Sean Arnold Supports Special Needs Students
“Knowing your students, that’s everything.” – Sean Arnold via Site Leaders Connect Interview
|Brave in the Attempt|
|NYC District 75|
|New York, NY|
What if, during your school day, you built worlds, went on virtual tours, and programmed robots? And what if these activities weren’t just fun and fascinating, but opportunities to grow your creativity, collaboration, and social skills? That’s exactly what’s happening in Sean Arnold’s class. Sean, a Tynker Blue Ribbon Educator, is a STEM coach and special needs educator in New York’s District 75, a district that serves special needs students. He teaches computer science and other technology concepts to students with significant special needs like autism and emotional disturbances. His first question for other teachers when they ask for edtech advice? “What do you want for your class, what do you want for your students?” Sean grounds his pedagogy in the needs, interests, and abilities of his students–and encourages other educators to do the same.
In an Insight Interview hosted by Site Leaders Connect, Sean discusses Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework that guides his teaching. When using UDL, teachers first identify what they want students to know, do, and care about; articulate barriers to these goals; and follow steps to break down the barriers. Those steps, like presenting content in various formats and giving students options for expressing what they know, are buckets into which Sean puts edtech tools so that his classrooms are always shaped by UDL principles. For example, he “created an AR experience in the lobby of the NYC District 75 offices to tell the story of disability advocacy.” By using multimedia to present information, Sean engages learners on a deeper level: “Quality AR experiences allow the viewers to walk around an object and see and interact with it from multiple angles…That gross motor activity can actually improve retention in our kinesthetic learners.”
Sean gives students many different tools for expressing what they know about computer science.These tools include robots and coding. With Tynker, Sean explains, “[Students] can build their own apps and program robots to bring their ideas to life.” And it’s not just technical knowledge that EdTech tools allow students to acquire and demonstrate: Minecraft facilitates creativity, collaboration, and social-emotional skills. Sean takes advantage of Tynker’s Minecraft integration to enhance the student experience. With Tynker, “students are able to design and modify existing games like Minecraft that they already love.”
Clearly, in Sean’s classes, tech tools serve specific purposes to help students reach learning goals, like better understanding the cultural context around their disabilities, developing CS and tech skills, and growing their persistence and social skills. All of this educational innovation stems from Sean’s powerful ‘why’: “I decided I was going to try to get as far away as possible from the boring teachers of my childhood. So I turned to games, technology, and student choice to begin to reach these ‘unreachable learners.’”
Thank you, Sean, for being an advocate for students with special needs and sharing your teaching practices with others. We’re excited to hear about the impact you’re making in education!
Read our previous post about Tynker Blue Ribbon Educator Janeen Cohen, who shapes her students’ views on technology for the better!