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Linking complex math equations to tangible tasks and objects students could see, touch and interact with, increased their competence and fluency in different subject areas.
According to an article by Richard G. Collins and Joseph J. Viscomi in IDA’s “Perspectives” newsletter, the Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale IL has responded to the pressure for increased STEM education.
Brehm is a grade 6-12 coeducational boarding school for students with complex learning disabilities.
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Brehm has increased its instructional opportunities in forensics, physics, chemistry, anatomy, precalculus, calculus, assistive technologies, and computer programming.
Programming classes were implemented. Students are now given the ability to think abstractly and solve complex problems with a computer. A programming language, SCHEME, was selected for its simplified set of rules which allow students to learn all the syntax in less than 30 minutes.
Much like the game of chess, say Collins and Visconti, this language is quickly learned, but it requires practice and an ongoing implementation of strategy for mastery.
Students successfully used the computer to apply complex concepts in order to solve otherwise impossible problems.
SCHEME gives immediate feedback, a distinct advantage when dealing with bugs or short attention spans common to students with possible executive function issues.
The school turned to the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) ( http://www.usfirst.org).
The FRC competition allows engineers to work with students in an innovative and exciting setting, where they build robots to solve problems. According to the article,
The competition was a great opportunity for all involved, and, with the help of some mentors, served as the foundation of a successful program that is very exciting and motivating for students.
It gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their skills head to head with teams from around the world in a very competitive environment ruled by gracious professionalism.
Since students with learning challenges often excel in creative thinking and hands-on projects in the arts, they also excel in fun hands-on STEM projects that combine science and technology.
Brehm students learned science skills in order to design and test theories for solving problems related to tasks for their robots.
In order to use the latest industry standard computer, electronics, robotic parts and programs, students had to understand and use technology.
This kind of difficult application involves melding creativity, understanding, cooperation, stressful timelines and individual experience. When Brehm students linked complex math equations to tangible tasks, the result was engagement with objects students could see, touch and interact with.
So, while these students were strengthening their STEM education, they were learning leadership and teamwork skills. They dealt successfully with stress and tight timelines. And faculty noticed that the program has a positive impact on all areas of school life and decisions.
In order to quantify the experience at Brehm, administrators looked at graduation placements. This is what they found: prior to the introduction of the robotics program, students weren’t selecting STEM-related majors.
But since the three-year inclusion of this program, the first graduating class who participated in the project went to CalPoly Tech, DePaul, Carnegie Mellon and Wisconsin Stout in majors that included computer science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and chemistry.
The Brehm School also offers their Options program, which is a comprehensive transitional program for post-high school students with complex learning disabilities. For that information, visit http://www.Options.Brehm.org.
sole source for this information is the article by Richard G. Collins and Joseph J. Visconti in the Summer 2010 issue of “Perspectives,” a quarterly publication of the International Dyslexia Association. http://www.interdys.org
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