Education students learn, teach tech with special-needs youth

Education students learn, teach tech with special-needs youth

Story imageLast winter, Wagner College joined forces with Tech Kids Unlimited to teach special-needs youngsters about technology — and teach Wagner education students how to teach tech to special-needs youth.

The program, called Wagner TecKids U Lab, staged four Sunday afternoon “maker parties” for the 31 participating youngsters. The “parties” were actually technology training exercises, structured to be fun, where students designed websites, a digital game app and various DIY projects such as a light-up holiday card.

“It was geared to kids who learn differently, particularly those on the higher end of the autism spectrum,” explained Wagner education professor David Gordon, who led the program with Tech Kids founder Beth Rosenberg.

Students eligible for the program were those identified by public or private schools on Staten Island with special learning needs.

“Typically, special needs students are rarely given the opportunity to be [technology] creators and makers during in- or after-school programs,” said Beth Rosenberg, yet “it is exactly these students who seem to have a natural proficiency for technology concepts because of their neurological differences.”

The program began last November with special training for the 23 Wagner College education students, both graduate and undergraduate, who would be leading the “maker parties,” introducing them to technology as well as autism education.

“It was a great, real-life learning experience for our students,” Gordon said, “and it exposed special-needs youth to technology, giving them tools to become the digital producers of tomorrow.”

There was also a significant social element to each of the 2-hour “parties” for the special-needs students, with 75 minutes of tech teaching time followed by 45 minutes of socialization time with snacks and games designed to promote social and emotional learning.

“When I found out about this program, it was a great relief,” said one parent of a participating special-needs student. “I’ve been involved with Wagner before for swimming and robotics camps, but my son has never found a program that seems to fit so well with his specific interests — and having something so close, that he likes going to, makes all the difference for both of us.”

The Wagner teaching students found the program equally rewarding.

“Working with TKU has been educational, enriching and fun!” said graduate student Megan Duffy. “It was truly wonderful to watch the students build and customize their own video games. At the end of the last session, there were many students who asked when the next workshop was!”

More Sunday afternoon programs are planned for the coming fall, along with two one-week programs this summer. For more information, email Professor David Gordon (david.gordon@wagner.edu).

The Wagner TecKids U Lab was enabled through a partnership with the Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network. It was supported with a grant from the New York Community Trust through the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund.

For more information about Wagner TecKids U Lab, visit the Hive NYC website.