During the 2021-22 school year, the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, NC was awarded a NC Digital Learning Planning Grant to explore and plan for the development and implementation of an accessible robotics and coding program. I was very excited to coordinate this planning and work with educators and experts from around the country on accessible robotics and coding. I am pleased to share with you some of the lessons learned, successes, and challenges.
After researching this topic, I learned about the Dot5UDogs and 180 Optimum First Lego League Competition Teams from the Maryland School for the Blind coached by Gina Fugate and Travis Lawrence. I was inspired by these teams, especially when I learned that the teams really found independence and success when they were able to use Quorum Programming to control their EV3 Lego robots. I was devastated to learn that the EV3 Lego robot was discontinued and Spike the new robot used in FLL competitions are not accessible. As I worked through this disappointment, I partnered with Ms. Fugate and contacted numerous organizations about the need for Spike to be accessible using Quorum or even Python Programming language. The Spike App is very visual. Students who are blind or have low vision are not able to independently load, edit, or run code using a screen reader or Braille display. Unfortunately, the DLI grant we received would not cover the cost of hiring someone or some entity to even explore the possibilities of making Spike accessible.
I have not given up hope. We do have some dedicated volunteers who are programmers and engineers who are exploring what they can do but we have not had any real progress to date. If you or anyone you know has found a way or is exploring ways to make Spike accessible for students who are blind or have low vison, please contact me.
Gina Fugate shares information at the We Code, Too!! Conference at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind about he how Quorum Programming helped her First Lego Teams find independence and better inclusion in the world of robotics.
As mentioned previously, we were and are inspired by the robotics teams from the Maryland School for the Blind. We hosted a We Code, Too!! Conference in March 2022 and invited Gina Fugate to be our featured speaker to share her journey in the world of robotics and to provide professional development in conference participants. We also learned about and utilized many EV3 Robot resources from the Wisconsin School for the Blind.
In our recent summer program, staff were able to apply what they learned from the conference to help students learn how about to build a robot part for a pre-built robot, experience modifying a program using Quorum, take several runs to test their robot performing a challenge, and successfully complete the challenge. They were able to do this using Braille support materials, an organization system developed for persons who have low or no vision, and a programming language that is accessible with screen readers and braille displays. This experience helped many get excited about forming a Lego Team and competing with others in some friendly competitions in the future. If you have a team using EV3 robots and are interested in working with us, please contact us.
Ms. Cynthia Mathis, GMS Assistive Technology Specialist reads a Braille Lego Parts Guide to locate each part needed to construct a Lego Robot. She is delighted to build her first Lego robot and to know that the system is accessible for her and students who are blind or have low vision.
Our staff and students have really enjoyed working with Cubelets, Dash Robots with Blocks4All, Sphero Robots with CodeSnaps, CodeQuest, and the Everyone Can Code lessons for Swift Playgrounds. While nervous at first. our students enjoyed using Swift Playgrounds to code flight paths of Tello drones. Like us, you have probably read about many of these programs on Paths to Technology. I encourage you to try them with your students and staff.
As part of the NC Digital Learning Planning Grant, the GMS staff developed the following presentations and lessons to share. Please enjoy!
Editor’s Note: Links to these coding lessons will be added as the lessons are published on Paths to Technology.
Two students who are blind use the tactile graphics to support them as they navigate the Everyone Can Code program on the iPad using VoiceOver during the GMS Summer Program in June 2022.
Dr. Sarah McManus, Digital Learning Director