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The Benefits of Making in Special Ed: A Multiple Case Study

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Monday, June 24, 11:30 am–12:30 pm
Location: 121AB

Presentation 1 of 3
Other presentations:
Active Learning Center Year 1: Personalized Pathways in Special Education
Making Animal-Inspired Robots With Fifth-Graders: Integrating Engineering Into Teacher Education

Dr. Jason Trumble  
Learn how five preservice special education teachers engaged in teaching students with varying disabilities using maker pedagogies. Explore effective maker-based interventions for special education students with high disabilities as well as preservice candidates' perceptions of teaching through making.

Audience: Teachers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Focus: Digital age teaching & learning
Topic: Special populations/assistive and adaptive technologies
Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: Special education, Higher education
ISTE Standards: For Students:
Innovative Designer
  • Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
For Educators:
  • Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.

Proposal summary


Special education teaching models and strategies for students with disabilities tend to rely on teacher-directed activities that are based on Individual Education Plans (IEP) and dependent on disciplinary based standards. Teachers identify a finite academic or life skills task and design an activity for the learner that uses analytic instruction, question and response, and wait time for finite student response (Spooner, Knight, Browder, & Smith, 2012). Incorporating student-centered maker pedagogy with special education students may offer new opportunities to support student learning and can provide teachers with a variety of updated tools to engage students with varying disabilities.
Making is the process of creating physical objects, and in maker pedagogy learning occurs throughout the process (Clapp, Ross, Ryon, & Tishman, 2017). Making involves many of the same components as Project Based Learning (PBL). “Learning by doing” involves asking a question, finding or developing resources and information, and completing a set of interdisciplinary tasks to develop a product that answers the question (Blumenfeld, Soloway, Marx, Krajcik, Guzdial, & Palincsar, 1991). PBL is an integrative perspective engaging students in investigation and is a student-centered approach to teaching (Blumenfeld, et al., 1991). Cohen, Jones, Smith, and Calandra (2017) coined the term “Makification” as a framework for how teachers incorporate the making of things for teaching and learning in school settings. Their framework pulls from Papert’s (1991) constructionism and adds aspects of PBL, art education, and engineering education processes to propose a purposeful integrated approach to teaching academics through making in school-based contexts (Cohen et al., 2017).
Maker pedagogy as perceived in this study combines the analytic strategies of special education instruction (Spooner et al., 2012) and the student-centered, making for learning strategies (Cohen et al., 2017) of the Makification framework. In action, the teacher intentionally (Corbat & Quinn, 2018) develops an analytic plan for academic learning based on what the student wants to make. The teacher develops tasks and questioning strategies throughout the making process to increase academic understanding and integrates content when and where appropriate.
The theoretical perspective that guided this study as couched in the Makification framework seeks to analyze what happens when preservice teachers intentionally incorporate maker pedagogies when teaching students with disabilities. The resultant interactions allow preservice teachers to deeply engage students in personalized, rigorous, academic development as they concurrently develop student-centered teaching methods (Clapp et al., 2017).


The study is an exploratory multiple case study. The multiple case study approach was most appropriate for this research investigation where the researcher acts as an objective observer of a real-life event and collects data that are then used to explain the phenomenon studied (Noor, 2008). The emphasis is on process and meaning that involve the voices of the participants and are best measured using qualitative measures (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). Multiple sources of evidence were collected including teacher efficacy assessments, lesson plans and products, semi-structured interview, focus groups, and video reflections. Use of multiple case studies allows for individual case analysis as well as whole group analysis. This study was guided by the following research questions.

1. How do preservice teachers conceptualize and perceive the use of maker pedagogy in the special education classroom?
2. How do the preservice teachers’ perceptions of maker pedagogy shift over time when incorporating maker pedagogies in a special education classroom?
3. What learning occurs when students with varying disabilities engage in making for learning?
4. How do students with varying disabilities react and develop when engaging in maker centered academic intervention?

Data was collected and analyzed from pre-service teacher participants’ video reflections as well as responses to each semi-structured focus group interview session to answer research questions 1 and 2. All reflections were recorded, transcribed and transferred to the NVivo program. This allowed all transcripts to be coded and analyzed. All the transcripts were coded by three researchers (triple coding) in order to determine their main characteristics of priority, implementation, design type, and purpose. The inter-coder reliability was established via percentage of agreement. Any discrepancies were discussed and resolved by consensus.
For research questions 3 & 4, data was collected from student work samples, teacher and researcher observations, academic pre-tests and post tests as well as preservice teacher reflection about student interactions and behaviors.
Initial codes were established using constant comparative analysis with descriptive and simultaneous coding (Saldaña, 2015). In constant comparative analysis, the researcher is able to compare the data from the study with emergent codes in an iterative process. According to Onwuegbuzie, Dickinson, Leech, and Zoran (2009), three major stages characterize the constant comparative analysis: (a) open coding, (b) grouping into categories, and (c) selective coding.
Once consensus on initial codes were reached, second cycle coding methods were selected to enable deeper analysis of the data including categorizing, coding, delineating categories and connecting them. Leech and Onwuegbuzie (2008) noted that constant comparative analysis is appropriate for the analysis of focus group data. The researchers also inserted process and longitudinal coding (Saldaña, 2015) in the second cycle to assess impact of the intervention on participants’ perceptions over time.


Initial results have been coded and analyzed and initial findings are discussed below. It is vital to recognize thought that additional coding and evaluation for both preservice teachers and students with disabilities is ongoing and expected to be complete by November 2018. We are currently evaluating second-round coding and student work samples.

Initial findings indicated the preservice teachers’ perceptions of maker pedagogy shifted over time and provided researchers insight into the experiences and perceptions of the preservice teachers participating in the project well as their concerns about the experience. The researchers first approached the data independently and then met to confer on coding structures and labels. The initial stages of first-round coding yielded the following codes and categories (Table 1).
 In response to the first research question, the results indicate the categories with the most weight in the data involved the preservice teachers’ conceptualization and enactment of maker pedagogy in the special education classroom, specifically maker pedagogy involving the use of Tinkercad as that was one focus of the intervention. The three largest categories were Analysis (of work with students) with 31.06% of the references coded, Tinkercad with 26.7% of the references, and Making with 13.35% of the references. While other codes and categories were identified, these three categories carried the preponderance of data.
In response to the second research question, candidate data showed a shift over time in understanding of student abilities and conceptualization of maker pedagogy. As noted in the data, candidates’ feel for the needs and capabilities of special education students evolved throughout the process and was an observable phenomenon. Candidates developed a better understanding of the potential these students had when engaged with relevant, hands-on lesson interventions. Also notable to this study was the candidates’ evolution of their understanding of maker pedagogy. Candidates initially defined maker-pedagogy as involving technology-specific applications of Tinkercad. Their understanding of maker pedagogy shifted to represent more than technology-specific applications and became more inclusive of all aspects of creating involving both technology and non-technology supported possibilities.
Across the data, the participants’ focus was clearly on the application of maker-pedagogy and the use of Tinkercad to support special education students as one maker-pedagogy option in meeting content goals in a hands-on and interdisciplinary manner. Analysis of the codes within the categories allowed researchers to see the depth the teacher candidates brought to their work with the special education students as well as their evolution in thinking about the needs and capabilities of these students and the impact this had on their teaching.
Within the category of analysis (31.06% weight in data), the prevalent codes were: (1) reflection (53.51%) on formative assessment and instructional planning to meet students’ academic and/or content goals; (2) student motivation (14.04%) explaining how preservice teachers sought relevance in the lesson by including the special education student’s personal interests; (3) preparation (12.28%) with preservice teachers identifying identifying shortfalls in their preparation, rationales in preparation steps taken, and action steps for future modifications; (4) difficulty (11.40%) with discussions of activities preservice teachers created that were too easy or too hard for the particular student; and (5) engagement (8.77%) with descriptions of the special education students’ level of engagement engaged in productive tasks.
The code specific to candidate usage of Tinkercad with the special education students was broken into three subcodes: (1) application (56.12%) with specifics of how candidates used Tinkercad with the special education students; (2) challenges (24.49%) including discussions on the struggles and challenges the preservice teachers and their special education students experienced while manipulating the technology, and (3) lesson preparation (19.39%) with discussions about the preservice teachers preparing and practicing specific aspects of their Tinkercad activity used with the special education student.
Finally, the making category included two codes: (1) conceptual understanding (61.23%) included discussions of preservice teachers’ misconceptions about making and making pedagogy and their understanding of purposes for use of maker pedagogy with special needs students; and (2) application (38.78%) with discussion about how the preservice teachers used maker pedagogy with special education students.


The findings of this study contribute to the discussion and inquiry of preservice special education teacher education and the implementation of maker pedagogies in novice field experiences. Students with disabilities who are able to engage in learning through hands-on experiences and student-centered project-based learning have the potential to improve their academic performance overall (Han, Capraro, & Capraro, 2015). Therefore, it is important to provide a variety of pedagogical strategies to teachers who instruct students with disabilities. The findings of this exploratory multiple case study show that preservice teacher perception of the effects and benefits of maker pedagogy can change over time. The participants in this study each experienced positive learning experiences, but they expressed the need for additional learning and practice incorporating maker pedagogies.
 This paper includes two sources of qualitative data, however, the full paper includes analysis of all data sources. This study reveals an ongoing evolution of preservice teachers’ understanding of maker pedagogy and how this strategy could be implemented with students with disabilities. This adds to the development of maker pedagogy as a viable model for teaching (Cohen et al., 2017; Corbat & Quinn, 2018).
This paper also explains in detail the implementation of maker pedagogy in a special education environment and its effect on student learners. This strategy may support the continued development of curriculum and pedagogy for teaching students with mild to severe disabilities.


Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26 (3 & 4), 369-398.

Buehler, E., Comrie, N., Hofmann, M., McDonald, S., & Hurst, A. (2016). Investigating the implications of 3D printing in special education. ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS), 8(3), 11.

Bullock, S., & Sator, A. (2015). Maker pedagogy and science teacher education. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies 13(1), 60-87.

Clapp, E., Ross, J., Ryon, J., & Tishman, S. (2017). Maker-centered learning: Empowering young people to share their worlds. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cohen, J., Jones, W. M., Smith, S., & Calandra, B. (2017). Makification: Towards a framework for leveraging the maker movement in formal education. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 26(3), 217-229.

Corbat, J., & Quinn, C. (2018, March). Engaging Preservice Teachers in the Makerspace: Embracing the Maker Movement in a Multi-Level Teacher Preparation Program. In Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1251-1254). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Han, S., Capraro, R., & Capraro, M. M. (2015). How science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) project-based learning (PBL) affects high, middle, and low achievers differently: The impact of student factors on achievement. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 13(5), 1089-1113.

Noor, K. B. M. (2008). Case study: A strategic research methodology. American journal of applied sciences, 5(11), 1602-1604.

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Situating constructionism. Constructionism, 36(2), 1-11.

Saldaña, J. (2015). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (3rd Ed.). Location: Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd.

Spooner, F., Knight, V. F., Browder, D. M., & Smith, B. R. (2012). Evidence-based practice for teaching academics to students with severe developmental disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 33(6), 374-387.

Toenders, F. G. C., de Putter-Smits, L. G. A., Sanders, W. T. M., & den Brok, P. J. (2017). Improving physics teaching materials on sound for visually impaired students in high school. Physics Education, 52(5), 055006.

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Dr. Jason Trumble, University of Central Arkansas

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