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How a School for the Blind in Texas is Empowering Students with STEM

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As an educator, there is nothing better than seeing a student grow and overcome a challenge. Erin Shadwick, a special education teacher from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, supports student growth by providing and modifying STEM games to meet each student's specific needs. Since introducing her students to STEM, her students' cognitive and critical thinking skills have improved tremendously.

Erin works as a high school special education teacher in a self-contained classroom. All her current students have some degree of visual impairment with additional physical or developmental disabilities including autism and cerebral  palsy. The classroom is set up for desk work but also has floor seating opportunities for more exploratory activities, group work, and STEM games. Class fan-favorite STEM games include Unruly Splats, Botley, mBot, K’Nex, marble runs, and gravity races! Erin’s students thrive in a hands-on environment where they can build something with their hands and see the cause and effect of the STEM game they create. 

Classroom Goals and STEM Games

Erin is a passionate STEM education advocate. She believes in the value of teaching STEM education to her students, even if they don’t plan on pursuing a career in STEM. Erin uses STEM games as a conduit to teaching her students life skills. Over a short period of time, her students have made  extraordinary improvements in their social skills, teamwork, emotional regulation, and motivation. She  created an acronym for STEM and these skills as the framework for her classroom goals. 

“They can learn a lot of things from STEM and they just downright enjoy it. It keeps things fun and it helps them learn in a really fun environment. Then, of course, there's just the exposure to current technology so they're not left in the dark.” Erin said.

Erin’s primary classroom goals are to create meaningful, trusting relationships with her students and to make learning FUN! She uses STEM games to give students the opportunity to use their strengths and master the skills they naturally enjoy. A stellar example of how Erin encourages student growth is when one of her students opened and assembled a Botley robot. This student was so energized to test the new STEM tool that he started using the screwdriver with both hands! This is a huge accomplishment for him because, in the past, he has struggled with motor control and he surprised everyone by overcoming this to build the robot. STEM games are a great motivator for her students and it gives students the opportunity to challenge themselves while having fun. 

“Relationships are the number one goal because if a student doesn't feel safe and doesn't feel comfortable, they're not going to fully learn anything that you teach them.” Erin Said. 


When first introducing Unruly Splats to the class, Erin started with the classic game of Whack-a-Mole. This was a great jumping-off point because Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired already had a similar Whack-a-Mole game at their school, so the students were familiar with how the game works. Erin slowly introduced coding into the curriculum without overwhelming students by introducing a new technology with a familiar game. 

Whack-a-Mole Unplugged

Once the students played Whack-a-Mole a few times, it was time to introduce the coding. There are elements of the Whack-a-Mole game that students control through the code like color, sound, and the duration the mole appears in one place. Erin cut out and laminated the different blocks of code and  her students voted on these decisions as a team. Unplugged coding shows students that different blocks result in different actions during the game. Additionally, it introduces the concept of conventional voting. Usually, Erin’s students work in on-on-one settings and make decisions individually. By incorporating elements of voting into the lesson,  she exposes them to the traditional voting process while also socializing them with their classmates. 

Click here for video transcript.

Student Growth with Splats 

Erin said, “In the beginning, we just hit the Splat over and over and over and over. So we really worked on it. We only hit ours. We only hit it when it lights up and makes the sound. And we only hit it once.”

Whack-a-Mole is typically a game played individually, but Erin’s classroom plays the game as a team. Each student has their own Splat and they are responsible for stepping or hitting the Splat when it lights up as the “mole color”. Before using Splats, Erin’s students did not have much experience working in a team. She used this as an opportunity to teach students team building skills and lessons like  taking turns, supporting each other, and either winning or losing as a team. One student showed tremendous student growth over the course of Whack-a-Mole. At first, he was so amused by the Splats game that he would just continuously step on the Splat without even thinking about his team or the rules of the game. Over time, this student showed patience and impulse control by waiting his turn and only hitting on the Splat when it was appropriate to do so. Erin’s students have overcome huge milestones from using STEM games and Splats are a great tool to measure student growth in a fun way! 

Click here for video transcript.

“Whack-a Mole exposes students to the concept of team goals versus personal goals. Just because a student had personal success with catching their moles does not mean the team as a whole did.” Erin said

Growth in Everyone

One of Erin’s favorite aspects of Splats is that she gets to learn with her students! She is enjoying learning more about coding and is embracing any coding mistakes that they encounter as a shared learning opportunity. Learning as you go is half the fun and some extra laughter from a bug in the code never hurts! Erin is fully embracing this new class tool and looks forward to continuing her students’ growth with Splats! 

If you are interested in learning more about how Erin and how she modifies STEM games to increase student growth, check out her webinar recording here

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Unruly Studios makers of Unruly Splats, programmable, stompable floor tiles that help kids learn fundamental coding skills through recess-style play. Best for elementary and middle school students from PE to science or coding class, a great addition to the classroom for active STEM coding and play!

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