Teaching Math and Computer Science to Kids with Special Needs
This list, which will continue to be expanded over time, is intended to survey teaching approaches and then highlight free math and computing resources for special needs students. It is meant to highlight some of the more actionable resources currently available for parents and educators who are trying to provide the best support they can.
Unfortunately, there are limited resources dedicated exclusively to students with special needs. We highlight them here, as well as provide multiple options for covering certain math and computing topics with students so that educators and parents can tailor fit lessons to fit their students’ needs.
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Many people who enter cryptocurrency come at it as developers, supported by knowledge in computer science and mathematics. Others come at it from finance or economics angles, both of which benefit from a strong foundation in quantitative studies. Still, others have even more diverse backgrounds but have had enough exposure to STEM concepts that they can easily grasp crypto projects.
Exposure to STEM continues to grow in importance as more careers—including ones in cryptocurrency and blockchain—draw upon its fundamentals. Time and time again, studies show that early exposure to STEM is a key driver of continued interest. The majority of students who pursue a STEM major in college were exposed via extracurriculars, with over 92% reporting that “hands-on lab work” was vital to sustaining their interest.
STEM exposure studies also show that young students with autism spectrum disorders—one example of students with special needs—tend to be drawn to STEM once exposed, but unfortunately, they are “often overlooked.”
As we have been striving to tackle barriers to entry—such as with our resources for women in crypto – we’ve heard from educators who noted a need for learning resources geared towards students with special needs, particularly autism and ADHD. Ideally, these resources are free and can serve a number of purposes ranging from augmenting what’s taught in the classroom through boosting the efficacy of homeschooling.
We focus on math and computer science, as these provide the foundation for quantitative and logical reasoning, as well as exposure to tech applications. We also highlight some usage of assistive technology.
What Can Teaching Students with Special Needs Look Like?
A survey of the peer-reviewed literature and other publicly available resources points to altering the delivery of lessons for people with special needs—and not necessarily altering the curriculum itself.
Every student is unique and brings an individual set of circumstances to the table. Ideally, we—parents and educators alike—can provide solutions to meet the needs of each specific student. A good starting point can be an awareness of the general types of special learning characteristics that tend to occur in students with these special needs. These can include:
Strong interests in specific directions or topics, which can be leveraged to motivate students;
Strong emotional experiences and difficulty controlling them;
Obstacles in understanding language, making it useful to tap into alternative modalities;
Being prone to sensory overload, which can be overcome by some environmental control;
A profound need for consistent order and routine.
Alongside these special needs, these students may also have special abilities that should be acknowledged and celebrated, and that can include:
The ability to focus more intensely than the average student
Capacity for extremely high memory and fact retention
Talent in catching onto and manipulating patterns
Very intense skills in specific sensory directions, such as visual
Again, tailoring the learning approach wherever possible to meet special needs and amplify special abilities is ideal for providing the optimal learning path for students.
The CDC reports that in 1 in 54 students is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. These students may experience sensory stimuli more intensely than others, struggle to understand facial and language cues, and experience difficulty in managing their emotions or maintaining focus. However, these students may also show an above-average aptitude for pattern recognition, fact retention, and focus once they have been given the tools they need to match their learning styles.
It might be helpful to review some of the existing general recommendations for educating students with autism:
12 things for teachers to remember– Written by a mother of two children with special needs who have “been through” the educational system, this post may be helpful. Looking back, these are the key points this mother wishes each of her kids’ educators knew and kept in mind.
Suggestions for using assistive communications devices – Communication issues are often one of the first flags for autism spectrum disorder. This page stands out because it’s a bit more actionable than a lot of the sites out there, helping to break down measures parents can take as well as what to look out for.
ADHD and Other Differences: Educational Considerations
ASD frequently occurs alongside attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sharing many similar symptoms. These are not the only special needs that students may face, which may include behavioral, emotional, developmental, cognitive, and physical.
Regardless of the particular special need, it may also trigger secondary issues resulting from the frustration and anxiety that may result when students try to learn
Understood.org – Review highlights of media coverage as well as resources surrounding learning and thinking differences, whether in the classroom or at the workplace. The site features sections for various audiences ranging from parents through educators.
Benefits of the “flipped-classroom” model– Schools around the country are implementing methods that involve systematically taking learning out of the classroom and into the home. Classroom time can be used to complete homework while at-home time is used to review upcoming assignments. Supporters argue that if certain structures are not working for students, why not change them to something that does?
20 Tips to De-escalate Anxiousness or Defiance – Expert-sourced tips to help parents and educators alike to de-escalate the tension that can result from frustration, anxiety, and fear in students, including those with special needs.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for effective learning. But we’ve compiled this list of free online resources, broken down by grade, that you can test out for use with your special needs student as you work to identify what works best for them.
Guide to Teaching Strategies for Elementary School Teachers – Learning science nonprofit Waterford has compiled a list of specific activities and strategies—scripts included, where appropriate—that can be used to make learning smooth as well as assuage any meltdowns that may arise. This resource is a helpful reminder that sometimes its not about teaching the material itself differently; it’s about managing the experience of learning in a way that meets special needs.
Post-It Number Line– A helpful way to use visual learning to encourage student familiarity with numbers and counting.
Counting by Sorting– This page features various ideas to get kids counting by sorting everyday items around the house and detecting patterns. Depending on the preferences of each student, additional modalities like music can be incorporated into the activities.
Base Ten Bingo– Get kids comfortable with number recognition using a game that encourages them to mentally model base ten numbers.
What Comes Next?– NASA has put together this fantastic exercise in pattern recognition, which it touts as tied directly to the standards set forth by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Zearn – Free for individual educators, Zearn has a centralized online math dashboard that can provide the amount of structure a student needs to keep moving through the learning process.
Math Illuminations – With options for high school-age children as well, these visual lessons also have interactive components to help reinforce active learning for students across all needs.
Breezy Special Ed– Several highly visual lessons designed both to teach math as well as showcase some real-world applications.
Free Assistive Technology to Assist with Math – This site, geared towards accommodating students across a range of thinking and learning differences, maintains a listing of free tools to help students strengthen their grasp of math.
Do2Learn – This site offers a wide range of printable tools to help with both teaching as well as behavioral regulation. Many educators point to the picture cards available on the site, which encourage functional education.
AAA Math– Hundreds of small lessons can be found on this site, around specific math subjects as well as grades K-8.
Softschools – Math worksheets and games abound on this site, offering the space to get away from screens and instead work at a student’s own pace.
GeoGebra – An online math tool primarily geared towards graphing and geometry.
Graspable Math – Developed by math educators and computer scientists, this site offers students the chance to manipulate equations as they solve problems, and receive live feedback on each line of their work.
Carnegie Learning – With resources for families and resources for teachers, Carnegie Learning has assembled a list of resources to help provide at-home math support for students.
CoolMath – This site features a repository of math lessons and games, including pre-algebra, algebra, and pre-calculus. For visual learners in particular, this sort of engagement with the material can be very effective.
EverFI – Although not strictly math, this site adds real-world scenarios to teach financial literacy to students of all ages, from K through 12.
CK-12 – With math lessons and help organized by grade level as well as by subject, you can quickly pinpoint the materials you want to pull up for your learner.
There are actually two facets to leveraging computer science in the classroom. On one hand, there is the component of logical reasoning and technical knowledge that can be developed through problem-solving in this field and which directly informs real-world applications.
But in addition to that, computer science offers both individual problem-solving as well as collaboration in ways that can align with student preferences. A student can take the time they need to work through a problem and then choose to interact with other students to whatever extent they are comfortable with and at their own pace.
Scratch– A result of a collaboration between MIT and the National Science Foundation, Scratch is a free tool that students can use to create stories, games, and animations—all of which can be interactive. Because students can control the interactive component, they can set their own boundaries (within the confines of parental supervision, of course). Parents report that their children—including those with autism—have cultivated their confidence by gradually increasing the extent to which they interact with others on the platform.
STEM from the Start– Guided lessons are part of this adventure-based learning approach to keep students engaged and actively participating. This site can get kids focusing while keeping things light and flexible.
Coding for Kindergarteners – These lessons are designed to be super manageable for parents while setting the foundation for kids to learn coding basics.
National Geographic Explorer Classroom – Learn from real-world experts who share their projects, daily work, and success stories. With a frequent focus on STEM, these anecdotes can often motivate students to understand why what they’re learning is important—and can help ignite students across all abilities to become set on a particular educational goal.
Zac Browser– This is a web browser designed for children with autism. While providing caregivers with full control (to keep kids safe online), this browser is designed to leverage visual learning and create a safe space for student exploration and expression.
Khan Academy – KA stands as an absolute powerhouse for tutorial content, not just in computer science but also across all disciplines and ages. Offering something for every learner, this is a fantastic resource to dig into explanations of concepts as well as to see problems worked through.
Vidcode – We were a bit reluctant to include this on the list because there is a paid version, but Vidcode is constantly offering free trials and samples of its product. It’s very heavily oriented toward object-oriented programming as well as web programming. Many students with autism are visual learners, so this might tap into an area of strength or confidence for them. We haven’t encountered many tools quite like it, so we had to add it to our list.
Brilliant– Again, leveraging interactive elements, this site actually has exercises in computer science as well as math and science.
CMU CS Academy – This online high school computer science curriculum is entirely free but features some stand-out features for students. Interactive notes that are in-text provide contextual cues, evaluation, and guidance to keep students on track as they learn. The platform also uses visual cues to show students, in real-time, how their code will behave. Additionally, CMU students prepare the content, meaning it’s written in the most approachable way.
Codealicious – This content is intended more for educators, but it’s helpful for anyone trying to figure out how to effectively teach computer science remotely.
OpenClassrooms– These quick and easy visual tutorials are created by experts who share the basics surrounding the different programming languages that are out there.
Hour of Code – Sometimes, breaking down seemingly-overwhelming tasks into small, more palatable bites can make it easier for them to occur. Hour of Code sets out to do this, while also potentially incorporating a social/collaborative element as well.
Penjee– This site aims to make learning to code Python fun, with real-world exercises as well as tie-ins to AP Computer Science. All your student needs is their browser!
Crypto and Blockchain
If your student wants to delve into real-world applications of the math and coding that they’ve been studying, cryptocurrency and blockchain might be of interest to them. But news stories and white papers aren’t enough – what if they want to get their feet wet examining industry problems firsthand?
More resources seem to be cropping up, but here are some good starting points. Again, it’s worth sharing these pages with your student and seeing which one(s) resonate with their learning needs.
Pigzbe– A digital piggy bank that is designed to help kids become more financially literate and make wise money choices.
Coinbase – What is Crypto? – This exchange has a very user-friendly and often highly-visual series of articles explaining the basics of cryptocurrency.
Cryptomaniaks – Here you’ll find a few free 101 courses around Bitcoin. Like many of the resources we’ve covered in this article, we are trying to provide several different options so
What is Blockchain? – This is a very helpful primer that you can use to help your curious student learn more about blockchain. From here, getting them to start thinking about real world applications could set them in motion; feel free to leverage hypothetical situations to do this, as well as research. For example, with a student who’s also interested in animals: after you explain to them how blockchain works, ask them to start thinking of how blockchain could be applied to help animals. Then, you can even get them to start researching any existing blockchain projects to this end. Encourage them to reach out and see if they can hear directly from someone working on such a project. The possibilities for learning and connection are limitless! And, again, it’s important to give your student the space to do this at their own pace, according to their needs and comfort zone, but this will also give them a chance to build confidence and grow.
Ways to Teach Kids About Blockchain – This article surveys several different approaches to explaining blockchain to kids, leveraging visuals but also inspiring real-world connections through internships and similar. Those options might seem far out of your student’s comfort zone, so be sure to go at their own pace. However, if you can help your kid find a supportive mentor or inspiration who shares some of their struggles but has achieved success, this might help positively motivate your child.
Because these are free resources, it’s worth trying several out to discover what works best for your learner. Once again, the earlier students are exposed to STEM, the more likely they are to stick with it. There are aspects of math and computer science that make them fantastic disciplines for students with special needs to really dig into, so that they can grow their minds and their confidence—and potentially set themselves up with fantastic job prospects down the line. For example, as the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain only continues to grow, there are opportunities for students to leverage their technical or even entrepreneurial interests into long-term career paths.
This list will only continue to grow as we identify more resources. If you have a suggestion or any feedback, please do reach out to Alexandra at email@example.com, although we do not accept any payment or sponsorship to be featured here – this page is intended to serve students, parents, and educators. Our team has assembled this list by looking sites and selecting the ones that could provide the most value to students with special needs, and we intend to remain true to this mission. That said, we are not responsible for the content on each site; inclusion on this list is merely for educational purposes, and does not constitute an endorsement.