Project-Based Learning is a teaching or classroom approach whereby students gain skills and knowledge through exploring real-world problems and by working for a longer period to respond and investigate complex problems (Tamim and Grant, 2013, p.73). PBL is a dynamic approach for students with disabilities as it prepares them for college, career, and life. It is important to realize that in PBL development, either your students or you the teacher devise the projects that will enhance content in a way that will explore real-life problems and challenge students. This paper briefly discusses how PBL addresses the needs of students with disabilities and provides a summary of the PBL.
Developing the PBL
Despite the challenges in teaching students with autism, they are indeed uniquely gifted as the project found, and they were particularly drawn to express their interests through PBL. The classroom was filled with different types of electronic equipment from robots to computers. The objective of the project was to measure the language skills and engagement from students with autism. It was found that autistic students responded positively to the simplicity of working or dealing with robots than people who are difficult to understand. The robots, which are knee-high machines, were made to walk or move the same way as the students and can be programmed to play games, conversations, dance, and even take classes. Autistic students found the robots to be less threatening and easier to work with than adults. Therefore, robots provided a safe environment for them to develop and explore their communication skills.
Autistic students struggle to maintain focus in classroom lessons. However, after a year of weekly lessons at Topcliffe School, a student by the name of Cooper can now concentrate for more than 20 minutes in the classroom and furthermore, her social skills have significantly improved (Osborne, 2014). The parents and teachers can track the childs progress by recording all the results and tracking the responses. The second phase of the project involved the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). This is whereby the autistic children choose an image in order to derive information from the robot or another student. It is an educational game that is fun and exciting. The robot asks the children to identify a card with a specific animal on it animal recognition. For example, the robot might say, find me a monkey, and the student will look through a pack of cards available then hold the correct one up. If they are correct, the robot congratulates them and dances. It is important to realize that PBL through robot and PECS collaboration builds trust and effectively helps the students mimicry and listening skills. Additionally, it teaches students to stay focused and teaches educators to control the classes.
The robot and PECS activities were found to support varied learning styles. For example, they enabled autistic students to stay focused, practice mimicry and listening skills. Additionally, the picture exchange system turned out to be a great tool to use with students such as Cooper, who had trouble expressing her thoughts. The activities also focused on multiple intelligence such as functional skills and a focus on student strength. The facilitation of learning was enhanced by both teachers and parents. For instance, as part of the PBL, students were taught functional math through iPads (video self-modeling). The use of technology especially video was important in autistic learning. At home, parents were also advised to engage technology such as iPads and toys to aid in their kids learning. From this perspective, it is clear that the learning tasks are authentic and meaningful. Another technique that was integrated into the classrooms was the use of three choices at a time for students when solving a question. This allows them to feel comfortable and avoid over-stimulation.
It is also crucial to emphasize to students that the teacher or educator is only one resource in the room, and there are other possibilities or resources. From electronic databases, computers, to parents, there are unlimited resources that can aid students with special needs to more accurate knowledge. For the higher order thinking skills, printable checklists were introduced that depicted clear procedures, expectations, and points assigned to every task. This was important during the evaluation by teachers. An objective of special education is to educate the student to become independent in their learning endeavors. Autistic students in a PBL classroom take the lead in their learning through the use of the tested tools and techniques for teaching in classrooms.
According to Kaltman (2009, p.144), in efforts to offer students the best development from early childhood school, there is the need to include opportunities for concrete, hands-on learning themes. This tactile approach focuses on the use of materials such as ribbons, boxes, or water. Scholars and psychologists have agreed that young children need to interact with their environment and can maximize on the hands-on learning experiences. Therefore, for autistic students, the use of cards in the animal recognition is crucial. In mathematics classes, for instance, the students placed toys in a box and counted or estimate them. In addition, the technique used in the project integrated across different subject areas. For instance, the use of robotic toys to act as educators was an area of social studies because it interacted with the children asking them questions and at the end cheering them up. In the end, we were happy to discover positive outcomes form the project such as enhanced listening skills and focus.
Certainly, key questions drive a project in special education. In this instance, the quest was how to measure the language skills and engagement from students with autism. Classroom activities such as the use of speaking robotic toys, PECS, and technology tools such as iPads were found to be very useful in improving the language skills and engagement of students with autism. Most importantly, assessment on the autism spectrum project was done individually and not as a group because each student responded uniquely to different activities. However, all students received an above average mark on the grading rubric developed by the teachers for this project. The rubric integrated many academic areas such as listening skills, creativity, problem-solving, and communication skills.
Kaltman, G. (2009). Hands-on learning!. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
Osborne, L. (2014). Robots making school a less scary place for children with autism. Mail Online. Retrieved 29 June 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2610246/The-robots-making-school-scary-place-autistic-children-Friendly-mini-droids-chat-play-games-teach-pupils.html
Tamim, S. & Grant, M. (2013). Definitions and Uses: Case Study of Teachers Implementing Project-based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal Of Problem-Based Learning, 7(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.7771/1541-5015.1323
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