontrollably. Although all it took was a little Neosporin and a bandaid, I wrote up an incident report and made sure to tell his mom when she came to pick him up. She shook her head and said, “Oh well.  It’s just a bug bite. No big deal!”

To be honest, I felt a little silly for even sharing such a minor injury with her. But then I started to think about what might have happened if I didn’t tell her, or if I didn’t report it. I pictured James going home after camp and his mom noticing a bandaid on his ankle with a cut under it. I imagined her wondering what could have happened to her son. She probably would have imagined the worst possible scenarios. And she may have come back the next day, upset and asking what had happened to her son. Since it was just a mosquito bite, I may not have even remembered by the next day. I may not have been able to give her answers to what happened to James.

Why It’s Important to Report to Families

For many parents of children with disabilities, sending their kids to camp can be scary. They want to protect their children. Independence is the ultimate goal, but since it seems so far away, it is too abstract for some parents. It can be very difficult for parents to take the steps necessary to reach independence. The more that they can trust the staff they work with, the more they will allow their children to try new things, to take risks, and to grow as independent people. The best way to build trust with parents is to keep them well-informed of what is happening at camp.

Just remember: document everything. Not for your sake, and not for your boss’s sake, but for the sake of the children and families you work with. More documentation leads to higher levels of trust. The more trust you have with kids and their families, the more  independence you can build.

–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Editor

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at

KIT Offers Free Inclusion Training for San Diego Women’s Group who Excluded Teen with Disability

Kids Included Together is offering free training to the San Diego chapter of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). When we learned that they recently chose to exclude Devyn Solo, 13, who was born with cystic fibrosis, from their STEM summer camp, we felt a call to action. This is exactly why we exist – to help support camps in serving kids with diverse needs.

“We want to help teach groups like AAUW, who may be uncomfortable about how to provide accommodations for children with disabilities in their program, to see how simple it can be to include all children,” said KIT’s CEO Torrie Dunlap (who wrote a guest blog post here in May). “We know everyone starts at a different place with inclusion, so we meet people where they are and teach them how to comply with federal laws and be welcoming to every family.”

We often meet camp directors and staff who love all kids and want to provide them with an amazing camp experience, but they are intimidated by inclusion. If staff do not have the tools they need to support kids with disabilities, it can seem overwhelming. What we do is empower their staff and volunteers with practical strategies and easy accommodations to help them feel comfortable serving all kids. When we heard about Devyn’s experience, we reached out to the AAUW in San Diego to offer our help and to prevent this from happening to anyone else in the future. Inclusion benefits everyone, and we hope that someday, all camps will feel confident in their ability to include all kids.

KIT offers camps the following tips for working with children with and without disabilities in summer camps:

1. Provide ongoing staff training on how to include campers and interested campers with disabilities.

2. Partner with families to understand the child’s goals for participation and the specific accommodations that will need to be made.

3. Provide alternative forms of communication when necessary (example, using visual schedules for children with limited verbal language).

4. Understand that modeling and repetition may be necessary for campers to participate successfully, or that you may need to shorten or lengthen the time given to an activity.

5. Allow frequent breaks for reasons that may include:

  •  medication management
  • restroom use
  • hydration and nutrition
  • fatigue

According to Torrie, “Often times all it takes is a simple accommodation to make sure everyone can attend camp. KIT exists because we believe everyone benefits when all kids are included. We can help summer programs understand what it takes to comply with state and federal mandates and most importantly, include all kids in their programs.”

–Written by KIT staff

Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at

August Advo-KIT of the Month: Barbara “Sundy” Smith

KIT loves hearing stories about people all over the world who are fighting for inclusion in their communities. Each month, we recognize one person who stands out as an inclusion Advo-KIT.

This month we are recognizing Barbara “Sundy” Smith from
The Farm Institute in Massachusetts!

sundysmith Sundy was nominated by KIT Trainer & Consultant, Kat King, who says the following about Sundy Smith:

“Sundy is always looking for new and creative ways to support the children in her programs. When we first talked, she was sharing how unique and challenging combining a working farm and children is in general. The safety hazards of farm equipment, electric fences, [and] large animals can be risky, but some of her campers have added behavior challenges such as running away and aggression. Instead of being more rigid with participant requirements, the Farm Institute is often considered more willing to work with a child than other summer programs on the island.”

When were you first introduced to inclusion? Why did you choose to become a champion for inclusion? 

“I came from a family where civil rights was both talked about and practiced as part of daily life. My next door neighbor and close friend when I was growing up had a younger brother with cerebral palsy, and we included him in everything, without knowing it was “inclusion.” This was in the 1950′s, and the mother was one of those quiet heroines who insisted her son go to public school. These people basically created special education. It’s important to remember what that generation did for all of us.”

What do you love about inclusion? 

“My job now is not really focused on disability issues or special education. The mission of The Farm Institute is ‘to connect people of all ages and all circumstances to the science, work, and practical magic of agriculture and illuminate the trail that leads from farm to food.‘ We have become disconnected from agriculture and understanding where our food comes from for many reasons. Disability is just one of those circumstances where we need to make sure our doors are open, both physically and programmatically.”

What is your vision for an inclusive world? 

“The best predictor of life outcomes for a child with a disability–and for all our children, as it turns out–is the income and education of the parents. An inclusive world is where we, as a nation, address the impact of that most disabling circumstance…poverty.”

What is one of your most memorable inclusion experiences? 

“Well…it’s a very farm-to-table story, and perhaps not for vegetarians or the squeamish. But about a month ago, we had eight AmeriCorps volunteers working at the farm. We also had twenty high school students visiting from a charter school and about twenty students with hearing impairments from a nearby school. The AmeriCorps volunteers and most of the visiting students wanted to watch and help with chicken processing. I looked over as the kids worked on the feathers and explored the anatomy of a chicken, the farm staff explained what was going on, and two sign language interpreters assisted. It was quite a scene. I was very proud of the farm staff for their farm knowledge and their instincts for how to make this ‘teaching moment’ accessible to all.”

What is your top tip that you would give to someone working with children?

“The golden rule is all-powerful. What would you want from a teacher or camp counselor or other worker if you, your child, or other loved one had a disability?”

Thank you Sundy for everything that you do for the children and staff at The Farm Institute! Thank you for letting us be a part of your inclusion story!