In this blog special needs teacher Dana Cochran, describes how her grade 5 students with ASD* have responded to KUBO coding challenges.

“It’s a robot dating show, Mrs. Cochran!” my student shouted from the floor while smiling and giggling. 

“Look! Ours both met at the flagpole,” her classmate said excitedly.

My special needs students, ages 10-11, had been working on coding KUBO for about a week. They had learned functions and subroutines. (We hadn’t even gotten to loops, yet.) Everyone was engaged, active, and most importantly having fun.

I had challenged each pair of students to program their KUBOs to meet at a chosen spot on their maps. Each team determined where to meet, where they would start, and set to work. I heard chatting and laughing as students came up with stories for why their robots would be meeting.

KUBO Special Needs

They were getting very detailed. One team came up with their own “Robot Dating Show.” If their programs were spot on with the robots meeting perfectly, it was deemed a “successful first date.” If the robots were just a bit off track, for example only touching one of each of their wheels, then this was “a bad date.” If they didn’t meet at all, missing each other completely, the date was termed an “EPIC fail!”

A huge win for encouraging students to work together

No matter the outcome, each “date” generated peels of laughter. I had to force my students to stop coding. I had to make them stop working together and engaging with each other. For my students with ASD, who would prefer to work solo and in silence, this was a HUGE win. I had to make them stop trying to problem solve to get their robots to meet. Again, a huge win for special needs students that all too often give up after one failed attempt.

It was GREAT!

KUBO has energized my classroom in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I knew my students would be excited about using robots; they love hands-on experiences. I thought I would be able to use KUBO as a carrot, of sorts, to encourage my students to complete tasks. Getting a preferred activity after completing a less exciting task is a common tactic. In that aspect I was right. My students count down until we get to KUBO daily.

I didn’t think they would start to build stories around KUBO and create scenarios to challenge themselves.

I didn’t think they would start to form connections between coding and language. 

I really didn’t foresee students with ASD having real conversations with their peers.

My students aren’t the typical “STEAM Kids.” They aren’t the kids waving their hands in the air, bouncing to answer every question. Often, learning is a struggle. My students carry labels “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” “emotional disturbance,” “specific learning disability,” “Dyslexia,” “behavior disorder,” and “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Often these labels mean they don’t get to experience cool projects like robotics. They have to spend extra time building their skills in the basics – proper behavior, reading, writing, math – and so there’s little time left for the extras. 

In reality, all students need more hands-on experiences, but special needs students even moreso. We, as educators, know this, but sometimes it’s just too difficult to locate good options. Or, when we do find something awesome, it takes forever to set up or learn to use and we run out of steam trying to get to the STEAM activity.

Martin code KUBO. Special needs
KUBO Special needs

I didn’t think it would be so easy!

When I saw KUBO I thought it would be easy to use, but again I didn’t think it would be sooooo easy. I was up and going the day the boxes arrived. No lengthy training or tutorial needed. We got to the cool stuff right away. Their faces lit up as they created that first line of code and saw KUBO execute their commands. We were off and running. 

Today, we started a project designing maps for KUBO. We are creating new worlds for KUBO to navigate. One student created a zombie infested forest, while another created a “Dark Crystal”-inspired journey. There was a lovely forest with a river and one with a Fortnite-esque scene. 

As we complete our maps, we will write stories about KUBO in these new worlds and create challenges for KUBO to complete. They are already talking about having KUBO solve a maze to get through the forest or gather items to survive a Zombie apocalypse or getting KUBO through the obstacles to recover the crystal.

I can already see creating videos and books and even 3D versions of our maps…the students aren’t the only ones whose creativity has been inspired. 

My students and I are really excited to see where this takes us!

*ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Dana Cochran

Special Education Teacher