Can We Balance Enrichment With Accessibility?

Sobson, Lorraine - Off the ShelfPressure to improve STEM outcomes can leave you focusing on math and science as endpoints—the things we need to improve.

I find CEC’s U-STARS~PLUS series really special because it looks at helping students be “at potential” in science as the means to an end, instead of as the end itself.

Mary Ruth Coleman, author of CEC’s U-STARS~PLUS books, believes that while our students learn about science, we can learn a lot about our students. In other words, science can give all students the chance to show their potential and shine.

I recently talked with Mary Ruth about her unique approach to getting students—and special educators—to always aim for the high-hanging fruit.

Lorraine Sobson
Editor and Manager, CEC Professional Publications

ScienceGirl (1)LS:  First, why do you feel science is the subject best suited for bringing out the potential in children?

MRC:  Learning can be a challenge for some children, so highly motivating content can help a lot. Science motivates kids because most children love learning about the world around them. Some even develop a passion for particular topics such as sharks or dinosaurs. When we can spark a passion in students, we can connect them with even more powerful learning experiences.

LS:  Are there other ways science is especially suited to reach students who find school challenging, perhaps due to a learning disability, poverty, or other factors such as cultural or linguistic diversity?

MRC:  The hands-on aspect is a major factor. When children take part in hands-on and minds-on science activities, they use their creativity and thinking skills in an active way. Before they know it, they’re solving problems and exploring new ideas. Also, with hands-on engagement, children can both learn and “show what they know” without relying entirely on language. Add that these hands-on explorations are fun and require no pre-learned information, and you have a recipe for success!

LS:  I can see how that recipe factors into your insistence that teachers see all children as “at potential” instead of labeling some as “at risk.” But how do you incorporate enrichment activities into these same lessons?

MRC:  The key here is to create a high-end learning environment filled with interesting opportunities for exploration. U-STARS lessons include activities that involve problem solving, questions that push thinking, and family take-home science assignments that ask students to collect and reflect on real data. With each experience children gain skills and confidence.

LS:  Is this what you mean when you say lessons should always include “high-hanging fruit?”

MRC:  Yes! With U-STARS lessons, we hope to inspire and motivate children to want to learn things that are challenging. And we need to be sure we support them when they make that leap. With U-STARS, we hope to inspire and motivate children on one hand, and encourage teachers to aim high and support success on the other.

About the author:

Mary Ruth Coleman is Senior Scientist Emeritus at the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Sneha Shah-Coltrane is Director of Gifted Education and Advanced Programs for the Public Schools of North Carolina.

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