Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dyslexia's Challenges Often Translate into STEM Strengths

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of once again returning to the gifted classroom. This is an annual experience for me in a program called College for Kids where classes for gifted students are conducted on the campus of our local community college, St. Louis Community College-Meramec Campus. For eleven years now, I have prepared for and instructed children (K-8) in foreign language classes as well as in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) or maker-space classes. Each year, it is always an intense 5 days for all where kids are challenged to be particularly creative and to summon their abilities to problem solve and think in critical and innovative ways as they learn new and stimulating content in a college setting.

For me, the week experienced with these unique learners involved the teaching of 2 Exploratory Spanish classes and 2 STEM classes where the students built mechanical robotic arms. As you may already know, STEM classes such as the latter mentioned here are currently in great demand by parents and students alike, and as a result, both of these classes were filled to capacity within a short time after registration opened.

These STEM or Mechanical Robotic Arm Build classes were particularly interesting, as they required each individual student to build such an arm from regular household materials provided to them (card board, paper clips, tape, binder clips, twine, fishing line and other common items.) To add to the challenge and problem-solving skills promoted by the project, only a limited set or predetermined number of each item was provided to each student builder (that could not be exceeded).

The student-created products from these two classes were most interesting. Some of the designs created could even be described as elegant. One student devised a way to connect wooden craft sticks with robber bands in such a way as to allow them to flex, successfully picking up a Styrofoam cup. Another young 7th grader was able to manipulate the five, agile fingers of his mechanical arm with craft sticks and fishing line, enabling it to also achieve the same goal. The projects were indeed exercises in creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, patience, fortitude, determination and more. The students actually learned life lessons in these classes, not just the how of building a mechanical robotic arm with a specific set of items.

What was even more interesting was the fact that when I mentioned my work outside the classroom involves serving students with dyslexia, both of the student designers above mentioned to me that they were challenged with this same learning disability, with one student adding that he also had ADHD. In fact, the number of gifted students with dyslexia in both STEM classes exceeded the current statistics for dyslexia with more than 1 in 5 of all students stating that they struggled with the symptoms of dyslexia.

So, why am I relating all of this to our blog readers this week? Well, it is becoming more and more apparent to educators and others that children and adults with dyslexia think differently from those not challenged with the language-based learning disability. Dyslexic individuals are often highly-creative thinkers, global learners and persons who think outside-the-box. Because of these assets, they are very frequently sought after as innovative problem-solvers and troubleshooters for challenges that leave the rest of us "in the dust" so to speak. Our world needs these unique individuals and their gifts---desperately.

If you are the parent or teacher of a child or teen with dyslexia, or you suspect as much, consider presenting new information or content with hands-on activities that promote creative thinking and innovative troubleshooting or problem-solving skills. Seek out STEM or STEAM (that is, with an added Art component) activities and resources that will bring out the BEST in the skills set of your dyslexic readers and learners. Then allow these children to excel at what they do best---solve problems and accomplish the learning goals you have set for them in innovative and unique ways. You'll be very glad you did.

STEM Resources for Dyslexic Readers & Learners

200+ STEM Links & Resources---ALL in 1 Place!
A Pinterest board with a HUGE collection of STEM and STEAM resources, many of which are FREE!

STEM Resource Finder
This STEM Resource Finder from The Concord Consortium features some of the best FREE, open-source educational activities, models and software tools available. You can search by keyword or filter by subject, grade level and type to find the right resources for your learning goals.

Project Lesson Plan: Build Your Own Robot Arm
This is the lesson plan described and utilized in the above article that helped students develop a robot arm using common materials. Students will explore design, construction, teamwork, and materials selection and use.

For information on customizable reading tools for dyslexia, ADHD and other challenges, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com