Excerpt

Scratch 4 Disability (S4D) is a project to promote a research and action proposal in the use of coding, and in particular of “Scratch,” for educational and rehabilitation purposes through the involvement of students with disabilities.

General Information

Website

http://www.associazionedschola.it/s4d

Case Study Provider

Dschola

Name of the institution

DSchola

Responsible person

Alberto Barbero

Contact details

alberto.barbero@vallauri.edu

Other links to online materials

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pqC6bMJMFVf04AhoxzSDqVWqIkUmIJ2k/view?usp=sharing

https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/4208418/

Geographical area applied

Piedmont, Italy

Place of origin

Torino, Italy

Timeline of the project

2017 to date

Kind of organization in which the initiative takes place

Other

Narrative, origins and objectives of the initiative

What kind of project is this? Please give a short description (summary) of it.

Scratch 4 Disability (S4D) is a project to promote a research and action proposal in the use of coding, and in particular of “Scratch,” for educational and rehabilitation purposes through the involvement of students with disabilities.

It has been known for some time now that technologies applied to the field of disability can provide a compensatory advantage for some types of afflictions. Researchers at Dschola argue that coding cannot only be a compensating instrument but also an alternate tool for conveying different concepts. The visual abstraction of Scratch helps to simplify procedures and processes that develop the students’ attention, analysis and creative solutions to problems. Through a different cross action that does not necessarily provide the standard answer to the question, coding can become a tool for collaboratively building knowledge. With this in mind, the project has proposed research based on Evidence-based Learning. It has sought to train support teachers, educators and speech therapists who work daily with variously disabled children in the use of Scratch and coding as an IT tool for the rehabilitation and recovery of specific learning disorders.

Using this method of research and data analysis, the S4D project aims to train teachers and health professionals by enabling them to design learning pathways, collect data and analyze progress (or regresses) in specific cognitive, motor or sensory areas.

The project was launched in the 2017-18 school year with the aim to:

  • offer free training courses to support teachers, educators and speech therapists interested in experimentation;
  • enable trainees to operate with Scratch modalities through problem posing and solving activities;
  • promote a research-action project for the involvement of students with disabilities or special educational needs in the use of Scratch and coding with educational and rehabilitative purposes;
  • introduce teachers to data collection through shared research-action matrices oriented to Evidence-based Learning;
  • collect the most significant experiences and share them during a public event or a publication and, if necessary, to propose the improvements to the project.

Please tell us why, in general, this project is considered a successful one?

The S4D project should be considered positive because it has allowed for the training of about 200 support teachers working in 50 different schools in Piedmont, as well as a large number of disabled students to be introduced to the use of coding in a context where it had not yet been applied, i.e., in the field of diversability. For support teachers, on the one hand, coding has been revealed as a tool to personalize the intervention (in the case of an instrumental use of software) and on the other an opportunity to promote a motivating and rewarding learning experience focused on the development of transverse skills.

In addition, for the ten or so social-health professionals who have experimented with it, it has become a tool that allowed them to customize their interventions in educational and speech-related work.

In the province of Cuneo an excellent synergy has been created between teachers and social-health workers that leads to the creation of school-work projects aimed at supporting social and health workers in the development of software for their users.

Finally, there are already requests for the repetition of the project for the next school year and for the start of the same project in other regions of Italy.

And why would you consider it a grass-roots initiative?

S4D is a grass-roots project because it originates from activities carried out in the classroom. The creator of the project, Prof. Alberto Barbero, has been involved in coding, and specifically in “Scratch”, the software developed at MIT used to promote the coding, for years. Prof. Barbero is also responsible for the students with special needs education and with dyslexia in his school (IIS Vallauri di Fossano). From his experience, from the research of the group of teachers who work in Dschola and from international literature, he formed the belief that coding can also be an instrument of inclusion. From this base the Scratch 4 Disability project originates. Designed by the Dschola research group, the project has also been opened to educators and social-health professionals, mainly speech rehabilitators. With the help of Prof. Parola of the Faculty of Primary Education at the University of Turin, a tool for planning and collecting experiences has been created providing for systematic research.

What challenges needed to be solved in this project?

There were two main challenges that had to be taken into account in the project. One was the training of teachers and socio-health workers who could find in coding an ally in designing and managing educational interventions more effectively. The other challenge was to custom code applications so as to better calibrate the interventions based on the problem in which we wanted to intervene. According to this last aspect, four ways of using the tool have been identified, all of which represent different levels of detail:

Instrumental use: the teacher builds the artifact and uses it as an activity for his student. Scratch is used by the teacher who builds the code and the student uses it as a user.

Guided use: the teacher explains to the pupil the objective to be achieved and assists and guides the student in the process of building the project.

Creative use: the teacher gives the student a basic artifact, with some basic instructions (add scenography, characters, colors, etc.) and asks the pupil to choose what to do and how to improve the artifact.

Problematic use: the teacher poses a problem and asks the student to solve it using Scratch.

The introduction and systematization of these 4 methods of use are a novelty in the coding panorama because they try to define the areas of use of the tool, filling a design gap.

These uses can obviously be combined and calibrated according to the student and his level of competence.

Is this initiative based on any particular theoretical framework? Which one?

There are three theoretical frameworks used in this project: design by skills; narration and argumentation; Evidence-based Learning. In particular:

 

Skills planning: it is a question of proposing training interventions linked to the development of a competence that can be found in the National Guidelines (in 2010 for the second level of secondary school, and in 2012 for the first level). Only by bringing attention to interdisciplinary and skills-related projects is it possible to show the value of coding in schools and in the field of disability.

 

Narration and argumentation: this approach seeks to find a logical sense of the project embedded in a wider scope of inclusive activities. The goal is to make sure that the subject of learning does not isolate itself in the new tool but, through it, is able to communicate its feelings, its needs and its objectives.

 

Evidence-based Learning: refers to the research area for the collection of significant results. The motivation to implement it in this project is aimed at researching and analyzing the data collected; to look for a meaning to that initial question - can coding be an effective and optimized tool for inclusion?

 

(Appendix) Is your intervention standing on its own or is it a part of a bigger and more holistic approach?

The project is intended as a replicable model: it can be used on its own or as part of a larger activity involving students with disabilities in schools or rehabilitation centers, etc.

Please describe the group(s) intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Why has this group (have these groups) been chosen?

It was decided to choose students with disabilities as beneficiaries of this initiative with the aim of determining the use of coding in teaching and rehabilitation. The project is therefore aimed at training to support teachers and socio-health workers (in particular speech therapists) who dealt with problems related to the world of disability on a daily basis. The aim was to train them and then get the experience of coding to students with special educational needs.

Could you please tell us something about the relative size of the (of each) target group, within the school/university population, region and/or country?

The formation of the project involved about 200 support and curricular teachers and 10 socio-health workers throughout the region. The trained teachers were then able to experiment with the use of coding with about one hundred disabled students from their own schools. The socio-health workers (in particular speech therapists) have been able to do the same with the children they followed in their health facilities.

Which social characteristics are taken into account and what is the geographical area covered?

The geographic area is that of Piedmont, Italy and in particular students with special educational needs and those with problems related to disabilities.

On which level is the project implemented?

The project is primarily designed for those of the actual or intellectual age involving junior high school (ages 12-14) and high school (ages 15-18).

Please describe the political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Did the initiative have political support?

The problem of inclusion is very much felt in national school policies. Since 1992, disabled children have been able to attend high schools with the assistance of support teachers who are provided by the Government and paid for by the community. Since 2010, the concept of inclusion has been widened to include all students with special education needs, including those with specific learning disorders, ADHD, border-line cases, students with cultural or linguistic problems, linguistic or economic-social disadvantages, etc.

How did it fit with local, regional or national policies?

The project is fully a part of the national school policies of the law called "Buona scuola", which introduces the theme of coding within the guidelines of the computer science discipline, and of the PNSD (National Digital School Plan) which encourages the use of digital and ICT (Information Communication Technology) in ordinary teaching.

In terms of regional policies, the project was carried out in collaboration with the CTS (Territorial Centers in Support of Disability Education Technologies), agencies responsible for providing help and advice on the topic of the use of technology in the teaching of disabled students. This collaboration has allowed widespread interpretation in the area of relevance and has allowed greater involvement of support teachers by putting them into the network.

Who are the stakeholders supporting the initiative?

The subjects involved were:

  • the Dschola Association - schools for schools - which devised, promoted and supported the project with its researchers and trainers.
  • The University of Turin, especially Prof. Alberto Parola from the Faculty of Primary Education Sciences, who contributed to designing the methods for data collection and analysis.
  • Territorial CTS (Territorial Centers to Support Disability Education Technologies), which has worked in some of the provinces in Piedmont to support and disseminate the initiative.
  • The institutes of the Dschola Association that have made their schools and laboratories available for training and then for subsequent experimentation.
  • And, of course, the students with special needs education who are also ultimately benefiting from the project.

Are there particular demographic changes present that are influencing the project?

No

What is the institutional strategy and culture of the (educational) organization?

The association promoted the S4D as an instrument for schools interested in introducing the basics of coding to special needs education students at junior and senior high school levels.

To what extent does the initiative have an influence on institutional policy (or potential influence) of the (educational) organization?

The initiative provides an opportunity for special needs students to improve their skills in programming applied to various disciplines (literature, mathematics, geography, etc.)  studied in school and rehabilitation facilities and helps improve their overall inclusion in school and society.

(Appendix) Is there public support for your initiative and the issue it addresses?

Yes. Public support has, for example, been supplied by CTS (Centro Territoriale per il Sostegno - a public organization helping the local schools solve problems related to inclusion) by assisting in the recruitment of special needs teachers and by providing the labs for classes using S4D.

(Appendix) What other factors do you think have been important for the success of this initiative?

Newness of the concept, user friendliness of Scratch, and the introduction of coding to the students with disabilities.

Please describe the overall initiative design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

Please describe the specific activities carried out.

During the 2017-18 school year, 12 X 12-hour courses were introduced for free - each aimed at support teachers and rehabilitators and, more generally, at those who lived and worked with children with disabilities or special educational needs.

The hours were divided into 4 meetings.

The first two meetings, held one week apart, had as their main purpose the understanding of the concept of computing thought and to train participants in the use of the Scratch software in order to be able to develop programs related to the basic ideas of the S4D project.

The third meeting was intended to give suggestions to the participants on how to activate the research/action project with their disabled students and how to record their progress using materials prepared for the collection of information concerning its implementation (evaluation columns, logbooks, ballots, etc.).

The fourth and final meeting was intended to gather and share the experiences of the participants in using coding with their special educational needs students.

These training meetings were preceded by 3 meetings for the design of the project and preparation of trainers, so as to be able to choose the issues to be addressed and how to intervene in the courses.

At the same time, Prof. Barbero prepared the guide and drafts of materials to be supplied to the students and to be tested and personalized for the disabled students, while Prof. Davì and Prof. Parola drafted data collection evaluation records and an appropriate format and tools for gathering the data.

What were the key roles (teacher, student, management team etc.) within the project?

The key roles within the project were as follows:

  • Dschola research team - consisting of the project's creator and the Dschola researchers
  • Team of trainers
  • Prof. Alberto Parola, University of Turin, external pedagogical consultant
  • Support teachers and participants
  • Students with special educational needs

What ideas, tools, theories, models, methodology (etc.) have been used to reach the goals?

Skills planning: it is a question of proposing training interventions linked to the development of a competence that can be found in the National Guidelines (in 2010 for the second level of secondary school, in 2012 for the first level). Only by bringing attention to interdisciplinary and skills-related projects is it possible to show the value of coding in schools and in the field of disability.

 

Narration and argumentation: this approach seeks to find a logical sense of the project embedded in a wider scope of inclusive activities. The goal is to make sure that the subject of learning does not isolate itself in the new tool but through it is able to communicate its feelings, its needs and its objectives.

 

Evidence Based Learning: refers to the research area for the collection of significant results. The motivation to implement it in this project is aimed at researching and analyzing the data collected; to look for a meaning to that initial question - can coding be an effective and optimized tool for inclusion?

What are the final revenues of the project?

The project was designed to be free of charge to users.  However, in some areas, funding has been provided to pay teachers to support the project.

Please describe if your project ensured its sustainability

If so, how did you ensure the short-term impact of the project?

For the next edition of the S4D project we intend to involve all the CTS (Territorial Centers Supporting Disability Education Technologies) in the Piedmont region to finance at least part, if not all, of the training so as to guarantee the continuation of the experimentation and to involve more of the students who have special educational needs.

And how did you ensure the long-term impact of the project?

We are looking for an organization that may be interested in supporting the project, such as a publishing editor or a bank foundation. However, we must first verify the impact of the experiment on the teaching and learning of students with special educational needs.

Has your project been replicated elsewhere?

Yes, in all the provinces of Piemonte for a total of 12 classes involving approximately 200 special education teachers for use with their students and clients.

Please tell us about the resources used in this initiative

What was the budget for the initiative?

Initially, funds were not required since all of the trainers volunteered their time. Financial support (in the amount of ____?) was found at a later date to cover the costs of courses held in some of the provinces in Piedmont, thanks to the support of the CTS (Territorial Centers to Support Disability Education Technologies).

How much did the initiative depend on volunteers?

Almost all.  Program developers, program managers and teachers were all volunteers of the Dschola Association.

How were the costs perceived by the public/the sector/other stakeholders?

As the cost was minimal to non-existent, they were not a significant factor, so the project was perceived as very effective.

To what extent did the initiative achieve its objectives?

Please describe the evidence to support the success of your initiative.

About 200 trained teachers and 10 speech- and socio-health workers.

Approximately 100 students with disabilities and an un-quantifiable number of children followed by the health service.

Did the intervention lead to any unintended (positive) outcomes?

The participants who knew absolutely nothing about computational thinking and approached the subject for the first time, found coding, and in particular Scratch, very useful as a working tool for children with special educational needs. Some of the projects carried out and the experiences had have been very interesting but for a more rigorous evaluation it will be necessary to continue the experiments in the next school year - especially considering the long learning times of these disabled students. The Scratch project completed by the speech therapists (and already tested during their rehabilitation work) have been very successful in demonstrating the versatility of Scratch and the endless possibilities offered by the software to the learning experience.

What indicators (quantitative and qualitative) have you measured to demonstrate success?

All the projects created by special needs teachers and rehabilitators that were trained by the Association were collected at the end of the first edition of the training and shared with all class participants to discuss positive and negative outcomes. Most participants were enthusiastic about the value of this new tool and committed to continue to experiment with coding as an aid in promoting the inclusion of all the students.

(Appendix) How did you evaluate/monitor this intervention?

Thanks to the support of the University of Torino, a tool for planning and collecting data was created to provide data for systematic research focused on evidence-based learning.