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Using Technology to Teach STEM to Special Needs Students

In the 2014-2015 school year, 6.6 million or 13 percent of all public school students received special education services as National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports in "Children and Youth with Disabilities." NCES has also found that, in 2014, 62 percent of students spent 80 percent or more of their school day in general education classrooms.

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education can occur in any classroom including special education. Typically, STEM education takes place in general education classes.

For students with special needs to succeed in STEM subjects, they will need supports like technology. Technology provides accommodations, levels the playing field and gives students access to the same content as other students.

How to Use Technology to Teach STEM to Students in Special Education

"How Tech Can Help Students With Disabilities Thrive in STEM Education" says that schools can adapt anything for students with special needs by making accommodations. The pervasiveness of technology has removed the stigma of using it in the classroom. Students are more comfortable with using technology as they do not feel like it draws attention to them.

With more mobile devices showing up in the classroom, teachers can also use interactive learning apps to engage students. These apps can maintain students' attentions better than pens, paper and textbooks, especially for those with attention challenges. For instance, students can use a STEM-related learning app to virtually dissect animals.

Many devices have built-in text-to-speech and text resizing features. Those who need instruction or information can watch short video clips on their mobile devices.

Some students struggle with communicating or expressing themselves. Students with autism, cerebral palsy, speech delays and Down syndrome find it easier to communicate by using technology. Those who have trouble with reading use technology to read text aloud as they follow along with the words.

Benefits of Using Technology to Teach STEM to Students in Special Education

Technology can reduce or remove barriers to STEM education for students receiving special education services.

Applying technology in STEM education offers these benefits:

  • Personalizes learning.
  • Increases independence.
  • Decreases anxiety.
  • Helps students connect with peers.
  • Allows students to communicate.
  • Speeds work.
  • Improves academic skills.

"How Special Education Technology Improves Learning" tells the story of a student with cerebral palsy who could not write sentences or speak. The teacher showed the student how to use a tablet. After receiving the device, the student started writing sentences. Because of this, teachers gained new insight into the child's cognitive abilities.

Types of Technology Used in STEM Education

"Assistive Technology in the Classroom" in Education World reports that there are more than 4,000 assistive technologies available.

Some technologies used in STEM education include:

  • Apps: Software on computers and devices engages the student in STEM topics with interactive content aligned with the curriculum.
  • Communication boards: Student communicates using electronic board or tablet by selecting words or pointing to a picture, symbol or letter.
  • Text-to-speech: Many computers, devices and apps come with a built-in feature that reads text out loud.
  • Tablets: Tablets allow students to read, watch videos, interact with visual tools and use text-to-speech.
  • Voice-recognition technology: Students who need alternatives for a keyboard or touchscreen interactions can control their computer or device with their voices.

The right technology ensures students have equal access to STEM education. At the same time, students gain independence, collaborate with peers and increase self-confidence.

Learn more about the UTPB online Master of Arts in Special Education program.


Education World: Assistive Technology in the Classroom

ISTE: How Special Education Technology Improves Learning

EdTech Focus on K-12: How Tech Can Help Students With Disabilities Thrive in STEM Education

National Center for Education Statistics: Children and Youth with Disabilities

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