Special Friends

A classroom story of overcoming challenges to open a child’s world.

GUEST COLUMN | by Alia Pyros

CREDIT Ask NAO imageIt’s no secret that opening a child’s world through education can seem like a daunting task. This is a task, however, that all of the best teachers have dedicated their lives to accomplish. Each day they strive to figure out what form the key to unlocking the potential for their students will take the shape of. For a little girl named Jazzy at the Moody Primary School in Haverhill MA, and many other children around the world, this key took the shape of a small humanoid robot named NAO.

After Moody Primary started working with their two robots, Jazzy’s in-class attitude completely changed.

The robot, created by French company Aldebaran, has, within the last two years, been transformed from the open platform used globally to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education to an easy-to-use teaching tool for the special education classroom. With an abundance of customizable applications based on a variety of autism methods (including ABA, PECS, TEACCH, DENVER, and SCERTS), an online interface for tracking progress and organizing information, and of course the robot NAO, the NAO for Special Education initiative works to not only be an assistant to teachers but also a friend to kids.

On an average day, you can find Jazzy sitting playing with her braids or meandering around the classroom rather than paying attention to the lesson. Jazzy, a sweet little girl with dark eyes, finds it difficult to focus her attention due to a diagnosis of hypoplasia of the corpus callosum, polymicrogyria, seizure disorder, myopia, and global developmental delays. She has very little interest in her peers or in lessons and often turns to her own activities while in class.

After Moody Primary started working with their two robots through the ASK NAO solution, Jazzy’s in-class attitude completely changed. Julie, the Behavior Specialist at Moody Primary, who often does one-on-one sessions with Jazzy, says, “I wish I had taken video from the first day I started using the robot with her…she has come a long way. She has really responded and enjoys her time with the robot.” For children of all ages, the robot harnesses a sort of wonder that captivates them, draws them in and makes them want to interact and play with him.

Though she is a nonverbal student, there are a number of ways Jazzy interacts with the robot. By showing him pictograms, she can learn about identification, object classification, and categorization. He also has a number of touch sensors that make games like ‘Touch My Head’ a fun, interactive experience. For this game, the robot prompts Jazzy to touch some of his different body parts including head, hands, and feet. By touching the correct body part, he does a little dance, making Jazzy giggle. The simple words he uses are also making an impact on Jazzy, her teachers noted that after a few sessions playing with the robot she spontaneously pointed to his head and said ‘head’, a verbal breakthrough for her.

For those hesitant about looking to robotics as a new tool for the classroom, don’t be. This initiative was created to fit the needs of teachers, not only in regard to simplifying note-taking and status tracking, but also through an online interface making customization of lessons and activities as simple as drag and drop. Stress-free in-class integration and progress sharing features make this solution simply used by even the most non tech-savvy teacher.

Also, unlike most special education tools, the initiative is ever evolving. Thanks to feedback from teachers using the solution and an active online community, this initiative continues to develop and encompass more and more learning goals to offer teachers and students a wider range of fun applications. Because of this, Jazzy’s teachers can customize the solution into what aligns with her IEP the best, customizing her learning experience and targeting her needs.

This initiative is looking to drive special education into the future with the help of the latest robotic technology. Are you looking to make a difference in your classroom? Sometimes a special friend can make a real difference.

Alia Pyros works with Ask NAO’s Special Education Initiative, a creation of Aldebaran Robotics. Write to: apyros@aldebaran.com Learn more at: www.asknao.com.

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