This past summer my summer was filled with maker camps. I was the main driving force behind four different camps both in the Atlanta area, south of Macon GA, and in Alabama. These camps are structured around giving kids the opportunity to make and create using robotics, crafts, circuits, and more.
When you get a camp like this, your first goal is to get students to learn something new. The second goal is to have fun. When you think about it, those should be the same goals of schools! If we accomplish those two things, the camp will be a success!
The one thing you know can happen, but there is really no way to prepare for is getting kids to your camps who have special needs. We experienced it first hand with at least three kids between our two camps at the end of June who fell somewhere on the autism spectrum. What makes that tough, is there is no background on the student. We were figuring it out on the fly, and as we all know there are many different forms and levels of autism that affect a students ability to learn.
The amazing thing is we had tools and experiences built right into what we're doing that all three students were not only able to do, but they also excelled at. Those items got us to our most important goals with those students: learn something and have fun! It was an eye opening experience!
One of the most useful tools we had with those students were our Osmos. Osmo is an awesome platform for learning that uses software and the camera on the Ipad to provide feedback to students as they work with tactile objects in front of the screen. They have games that teach vocabulary, math, financial, problem-solving, and a host of other skills. The beauty of this is that it's not just a traditional quiz based personalized learning platform. There are real world tasks to do, with real objects, which give you multiple ways to get to the same answer.
It was an incredible tool for our autistic students. It allowed them to learn with authentic play in a way that worked for them. One of my favorite things to watch was those students playing Pizza Co. Pizza Company is a game that requires the user to make a pizza that suits a customer (which appears on the Ipad screen), and then give them the required change. Think about the benefit here. You are having students who struggle with social cues practice in a way that they won't be judged or feel threatened. On top of that, they are learning an essential life skill.
Are there other tools that would fit these students? Absolutely! Seeing the benefit that these students took from Osmo just makes want to design more activities for them. This experience opened my eyes even more to the power of authentic play and creation, and I just want to keep the push going!