Coding for Special Ed? It’s Real and It’s Helping

Last Updated: September 15, 2017 7:06 am
Coding for Special Ed? It’s Real and It’s Helping

Coding for Special Ed? It’s Real and It’s Helping

In education, there is no such thing as one-curriculum-fits-all. We have to bend, stretch, and re-work our curriculum to fit every type of learner. That creates some unique problems: how do you reach every student? What speaks to their learning styles and abilities? Kyleigh Westervelt is focusing on just those issues using Tynker at her school in Northern Philly. She’s also a Tynker Blue Ribbon Educator and is focusing on using coding to give her students more possibilities. 

Here’s a little more about Kyleigh:      

In her eight years of teaching, she’s taught pretty much anything you can think of – all the major subjects, gym, cooking, Spanish, even Business Law. This is her second year teaching coding at an urban school in North Philadelphia. Within the population of her school, there are over 200 Special Education students and over 300 ELLs. With those large numbers, she’s constantly trying to come up with different ways to reach all her students but especially those that typically struggle. You can reach her on Twitter at @westerveltk71

This week, Kyleigh shared her excitement of using Tynker with special populations: 

1. Your have experience working with every kind of students, including ELLs and students with special needs. How do you think Tynker can help them? 

I have seen Tynker really help some of my lower level students. The blocks are easy to follow for my ELL  students so they easily catch on to what is happening. When creating projects, even if they do not fully understand the goal in the beginning, they can match key terms from my request to a specific block and their eyes light up when they hit play and realize what they just coded their actors to do. I have had Special Education teachers come to me and tell me that their students remembered learning something in my class that connected to theirs. The students were able to explain what they did in Tynker and connect it to the concept they were being taught. Another way that I think Tynker helps is it really gives some students confidence. I had a seventh grade student last year that was amazing at Tynker and flew through all of his lessons with ease. He got an A+ in my class. He came to me, smile from ear to ear, and told me that was the first A he had gotten. He was so proud of his accomplishments.

2. What is it about coding that speaks to the “whole child”? 

With Tynker, students are able to use all parts of their brain. They are able to problem-solve and use skills learned in their core subjects to figure out what to do in a lesson. They also get to be creative and use their imagination. They are using higher-level thinking skills, while still being able to be silly kids. 

“I have had Special Education teachers come to me and tell me that their students remembered learning something in my class that connected to theirs.” 


3. What is it about Tynker that makes working with special populations different or exciting? 

Tynker is set up to ease students into learning new concepts. They are guided through the how and why of a new skill and then are able to build upon these concepts on their own. They do not really see it as work, so they are willing and excited to learn these new skills. 

4. Do you believe that work with Tynker and coding skills can help your students in other classes? How? 

Coding/ Tynker can definitely help students develop their skills in other classes. I try to make the connection between what is done in my class to their other classes as often as possible and the students have started to make their own connections. It helps them with computer skills, which can translate into other classes. It also reinforces math skills such as the coordinate grid and translations.  

5. What do you hear students say about about these activities, and how do you think it’s impacting their education? 

My students have so many positive things to say about Tynker. I mentioned to a couple students about starting an after-school coding club, and I have had about 20 kids come up to me asking when the permission slips will be handed out. Even my new 5th graders are asking after only a couple classes together. I have had multiple teachers come to me to tell me about how excited their students are to come to my class and how they are connecting what I have taught them to their other classes.


Thanks again, Kyleigh! We’ll look for you on Twitter at @westerveltk71


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About Daniel Rezac

Daniel Rezac is the Head of Education Partnerships at Tynker. He's been a science teacher, a technology coach, STEAM Coordinator, and school Tech Director working with students from Pre-K to adults. Feel free to reach out to him at daniel [at]