Jan 26 2022

Special Education Departments Explore Advanced Technology in Their Classrooms

STEM showcases the skills of K–12 special education students and helps them gain independence.

At Val Verde Unified School District, Darren Crist’s classroom was the first with a 3D printer.

“I told my kids it was coming. We went on Christmas break. They came back already knowing how to use programs and what it can do and can’t do,” says Crist, a special education teacher at the district’s elementary school.

The students were so excited to use a new technology that no one else in the school had, he says. “I saw a lot of students really taking an initiative to learn how to do this on their own.”

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Since the introduction of the 3D printer, Crist has brought other technologies — typically reserved for advanced programs in science, technology, engineering and math — into his lessons. His students learn robotics, coding, computer-aided design and more, and they’re exposed to artificial intelligence and devices ranging from digital assistants to Chromebooks. Crist began using this technology in his special education classes when he saw how important the skills would be to his students for future jobs.

WATCH NOW: Special education teachers use technology with a focus on vocation.

Special Education Students Learn Skills for Their Future

In the early 2000s, a friend of Crist’s father was bemoaning the operational cost of his company’s new 3D printer. While he loved the technology, the company had to pay an engineer $60,000 to $70,000 “just to babysit this printer,” Crist explains. “That inspired me to get my students working with the technology. If somebody had knowledge of that technology, they could make a good living wage without necessarily going to college.”

Crist was looking for career pathways for his students in the technology field, which he felt would set them up for future success. Though he began this integration in the early 2000s, there are even more jobs available in technology today.


The percentage increase in technology job postings in Q3 2021 compared with the same quarter in 2020

Source: dice.com, “Dice Q3 Tech Job Report,” Nov. 18, 2021

In addition to developing tech skills for future careers, Crist also found that working with STEM devices and programs helped his special education students with their schoolwork and independence.

“It got them to take responsibility for their own learning, and it allowed me to use that when they’re having a hard time in reading or math,” he explains. “When they say, ‘I can’t do this,’ I say, ‘What are you talking about? You learned how to code a 3D printer overnight. What do you mean you can’t do four plus four?’”

The technology is helping to teach his students, as young as third and fourth grade, that they can be independent and responsible — in many ways, a more important lesson learned than all their 3D printing, robotics and other STEM skills.

Watch the full video to learn more about technology in special education classrooms.

Using Educational Technology to Grow and Share Produce

Students at San Bernardino City Unified School District cultivate their skills alongside their produce. One of the district’s high schools is home to the various types of hydroponics systems that special education students use to grow foods ranging from lettuce to five different types of basil. They track the crops’ progress and journey with QR codes.

“The students scan the QR code and then mark the number of plants harvested and where the plants were delivered to,” says Barbara Pastuschek, special education teacher at San Andreas High School. “That helps us keep track of how many we grew, how many we had seeded to begin with, how many came out of the seeding and when we were able to transfer seedlings.”

The lessons don’t end when the produce is ready to harvest. The students also work on a website to market and share their bounty.

“The students input photographs, videos of different kinds of recipes, what health benefits come with the produce and the growing history of the produce as well,” Pastuschek says.

KEEP READING: Technology is reinventing arts education for K–12 students.

Her students do all the work of updating the website, including capturing photos and videos. One of Pastuschek’s special education students particularly enjoys the videography work and is very skilled with editing productions in Adobe Creative Cloud programs. Working with this technology has allowed him to come out of his shell.

“He used to not make eye contact, and he was very shy in public,” Pastuschek says. “And now he’s at the forefront of everything. He loves making movies. He loves talking to the elementary students.”

izusek/Getty Images

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