How a teacher codes with special needs students who are deaf

Visual, hands-on robots help students understand the programming process
By: | February 7, 2020

Elementary-age students at the Marie Philip School at The Learning Center for the Deaf near Boston are programming robots to learn the engineering design process.

That’s “ask, imagine, plan, create, test and improve, and share,” says their teacher, Kira Bell.

“Before, I did not have a great way to expose students to the engineering process or even simple coding,” Bell says.

Since winning a 2018 STEAM grant, Bell uses KIBO’s robots to introduce computer science to her class of 7- to 10-year-olds, who are deaf and have additional special needs.

Students create their program by arranging bar-coded blocks for the robot to scan and perform specific tasks, such as moving forward or backward.

“In deaf education, we often teach students who have language delays,” Bell says. “This robot is very visual, hands-on and user friendly, and can be used for very simple tasks or for more complex challenges.”

One of those tasks is having students go through the problem-solving process when they need to debug a program. For instance, they may tell the robot to go backward when they meant for it to move forward, Bell says.

“We discuss often how the robot reads the barcodes on the blocks so cannot see if we turn the block around to make the visual picture arrow point forward instead of backwards,” she says. “I’ve really enjoyed seeing how they work through scenarios I’ve presented to them and make the robot their own.”

Read the full featureHow computer science codes inclusivity into special education

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