How A STEM Teacher Levelled The Playing Field for Special Needs Students with Makers Empire

This guest post is by Christopher Burdman, a Boston Public School teacher for the past nineteen years and a Makers Empire Ambassador. Having taught both maths and science at elementary and middle school levels, he now serves as the STEM teacher at the Tynan Elementary School. In 2011, Mr Burdman was awarded Boston Public Schools Golden Apple teacher of the year award. Above all else, Mr Burdman tries to give students the opportunity to engage in meaningful, real-world experiences that are challenging and cognitively demanding using the latest and greatest technologies.

Teaching students with special needs is both challenging and rewarding. Here at the Tynan Elementary School, we house the city’s second largest ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) strand.

Our students, often classified as Autistic and or learning disabled, can have a diagnosis that ranges from an intellectual impairment or pervasive developmental disorder to social communication disorders.

As a STEM teacher, the challenge for me is how to help these students and all students in general transition from using technology as a toy to using it as a tool for learning.

After all, the iPad has become almost a commonplace necessity in the special needs classroom and students of all abilities seem to be able to navigate its complexities more easily than many of my veteran colleagues.

This year I began to introduce a select few of my ABA strand students to the Makers Empire App. This process was fairly organic as some of my students saw the app on the desktop and clicked on it. With no instruction or training, students found the software to be so easy to navigate that they were creating their own designs in no time.

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Seeing this natural curiosity, I created student accounts for them and set them off on their own journey.

The Maze Game was a big hit as was the Character Module. Students loved the animation and exploration of the App.

One of the biggest benefits that I have found is the ability to now have students across grade levels and with varying abilities share in a common curriculum and experience.

I am often asked this question by parents and colleagues: “What do you do with the kids in the ABA strand?” My answer is now simple: I do the same thing that I do with the “regular” ed classes.

My STEM class is a place where ALL students can participate and create. Makers Empire has helped level this playing field and create equality among my students.Chris Burdman, STEM Teacher, Tynan Elementary School

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Chris. It’s wonderful to hear how you are transforming learning for special needs students at your school with Makers Empire. Your story has inspired us to explore how we might further serve the needs of special needs students and their teachers, thereby creating a more positive learning environment for all students. If you’re a teacher using Makers Empire in the classroom who is interested in being part of a special needs students task force at Makers Empire, please email christina[at]

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