Inclusive education

We aim to develop technological solutions to enable an inclusive education for children with mixed abilities. We have mainly developed enhanced tangible objects for the acquisition of abstract concepts, such as mathematics or computational thinking. Besides the benefit of decreasing cognitive load and reinforcing understanding, manipulatives also support collaboration, making children more prone to divide, explore and share supporting cooperative actions.

Computational Thinking learning for young visually impaired children

Promoting CT has been increasingly performed with programming activities. The advent of visual programming environments, like Scratch or Blockly, democratized programming in schools. The use of tangible blocks has also been extensively used as a way to facilitate understanding of abstract concepts, reduce cognitive load, and promote CT, while simultaneously developing motor, perceptual and cognitive abilities. Programming a robot, with these environments (virtual or tangible), is another trend that increases the physicality of the programming output, and provides a greater sense of control. However, these approaches and artifacts they are not accessible to children with visual impairments. We extended prior work on accessible programming environments by taking a principled approach that builds on established knowledge and explores opportunities for inclusion, in a classroom environment. Our studies highlighted that it is achievable and affordable to create inclusive tangible robot-based programming environments and activities. The augmented physicality of robots, blocks, and maps showed to be promising to provide a layer of inclusion to children with visual impairments. Similarly, increased and consistently designed (audio) feedback and feedforward mechanisms are pivotal to potentiate concept acquisition and enable a faster learning curve. The layers added to include children with visual impairments, most with multiple comorbidities, seem to be amenable to most of the available tangible programming environments.

Photo taken from the Workshop with children. Two visually impaired children perform a goal-directed programming activity using a map located on the table. The activity consists of moving the robot to reach the duck. The map is made of 4 EVA foam tiles with two different colors. The child on the right is concentrated in arranging the blocks while the children at the left are touching the duck after the robot reached the duck. This child is smiling and has much of his body on the table.

Math learning for young visually impaired children

We developed iCETA, an inclusive interactive system for math learning, that enables children to autonomously engage and solve additive composition tasks. It was designed through a set of participatory sessions with visually impaired children and their educators, and supports math learning through the combination of tangible interaction with haptic and auditory feedback. Tangible blocks representing numbers 1 to 5 were used to add or subtract and correctly solve the task embedded in a computerized game. Our approach aims to provide better scaffolding for understanding the abstract concept of a number by working with different representations of that number, such as the size of a block, Braille, color and audio feedback.

A girl with low vision sitting on a chair while playing with the blocks to solve the additive composition tasks by using the system iCETA. The iCETA setup is located on the table.