Robert DeFillippo (Jefferson Hills, PA)

Champion for Computer Science - Teacher

Robert Defillippo has worked with special-needs students for more than 25 years. After realizing it can take more than 10 years for special needs students to receive the same benefits as other students, he set out to find a way to adapt existing curriculums for his classrooms. He started with the computer science curriculum from Code.org.

“The ‘accidental learning’ that happens from learning coding—recognizing cause-and-effect, pattern recognition, working in small groups, other ‘employability skills’—are all crucial.” Defillippo says. “Code.org and CS in general has really given a new way to deliver instruction to these kids.”

Robert DeFillippo
Robert DeFillippo, with students.

Defillippo implemented computer science into his class in 2016 then enrolled in Code.org's year-long cohort for CS Discoveries this past summer. He said his students were hooked the moment he started teaching CS. Many of his students have difficulty with communication, and he found that using the Code.org curriculum in combination with platforms like Flipgrid unlocked a whole new form of communication for them. “I’ve never seen an ‘aha!’ moment happen so fast,” he says.

“Disruptive behavior,” which can include work avoidance, sleeping during class, becoming violent and other distracting behaviors, decreased by 93 percent during CS lessons. “Kids were learning things that interested them,” he said. “You just have to find what the relevance is for them.”

He’s even formulated a whole new teaching strategy based on a modified version of the Code.org curriculum. Known as TEAMS—teaching engaging academics made special—this modified version of the curriculum was more accessible for his autistic students, and makes the same lessons accessible for a differently-abled group of students. He says he hopes to see this strategy replicated in schools everywhere.

“I want to change the way special education is delivered not just in my school, not just in my state, but everywhere,” Defillippo says. “This is something that can really change the lives of a lot of kids.”

Runner-up: Rebecca Vadakara (Loxahatchee, FL)

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