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Edtech Advocacy &
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Coding for All: Instruction That Includes Students With Special Needs

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Lecture

Sunday, June 23, 12:00–1:00 pm
Location: 120BC

Simon Bates   Susie Blackstien-Adler   Leanne Husk   Christy McDonald  
A UDL approach to coding will be presented, based on research/development funded by a federal grant. We will demonstrate scaffolded instruction and adaptation of materials for popular K-5 applications as well as prototypes of accessible software being developed. Learn how to get involved in the co-design process for accessible coding.

Audience: Curriculum/district specialists, Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Computer science and computational thinking
Grade level: PK-5
Subject area: Special education, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Administrators:
Digital Age Learning Culture
  • Provide learner-centered environments equipped with technology and learning resources to meet the individual, diverse needs of all learners.
For Students:
Computational Thinker
  • Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.
For Educators:
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
Additional detail: ISTE author presentation
Disclosure: The submitter of this session has been supported by a company whose product is being included in the session
Related exhibitors: Boardmaker , Wonder Workshop

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Purpose: To increase awareness about accessibility to coding for students at a K-Gr. 5 learning level who have special needs and to provide ideas for scaffolding instruction with current coding applications using a UDL approach.

Participants will:
1. Understand the benefits of learning to code and coding to learn for students who have special needs
2. Learn about a checklist to consider the accessibility of coding applications and potential tools for decreasing barriers
3. Understand some of the visual perceptual, motor, and cognitive constraints of current coding applications
4. Learn about some of the assistive technologies, adaptations and instructional strategies that have been successful in supporting students who have special needs to participate in coding.
5. Learn about some initiatives that would supplement current coding applications, providing greater access than is currently possible (pending funding of a grant proposal).


Participants will explore:
• the benefits of learning to code for students who have learning challenges
• the learning hardships that challenge students with special needs when faced with coding applications
• typical barriers that arise from the design of coding applications
• an approach for planning, scaffolding and adapting instruction and materials to enable participation

Using a UDL approach, participants will see a variety of primary level coding applications including Cubetto, Wonder Workshop with Dash and Dot and Scratch Jr./Scratch. Video examples of the inclusive work being undertaken at Bridges will be drawn upon to demonstrate the scaffolding and adaptation used.

The following resources (physical, print and digital materials) for differentiating instruction will be drawn upon during the presentation:
• a checklist for considering coding applications based on student needs and coding interface design
• materials that support planning and anchoring coding activity (e.g. social stories, vocabulary materials, activities to help students make connections to what they already know)
• materials to keep all students engaged when coding applications are shared by small groups (individualized planning and problem-solving materials that provide concrete experience with otherwise digital components of applications)
• sample communication aids for supporting participation
• materials and ideas for overcoming physical barriers to coding (to support manipulation of concrete materials and to support alternate access to digital replicas for students unable to manage concrete materials)
• sample lesson plans (which use the adapted and scaffolded instruction demonstrated)
Timing: One third of the presentation will be spent on objectives, benefits of coding for students, common barriers, and current research. Two thirds of the presentation will demonstrate our approach and materials for different ability groups.
Process: If we have an hour slot, we will be able to use some polls to learn about the audience (their roles and experience). We will use digital images, video, concrete materials and digital coding applications.

Supporting research

1. Lewis, C. 2014. Work in Progress Report: Nonvisual Visual Programming. Psychology of Programming Interest Group.
While this paper deals with vision impairment, Clayton Lewis also does work in the area of cognition and was involved in the design of the grant proposal submitted by Ontario College of Art and Design and Bridges Canada.
2. Israel, M., et al. “Empowering K–12 Students With Disabilities to Learn Computational Thinking and Computer Programming.” TEACHING Exceptional Children 48.1 (2015): 45-53.
3. Walmer, J., Ferrari, E., Dautenhahn,K., and Robins, B. The effectiveness of using a robotics class to foster collaboration among groups of children with autism in an exploratory study. Published online: 12 March 2010. Springer-Verlag London Limited 2010
4. Sally Lindsay & Kara Grace Hounsell (2017) Adapting a robotics program to enhance participation and interest in STEM among children with disabilities: a pilot study, Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 12:7, 694-704, DOI: 10.1080/17483107.2016.1229047
4. Kim D. Adams and Albert M. Cook. Programming and controlling robots using scanning on a speech generating communication device: A case study. Technology and Disability 25 (2013) 275–286. (Kim Adams wrote a letter of support for the grant proposal submitted by Bridges and OCAD)
5. The CSforAll movement is holding a summit in Detroit in October 2018 – there will be a focus on inclusive and sustainable computer science education for all US citizens. While there is progress being made in some countries, there is a need for more global advocacy.

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Simon Bates, Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCADU
Leanne Husk, Bridges Canada

Leanne Husk has a background as an educator for students who have complex needs and has certification as a Learning Disabilities Specialist. As a lead instructor for Bridges, she designs and leads workshops and works directly with students and teachers to help them create and implement dynamic and inclusive learning experiences with technology across the curriculum. Leanne first experienced the need for scaffolded instruction and adapted materials when introducing coding to normally developing students. These experiences have been invaluable as she works, in collaboration with OCAD University, supporting Bridges' current initiative - creating inclusive and accessible coding experiences for ALL.

Christy McDonald, Bridges Canada

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