The Benefits of STEAM Education for Special Needs Pupils (at Lexden Springs Special School, UK)
STEAM education is seldom cited together with special needs pupils. And yet it is not only accessible but also beneficial to them as well. The Lexden Springs Special School (UK) caters to children with learning disabilities and those on the Autistic spectrum, and the school uses Robo Wunderkind to help their pupils discover the world around them. Here is what they had to say.
The Lexden Springs Special School caters to pupils aged 13-14 with complex learning difficulties (profound and multiple learning difficulties and severe learning difficulties) as well as those on the Autistic spectrum continuum. In their small gender-mixed classrooms, they used Robo Wunderkind kits as part of the ‘Exploration and Discovery’ classes. As a result, their teachers were able to illuminate us on the ways in which STEM can be used in advanced educational settings not just based on age, but also on their pupils’ complex educational needs.
So often, STEM is thematized as a tool for children with above-average intelligence and talents, but less so in how it can help children with cognitive difficulties to navigate the world around them. After all, everyone, regardless of ability or cognitive functions, interacts with technology and everyone should also feel empowered to do so confidently.
At Lexden Springs, pupils were led to use Robo Wunderkind in tasks which had problem-solving as their key objective. Nicola Paton, a specialized SEN (special education needs) educator, delivers all lessons throughout the day to her class via a specialized curriculum, while focusing on computing. Hence – STEM tools were the perfect fit to her daily job. In the past, she’s already tried out many coding and robotics tools, and when asked to compare these resources to Robo Wunderkind, she told us the following;
‘Robo Wunderkind is unique in its ability to be transformed into multiple different options for learning.’
The color-coded blocks have an exceptional functionality and variety of use similar to Lego blocks, which is coincidentally one of the absolute favorite tools of Lexden Springs pupils. Therefore, getting used to the logic of using Robo was not hard at all. The class mainly relied on Robo Live classes, the real-time coding option, with some exploration going into Robo Code – the more advanced stage for plan-ahead coding. Robo Live was used to navigate areas of the classroom and create obstacle courses to increase the challenge.
‘I love that my pupils are eager to take all the pieces out of the box and start fitting them together immediately. They are always so enthusiastic,’ Nicola highlighted the exploratory nature of Robo Wunderkind lessons. ‘My pupils with Autistic Spectrum Conditions seem particularly engaged and love to use the build visuals on the iPad tutorials.’
She used an adaptive version of the Robo Wunderkind teacher’s guide to make the night light out of Robo, and wrote her own plans to support and provide details to her supporting adults. This was not only focused on the building work itself, but also on cooperation between pupils as well as their presentation work of the results.
Tools like Robo Wunderkind aren’t only great to teach specific STEM-related skills, but also soft skills, such as communication, cooperation, presentation, negotiation, and more (we wrote a whole blog post on these – check it out!). This is especially relevant for special-needs children to whom some of these skills don’t come as naturally as to your typical pupil. Nicola mentioned that the more advanced functionality of Robo Wunderkind like Robo Blockly was challenging to her pupils, but the point of STEM is not necessarily just to allow students to advance straight ahead in terms of complexity. It is a means, not an end. And as with any means, wonderful insights can be gained into complex topics based on specific contexts and needs. Understanding of sophisticated topics and themes can be broadened indefinitely.
In this case, Robo Wunderkind helped deliver the playful message of how empowering and enlightening exploring technology can be for any curious young mind. But at the same time – it was also so much more. For illustration, some of the objectives contained in Nicola’s lessons included:
- Understanding cause and effect (the very logic behind coding and controlling a tech tool like Robo Wunderkind)
- To think of different ways to solve a practical problem (broadening horizons)
- To accept ideas from partners during negotiation in order to reach a compromise (soft skills)
- To increase persistence
- To compare objects and understand correspondence, to repeat patterns and sequences, to estimate things (programming logic applied to real life)
Pupils used iPads to control their robots and explore all that could be achieved with just a few building blocks. ‘The Robo Wunderkind kit is a robust, practical tool that provides the opportunity for hands-on trial-and-error approaches to problem-solving with immediate effects,’ was Nicola’s verdict. She attested that in the year that she has used it together with the pupils, the development was ‘incredible and the support superb.’
And although lockdown momentarily put a stop to their collective progress, we can’t wait to see what they get up to once both teachers and students are back together in class and embark on new adventures with Robo Wunderkind. Seeing our tool being used in such a highly specialized context and by special-needs children was a novelty to us as well. It reaffirmed our belief that digital literacy is an essential skill for all and STEM a universal language that can adapt to various surroundings, contexts, and complex needs. We encourage changing the conversation around STEM in a way that includes special needs pupils and are excited to contribute to this conversation ourselves. After all, curiosity and creativity is absolutely boundless.
Thank you to Nicola and the Lexden Springs Special School for giving Robo Wunderkind a go in their classrooms and for mutually broadening our horizons on what STEM education can achieve.
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