7 Steps to Organize Maker Education for Students with Special Needs

As a teacher, your job is to meet the learning needs of all the children in your classroom. This is not always easy when you are planning lessons for a wide range of ability levels. Setting up a makerspace in your school or classroom can help you plan activities that will address the learning needs of all the students in your classroom. In this article, we’ll highlight seven steps you should take to help you create a makerspace that will meet the needs of your students with special needs. Though, many of the tips we share could also benefit all the learners in your class.

7 Steps to Organize Maker Education for Students with Special Needs

Special Education

Special education is a special intervention in which students with learning disabilities receive additional support to help them access the curriculum. Special education programs can look very different from school to school, or even within a school. Students receiving special education services have an IEP (individualized education plan) that was developed to describe the accommodations they need to ensure they will be able to find success.

Students receiving special education services have varying needs. In order to qualify to receive services, students must have a documented disability that is covered by the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and needs additional supports and accommodations to help them access the skills and concepts covered in the curriculum. Some of the common disabilities that are covered by the IDEA include autism, intellectual disability, and hearing impairment. Dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder, visual processing issues, and other specific learning disabilities are also included in the IDEA. If you’re interested in learning more about special education, signing up for a special education course is always a good idea. This article highlights 14 of the best online special education courses.

In some schools, special education students learn in a general education class and receive their accommodations from a special education teacher, para educator, and/or the classroom teacher. In other schools, special education students are taught in a separate classroom with only other students to receive accommodations. They may join their grade-level peers for a class or two, but the majority of the instruction they receive is only with other students who have IEPs.

In her TEDx Talk, Gabi Telemaco shares her experiences with the Skyline Peer Connections Program. In this program, special education students are integrated into classes with general education students. They are provided a peer mentor to provide them with support as they work through the grade-level material.

Gabi shares how the Peer Connections program not only benefits the special education students but also offers benefits for the peer mentors. She says that the program provides all students with the opportunity to form new friendships and experience different teachers and teaching styles.

Gabi also shares how participating in the Peer Connections program helped her form strong opinions about education and special education. She explains how chaotic it was to be in the special education classroom since there were so many different students with varying levels of ability and need. Gabi explains that grouping all special education students together is doing them a disservice and says she dreams of a day where students will be grouped together for classes based on their learning styles, not their ability levels. With this type of grouping, Gabi explains, students could benefit from more hands-on learning through labs and projects geared towards their specific learning style.

Makerspaces

Gabi’s dream of project-based learning is becoming a reality in many schools that have created a makerspace for students. A makerspace is a space within a school or classroom where students are able to invent, create, and experiment through hands-on learning. In a makerspace, students have access to various materials, tools, and other supplies they can use to become scientists, artists, mathematicians, and innovators. Makerspaces allow students to learn by doing, which not only makes learning more engaging and exciting but is also often more effective at solidifying the learning.

Jason Wik and Gabriel Wilkes hosted a TEDx Talk where they explained how makerspaces can help us find and cultivate our next innovators. They share that makerspaces allow students to engage in 21st century STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) learning.

Makerspaces can help the student learn and practice skills related to topics like electronics 3D modeling, coding, and robotics. Jason and Gabriel share that our students can benefit from an innovation-infused curriculum in which they will learn how to take a creative idea or innovation and apply it to solve a real-world need.

Makerspaces can be used for students in all grade levels. Since both general education and special education students can benefit from the hands-on learning and experimenting that takes place in a makerspace, all students should have the opportunity to use the makerspace.

If you don’t already have a makerspace set up in your school or classroom, now is the time to set one up. This article called “How to Start a School Makerspace-7 Easy Steps,”(https://mytechclassroom.com/how-to-start-a-school-makerspace/) can help you learn what you’ll need to do to get your space up and ready for student use. If you already have a makerspace, or after you get your new space set up, these articles can help you find makerspace activities for elementary school students (NEW link) and makerspace projects for middle school students (NEW link)

7 Steps to Create Makerspace for Students with Special Needs

So, now that you’re beginning to see the benefits of using a makerspace for your special education students, you’re probably wondering just what you should do to get the space set up. Doing some planning, thinking about the ages and specific needs of the students you teach and considering any other special factors can help you ensure that the space you create will offer everything your students will need to succeed.

The Building Diverse Makerspaces Webinar, hosted by Tyler Downing, is a great resource for learning more about makerspaces and how you can create a makerspace that will be inclusive for all the learners in your classroom. This webinar also addresses best practices for promoting diversity in a makerspace and ensuring that all students have equal access to materials and content.

In the sections below, we’ve laid out seven key considerations to help you create the perfect makerspace to meet the needs of your students with special needs. These include choosing the tools for space, creating the right environment, choosing flexible furniture, offering quiet spaces, testing students’ skills, achieving flow learning, and making sure each student is provided with the opportunity to experience success.

1. Choosing the Tools

One of the characteristics of a makerspace is a well-stocked area where students will have access to the tools and materials they’ll need to experiment, design, explore, and learn. When creating a makerspace for the special education students in your classroom, you’ll want to make sure you have the right tools and supplies to support their learning and allow them to complete the tasks and projects you want them to.

Choosing the Tools

Below, you’ll find some essential tools you’ll want to stock up on for your makerspace. For additional ideas, you can check out this article.

  • Carboard
  • Construction paper
  • Craft sticks
  • Various types of tape
  • Battery packs
  • batteries
  • LEDs
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Foam board
  • Binder clips
  • Paper clips
  • PVC pipes
  • Zip ties
  • String
  • Brads
  • Rubber bands
  • Straws
  • Painter’s tape
  • Hot glue gun/sticks

2. The Makerspace Environment

Providing students with the right makerspace environment to meet their needs is another key thing to consider when planning your space. First, it is important to make sure that all students feel welcome in the space and are comfortable working in it. When adding posters and signs to your area, be sure to pick ones that represent the diversity of the students in your classroom.

The Makerspace Environment

It is also important that the different learners in your class are able to collaborate with one another as they work to complete the different makerspace projects you plan. You want to take steps to make sure that all the students in your class are respectful of one another and know how to cooperatively and respectfully work together. This will help ensure that all students see the makerspace as a positive area in the classroom where they can enjoy discovering new things.

3. Flexible Furniture

Having the right furniture in your space can help make sure all of your students are able to comfortably work on the makerspace activities and projects you plan out. Flexible furniture pieces can help you reach this goal. Flexible furniture allows students to work in different ways depending on the task they are completing. For example, flip top tables can be easily transformed into a larger space where a group of students can work together on a project. If students aren’t working on a project, the flip-top tables can be readjusted to be used as a table for just one student.

Flip Top Tables

One way you can easily modify your existing furniture to make it more makerspace friendly is to add casters to your tables. The addition of casters allows you to transform smaller tables into tinkering tables that can be moved around the space as needed. This will be very handy for a variety of projects that students may be working on in the makerspace.

When you are selecting furniture for your space, opt for tables that have a work surface made from hardwood. A hardwood surface will last longer than other materials, so it will help you get the most out of your investment. Hardwood can be refinished or sanded-down if it gets too heavily used, whereas others made from other materials may need to be completely replaced.

4. Quiet Spaces

A makerspace is typically a noisy environment, but not necessarily in a bad way. Students working in a makerspace are engaged in experiments that may be noisy, are discussing hypotheses and procedures with their peers, and maybe working with noisy tools. Many students are able to learn and work just fine in this type of environment. However, some students, including some of your special education students may need a quiet space they can use when the makerspace becomes too overwhelming for them.

Some students may have trouble focusing on their work when there are a number of other distractions around them. Others may have sensory issues and may become overwhelmed by all the noise around them. Having an alternative space in your classroom where students can work if the makerspace becomes too noisy or overwhelming for them can help ensure that you are meeting the needs of all of your learners and providing everyone with a chance to access the learning.

5. Skills Testing

Learning with a makerspace looks different from traditional instruction, so it only makes sense that assessment will look different too. In addition to learning content related to a specific activity or project, students are also working on a wide variety of skills as they complete different experiments, crafts, and other projects. These skills include, but definitely aren’t limited to, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and risk-taking.

Skills Testing

Clearly, these skills can’t be assessed using traditional paper-and-pencil tasks. There are a few different methods you can use to see how your students are doing with developing and building on these skills that are important not only in the makerspace but in everyday life. One way you could assess these skills is by periodically observing your students as they are completing a project. You can take anecdotal notes about how they collaborate with others, what they do when they face something that is challenging, how they express themselves creatively, and so on. As the year progresses and you conduct these observations a few other times, you can assess how each student has built on their skills and made improvements.

Another way you may choose to assess these skills is by having students explain what each skill means and how they used it on a given task. Again, you can compare their understanding of what the skill is and how they shared they used it from different makerspace projects throughout the year.

6. Flow Learning

Without flow learning, your special education students (and your general education students) will not be able to master the concepts and learning associated with a certain unit of study. When flow learning occurs, students are intently focused on the challenging task in front of them and find satisfaction from rising to the task and searching for success.

A Hungarian psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the termed flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are three things that must happen in order for students to achieve a state of flow with their learning. The goals of the task must be clear and within the student’s skill set and ability level, both the skill level and challenge level must be high, and the student must receive immediate and specific feedback that allows them to modify their approach towards solving the problem or completing a task.

One essential component of flow learning is intrinsic motivation. In order for students to be fully engaged and invested in performing well, they must be motivated and have a desire to succeed. Without flow, students can’t truly master a concept. However, flow is just one of the pieces of the mastery puzzle, so it alone does not guarantee that students will master the content. However, with flow, students will be engaged and invested in learning and will want to try their best to succeed.

7. Opportunity for Success

Finally, when creating a makerspace for your students, including your special education students, it is essential to evaluate whether your space provides an opportunity for all students to succeed. You want to make sure that your space does not cater only to general education students. Rather, a makerspace should be an inclusive space that ensures that all learners have an equal opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.

Opportunity for Success

To make sure that your makerspace is providing this equal access to success for all students, there are a few key things you’ll want to do. First, take time to plan out space and each activity. Add visual cues to provide support for students who may have a language barrier or may not be able to read and follow written directions. The visual cues you provide should offer the support students need to understand the problem and the task at hand.

Differentiation of the activities and projects you offer your students will also be important. Since every students’ needs are different (even within a special education class), it is important to ensure that the activities, materials, and directions each student receives will allow them to access the learning.

Final Thoughts

Special education students will have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning as they experiment, create, and design in a makerspace. This hands-on learning will not only be very engaging for your special education students, it will also help them form deep connections and retain the information they learn.

All learners in a classroom can benefit from a makerspace. Whether you work with elementary school students, high school students, special education students, English language learners, or any other population group, you’ll be amazed by how well students learn when you begin using a makerspace. If you’re looking for other ways to help you meet the needs of the students in your class, these articles feature some of the best online courses for early childhood education, TESOL certification, and TEFL certification.

Last Updated on September 11, 2020 by Emily

Emily/ author of the article

Emily is an active mother of two and a dedicated elementary school teacher. She believes the latest technology has made a huge impact on the quality of early learning and has worked hard to upgrade her classroom and her own children’s learning experience through technology.
She created this blog to make it easier for other teachers to take advantage of some of the best devices out there to upgrade their classrooms without having to do the research themselves. She loves to hear your tech-based problems and share her extensive experience :)

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