Written by: Claire Lin and Amanda Wu
Graphics by: Olivia Koo
When quarantine restrictions forced students to resort to online learning, Vikram saw first hand how challenging online learning was for his brother who has autism. He was determined to help the special needs community overcome this obstacle. Along with Deepesh, Varan, and Anit, who share his love of science and his determination to spread STEM knowledge to everyone, including neurodiverse students, they started an in-person STEM workshop at FCSN. Their combined experiences teaching STEM topics to libraries and neurodiverse centers ensured that they had a successful program launch.
Keeping in mind the different learning styles of neurodiverse students, they designed their program focusing on hands-on experiences instead of lectures, which neurodiverse students often find boring and their inability to sustain attention could lead to confusion. In their lessons, they emphasize the basics of science that can apply to the students’ everyday lives, such as “why do you brush your teeth” or “why do you wash your hands.” They start off each class with a brief slide presentation to introduce the topic. Then, they play a game of Kahoot with the students to review the concepts. This is followed by hands-on experiments, students are guided by the teachers every step of the way. Throughout each lesson, a teacher will pull a student aside to ask them 1 on 1 how the lesson is going and if they have any questions. Typically, each workshop will have around 8-10 students, and there will be 2 teachers teaching them.
Their program started at the end of July, and they have been invited back to host ten more workshops in the fall. The sessions are typically held on Saturdays at 3pm, each lasting 50 mins to 1 hour.
Teaching can often be a very nerve-wracking experience. However, Anit and Varan’s previous volunteer experiences already prepared them for the challenge of teaching at FCSN. Their main takeaway on how to teach special needs individuals is to reiterate everything they say to emphasize the key points as well as keep the students engaged through games or hands-on experiments. For the teachers, this experience has reinforced their passion for helping people with STEM as well as their passion for teaching. In the fall workshops, they hope to be able to continue onto topics such as acids and bases as well as pH. They plan to teach as long as possible since it will help them increase the access students have to hands-on STEM experience.