STEM Teacher Uses Coding & Robotics to Engage Special Needs Students

By Barbara Stachelski @Barbstachelski | 03/06/2018

As a middle school STEM teacher in Tustin, CA, Mrs. Stachelski, has embedded technology into her special needs classroom to engage her students in more depth. She recently took an on-line professional development course to further her ability to teach coding and robotics.

My students have special needs ranging from speech and language to autism. The majority of my students are also English language learners and come from low socio-economic families. Our school, Columbus Tustin Middle School, has a large magnet robotics program, however, my students do not qualify for this program due to their special needs.

Incorporating technology has become an effective and authentic instructional tool in my classroom and I believe engaging with technology is vital for my special needs students as they progress towards adulthood. My method of teaching is project based and I work on exposing my students to a multitude of experiences such as gardening, robotics, and coding to help make learning math and science more meaningful. Technology embedded into my curriculum engages my students in more depth.

STEM Teacher Uses Coding & Robotics to Engage Special Needs Students

Last spring, I sought out computer science professional development (CSPD) in order to dive deeper into my teaching of coding and robotics and better serve my students. It was important to me to find a high quality on-line course and be able to access the material during the summer months so I could give it my undivided attention, and not take away time from my students during the busy school year. I developed a project via DonorsChoose.org to crowdfund an on-line UTeach CSPD course. To my delight, in less than three weeks, I received donations from seven California donors, along with matching funds from Infosys Foundation USA, to fully fund my course.

I took the course and since I have incorporated the CSPD into my special needs classroom this school year, my students are learning even more about coding and programming. They are thoroughly enjoying it! Teaching coding in the classroom is very engaging for my students. It teaches them real world skills while engaging them in story creation, writing, sequencing and math. My students cannot thank you enough!!

I personally enjoy watching the students become alive in their learning. Four of my autistic students are particularly excited to learn programming. At times, these students can display behaviors which impede the learning of others. The side benefit of our coding classes is that these students do not act out nearly as much when they know that the last period of the day will be spent doing a preferred activity. I know that the training I have received and share with my students is already making a tremendous difference now, as well as for years to come. It is my belief that being able to understand and program computers will help my students with autism become more employable once they have graduated from high school.