Bringing Equitable Computer Science Education to Students with Special Needs

Bringing Equitable Computer Science Education to Students with Special Needs

By Gohar Hamo, Instructional Technology Facilitator and Jenny Peterson, Special Ed Department Chair
Madison Middle School, Van Nuys/Valley Glen Community of Schools, Local District Northeast

Integrating computer science curriculum has generated a high level of excitement across James Madison Middle School. In celebration of #CSEverywhere, we are shining a spotlight on the impact of computer science on our students with special needs. Computer science is a foundational literacy and we can help equity emerge and set all of our diverse learners on a path of possibility for futures in STEM fields by advocating for access and sharing best practices.



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Computer science has empowered us as educators to introduce skills and resources to our students in new and engaging ways. At Madison, it started with having to adapt our own thinking to be comfortable teaching with unfamiliar technology and equipment. With the help of Instructional Technology Facilitators (ITF) assigned to our school, we eased into computer science and started using the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators when planning our computer science classes as well as using them as a guide when modifying for our Alternative Curriculum, Autistic, and Special Day classes.



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As a part of the Practitioner 6.0 program with Instructional Technology Initiative (ITI), we have grown our computer science programs across the school using programs such as Scratch, Amazon’s Project STEM, Games 4 Change, and School2Home to bring real life skills with real world applications that allow our students to gain experience within a variety of skill sets. Students are being exposed to coding, scripting, debugging, designing, and robotics. The teachers who work with our special needs students adapt and modify these lessons as needed. The tactile technology is what our students especially enjoy. We have used funding opportunities and attended ITI’s professional development opportunities to obtain classroom sets of Dash, Dot, and Cue robots, BeeBots, Cozmo robots, Sphero Sparks and Minis, Ollies, Ozobots, and other computer science resources for our students. The variety of equipment allows special education teachers to use choice and preference to keep engagement high, and it gives us the ability to provide equipment suitable to the differing needs. The skill sets students are learning potentially open up new pathways and opportunities that would otherwise never have existed. We are excited to see the bright futures that lie ahead for them.



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Our students in the self-contained classrooms come up to us all the time and ask if we are having computers today. It really is something they look forward to. For students with special needs who push into the Computer Science Discovery classrooms, teachers use brain breaks, focus on participation and not always completion of a task, and assign student leaders who can assist as needed. As a school, we are looking forward to where computer science will lead all our students in the future and are working to ensure that this future includes students with special needs.



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View examples of student engagement with Computer Science:

 
Spotlight ImageStudent in Mr. Iraheta’s class showcased his coding skills by demonstrating a loop animation. Student designed everything from the ball itself to the “stretch” and “squash” animation method commonly used by real animators utilizing scratch.mit.edu.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Students programming the Ozobot by color coding as they work on CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant: bag) words. The bots help students stay engaged with the content as they code left or right. Because of the limited number of devices, students work in small teams and work on communicating their wants and needs. Adapted from CVC Word by Community.



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Verbal and nonverbal students in Ms. Peterson’s class were partnered and tasked with learning about a particular planet. Then they recorded their favorite fact/s about the planet onto the Dash robot. As a class, students coded the robot to stop at each planet and repeat those facts in a sequence. Adapted from “Sequence the Planets in the Solar System” lesson from makewonder.com.