By American Printing House for the Blind
Teachers want all of their students to feel like they belong – that they are included equally in every aspect of their learning experience. For teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs), this can require a little extra effort, because their students usually need accommodations or special equipment. Despite everyone’s best intentions, this can sometimes create a sense of exclusion when students feel they’re different from their peers.
But when there are learning tools that students of all abilities can use together, it makes inclusion a natural part of the teaching process. Enter Code JumperTM, which turns learning computer coding into a tactile experience. First designed by Microsoft® and developed by American Printing House for the Blind (APH), Code Jumper can be used by students starting at a young age. It’s made of brightly colored plastic pods with large buttons and knobs. The pods are connected by thick cords, much like computer cords, that students use to create basic computer code. Code Jumper is designed to be used by a group of students working together but is equally effective when it’s used by one student at a time.
“So often students with a disability are learning in a separate environment, which is not how the world works,” says Robin Lowell, who spent 17 years as a TVI focused on math and science and led the curriculum development for Code Jumper as senior manager of Accessibility for insight2execution (i2e).
“We want students to be working as closely as possible to the curriculum and the classroom as their peers are,” she says. “Being able to work to problem-solve, to communicate, to feel a sense of triumph and completion of something they work on together – regardless of their level of sight – is something Code Jumper really helps.”
Teaching students about equity in adulthood
Lowell adds that once students who are visually impaired graduate from high school and go on to college or work, they will need to know how to advocate for themselves. “They know what they need to be successful and they can move forward with their lives, because we’ve taught them that from a very young age,” she says.
Cecily Morrison, Ph.D., MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire, for her work in inclusive design), principal researcher at Microsoft Research, helped lead the design of Code Jumper. She points out that Code Jumper allows for the kind of equal classroom interaction that isn’t always possible.
“It works well across the vision spectrum, but also across different abilities,” Morrison says. For instance, students with certain disabilities may respond better to tactile or audio cues, both of which are integral to Code Jumper. “No matter what the challenges might be, there’s a way to bring those children together to make it work,” she adds.
Making equivalent learning opportunities possible
Shelley Mack, a TVI based in Ohio, was thrilled she had already purchased Code Jumper for one of her students when his class started learning technology in 7th grade – and their curriculum was completely inaccessible to him. The technology class’ teacher immediately agreed to let Mack’s student use Code Jumper and its curriculum instead, with excellent results.
“The teacher wanted him to be in the same room with all the other students, and he would stop by and see how my student was doing,” Mack says. “He outpaced the other students in some of the vocabulary words and other aspects of the Code Jumper curriculum compared to the one the rest of the class was using.”
Lowell adds that universal design for learning is fundamental to Code Jumper, and she’s seen it used in classrooms where every student – visually impaired or not – gets a chance to work with it.
“We’re giving students opportunities to engage in learning in the way that works for them,” she says. “The more often we can have our students who are visually impaired working with their peers the better. Code Jumper gives them this experience of inclusivity because it works for everyone.”