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Mar
28
2022
by
Dr. Kara A. Loftin
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The Importance of STEM Education for Students with Exceptionalities

“[Students with dyslexia]...think differently. They are intuitive and excel at problem solving, seeing the big picture, and simplifying. They feast on visualizing, abstract thinking, and thinking out of the box. They are…inspired visionaries” (Shaywitz, 2003). 

 

These words from Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity and author of Overcoming Dyslexia speak to the unique strengths that many students with language-based learning differences possess. Adding on to her strengths profile is keen spatial reasoning, that is, the ability to think about and manipulate objects in three dimensions, which, like the above attributes, are uniquely suited for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) pursuits. I believe that it is in the very nature of being “wired differently” that a learning profile compatible with the cognitive demands of STEM emerges. What is unfortunate, however, is that in traditional classrooms, students with language-based learning differences may be left out of STEM learning mainly due to assessment structures, such as language-dependent tests, and instructional approaches which lean heavily on language processing and symbolic decoding skills. The cognitive processing burden this creates impacts a student’s ability to truly demonstrate their learning and mastery of the subject; it also perpetuates barriers to meaningful learning for students with exceptionalities. These traditional school structures then may lead to being excluded from more advanced-level STEM courses and future career opportunities. STEM-based education is important for all learners, providing opportunities for developing 21st-century skills integral to the fabric of today’s workforce. 

 

STEM-based education far surpasses concepts in math and science as it is keenly focused on hands-on learning with real-world applications through a cross-curricular lens, all while developing creativity, collaboration, communication, and flexibility, for example. There are many benefits of STEM education beyond scientific literacy; here are just a few: 

  • STEM curriculum encourages teamwork and helps develop a student’s project management skills. Skills such as leadership, time management, accountability, task completion, and active listening and reflection, are honed in project-based STEM learning activities.
  • STEM curriculum helps students to think critically, intelligently analyzing whatever problem is put before them, to think creatively about the questions or obstacles they face, and to think innovatively through applied problem-solving.  
  • STEM curriculum provides opportunities for social-emotional growth, such as learning how to work with one another, to appreciate different points of view, and how to recognize one another’s strengths, so that together, students can achieve even greater outcomes.

Dr. Kara A. Loftin

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