Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Inclusion in the Techy Classroom: Modified Sphero Mazes

Recently we had a PLC meeting where we were asked to share one way we make considerations for our students with special learning needs.  Since I teach students with both learning and behavioral IEPs, there are many things to think about when tackling a project in our Digital Literacy classroom.

Most recently, we have been working on a Sphero Maze Challenge.  Students are required use the Tickle app to successfully program a Sphero to navigate a maze with a few challenges.  Let me break down a few of the components of this project that were carefully and thoughtfully created with our special learning needs in mind. The following photo breaks it into four categories to explore.

1. Leveled Challenges

As you can see in the photos above of our mazes, each maze has a different level of difficulty.  The mazes are leveled by number of turns to complete, width of paths, and overall length.  The more turns students must navigate means more lines of code to write.  The narrower the path means the students must be more precise in their code.  The overall length again adds or takes away from the lines of code students must write.  Few students, even my principal, did not outright notice the differences in the maze difficulties.  For me, this is a success.  When all students feel challenged at their level, they can all feel that sense of pride and accomplishment without feeling different from others. 

2. Choice Groups

When selecting project groups in the inclusive classroom, it is important to pair students with those that compliment their strengths and weaknesses.  I use a variety of techniques for assigning groups, but for this particular project I knew it was imperative for each group to have a strong coder.  This is where I started when determining groups.  What I've found with students who demonstrate difficulties in other subjects of study, they often shine in technology situations.  This gives them the opportunity to feel strong success.  I also make sure each group has a student who demonstrates budding leadership qualities.  I don't always choose the "typical" leader.  I look for the student who hasn't been given enough chances to flex this skill in the classroom sometimes due to their learning struggles.

3. Written Work Modifications

As a part of this project, groups are also asked to record their daily activity in their Sphero Maze Log.  We use the Book Creator app for this activity.  One person is "in charge" of making sure the log is filled out each day, but all members are responsible for contributing to the book.  In the log, I make sure to require a variety of artifacts that demonstrate their learning.  Photographs, videos, written word, etc. are all valid and important pieces of information that give a glimpse into the group's learning process.  Because it isn't all written, all students can contribute in ways that fit their learning style and needs.  I've included some sample pages below.  Other pages include end of project group reflections and any other additions the group wants to make to their log.  

Book Creator makes these logs simple and convenient as they are all kept in one place on their iPad.  Students who struggle with organization appreciate this feature Book Creator provides. For more about how Book Creator can work in your classroom, be sure to check out my other blog posts about this versatile app. 

4. Modified Goals as Needed

As students work throughout the process, I carefully monitor their progress. If I note that a particular group of learners need a goal modified, I will do that.  Modified goals are the business of the group and other group is privy to this decision.  Sometimes in the case of students with behavioral IEPs (or even those who don't have an IEP), they are very opinionated about what the goal should be or how it should be achieved.  I've always had the mindset that students often have better ideas than I do, and I am willing to listen to their opinions and often work out a compromise that both achieves the learning goals and their personal choices.  One of my biggest pet peeves in education is when educators expect students with behavioral needs to complete work or be disciplined the same as every other student.  I feel that this is no different than asking a person confined to a wheelchair to walk up the stairs the same way as everyone else.  We would never as a society ask that this be done! Why then do we see behavioral and emotional disabilities as anything lesser? I digress from my soapbox... In a nutshell, it's my job as an educator to meet my students where they are and give them the taste of success they earn. As my principal likes to stress, learning isn't about equality.  It's about equity.   
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