Robotics and STEAM Education for Children with Special Educational Needs and in Inclusive Classrooms (Erasmus+)

The international experience gained through Erasmus+ projects has provided from the beginning the participants with multiple opportunities to train and exchange experiences concerning the good practices of the education systems of various countries, combining in a pleasant and useful way the possibility to travel and study, but also with intercultural awareness, aiming to integrate common educational and formative values.

During 26 November – 2 December 2022, it took place in Aviles, Spain, the training course “Robotics and STEAM education for kids with special needs and inclusive classroom” developed within the project under the title „Connecting, We Grow”, no. reference 2022-1-R001-KA121-SCH-000064315, included in the Erasmus+ Program, KAI SCH, attended by 4 teachers of the Special Professional School “St. Nicolas” Bucharest.

The project was initiated with the aim of facilitating the integration of students with special educational needs and reducing the risk of school dropout, by using a new set of learning modules, based on active learning, providing students and teachers with work-procedure sets using robots and simple programming techniques.

The course developed within the Erasmus+ programme was designed as a practical, innovative approach to the educational process at any level. Developing creative thinking, solving problem situations, developing decision-making skills and integrating students with special educational needs were the basic principles of the course.

Within the trip setting in Aviles, Spain, the training activities organised by the InterRobotics, the partner institution, were systematically presented so as to enable the gradual introduction into the world of robots and STEAM education, providing teachers with information on the tools and resources needed to use specific education concepts today.

A first aspect of the course was a presentation of learning from the innovative perspective of STEAM education through screen-free activities and T.I.C. Thus, STEAM Education proposes a new approach to learning that aims to develop children from a multidisciplinary perspective. Originated from English, the acronym STEAM refers to five domains: S(science), T(technology), E(engineering), A(arts), M(mathematics), that creates a multidisciplinary learning environment and gives students the chance to solve real problems, making use of some innovative learning techniques such as: teamwork, team collaboration, asking relevant questions, looking for important information to discover the best solutions.

STEAM education makes it easy for children to gradually enter the world of robots and digital applications. Thus, several digital applications have been presented that can be used in any instructive-educational activity of students with special educational needs and of those from inclusive classes: Canva, Mentimeter, AhaSlides.

Innovative aspects of applications have been highlighted as useful tools for teachers in creating different materials for working with students. Whether they allow for interactive handouts or movies (Canva), whether they are used in knowledge testing or simply for amusement (Mentimeter), the applications presented can be particularly engaging tools in working with students with special educational needs or those integrated into inclusive classes.

Also mentioned were the instructive-educational aspects of screen-free activities (without devices) and T.I.C in the same lesson. Particularly suited to preschoolers and small schoolchildren, this type of activities allows creating 2D characters on 16/16 arrays, first drawing them, and then, using colored beads to be placed one by one in the form of a character. These activities, with an impontant role in the development of attention, can be continued with the realization of concrete objects using specific techniques of hot pressing, thus resulting in a palpable character for the child.

Specific to the scree-free activities are also the ARTEC cubes with which students can build various forms. The use of these materials contributes to the education of spatial perception of children.

T.I.C. Tasks on tablets or laptops can help students create 2D characters with Piskel and ScratchJr apps.

Based on the 16/16 matrix model, the Piskel app represents a digital transposition of the beaded character, thus facilitating the consolidation of mathematical knowledge and implicitly contributing to the development of logical thinking.

Supporting the development of logical thinking to the same extent, the ScratchJr app can be used by the teacher to create animated stories intended for preschool children or small schoolchildren,  or even by older children to make their own stories by choosing their character(s), scene/decor, movements.

Another step in the course of training in Robotics and STEAM education was the presentation of activities to stimulate spatial perception. Starting with the games of constructing various forms out of Artec cubes, these activities can get complicated as children understand the algorithm of construction, reaching the level of more complex figures (towers from several figures, the assembly of several figures in a predetermined form).

The Tinkercad and Usecubes applications also support spatial perception stimulation. TINKERCAD is an online 3D modeling program used for building models for 3D printing as well as teaching geometry in schools. TINKERCAD offers many more possibilities for its use, helping to create and print 3D teaching material or any other objects we want.

The last part of the course handled the subject of introducing the programming of simple robots. Starting from the little Mouse, designed as a toy that does not require programming and can be used in lateral learning, the presentation continued with the Ozobot robot, a spherical robot that requires programming using the OzoBlockly app. Designed for teaching purposes to be used in mathematical activities, science or communication, these tools stimulate classroom activities and motivate student participation. The same programming system is being used by the Dash robot, using the OzoBlockly app. The Sphero Mini is ideal for teachers, making it a perfect tool for students in terms of STEAM education. For beginners there are applications such as the Sphero Play App, and the most advanced can program themselves using the Block Based Coding or Java Script encoding program. The Sphero Mini is more than just a robot. It is perfect for introducing beginners in robotics and programming.

The final part of the presentation was the actual programming of a robot. By following each step in building a robot, from making a character out of ARTEC cubes to animating it through the attached motherboard, programming first involves using the STUDUINO coding program. By programming the motherboard and attaching engines to it you can get a functional robot that moves and executes different movements. You can attach light or motion sensors to it that you also need to program.

The “Robotics and STEAM education for kids with special needs and inclusive classroom” course was disseminated within the Special Professional School “Saint Nicolae” and materialized through the realization of an optional curriculum called “Robots tell stories” by the team of teachers trained in Spain, thus becoming a discipline conducted weekly within the school.

Lessons from the discipline “Robots tell stories” are intended for students with moderate impairments from the preparatory class to the VIII-th grade, during which they are gradually introduced into the world of robot stories, starting from the first notions specific to STEAM education to the construction of figures and characters from Artec cubes, then continuing with the use of simple applications (Piskel, ScratchJr) and ending with the introduction to robot programming.

It can be considered that the conduct of activities within the discipline “Robots tell stories” opens new innovative directions in the development of student-specific education with special educational needs,  significantly contributing to the improvement of skills for using various innovative teaching methods and techniques centred on students, and to the development of transversal skills, as well as to the development of digital skills.

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Felicia Iacob, educator teacher
Valentina Mănescu, special psychopedagogy teacher
Special Professional School „St. Nicolas”, Bucharest

prof. Valentina Mănescu

Școala Profesională Specială Sf. Nicolae (Bucureşti) , România
Profil iTeach:

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