3 advances in special education instruction

Using Goalbook, a tool that enables teachers to personalize instruction for students through a blended approach, teachers are able to break down Common Core goals into IEP-ready objectives. The system makes it much easier to align the new standards with goals that already are outlined in a student’s IEP, Stewart said.

“I wish something like this had existed when I was a beginning teacher,” Stewart said. “General education teachers, especially … our new teachers, [also] are finding it really helpful, because many teachers in general are struggling with the Common Core transition.”

Robots for special education

More and more educators are finding that students with special needs respond well when interacting with robots. The NAO robot from Aldebaran Robotics has a sensor network that uses cameras for facial and object recognition, as well as microphones for voice commands and sound localization.

Teq, an ed-tech and professional development company, has formed a program called JumpStart NAO, which pairs its professional development services with the NAO robot to introduce students to STEM- and robotics-related fields.

But the robot also elicits an enthusiastic response from students with special needs, all of whom have different behaviors and learning goals that the robot helps to target through one-on-one or group interactions.

Part of NAO’s appeal is found in its design, said Joe Dixon, chief learning officer for Teq and a special-education teacher. “It’s humanoid in structure, and it has the ability to emote, but at the same time, students can be in control,” he said.

Aldebaran designed its ASK NAO program specifically for students with autism. Teachers create a “playlist” of tasks and goals for each student, and the robot is programmed to interact with that student, or with a group of students, and lead them through a series of interactions that pinpoint specific objectives. The interactions are captured and can be analyzed later.

Students also use NAO in unstructured ways, Dixon said, including free play or reading aloud to the robot.

“That’s the coolest thing about the robot—it’s really much more of a platform than a robot itself,” Dixon said. “You can create some really unique school ecosystems.”

Another social robot targeted to help students with autism comes from RoboKind, which has designed a robot with a human face. The robot uses CompuCompassion software to read an individual’s emotions and level of attentiveness, adjusting interactions accordingly to enable social engagement.

The company’s Robots4Autism program bridges academic success and developmental needs and is built for autism intervention. The robot, and a full curriculum for using it to teach students with autism, will be available toward the end of May.

The robot connects with a tablet computer, and the curriculum—designed by experts from the Collier Center at UT-Dallas and the Autism Treatment Center—includes 12 modules, containing about 50 video vignettes in all.

The curriculum is designed to help children with autism function in the real world. Its goals are to help students learn proper social behavior and to help students learn to react to emotional cues. The robot can simulate lifelike human facial expressions to help with this.

“These children need continuous repetition,” says Fred Margolin, founder and CEO of RoboKind. The robot can supply this repetition without showing anger or frustration.

Laura Ascione

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